Guaita Tower and fortress on Mount Titano above the Republic of San Marino

9 reasons why you should visit San Marino

Planning a trip to San Marino? Here are our top picks...

Stay: Hotel Rosa

Walking tour: Private tour of San Marino

Museum pass: Includes entry to 7 museums

Food tour: Local food and wine tasting

There are two landlocked micronations in Italy, but while the Vatican City is a must on any trip to Rome, San Marino is often skipped when visiting nearby Venice or Florence. The medieval walled city is an attraction in its own right, with three great towers dominating the surrounding landscapes.

One of just three enclave countries in the entire world, San Marino is also the third smallest country in Europe (after the Vatican City and Monaco). It might only be small but there are plenty of things to do on a visit to San Marino. There are nine regions in the tiny 61.2 square kilometre country, but 99.9% of San Marino’s two million annual visitors head to the capital of the same name.

The Unesco-listed capital, Città di San Marino, is a hilltop castle town rivalling the likes of San Gimignano and Orvietto. Like those Tuscan and Umbrian classics, there are tacky souvenirs just about everywhere, but the views from the castle walls over the city and the sprawling Emilia-Romagna region of Italy make it an unforgettable stop.

Although there are no hard borders, you can stop at the tourism office to get your passport stamped (for a small fee, of course). Even a short trip here will give you an insight into how the country earned its moniker as the “Most Serene Republic of San Marino”.

Monte Titano in Autumn, overlooking San Marino town

1. The views from Monte Titano are incredible

The three towers of San Marino are timeless symbols of the country - you will see them everywhere, including on the micro-nations flag. Torre Guaita is the oldest and largest of the three castles, it was still in use as a prison right up to 1975. Explore the rooms and museums inside and climb to the top of the tower to look out over the rest of the mountaintop city.

From here you can head along Passo delle Streghe, or the Witches’ Pass, to the second tower. Torre Cesta offers stunning views of Torre Guaita, Rimini, and the Coast of Italy, which you can see by taking a stroll on its ramparts. The third tower, Montale, is a little harder to reach and so sees a lot less visitors. Also used as a prison, the impenetrable door is 7 metres above the ground so it’s not open to the public, but the views and trails on this side of Monte Titano are outstanding.

2. San Marino has a curious history

Although San Marino is entirely surrounded by Italy, it has somehow retained its independence since it was founded in 301 CE. It’s actually the world’s oldest republic, remaining separate through the Italian unification process in the 19th century and staying neutral during both World Wars. But why is San Marino separate from Italy?

Italy was once made up of many Italian city-states that have since merged, but San Marino has remained autonomous due to its religious significance (being founded by Saint Marinus), its fierce independence in early battles, and the countries friendly relationships with leaders such as Napoleon, Garibaldi, and Abraham Lincoln.

People walking in San Marino's old town on a cloudy day.

3. You can see the micro-state in a day

Due to its small size, soft border, and great transport links to Italy, you can easily visit San Marino on a day trip. The tiny population of around 33,600 are used to visitors and welcome tourism as it contributes over 22% of San Marino's GDP - in fact there are thought to be around 56 tourists to every resident!

Although the country never joined the European Union, they do use the Euro as the main currency which makes travelling between Italy and San Marino all the more easy. But there is a lot to see in the capital, and even more to see in the surrounding areas, so if you have more time, spend at least a night or two exploring the independent nation.

4. San Marino is easy to get to from Italy

You can easily visit San Marino from Italy, it's a 30-minute drive away from Rimini, an hour and a half from Bologna, or three hours south of Venice. The nearest international airport is 27 kilometres away in Rimini (RMI). Buses from Rimini to the city centre run frequently throughout the day and cost €5 one way, or €10 for a round trip.

But public transport can be lacking in the centre, it’s part of the reason why San Marino has an outlandish 1.6 vehicles per person. If you are renting a car there are plenty of car parks on the drive up to Monte Titano, or you can choose to ride on the Funivia (cable car) where you can park all day for free. It’s important to note that driving inside the old city is forbidden.

