I’ve been fascinated by San Marino since a brief childhood foray into stamp collecting. I’m not certain there was an actual San Marino stamp in my collection, but I certainly read about it in a stamp collecting book. The idea of this tiny, landlocked, geographic anomaly of a country grabbed my imagination, particularly as someone from one of the world’s largest countries. (And it wasn’t just San Marino: Liechtenstein and Andorra also intrigued me.)
Thus when planning my Italy trip, I had to fit San Marino in, even if it meant diverting east from a relatively straightforward south to north itinerary.
But, man, was it worth it!
The atmosphere starts as soon as the bus from Rimini pulls out of the core of the city and you notice an amazing castellated mountain in the distance. “That’s it. That’s where I’m going,” you think. “I’m going to an enchanted kingdom.”
That feeling only grows stronger as the bus leaves Italy, enters The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, and begins to twist and wind up the road toward the old city with its towers and walls looming above. It becomes an even stronger when you leave the bus at the “funivia” stop in Borgo Maggiore and hop onto the cable car for an amazing and quick ride to the top-where you’re deposited in another world. The views are 360° of surrounding villages and countryside (as you can in this brief collage of video I shot), soft and pastoral. The medieval walls with their battlements and arrow slits, the narrow streets and staircases, the towers: it’s incredible.
What to Do
I’m sure your big question is “Okay, so it’s pretty and atmospheric, but what is there to do?”
The answer is “Not much.” Wander through the streets. Walk along the walls to the three towers. Visit Tower (Torri) #1 for the opportunity to walk the walls and imagine what it must have been like for the guards who watched over this fiercely independent republic for centuries. (You can also go inside Tower 2 but it’s only worth it if you really like weapons as it features an extensive collection of weapons from the 1400-1800s.) Soak up that atmosphere and those views. Relax. Be serene.
Make sure you spend the night. And spend it in the old town. It won’t be cheap but it’ll be worth it. The tourists disappear in the evenings and the town becomes incredibly quiet and peaceful. (Very few cars are allowed into the old city.) I wandered before dinner and barely saw a soul. Then I had a delicious fixed price dinner in Cantina di Bacco, a lovely spot that oozed atmosphere: exposed beams and stone arches, local art, etc.
It also makes for an easy day trip from Rimini if you’d rather avoid the cost, not to mention hauling your luggage up narrow and steep streets!
I’m not a shopper but the shopping looked much better than the average tourist stuff. They had some nice looking jewelry and clothing shops. And there are several museums, from a vampire museum to the torture museum I saw in virtually every medieval town I visited.
San Marino is easily reached by bus from the Italian city of Rimini on the Adriatic coast. It’s about 55 minutes end to end although I’d recommend taking the cable car I mentioned above for the best entrance to city. The only reason not to do that is if you’re staying in the city somewhere near the final bus stop.
Rimini is an hour by train from Bologna where there’s an international airport.
You could drive but you’ll need to leave your car in one of the peripheral lots, which are well marked on the San Marino tourist maps but which I suspect are packed early at the height of the tourist season.