San Marino is a tiny country completely landlocked by Italy and situated on the slopes of Mount Titano in the Apennine Mountain range near the Adriatic Sea. It’s one of the world’s smallest countries with a claim to being the oldest surviving republic. This micro-state spanning 23.6 square miles is the third smallest country in Europe after Vatican City and Monaco. It contains rich history, medieval fortifications, charm, dramatic views, and of course, wine.
Legend claims that this little country was founded in 301 by Saint Marinus, a Christian from Dalmatia who climbed up Mount Titano to escape religious persecution. He traveled to Rimini as a stonemason, went to the nearby Mount Titano to collect stone from quarries, and ultimately spent his life on top of the mountain. Saint Marinus was gifted the mountain in gratitude for his performing of a miracle. Upon his death in 301 he gave the land to those living among him.
Extending your stay in Italy to tour this beautiful enclave is very doable since San Marino is nearby to many frequently visited Italian cities. By car, San Marino is ~35 minutes from Rimini, ~1 hour and 45 minutes from Bologna, ~3 hours and 15 minutes from Florence or Venice, or ~4 hours from Milan. Two days should be sufficient to explore this tiny country and make it to their winery. Since San Marino is quite small, if you are only visiting for a day trip, as many do, you should be able to see most everything on a cursory level.
Getting to San Marino
Visitors to San Marino first need to travel to Italy since San Marino does not have an airport and is surrounded by Italy. The closest international airport providing service to San Marino is the Rimini Airport. You can search for the best deals on flights here.
Once in Italy, renting a car to drive to San Marino may be the most convenient option as there is no train station in San Marino. Remember to bring your International Driving Permit. If private transfers are your preference, Daytrip provides door to door service by a local driver to and from locations of your choice from a multitude of cities at the time(s) you select. You can schedule side trips and tours along the way based on Daytrip recommendations or schedule your own.
To get to the capital city, you will drive right up the steep, winding mountain road. Public parking within walking distance to the historic old town is well-marked. If you’re not staying in the historic center and prefer not to drive all the way up, you can take the short 2-minute cable car up from Borgo Maggiore.
Things to Know Before you Go
Transitioning from Italy to San Marino will be smooth as San Marino’s official language is Italian, the currency is the Euro even though not a member of the EU, driving is on the right side of the road, the cuisine has many similarities, and there’s no formal border control.
Where to Stay in San Marino
The Hotel La Grotta, San Marino is a charming boutique family friendly hotel arranged over 3 floors conveniently located in historic San Marino walking distance to all the top sites. For those traveling with babies, we were able to reserve a Pack n Play. For more hotel options, search San Marino hotel deals on TripAdvisor. If you stay in San Marino, ensure your hotel gives you the free Tutto San Marino card to receive discounts on museum admission prices.
Where to Eat
As you walk around, you’ll pass plenty of restaurants, many of which offer great views. La Terrazza and Ristorante Righi were two restaurants recommended to us. One challenge we encounter while traveling to Europe with babies is that we need to dine early to get the babies in bed and many restaurants don’t reopen for dinner until after 7 pm. La Gatta, next door to Hotel La Grotta, served dinner early and was a great option for families traveling with young children.
Touring San Marino, San Marino
Mount Titano, rising 2,425 ft., and the historic center of San Marino are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being that the historic center located in San Marino’s capital city, also known as San Marino, is located on top of a mountain, breathtaking panoramic views of the below countryside surround you from nearly every corner.
As you explore fortresses, churches, museums, walk through centuries old gates, shop duty free, and try Sammarinese wines, you may be reminded of a time when Italy and other parts of Europe were made up of independent city-states. Comfy shoes are recommended as you tour the historic center as there is little flat ground. Expect a lot of uphill walking over streets made of uneven and varying sizes of stone, and lots of rugged stone steps.
San Marino’s Three Towers
Three defensive fortifications are perched on top of Mount Titano’s three peaks in the capital city. They’re connected by medieval stone walls and cobbled paths. These towers are the symbol of the country, and were the first thing that caught our eye as we approached San Marino. They are portrayed on the national flag, the coat of arms, and inspired the Sammarinese traditional cake, Torta Tre Monti (meaning “Three Mountain Cake”).