Avoid the cruise ship crowds on summer weekends and visit at a quieter time of year instead - you may even get to see Monte Titano with a dusting of snow.

Shopping for souvenirs in San Marino's old town.

5. There’s great shopping in San Marino

the first thing you might notice on entering San Marino is that the prices drop significantly compared to Italy. Fuel is a fraction of the price and San Marino capitalises on this with petrol stations inhabiting every intersection near the border.

Because of lower tax rates than surrounding EU countries, San Marino has become a tax haven for many foreign businesses. With a corporate rate 6% lower than Italy (4% lower than the EU average), many choose to base themselves in the country for these huge financial benefits.

What this means for us is that it’s a great place to go shopping. From fine leather goods, handbags, perfume, and jewellery, to crossbows, knives, and samurai swords - you can find it all in this small city. Weapons are an integral part of the history of the patriotic country.

There’s even an annual crossbow tournament to celebrate the country’s birthday, a sport that has earned them the title of the smallest country in the world to win medals at the Olympics.

San Marino is also a popular producer of collectables – which make great souvenirs. Take a trip to the Museum of Philately and Numismatics, located in the church in Borgo Maggiore, to learn the history of San Marino’s popular stamps and coins.

Philatelists will have a field day in San Marino, with commemorative collections that are hard to find anywhere else. For the average tourist, the stamps and coins in the visitors' centre make for unique San Marino-made souvenirs to take home.

Palazzo Pubblico, the main square in San Marino

6. San Marino has a unique government

The country is a parliamentary representative democratic republic, with 60 elected members known as the Grand and General Council, choosing two ‘Captains Regent’ to effectively run the country. These two heads of state serve together equally for 6 months per term. Diversity is encouraged and the country has a very open debating system.

You can visit the Palazzo Pubblico, which still serves as the governmental seat of the city, on the days the council is not working and watch the changing of the guards ceremony. One interesting artefact inside is a letter from honorary Sammarinese citizen Abraham Lincoln, in which he celebrated the country's triumphs.

7. You can visit the "friendliest people in Europe"

On first impressions, you could be mistaken into thinking the people here are Italian; the official language is Italian, and there are no obvious ethnic differences, but the people here are referred to as Sammarinese. Overwhelmingly kind, helpful and friendly you will soon come to realise why they are known as the friendliest people in Europe.

San Marino has such a low crime rate in fact that the dozen cells that constitute its only prison have never actually been filled. When it came to light that traffic accidents were the most dangerous thing in the country, the government took it upon themselves to hire cheery locals to direct traffic and make the roads safer.

Rather bemusingly (for a hardened Londoner), everyone you encounter just seems to be having a good day.

People relaxing on a terrace at a restaurant in San Marino

8. You can try Sammarinese cuisine

The best-known dish to try in San Marino is the Torta Tre Monti, or Cake of the Three Towers, a layered chocolate and hazelnut wafer cake made in the shape of the towers of San Marino.

Other Sammarinese foods to try include a Christmas bean and bacon soup called fagioli con le cotiche, rabbit stew, and pasta e ceci, a chickpea and noodle soup with garlic and rosemary.

San Marino is also well known for its wine, so make sure to try the local cask-aged red wines, Brugneto and Tessano, and still whites, Biancale and Roncale.

Surprisingly there’s a whole host of cuisines on offer in San Marino, unlike neighbouring Italy the country is much more open to foreign restaurants so the food scene is quite diverse with everything from American diners to Asian fusion.

9. San Marino is welcoming to all

Although the church has delayed San Marino with some laws (having only very recently legalised abortion), the country is leading the way in other areas of equality. San Marino has had more female heads of state than any other country, as well as the world’s first openly gay head of state, Paolo Rondelli.

It’s a place where almost anything goes, with more freedoms than many larger countries.  The 'Chapel of three religions' in the centre is the first-ever building of its kind that’s based on interfaith communication. They are slowly making steps towards sustainability, with carbon neutral goals, water refill stations, and organic and local food shops like Gino 16 and NaturaSì.

Planning a trip to San Marino? Stay at Hotel Rosa in the centre of town.

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 9 September 2023