Our family visited one of the world’s smallest countries in the world: the Republic of San Marino!
However, we changed things up for this adventure and had a few more travel companions join us. In fact, for the first time since we started traveling full time, Mass’s parents and my mother were in the same country simultaneously, so we thought this would give us the perfect opportunity to take them along and share a few memorable moments in another country!
Nestled in the heart of Italy – San Marino was the perfect place to spend a few days together, explore and enjoy by taking it slow. Come with us on our adventures in the Republic of San Marino!
A Glimpse into the History of San Marino
San Marino was established in 301 AD and proudly holds the world’s oldest republic title. At that time, a Christian stonemason named Marinus sought refuge atop Mount Titano to escape religious persecution. Marinus and his followers established a small community that would eventually evolve into the sovereign state of San Marino.
Despite its location in the heart of Italy, it managed to maintain its sovereignty throughout centuries of political turmoil. The city-state avoided being absorbed by larger neighboring powers, owing much of its success to its strategic mountaintop location and shrewd diplomacy. The Three Towers of Guaita, Cesta, and Montale were constructed as defensive structures, creating a formidable defense system that guarded the tiny republic against potential invasions.
Through the centuries, San Marino’s emphasis on freedom, tolerance, and democracy earned it a reputation as a beacon of enlightenment during the Renaissance. It also became a sanctuary for those seeking refuge from religious and political persecution, further solidifying its status as a bastion of liberty.
In the 19th century, the Italian unification movement threatened San Marino’s autonomy. Yet, against all odds, the republic retained its independence even during tumultuous times.
In the 20th century, it evolved from an agrarian society into a modern state with a thriving economy. Its commitment to neutrality and diplomatic engagement earned it recognition on the international stage. The Republic of San Marino has nurtured a vibrant cultural heritage with a unique blend of Italian and local influences. Its museums, galleries, and annual events celebrate its rich history, ensuring its remarkable journey’s legacy lives on.
Unique Facts about San Marino
Before digging deeper into our trip to San Marino, I want to share a few incredible and lesser-known facts that make this destination even more fascinating!
Microstate Majesty. It is one of the world’s smallest countries, covering about 61 square kilometers. Despite its size, it boasts a rich history, a distinct culture, and a unique place in the international community.
No National Debt. One of the remarkable aspects of San Marino is its strong financial position. The country has a long-standing tradition of fiscal responsibility and is known for having no national debt.
President of San Marino. Here the Head of State is not referred to as a president but as the Captains Regent. The Captains Regent are two individuals who jointly hold the position of Head of State for a six-month term. To be eligible to serve as a Captain Regent, an individual must meet the following requirements: he/she must be a citizen of San Marino, and he/she should be at least 25 years old. The Captains Regent is not directly elected by the citizens. Instead, they are elected by the Grand and General Council, composed of representatives chosen through a general election.
Three Towers of Might. The Three Towers of San Marino – Guaita, Cesta, and Montale – stand as towering sentinels, each with historical significance. These ancient fortresses offer breathtaking views and a glimpse into the nation’s storied past. They are considered so special that they are also depicted on the flag.
Passports Not Required. While San Marino isn’t a member of the European Union, it has a special agreement with Italy that allows visitors to enter without a passport. Instead, a valid identity card or driver’s license is sufficient for entry. However, for 5 euros, you can get your passport stamped at the local tourist office! Of course, we got ours stamped!
No Airport. It is one of the few countries worldwide that doesn’t have an airport. Visitors typically arrive via nearby Italian cities like Rimini or Bologna and then travel by road to the republic.
Unique Olympic Committee. It has its own National Olympic Committee and has participated in the Olympic Games since 1960. Despite its small population, the country takes pride in its representation on the global sporting stage.
UNESCO Heritage Site. In 2008 San Marino’s historic center and Mount Titano were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This recognition highlights the exceptional cultural and natural value of the republic.
High Life Expectancy. San Marino boasts one of the highest life expectancies in the world, thanks to its excellent healthcare system and overall quality of life.
What should you do in San Marino?
What we love about our visit here is that it is small but still offers many different things to see and do. Everyone has plenty of options whether you stay a full day or two or more. Here are some must-see attractions that will enrich your visit to this charming microstate:
The Three Towers. The iconic trio of Guaita, Cesta, and Montale towers serve as symbols of San Marino and offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. Guaita is the oldest tower and has been used as a prison and lookout post throughout history. Cesta houses the Museum of Ancient Weapons (closed for restoration when we were there) and offers insights into the republic’s military history. Montale is much smaller than the other two and cannot be accessed, but it provides a serene escape and showcases the area’s natural beauty.
Walk the Via delle Streghe. Also known as “Street of the Witches,” it is a fascinating narrow cobblestone street and atmospheric alleyway that winds through the heart of San Marino’s old town. The name likely originates from local legends and stories rather than any actual historical association with witches. Here you will find historic buildings, quaint shops, charming cafés, and stunning views of the surrounding landscapes.
Piazza della Libertà. This central square is the heart of San Marino’s civic life. Adorned with historical buildings and charming cafes, it’s a beautiful place to relax and people-watch. Don’t miss the Statue of Liberty that stands proudly in the center, symbolizing the republic’s commitment to freedom. Sunset is particularly stunning from up here!
Basilica di San Marino. This neoclassical basilica is a stunning architectural gem dedicated to the patron saint of the republic. Its elegant façade and interior exude tranquility, making it a peaceful spot for contemplation and reflection.
State Museum. For a comprehensive understanding of San Marino’s history, art, and culture, the State Museum is a must-visit. Its diverse collection includes artifacts, artworks, and historical items that provide an in-depth look into the country’s evolution.