The Guaita Tower (also known as Rocca or the First Tower), the oldest and the most famous and impressive of the towers, was originally built in the 11th century. At Guaita Tower, you are surrounded by stunning panoramic views to the below countryside, and all the way to the Adriatic Sea on clear days.
There is a pathway connecting the first two towers called Passo delle Streghe, translating to mean the Witches Path. If you are walking from the first to the second tower, make sure to turn around throughout your walk for the better view.
If you only have time or energy to climb up to one of the towers, climb up to the Cesta Tower (also known as Fratta or the Second Tower) constructed on the highest peak of the mountain in the 13th century. From this tower, you can capture the quintessential image of San Marino with the dominating Guaita Tower in the backdrop resting on Mount Titano. The Museum of Ancient Weapons is also here.
The Montale Tower (the Third Tower) isn’t open to the public, but you may enjoy the walk and continued scenic overlooks. While it is the smallest of the towers, historically this tower aided San Marino’s defense as it has an optimal lookout position.
More Things To Do in San Marino
Museums: For being such a tiny country, I was surprised by the number and variety of museums ranging from historical, artsy, and to the somewhat peculiar, including the State Museum, the Wax Museum with historical wax characters, Torture Museum, Museum of Ancient Weapons (in the Cesta Tower), Vampire Museum, Museum of Curiosities and Museum of the Emigrants.
Winetraveler Tip: If you plan on visiting multiple museums, make sure to get the Multi-Museum Pass (€ 10,50 in 2019) that covers the admission for the First Tower, Second Tower, Saint Francis Art Gallery, State Museum, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Public Palace when open to the public.
Churches: The Basilica of San Marino, a Catholic Church, built in 1836 in neoclassical style is dedicated to the country’s founder, Saint Marinus, with a porch surrounded by columns at its entrance. This church was built on the same spot as a much older church and contains the relics of Saint Marinus. Other nearby churches to see include the Small Church of St. Peter and the St. Francis Church.
Palazzo Pubblico meaning Public Palace, is San Marino’s official government building and its town hall. Depending on the time of your visit, you may witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony from here. We visited in late November and were informed this happens during the summer.
Shop: Many come to San Marino for shopping as taxes are lower. The most memorable items I noticed aside from commonplace souvenirs, clothing, handbags, jewelry, ceramics, and wine were an abundance of weapons.
Festivals/Events: For those who love festivals and events, San Marino schedules quite a few throughout the year. You can look up upcoming events here.
Passport Stamp: If adding a San Marino tourist visa on your passport is desirable to you, you can acquire one for a fee at the Tourist Information Office.
Trying wine from San Marino, known as Sammarinese wine, should be a “must-do” for all Winetravelers during a stay in San Marino, especially since tasting Sammarinese wine outside of the country may be very challenging. Winemaking has been an integral part of San Marino’s history for centuries. In 1979, Consorzio Vini Tipici di San Marino, now known as Cantina di San Marino, was established, and is the only entity producing wine in San Marino.
This winery produces approximately 6500 hectoliters of wine per year based on coordinating with and collecting grapes from ~100 local farmers who grow and sell the grapes to the consortium across ~120 hectares. To put this quantity in perspective, that equates to a volume of more than 866,000 standard 750 ml bottles, but not all the wine is bottled and some is sold in bulk at the winery. The main grape varieties include Sangiovese for red wines, Biancale and Ribolla for white wines, and Moscato for sweeter white wines. Wines in San Marino can also be made with popular grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Staying in San Marino for two days should allow time for a visit to San Marino’s winery Cantina di San Marino, as long as you’re visiting during the week or on a Saturday morning. The weekday hours are from 8:30 am until 12:30 pm, and then from 2:30 pm until 6:30 pm; and from 8:30 am until 12:30 pm on Saturdays. The winery is closed on Sundays. No reservation is required for a simple tasting in their shop of one or two wines. To sit in their tasting room and visit the winery, contact the winery at least 2-3 days in advance.
If visiting the winery isn’t possible due to timing/scheduling, you will easily be able to purchase bottles as Sammarinese wine is sold all over in the shops lining the timeless streets. We sadly weren’t able to visit the winery during our recent stay as we arrived just after they closed on Saturday. We purchased a couple of bottles from a boutique wine shop where we were able to find higher end Sammarinese wines that were still very reasonably priced. You should also try their wines while dining in San Marino as the winery produces certain wines exclusively sold to restaurants.