What to do in San Marino
What to do in San Marino? This tiny country with its stunning capital San Marino City has plenty to offer, from medieval architecture to beautiful views and quirky museums. Read on to find out what you can do in San Marino City.
We decided to visit San Marino with our baby boy in May 2018. I was uncomfortable with the idea of flying with a six month old baby so a road trip was the best solution for us. On the way to San Marino we made a pit stop in Imola to see the castle and the F1 racecourse and on our way back we admired the Roman past of Rimini. We spent three nights and two full days in San Marino City. It was a wonderful weekend trip and a great experience as our first proper family trip.
There are no border controls or passport checks between Italy and the independent micro-state of San Marino. One second you’re driving in Italy and another you’ve passed under a pedestrian bridge which marks the entrance to the Republic of San Marino. In the distance you can see the three towers high up on Monte Titano where San Marino City is situated. Luckily, it was a warm May evening and we got beautiful views of San Marino City as we were driving uphill. I booked a hotel right in the historical center of San Marino City which was perfect for sightseeing with the baby.
We managed to visit all the major sights in San Marino City and I also took the cable car down to Borgo Maggiore (one of the nine settlements or castelli which constitute the Republic of San Marino). It’s easy to visit all the listed tourist attractions below with the baby but you need to have a baby carrier with you to be able to explore the towers (can’t be done with a stroller). Remember, San Marino City is situated on the Mount Titano (739m) so there’s a lot of uphill/downhill walking throughout the historical city center.
Short San Marino background
The Republic of San Marino is the oldest republic in the world because it was founded in 301 AD by the Christian refugee St. Marinus from Rab island (Croatia now, then a part of the Roman province Dalmatia). It managed to stay independent throughout its history. San Marino is the third smallest country in Europe after Monaco and Vatican City. The population of San Marino is only around 33 000. Even though San Marino isn’t a member of the EU the currency is Euro. The official language is Italian but the Sanmarinese people also use their own language, a dialect of Italian language. San Marino City’s historic center together with Mount Titano and Borgo Maggiore is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Here’s my list of WHAT TO DO IN SAN MARINO
Visit the Three Towers
There are three towers: Rocca Guaita (also known as the First Tower), Rocca Cesta (also known as Fratta or the Second Tower ) and Montale (Third Tower). These towers were a part of the elaborate defense system and are now symbols of the Republic of San Marino as well as their main tourist attraction. The third tower (Montale) can’t be visited. You can only walk to it through a small forest from the Second Tower. My advice is to go early (around 10 am when they open) and to visit first the Second Tower and then to walk to the First Tower along the Witches’ Path for some amazing views.
The Second Tower used to be a military fortress and a prison and today it is the home of the Museum of Ancient Weapons. Standing on the highest point of Mt. Titano (756m) the Second Tower provides the most spectacular views of the First Tower and the entire city center (see photo just above). We explored the tower at leisure since there weren’t many visitors and took plenty Instagram-worthy photos. My husband admired all sorts of swords and old guns and other exhibits.
The First Tower was built in 12th century. In the tower’s courtyard you’ll see canons donated by the Italian kings and a small church dedicated to St.Barbara. In the past, in the case of danger the guardian of the tower rang the tower bell which is today used to announce the Parliament’s sessions. The First Tower is bigger than the second tower and you’ll probably come across more visitors too. We managed to climb all over this fortress with our baby in the baby carrier.
If you wish to visit both towers then definitely get a combined ticket (you can also buy separate tickets for individual towers). Even better get a Combined Museum Pass with which you can visit 5 attractions for a lesser price than to buy all the tickets individually.
Piazza della Liberta & Palazzo Pubblico
The beautiful Liberty square is the place to be. There are several restaurants and cafes at this square where you can enjoy a drink and some people watching. The Statue of Liberty is the main meeting place in San Marino. The Public Palace behind it is the seat of several main institutional and administrative bodies of the Republic of San Marino: the Captains Regents ( two Heads of State), the Great and General Council (the parliament) , the Council of the Twelve ( with judiciary functions) and the State Congress (the government). The Public Palace is open to visitors when the parliament isn’t in session. We were lucky and were able to go inside the Public Palace and see the nation’s parliament. The palace is especially beautiful at night when it’s all lit up. You can also see the Changing of the Guards at this square.
Basilica of Saint Marinus
Basilica of Saint Marinus is a neoclassical church built on the foundations of a much older and smaller parish church. The relics of the patron saint of San Marino are held in the urn at the high altar. The coat of arms of San Marino is just above the main door. You can enter the church free of charge.
The smaller church next to Basilica is the Church of Saint Peter where you can see two holes carved in the rock which were supposedly the beds of Saint Marinus and Saint Leo. I’m not sure whether the church is actually open to the visitors since it was closed at the time of our visit.
