When people say that good things come in small packages, they may well be talking about San Marino, the oldest sovereign state in the world that measures just 61 metres squared. The Republic of San Marino, or the Serene Republic of San Marino as it is poetically also known, is an independent state in the centre of Italy, nestled next to the Apennine Mountains with views as far as the Dalmatian Coast.
San Marino is the third smallest country in Europe after Vatican City and Monaco, but you will find everything from forests, fortress towers, and shopping malls, to medieval markets and Olympic stadiums in this quirky and unique part of the world.
Let’s have a look at the best places to visit in San Marino!
1. Rocca Guaita and Torre Cesta
Perhaps the best known of all of San Marino’s attractions, Rocca Guaita and Torre Cesta are two fortress towers situated on a ridge at the summit of Mount Titano. The towers are part of a set of three that feature on the official flag of San Marino, and visitors can visit and tour the towers, the earliest of which, Rocca Guaita, dates from the 13th century. The two towers are usually visited together and Torre Cesta has a traditional weaponry museum on site. From the top of the towers there are stunning views that stretch as far as the Dalmatian Coast, as well as over the nearby Apennines. On top of Mount Titano, and surrounding the towers, you will find food and drink stands, souvenir stalls, and tourist kiosks.
2. Torre del Montale
The third tower atop Mount Titano, Torre del Montale, can be accessed by walking a little further along the bluff from Torre Cesta and Rocca Guaita. Torre del Montale is sadly not open to the public, but it is well worth making the trip along the marked footpath that skirts the ridge of Mount Titano to see it, as you will find even more spectacular views over San Marino, as well as several quaint spots to relax with a picnic as you take in the unspoilt scenary.
3. Mount Titano
Aside from the main path that leads to the tower, there are other marked walking trails that take you through picturesque and lush woodlands that give you a different perspective to the more crowded city centre down below. You will find old stone benches dotting the mountain that are the ideal place to relax as you take in the vistas, and as Mount Titano is found at an elevation of 750 metres above sea level, the mountain air is crisp and bracing, so be prepared for it to be cooler than the lower regions of the state and plan accordingly.
4. The Museums
San Marino, the capital city of which is also called San Marino, may be small but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a lot going on in terms of the museum scene, and anyone who likes a stroll around an exhibition won’t be disappointed here. San Marino seems to specialise in quirky museum topics and with that in mind, and apart from the National Museum, there are a whole host of niche museums to visit on a trip here. One of these is the Museum of Torture, featuring a range of torture devices through the ages that is a slightly macabre but highly interesting place to visit. If you are in the mood for something a little lighter then you can head to the Wax Museum that features a wide selection of famous historical characters through the ages as well as several nods to the history of San Marino so you can learn about its development and influencers at the same time. There is even a coin and stamp museum for those who want to learn about the history of the currency and postage of San Marino.
The town of Faetano is one of the nine communes that make up the catelli of San Marino and used to be part of neighbouring Rimini in Italy until it became part of San Marino in the 15th century. A sleepy area of San Marino with little over 1,000 inhabitants, visitors make the trip to Faetano to see the Church of San Paolo Apostolo as well as the quaint town hall. Visitors can spend a tranquil day wandering the small streets of Faetano and taking in the local atmosphere as well as trying some of the local food and wines.
Another of the nine communes of San Marino, Montegiardino is most famous for being a university town, the only one in San Marino in fact, and home to the University of the Republic of San Marino. The town is often described as the most beautiful of all San Marino and it has the relaxed and intellectual vibe of university towns the world over. Said to date from the Roman period, Montegiardino is stepped in history and you can enjoy the well established cafe culture here as you while away a few hours trying the local food and drink including special flat bread sandwiches called piadina that are also popular in the neighbouring provinces of Italy.
7. Borgo Maggiore
Borgo Maggiore started life as a sleepy village and has grown into the modern town which is one the largest residential areas in San Marino. Borgo Maggiore is most famous for its street markets that are held every Thursday from early in the morning until around 2pm. The first markets ever held in Borgo Maggiore (previously known as Mercatale) are said to have taken place in the 13th century, so if you come here know that you are shopping in a place with a long and proud history. The markets used to sell cattle but in the present day you are more likely to find fresh local produce and household wares as well as arts and crafts from the region. The town is also connected to the city of San Marino by a funicular which allows you to enjoy the beautiful vistas over the state as you ascend.
