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San Marino is a tiny city state near the Adriatic coast surrounded by Italy and a perfect day trip for those in Emilia Romagna region. It is also the oldest republic in the world, built atop a hill by San Marino as a refuge for Christians. It might not be a fairy tale kingdom with princes and princesses, but it certainly has castles and enchanting cobblestone streets. Here’s how to take a day trip and what to see in San Marino:
Rimini to San Marino
There is no rail link to San Marino, so the only way to reach the city state is by car. Here are some options:
Rimini San Marino bus
The easiest way to San Marino is to get a bus from Rimini, which takes about an hour and drops you off by the ancient city on the top of the hill. You can check the schedule here.
Getting a private car or driving to San Marino is another option. There is a car park on top but space is limited.
San Marino Cable car
If you are driving to San Marino or has a driver, you can get a cable car to go up (and down). It’s surprisingly affordable since many San Marinos also use it to get around. You also get a spectacular view of San Marino and Italy, all the way to the Adriatic sea.
Opening times: depend on season, see the official website
Admission: 4.50 euro return, 2.8 euro single
San Marino attractions
Founded in 301, San Marino has been an independent republic for over 18 centuries. It is the smallest city state in the world after Monaco and Vatican, with 62km Square and 35 thousand inhabitants. On the peak is its old town which is a UNESCO heritage site that dates back to the 1400s.
The state was founded by Marino, he came from Croatia and was a stonecutter who worked in Rimini. He was a Christian and when the Roman emperor started prosecuting them, he escaped to the Titan mountain. Legends said that he cured the ill son of the woman who owns the mountain and so she gifted the land to him. Then he founded a community for Christians – San Marino.
San Marino City
The San Marino City is on the top of Monte Titano which stands at 739m high and originally the only city in San Marino. The medieval town is completed with old city walls and three towers, as well as churches and cobblestone streets. In fact, only a hundred or so people live inside the old town.
San Francesco Gate
Also known as Porta del Loco, the San Francesco Gate is the main entrance to San Marino City. This is one of the lowest points of the old town on the outer wall of the city from the 16th century.
San Francesco Church
Just inside the gate is the San Francesco Church. Set atop a flight of stairs, it’s a small church that was built in 1361. It’s made of the same rock as the rest of the old town with a small circular window and a cozy, rustic interior.
The national quarry is just under the parliament building where stones were mined for the building of the old town. Nowadays, it’s a crossbow field which is the national spot. There is a match every year at the end of July with the Italian and many archers make their own crossbow.
The two storey neo-gothic stone palace topped by a battlement on one edge of Liberty Square is the seat of San Marino’s parliament. Built in the late 19th century, it replaced the Domus Magna Comunis that was of the same function, which were built in the 14th century.
Only the stone emblem from that period is kept inside the lobby of the new palace.
San Marino has a unique parliament system with 60 parliament members being elected every 5 years to public that forms the legislative council. Then 7 ministers are elected by the parliament every 5 years to form executive council, and they all have other jobs since they are only paid for the days they work.
There are two presidents in San Marino from different parties, elected 1st April and 1st October, changing every 6 months.
In front of the parliament is the Liberty Square in the heart of the city. The rectangular space is lined with houses on one side with a view of the valley on the other. In the Middle stands the Statue of Liberty, a gift from an Austrian duchess in the 1500s who adored the city state.
The seat of Catholic Church in San Marino, it was rebuilt in the 1800s in the neoclassical style with the bell tower being from medieval times. Everything inside is white, which is the colour of Liberty and built in honour of Marino, and a representation of him is behind the main altar. This is uncommon but this is because this is where the ceremony of election is held.
The seats for the president are made by wood that’s the same as the citizens bench to represent equality. The cross hanging above the statue was added in 2011, a compromise between the church and Pope Benedict’s request to move San Marino’s statue and place a crucifix there. In the middle of the altar is the remain of San Marino remains and around the church are the 12 apostles.
The floral motif patterns on the ceiling are gifts from San Marino families and each one is unique!
The three towers of San Marino
The most famous landmark of San Marino are its three towers, which were built over the course of medieval times and act as the city’s defense system. They occupy the three peaks of Monte Titano that made up of San Marino’s oldest part.
Guaita – the first tower
While the current tower we see was built in the 15th century, the history of the first tower was first built in the 1100s. It was used to control the border, and a bell is rung when they see the enemies and the people can take refuge inside.
The largest of the three, it has two walls to better defend against attackers. It was used as a prison between 1700 to 1900s and now a museum. The current San Marino prison only has 6 cells and in the city center and only sparsely occupied.
Cesta – the second tower
The highest tower out of the three, Cesta was built in the 1200s built atop a Roman ruin. The path between the first and second tower there is the witches path where they throw witches off.
There is a museum dedicated to San Marino there now as well as a large collection of ancient weapon.
Montale – the third tower
The last and smallest tower, Montale has no fortification but it does have an 8 m deep hole where they put the most dangerous prisoner. The entrance to the tower is also at the very top!
La Cremeria del Titano
Although technically not an attraction, who wouldn’t want some gelato? After a quick search, La Cremeria del Titano is only a short walk from the Liberty Square and I can vouch for their pistachio flavour.
Address: Piazzetta del Titano, 4, 47890 Città di San Marino, San Marino
Want to do something different? Why not try agritourism? It’s tourism with a farming twist where you can experience the countryside life. At Podere Lesignano, you can do a variety of courses such as wine making, cooking classes, and Piadina workshop (or both), as well as wine tasting.
The farm has been passed down for three generations, with 7 hectares that spread over gently rolling hills with vineyards, with a single storey building as its restaurant and a guest house on a small hill down the road.
We learned how to make Piadina, a type of flat bread made with water, olive oil, and wheat. The teacher taught us about the process from planting the wheat to harvesting, grinding, and making the piadina.
While I didn’t do that good of a job – since I didn’t roll it thin enough and it was basically fire proof, they served the edible parts in a platter with meat and cheese that was heavenly.
If you are interested in attending a workshop, you can contact them through their website
Where to stay in San Marino
If you want to stay in San Marino and explore after dark, here are some suggestions:
Budget: Hotel Rossi is a spacious and budget stay with the rooms a little dated, some guests say that there’s no shower curtain.
Midrange: if you have a car, enjoy a rustic farm stay at Podere Lesignano. In San Marino Old Town, Hotel Cesare has a range of room with beautiful mountain view and it’s just inside the main gate on top. An alternative is Hotel Rosa which has a stunning view as well and is one of the most highly rated accommodations in San Marino.
Splurge: for somewhere with views and modern comfort, Grand Hotel San Marino is a top choice, though since it gives a view of San Marino it’s around 15 minutes walk from the center. B&B San Marino Suite is a cozier choice and it is recently renovated with a roof terrace.