Located in the north eastern, Apennine mountain region of Italy, about 40 minutes inland from the Adriatic Sea is San Marino, a tiny 24 square km state with a population of just 33 thousand people! Completely surrounded by Italy, San Marino is the 4th smallest country in the world as recognised by the UN and the smallest country on the council of Europe.
I paid this tiny country a visit earlier this year whilst en route to Slovenia and was so glad that I did. Despite a significant detour needed to get here, it was worth the hassle!
In this post I am going to go into the detail of how to get to this little state, things to be aware of and what to do whilst you are there!
A bit of history about the place…
Being known as one of the oldest states in the world, there has been an occupation in the tiny state since as early as the 4th century, but due to its remoteness has been able to stay independent throughout.
One of many small territories and kingdoms throughout the area, over the years they were gradually swept up by Italy’s unification movement. Giuseppe Garibaldi the leader of the Unification Movement hid from his enemies in San Marino and in return allowed it to stay independent. (Source)
How to get there…
Although it is not absolutely impossible to visit, without it’s own local airport there is a bit of hassle involved to get into the country and to the capital, where most of the sites are at. If you are visiting as an excursion on a cruise ship then you will most likely have all your transportation to and from covered, however if you are visiting independently then you will need to plan ahead how to get there!
I initially flew from Manchester into Bologna (Italy), flying with RyanAir for £35 one way was one of the first flights out of Manchester at 06:25 on the Friday morning, it took about 2 hours. I booked my flights here
Once I had landed in Bologna I got the AeroBus link from the airport to the city centre, when you land you just have to follow the AeroBus signs in the airport, these will lead you to a self service ticket counter, once you have your ticket your just go to the nearest exit and wait there for the bus! I paid €5 for my ticket at the airport and it took about 30 minutes to get me to Bologna central train station.
At the train station I hopped on the TrenItalia Regional line. From Bologna to Rimini (the closest stop to the RSM) took about 1.5 hours. I had actually booked these train tickets online on the TrenItalia site a few weeks in advance and printed out my QR code tickets also in advance, a one way journey was just under €10! I booked my tickets here
After getting off at Rimini station I then walked outside the station and on the other side of the road the Rimini To San Marino bus was already there waiting. The bus is not the clearest to spot, with only a small sign saying ‘San Marino’ on the front screen there is no other way to identify it! It costs €10 for a next day return ticket which you just buy off the driver! To re-board the bus to get back down to Rimini you just get back on where you get dropped off at! Here is a full timetable for this service
So from the nearest major city (Bologna) to City of San Marino you are looking at around 4 hours each way, totally worth it in my opinion when you are stood on the top of Monte Titano looking out over the rest of the country and surrounding Italy…
What you can do whilst you are here…
In all honesty there is not a great deal to do in San Marino to make a week long trip here viable, however you can certainly see just about everything you would want to see as a tourist in a day or a weekend at the most! When I visited I noticed there were a lot of people who had come off a cruise ship that had docked in Rimini and we just in the country for the day (I was more confused as to why there was a cruise ship on the Italian coast in March!?)
The main thing that most people visit San Marino for is to simply take in the sites and enjoy the novelty of visiting one of the smallest countries in the world. The entire country is mountain based with not a single body of water or major river anywhere!
You don’t have to worry about being water deprived though as you can see the Italian Adriatic coast from the highest point in the country which is also the ‘capital’, called the City of San Marino. Most of the tourist goings on are to be found here, including the attractions, most amenities and hotels.
The capital itself is located on a huge plateau with cliffs on nearly all sides, a lot of the original buildings that have been there for hundreds of years are built right on the edge of the cliffs, with sheer drops on the other side of them! This certainly isn’t a place for you if you are afraid of heights!
The main thing that most people do when visiting the republic is walk the various winding steep streets and visit the three towers that you can go in and climb right up to the top of! Take your walking shoes with you when you go to San Marino as you are going to need them! The immense climbs are worth it for the unbelievable views you get at the top
Tourism is a major source of income for the country, along with lower taxes this means that many visit for the savings alone! In the capital you can find a few tourist offices that provide great practical information for your stay and will also give a few pointers on some decent places to eat out at!
Although it is not a part of the EU, the Republic of San Marino is a de facto member of the Schengen Agreement, meaning that there are no border checkpoints or customs apart from the ones needed to get into Italy. You can however get an official passport stamp from the tourist office located by the cable car for a couple of euros, needless to say I got one!
So I could fully enjoy the sites and not feel too rushed (especially after hopping from plane, to bus, to train, to another bus for 6 hours) I booked a night at one of the more central hotels in the City. I stayed here at Hotel Titano for 1 night, costing around €65 for the night, including breakfast the next day. Not a bad price for a really central hotel but bear in mind I was visiting during the low season and although a lot of shops and attractions were open, there were generally not a lot of people around.
The room was small but clean and did the job for one night and the continental breakfast the next morning was absolute superb. You can read the reviews for yourself here and book a room via booking.com
Things to bare in mind when visiting…
- The country relies on tourism for nearly a half of its total income so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of tacky shops on the streets.
- In a lot of the restaurants the prices can be quite high for what they are offering on the menu and depending on when you go you can find your options quite limited, I got an evening dinner at one of the few restaurants that was open and 2 courses and a beer came to just over €30. Luckily the amazing view made up for it!
- Tourist tax is not included in any of the hotel fees, although it is just a couple of euros a night.
- Although the government of the RSM have tried to make as much of the countries tourist trail accessible to most, a well maintained road network that goes all the way quite high up the mountain and a cable car system has been installed. On some of the streets and in the historical areas it can be pretty difficult or next to impossible to get to if you are not fit enough or can’t walk far!
- Due to the RSM not being a part of the EU or EEA, if you get injured your EHIC card will not be valid for any treatment, so ensure you either have suitable travel insurance or ensure you don’t get injured!
- Wasn’t really an issue for me but there seems to be a big air soft following in the RSM, on the road up to the top you pass a large air soft outlet and throughout the streets of the City there are loads of shops selling replica fire arms, it might put you off walking down the main streets if you’ve got kids
Whether you are visiting for just a day trip from cruising or purposely going out of your way to visit this small country, I think you won’t be disappointed! The views you get at the top of Monte Titano make up for the long winding roads and the touristy prices!
Have you been to San Marino? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!