Another of the castelli of San Marino, Serravalle is the largest municipality in the state and lies at the foot of the Apennine Mountains. The town dates from medieval times and was previously a small village named ‘The Village of the Elm Trees’. Places of interest in Serravalle are the Serravalle Castle which feature on the castello’s coat of arms, as well as Saint Andrea’s Church built in the 19th century. In terms of modern architecture, check out the Olympic Stadium, something of a misnomer and not actually linked to the Olympic Games, but rather the national stadium used predominately for football matches.
9. The Festivals
If you enjoy festivals and happen to be visiting San Marino during the month of July, then you will have plenty of choice, as the state features the renowned San Marino Jazz Festival in the city of Borgo Maggiore, as well as the Adriatic Music Festival. For something more quirky, look out for the Medieval Days festival which features period costumes, food, games, and arts and crafts as San Marino goes back to its roots and celebrates all things medieval in the state.
10. Piazza della Liberta
Come to Piazza della Liberta for one of San Marino’s best loved traditions, the changing of the guard ceremony with the Guardie di Rocca. The Guardie are known for their green uniforms and red pompom hats, and the changing of the guard happens on the hour every hour during daylight hours in the summer months. After you have enjoyed this engaging traditional spectacle, head down the single main street that leads off Piazza della Liberta which is packed with restaurants, cafes, and charming boutiques that sell local handicrafts including San Marino’s most famous items, its duty-free products and exquisite ceramics.
The town of Dogana is found in the north of San Marino near the border with Rimini and as such the town is used as the main entry and exit point for visitors wishing to travel to San Marino. The name Dogana literally translates as ‘Customs House’ although there are no border checkpoints as you enter or exit San Marino, and the main buses that run from Italy into the state usually stop at several shopping malls that are located in Dogana. Here you can pick up duty-free items and souvenirs including local arts and crafts products.
12. National Museum
Wander down to Palazzo Pergami Belluzzi where you will find the National Museum that has an eclectic mix of Neolithic pieces, Roman artefacts, and even Egyptian and Byzantine historical works. The museum also features a range of artwork dating from as early as the 17th century as well as early examples of San Marino currency. There are over 5,000 excellently preserved and presented curiosities in the National Museum which will take you through the history of San Marino as well as that of the wider region. The museum has been supported over the years by a great many prominent Italian public figures, from politicians, to artists, to celebrities, and many of the works on display here are the result of donations.
13. The restaurants of San Marino city
The food in San Marino is, as you would expect, heavily influenced by Italian flavours and ingredients, with an emphasis on pasta dishes, fresh local produce, and plenty of flowing wine. Distinctly Sammarinese however, are Faggioli con le cotiche, a kind of bean and bacon soup that is perfect for the milder winter months, as well as Torta Tre Monti, a favourite Sammarinese desert. Many visitors from surrounding Italy also come to San Marino for two famous products, the wine and the local truffles which are quite the delicacy here. The city of San Marino is said to have some of the best restaurants in the whole of the state.
14. Palazzo Pubblico
Palazzo Pubblico is easily recognisable in San Marino due to its Gothic style and the ornate facade. Palazzo Pubblico is the official Town Hall of the state and all the main government events and ceremonies take place here. The building is made from stone taken from neighbouring Mount Titano, and dates from the 1800s. As you approach you will notice a square clock tower that tops the building and features battlements that echo Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Well worth a visit, there is a staircase located inside the building that leads to the top tower.
15. Basilica di San Marino
Dating from the early part of the nineteenth century, the Basilica di San Marino was actually built upon the remains of a Roman church that originally stood in the fourth century. The Basilica is famous for housing the bones of the patron saint of San Marino, Saint Marinus, which are stored in an urn, and there is a high alter that features a statue of the saint. The basilica has seven alters in all that are ornate and intricate in design, and visitors should also take the time to explore the paintings within Basilica di San Marino which are exquisite in their craftsmanship.