Things to do in San Marino
Like Vatican City, the microstate of San Marino lies “in” Italy, as it’s encircled entirely by its neighbor. Though much larger than the pope’s home, it makes a fascinating day-trip destination to add to your Italy itinerary.
As you walk along the city’s medieval stone walls, take in the beautiful surrounding scenery, and discover the many alleys lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops selling ceramics and duty-free products. Though it resembles a lot of Italy, such as the language and architecture, soon enough, you’ll notice that the 61-square-kilometer country has its very own character.
Good to know: Before entering the old town of San Marino, you’ll walk past many shops selling various luxury goods. Although the city is known as a great place to go tax-free shopping, be aware that there are also some strange stores selling more questionable products.
1. San Marino Castle (Guaita Tower)
Perched high up on the hill overlooking the beautiful Umbrian landscape stands the Guaita Tower, the eye-catcher of San Marino. Out of three that sit on the peaks of Monte Titano, this 11th-century fortress is by far the most iconic.
As if it came straight out of a fantasy story, the impressive stone building towers over its surroundings, with the city of San Marino at its feet.
Over the years, San Marino Castle has been rebuilt several times for different uses; it even served as a prison once.
Now, it’s there for locals and tourists to admire the ancient history and incredible views. Though it takes a bit of time to climb the medieval fortress, the panoramic views from the top make it more than worth it!
Exploring San Marino
Most things to do in San Marino can be done by purchasing a combi-ticket. You can get these at one of the sites, such as the towers. Combi tickets cost between 6 – 8 EUR (6,50 – 8,70 USD) and include entry to the towers, the Public Palace, and up to four museums.
2. Basilica of Saint Marinus
The 19th-century Basilica of Saint Marinus, full of valuable statues and paintings, is a must-see when visiting San Marino. This beautiful religious building stands atop a pre-existing Romanesque church and is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, St. Marinus.
The classic basilica-style interior, with a long nave and two side aisles, is lined with seven altars. As you walk past the wooden benches and the building’s pillars, take a moment to look at the church’s intricate paintings and sculpt work. At the very front, you’ll also find a high altar with a statue and the relics of St. Marinus. Entrance to the basilica is free.
3. Second Tower (Cesta)
Not too far from the iconic Guaita Tower stands the second tower of San Marino, Cesta. Perched even higher than its older sibling, this 13th-century tower offers breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside. On a clear day, you can even see as far as the Apennine Mountains.
The ancient building sits right between the other two towers, connected through a panoramic route on the mountain’s edge. Inside, the tower houses a traditional weaponry museum, where you can discover about 700 different weapons from various periods in time.
You can buy a combi-ticket to enter the San Marino Castle (Guaita) and Cesta. At the top, you’ll also find some food and drink stands and a couple of tourist kiosks. If you would like to learn more about the different monuments while exploring the old town’s narrow streets, you can also choose to join a walking tour.
4. Palazzo Pubblico
In the heart of the old town, on Piazza della Liberta, you’ll find one of the most popular places in San Marino: the Public Palace. Covered in small elaborate details, the stone building with its grand doorways functions as San Marino’s government town hall.
Inside, a staircase leads up to the Council Hall, which is richly decorated with a large fresco on the wall. You can also visit this room on days when there are no sittings scheduled to take place. In summer, watch as the guards change in front of the ornate building, a ceremony that takes place several times a day between June and September.
5. The State Museum
From state museums and private collections, small San Marino has a total of 12 (!) museums you can choose to visit. The State Museum in the stunning Palazzo Pergami Beluzzi houses some impressive archaeological artifacts of the region’s past. It’s one of the best things to do in San Marino, with over 5,000 items from different times in history.
Other Museums to Visit in San Marino
Apart from the State Museum, there are plenty of other interesting, even quirky, museums you can visit in San Marino. A few included with a combi-ticket are:
- The Stamp and Coin Museum, full of beautiful postage stamps and coins that the republic has issued as regular series since the mid-19th century. Although the country has adopted the Euro, it continues to mint limited editions of gold coins for collectors. These coins are only accepted as a currency in San Marino.
- The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art. This incredible building houses over 1,000 pieces of work of some of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, making it a great visit when in San Marino.
- The San Francis Art Gallery, inside the cloister of the St. Francis church. This building houses a collection of beautiful frescoes and paintings illustrating the order’s long history in San Marino.
6. Head to the Beach
About half an hour’s drive from the microstate, you’ll find kilometers of beautiful soft sand on Italy’s eastern coastline. This holiday region is dotted with different beach resorts, cute towns, and many colorful umbrellas perfect for lounging under. Most also have lush greenery, offering some shade, and are equipped with changing rooms and lifeguards.
Is San Marino in Italy?
Though it is often mistaken as a part of Italy, San Marino is actually an independent country with its own government and laws. It’s one of the few microstates in the world, spanning only 61 square kilometers in size, though Italy does completely surround it.
It’s also known as the oldest sovereign state in the world, and the capital city (old town) lies atop the rugged Monte Titano, the highest point of the area. There’s no border control that you need to pass through when you enter San Marino. However, you do need a valid passport when you’re there. You can even buy a passport stamp for 5 EUR (5,45 USD)!
The Best Cafes and Restaurants in San Marino
The food in San Marino is, as you would expect, heavily influenced by Italian flavors. You’ll find lots of pasta dishes, local products, and delicious rich wines. Enjoy some incredible seafood or hand-made gnocchi in one of the traditional Osterias with views over the stunning Umbrian hills.
Some of our favorite restaurants were:
- La Terrazza
- Ristorante Pizzeria Smaller
- Ritrovo Dei Lavoratori
- Strapizzati (pizza to-go to eat on the castle walls)
- Cacio & Pepe
How to Visit San Marino
Due to its size, San Marino doesn’t have an airport. If you’re only visiting the microstate, the closest place to fly is beach town Rimini or Umbria’s capital, Perugia. However, note that these are small airports with specific flight schedules.
As all the best sights of San Marino lie on top of Monte Titano, enclosed in the ancient city, it’s best to explore the medieval city on foot. In the lower Borgo (town), the new part of town, there are plenty of parking spaces to park your car. From there, you can take the bus or funicular up to the old part of the city.
Using San Marino’s cable car to get to the upper city is not only quick and convenient but an experience in itself. While you move up the edges of Mount Titano, you’ll be able to get your first glimpse of the microstate’s incredible surroundings.
The funicular opens at 7:45 AM and operates every 15 minutes. A single journey costs 2 EUR (2,20 USD), and a return ticket 3,50 EUR (3,80 USD).
Where to Stay
San Marino makes a great location to explore on a day trip. A few hours is all you need to stroll the streets, climb the towers, and visit some city’s city’s museums. However, the small republic is also an incredible place to stay the night.
Watch as the city calms at the end of the day while a glowing sun sinks behind the hills. The most convenient hotels are located in the old town, where you also find most of the top attractions.
Best Time to Visit San Marino
The country is relatively quiet all year round, although it does get much busier in the summer when Italians have their holidays. Because of this, we recommend visiting in April – June or in September – October. During these shoulder seasons, it will still be warm, allowing you to enjoy the city with plenty of sunshine.