The Guaita Path. It is a scenic and historic trail that winds around the old city’s walls, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes and a unique perspective of the city’s medieval architecture. This path is a popular attraction for visitors who want to experience both the natural beauty and the historical charm of San Marino. The trail passes the famous Three Towers of San Marino: Guaita, Cesta, and Montale.
Titano Nature Park. For nature enthusiasts, Titano Nature Park offers a chance to explore the diverse flora and fauna of the region. The park’s trails provide picturesque viewpoints and hiking and wildlife spotting opportunities.
Borgo Maggiore. Venture beyond the main city to the charming village of Borgo Maggiore. This quaint settlement provides a more local and authentic experience with its narrow streets, local markets, and historic buildings.
Hike Monte Titano. For adventurous travelers, consider hiking to the summit of Monte Titano. The rewarding views from the top are worth the effort, and you’ll be able to say you stood at the highest point of this unique republic.
Take a ride on the funicular. The funicular connects the historic city of San Marino on top of Mount Titano to the town of Borgo Maggiore at the mountain’s base. The San Marino-Borgo Maggiore funicular offers visitors a convenient and scenic way to travel between the two locations. This funicular system consists of two cars that move in opposite directions along a steep track, allowing passengers to ascend or descend the mountain effortlessly while enjoying breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes. The funicular not only serves as a practical means of transportation but also provides a unique vantage point to appreciate the beauty of the landscape. It’s a popular attraction for tourists and locals, offering a memorable and picturesque journey between the lower town and the historic city on the mountaintop.
Philatelic and Numismatic Museum. Given San Marino’s philatelic tradition, a visit to this museum is a must for stamp enthusiasts. Explore a vast collection of stamps, coins, and related artifacts that showcase the country’s passion for these intricate art forms. We were genuinely fascinated by their extensive collection and how much we learned through it!
Family-Friendly Activity ideas
San Marino is a great place to visit for all travelers seeking both cultural enrichment and outdoor escapades. Here are some fantastic activities to enjoy with your loved ones:
- Medieval Quests. You can embark on a family-friendly adventure exploring medieval fortresses and towers. Let your imaginations run wild as you step back in time, learning about the legends and history that shaped this resilient republic.
- City of Arts. Stroll through the charming streets and alleyways with art galleries, museums, and local artisan shops.
- Nature Trails. Take advantage of the stunning natural landscapes by embarking on scenic hikes and nature walks. The Titano Nature Park offers picturesque trails that cater to all skill levels, promising breathtaking vistas at every turn.
- Festival Fun. If your visit aligns with the annual events, like the Medieval Days or the San Marino Jazz Festival, don’t miss the opportunity to partake in the festivities and create lasting memories together.
- Culinary Delights. You can indulge in the different flavors of San Marino’s cuisine. With influences from Italian and Mediterranean traditions, the local dishes will surely delight even the pickiest eaters in your family.
Where did we stay in San Marino?
Since we were traveling with family, we opted to stay in the heart of the town at the Hotel La Grotta. We planned to park the car and forget about it the whole time there. Hotel La Grotta is located in the pedestrian area of the historic center of San Marino. We parked our car in car park n° 7 then walked to the hotel about 100 meters away.
From the location of Hotel La Grotta, you can enjoy beautiful views and suggestive walks along the picturesque streets of the Old Town. The accommodation was very cozy and comfortable since it was recently renovated. From here, we easily walked to all the historical and tourist attractions and found many restaurants and shops.
How to get to San Marino
Getting to San Marino involves traveling to the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, as Italy surrounds San Marino. Here’s how you can get to San Marino:
By Air. The nearest major airports to San Marino are Federico Fellini International Airport (RMI) in Rimini, the closest to San Marino. You can take a taxi or public transportation from the airport to San Marino. Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) in Bologna is a bit further away but offers more flight options. You can then take a train or bus to reach Rimini and, subsequently, San Marino.
By Train. The closest major train station to San Marino is Rimini Railway Station. You can take a bus or taxi to San Marino from there. The journey from Rimini to San Marino is relatively short and can be easily done using public transportation.
By Bus. Several bus services operate between Rimini and San Marino, making it convenient. Buses provide regular connections; the journey takes about 30-40 minutes.
By Car. If you’re driving, you can easily reach San Marino by taking the A14 highway and then following signs to San Marino. Remember that San Marino has limited parking, so it’s a good idea to park your car in designated areas and explore the city on foot.
Thoughts about our trip here
San Marino’s compact size makes it easy to explore its attractions quickly, making it an ideal destination for a family adventure. The blend of history, culture, and stunning landscapes ensures that every moment spent in this ancient republic is magical.
If you have the chance, I would not limit my time here to just half a day, but at least enjoy a night here. There is something magical about the evening when the day tours leave and just a few people are gone; it feels like you have the whole center to yourself. to enjoy the evenings with locals. After walking around and enjoying a stunning sunset, we slowly sought a restaurant to accommodate us. After dinner, the streets were empty and quiet; all you could hear were our steps and chatter as we returned to the hotel. It was a very intimate and special moment that we were lucky to share with our parents. Hopefully, this tip will make your trip there just a bit more unique as well!
As you can probably tell, this was a particularly memorable adventure for our family because we had a chance to enjoy a new place with even more people we love! Due to San Marino’s smaller size, we were able to make this trip manageable for everyone from the youngest to the oldest. It was a true success! Now all I can wish you is happy travels, and remember, adventure is just around the corner! See you in the next country!
**If you want to learn more about another small European country, check out this blog post!