Take a cable car down to Borgo Maggiore
The viewing point next to the cable car station is excellent for taking photos of the main square of Borgo Maggiore from above. The cable car which connects San Marino City to Borgo Maggiore was built in 1959 and since then it’s become a convenient form of public transport as well as a tourist attraction. The return ticket costs only € 4,50 and the ride lasts 2 minutes. Since I had the TuttoSanMarino Card which you get free if you stay at a hotel in San Marino I paid even less for my return ticket.
Harry Potter wand, a sword from the Game of Thrones or a perfume for only 5€? You can find it all in San Marino. I was rather surprised when I noticed that almost every other shop sells weapons. You can get an airsoft gun, different knives or proper swords which I was told are bought by reenactment societies. I bought myself a perfume for 5€, why not. Of course, there are the traditional souvenirs to buy too such as fridge magnets or t-shirts but you can also purchase fine leather goods. I especially liked the Christmas shop (open all year round). I just had to buy a beautiful Christmas bauble for our Christmas tree. If you have a sweet tooth like me you can also get yourself an edible souvenir, the Three Towers Cake, but in my opinion it’s nothing special.
You can go on a shopping-spree in a shopping center in Dogana (just 500 metres after the sign that you’ve entered the Republic of San Marino). We didn’t have time to go there nor was it on our priority list.
Learn about the history of San Marino at the museums or rub shoulders with some vampires
Our Combined Museum Pass gave us entry to both the State Museum and the St.Francis Museum at the Church and Convent of Saint Francis. If you wish to learn more about the history of the Republic of San Marino then definitely visit the State Museum. It is housed in the historic Pergami-Belluzzi palace. You can see frescoes and paintings ( from 15th to 18th ct) and church furnishings at St.Francis Museum.
When we walked around the town we stumbled upon the Vampire Museum. I was intrigued, to say the least, and since we had TuttoSanMarino Card which gave us 50% discount on the full fare ticket in the private museums we ventured inside the Vampire Museum prepared to be scared. It was a fun visit for sure. I won’t reveal much but I’ll just say that we felt like we stepped onto some vampire movie film set. Because of the discount we had with our tourist card we also visited the Museum of Curiosities. You can see the tallest man or the longest beard or the heaviest baby there. All sorts of strange and odd objects that have nothing to do with San Marino are on display at this museum sprawled through several floors. Another interesting private museum is the Museum of Medieval Criminology and Torture but we didn’t visit it.
Have a drink with a view
There are no shortage of places with great views in San Marino. We had drinks and meals at several bars/restaurants that offer outstanding views of either the historical center of San Marino City or the countryside below. I’d recommend a few places where you can enjoy your drink and take excellent photos. For instance, this photo below is taken at Restaurant Pizzeria Nido del Falco. It offers breathtaking views of the First Tower and the countryside below. Another great place to rest and admire the views is the restaurant of Hotel Bellavista which overlooks the crossbowmen training grounds. Definitely, try Aperol spritz at restaurant Righi-Osteria at the Liberty square. We wanted to have dinner at the restaurant La Terrazza at Hotel Titano but it was all booked unfortunately.
Get a visa in your passport and start a stamp collection
Just to repeat one more time: there is no border between Italy and San Marino. EU citizens can travel to Italy and San Marino just with their ID cards. You can get a visa stamp in your passport for just 5€ as a rather cool souvenir at the main tourism office next to the cable car station. We brought our passports with us just to get that rather unique visa stamp. If you collects stamps you’ll be able to buy them at several philatelist shops around the town. I love postcards so I bought a couple and even send one.
Watch the crossbow tournament at Cava e loggia dei Balestrieri
We were lucky and came across the crossbowmen’s practice at Crossbowmen’s Quarry and Loggias. This ancient sport is a matter of great pride in San Marino. It’s also another connection with Rab island in Croatia (St.Marinus is from Rab island as I’ve mentioned previously) because there are crossbowmen too. Crossbow tournaments are usually held in the summer.
Explore the streets by night
After all the day-trippers leave, the streets of San Marino are practically deserted. Go on a walk around the historical center. Follow the town’s ramparts or venture to the towers again to see them in the moonlight. Trust me, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
I strongly recommend that you spend a weekend in San Marino to fully experience this fairy-tale city. Usually, tourists visit San Marino as a day trip from Bologna or Rimini. But why not make San Marino your base and explore the surrounding Italian region of Emilia-Romagna from there? You can enjoy the beaches of Rimini and magic of San Marino during your holiday.
We fell in love with San Marino and I’m sure our baby boy liked it too. I actually visited San Marino again after this first trip but that’s another story.
I hope you find my guide on what to do in San Marino useful.