As one of the smallest countries in the world, San Marino draws intrigue from a lot of visitors to Italy. After all, San Marino is fully surrounded by Italy and is no bigger than a small city! San Marino is a pretty unique place that many people are excited to visit, either because of the fun things to do or simply out of intrigue that such a small country can exist within another country’s borders.
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Is San Marino a Country?
San Marino is indeed a country by every measure. This tiny little nation only consists of about 24 square miles of territory and 33,000 inhabitants, but nevertheless is a fully independent country with its own elected government and diplomatic relations. San Marino is surrounded on all sides by Italy, speaks Italian as its language, and is not all that different from Italy in most ways.
San Marino’s independence is a long story of friendship and diplomacy, and it remains a country to this day because it never really did anything to irk its neighbors. Italy as we know it didn’t exist until the 1800s, and it was just small kingdoms before that.
San Marino managed to become allies with every nation that occupied Italy over time, and as it offered very little strategic advantage, nobody was really all that interested in conquering it.
So in summary, yes San Marino is a fully independent country with its own government, passports, diplomats, and laws. It is entirely independent of Italy even though it is surrounded on every side and has an open border policy. If you are able to enter Italy, you are most likely able to enter San Marino without any kind of additional visa.
How to Get to San Marino
Best Things to Do in San Marino
1. Hike Up to the Three Towers
To me, this is the best thing to do in San Marino. The most iconic images of San Marino are all of its three towers at the peak of Mount Titano, Guaita, Cesta, and Montale.
Guaita was the first tower built in San Marino, and historians debate whether it was built in the 11th or 12 century. This is the most iconic structure in San Marino and is the castle-like tower that you are sure to recognize from photos of the tiny republic.
Trust me – it is worth it for the view!
Cesta, the second tower, is now the home of the Museum of Ancient Arms. This tower isn’t quite as grand as the first one, but is still worth the trip to visit! After all, if you hiked up to see the first tower, you may as well see the others, right?
The cobblestone path connecting the first two towers, known locally as the Witches Path, is one of the most tranquil places in the country, too, and is the perfect place to sit on the ledge and catch your breath. The museum in the second tower is a cool place to visit, too, displaying weapons and armor from centuries past.
Montale, the third tower, serves much less of a purpose from a tourism perspective as it cannot even be entered. Still, you should walk out to it to enjoy the fantastic views it offers of the valley below.
The State Museums of San Marino are a nifty spot to check out, as they do a fantastic job of documenting San Marino’s history and legacy. This is especially unique, as San Marino is such a tiny country and has never had a monarch.
It is the oldest republic in the world, was founded by a priest, and survived an era of city-states that has since passed.
How in the world did San Marino not get invaded or conquered over the past thousand years? Even Napoleon couldn’t do it? Visit the State Museums of San Marino for the answers to these questions and more.
The museum in the second tower is one of the State Museums, actually. Tickets cost €6 for entrance into two museums, or €8 for a pass granting you access to all of the museums.
3. Visit the Torture Museum [Queasy Warning]
I have been to torture museums all around the world. From California to Amsterdam to London to Prague, I have seen my fair share of these places. However, in my opinion, nothing tops the Torture Museum in San Marino. This museum is extremely well put together and is really a must-do thing in San Marino.
With that being said, I feel the need to give you a warning. The museum is not for those with weak stomachs. I don’t have a weak stomach, but even I had to sit down and take some deep breaths at points throughout the museum.
It is dark, it is disgusting, and it is hard to handle. But it’s human history, and it’s important to see and acknowledge. This place is not kid-friendly whatsoever. Tickets cost €8 per person and are worth every penny.
4. Ride the San Marino Cable Car
The San Marino Cable Car connects the town of Borgo Maggiore to the City of San Marino. It provides some really spectacular views of the town and the sea off to the east and is a really great way to get up to the city.
Personally, I don’t think that it is worth the time or money if you are already up in the City of San Marino, as the views from the towers are better than the views from the cable car.
If you are parking in Borgo Maggiore, though, don’t take the bus up to the city. Take the cable car! Tickets cost €2,80 one way or €4,50 round trip and can be purchased at the cable car station.
5. Hang Out in the Piazza della Libertà
The Piazza della Libertà is the main square in the City of San Marino and is one of the centers of life and culture in the little nation. Here is where you can meet and mingle with locals, grab a nice bite to eat, and even watch the changing of the guard outside of the municipal building.
There isn’t much to actually do here other than relax, but I am a big fan of just grabbing a coffee and soaking in the sights, smells, and sounds around me. The Piazza della Libertà is the place to do that in San Marino.
Once you are done relaxing in the square and watching the changing of the guard, be sure to explore the streets that extend off from here. The little cobblestone streets are narrow and date back over 500 years, and you really do feel like you’re stepping back in time.
How to Get Around San Marino
San Marino is tiny. The entire country is only 24 square miles, and the parts that you will want to see are even smaller. The country is made up of the city and the rural land surrounding it. The city is small enough to be fully explored in a day on foot, and there is no need at all for a bike, car, or scooter. Walking is absolutely the way to get around San Marino.
With that being said, San Marino is a very hilly country and actually requires a little physical fitness to explore. Hiking to the castle takes some real effort, and the slopes and steps are pretty steep.
San Marino is not a very handicap-accessible country, either. You can’t do much in the city without walking up steep hills, so be sure to take that into consideration before visiting.
How Many Days Do You Need in San Marino?
As I mentioned before, San Marino is pretty tiny. While there is more to the country than just the City of San Marino, the city is really where you will spend the brunt of your time. You can easily do San Marino as a day trip from Bologna or Rimini, if you’re already there.
I recommend staying a night if you can, though. Day trips feel rushed to me, and while a day trip might check off all of the boxes of the best things to do in San Marino, you miss out on a bit of the country’s vibe by rushing through it. I recommend trying to stay a night and catching a sunrise or sunset up by the towers.
Is San Marino Worth Visiting?
This question really just depends on what you are looking for. In many ways, San Marino isn’t all that unique from Italy. In other ways, it’s extremely different.
If you are a history buff, I think San Marino is a must. The country’s history is very unique and interesting, and the sole fact that it still exists as a country is a historical marvel. I mean, the country’s leaders were best friends with both the pope and Napoleon!
If history isn’t really your thing, San Marino could still be worth visiting. Personally, I think the views from the towers are worth the trip themselves if you aren’t too far away. I wouldn’t recommend flying from another country to get here. But if you are already in Eastern Italy, it doesn’t hurt to come to check San Marino out for at least a day.
So, if you ask me “Is San Marino worth visiting while in Italy?” I would say yes. Is San Marino worth visiting on a trip of its own? Not really. Pair it with a trip to Bologna, though, and you’re in for a real treat!
That’s all we have for you about San Marino! Hopefully, this post has helped you to determine whether or not San Marino is worth visiting on your next trip to central Italy. I sure think so!
If you’re planning a trip to San Marino, comment below! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have.