San Marino City Guide – Prepare To Explore The Oldest Republic In The World Without Hustle!
With a 2005 population of 4,000, and climbing along the upper slopes of Mount Titano, the city of San Marino is the capital of The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, which is an independent city-state located in the Appenine Mountains in northern Italy. San Marino has the proud distinction of being the oldest extant democracy in the world, its Constitution having been written in 1600.
Short History Of San Marino
For centuries, San Marino was the only city in the country, but as the country expanded, other cities sprung up and it is now only third-largest, after Borgo Maggiore and Dogana. However, San Marino has the best monuments and the most history, and this along with the city’s many other assets make San Marino a huge tourist attraction, with over 3 million tourists per year.
San Marino was founded in the year 301, and became a place where Christian refugees fled from Roman persecution. Three towers, all which still remain, were constructed throughout the centuries to protect the city center. The first, Guaita, was constructed in the 11th century, and was considered to be impenetrable. Despite this reputation, a second tower, Cesta, was added in the 13th century, and a third, the Montale, was ultimately added in the 14th century. Guaita and Cesta are open to the public, with Cesta also housing a museum.
San Marino is a successful democracy which is governed by its own laws and institutions. Its currency is Euro and the character is very much main stream European. In a periphery that limited and small, there’s lots to explore and experience in San Marino.
For ages, the fortified city center has very little automobile access, which adds to the medieval atmosphere that features winding cobbled lanes working their way up the mountain. There are an ample number of restaurants, cafes, shops, bars and panoramic views to keep any tourist entertained, and the unique layout adds a great flavor.
Exploring San Marino
Although completely surrounded by Italy, San Marino is an independent and the world’s smallest republic. It can be easily reached by bus from Rimini or you can take the aerial tram from nearby Borgo Maggiore. Don’t worry about visas or entry requirements because border control is practically nonexistent here. However, for novelty’s sake, you can have your passport stamped at the tourist information office for a fee.
San Marino is well worth the visit. There are many attractions once you cross the border. San Marino, the capital city of similarly named republic, is a popular day trip destination from neighboring Italian cities, Rimini in particular. It is strategically located on top of Monte Titano, the highest peak in the country. When you get there, expect to find a horde of tourists and a long line of souvenir stalls flanking its winding cobblestone street. However, do not let this discourage you. This very small republic offers spectacular views, rich historical heritage and impressive architecture which make it a must-visit destination.
The walled city is made for walking. It is small and has many surprises to discover. A lot of historical attractions and the splendid panorama of the picturesque valley of Emilia Romagna and the rolling hills of Montefeltro will keep you company all the way. For the best views in the area, climb the towering Castello della Cesta where you will find not only an interesting small museum of antique armory to explore but also the stunning views of Rimini and the sparkling Adriatic coast.
One of the highlights of San Marino is the three soaring fortresses dominating the skyline of the walled city. The most impressive of these fortresses is La Rocca also known as the First Tower or the Guaita which was built by carving it out of the face of the mountain. It dates back to the 11th century, making it the oldest defensive tower on site. The Cesta, as mentioned earlier, is the highest of the three towers and also home to the San Marino Museum of Antique Weapons.
To learn more about the history of San Marino, explore the vast collection of exhibits in the State Museum or Museo di Stato. The museum displays archaeological artifacts dating from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, works of art by Italian masters, ancient San Marino coins as well as some Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman relics, to name a few. You also want to visit other nearby attractions such as the Palazzo Publico, Basilica del Santo, and the oldest structure located here – the Church of San Francesco.
Witnessing the changing of the guard ceremony at the Guardia di Rocca is also an interesting way to spend your time in San Marino. These guards stand at attention with austere and rigid expressions. This posture is not easy to maintain, which is good for you because you will not have to wait for long – every 30 minutes – to enjoy the ceremony.
The Royal or public palace should also be in your sightseeing list, this is a neo-Gothic edifice in regal Romanesque style of architecture, is renowned for is daily change of Royal guards- the Guardia de Rocca, a popular visual attraction. Founded by Saint Marinus in 301 AD, San Marino is known for its medieval and historical character preserved in its public and private monuments.
Also go check out the waxworks museum, this is a reconstruction of 40 scenes and 100 characters of bygone era. There is a state museum with its collection of archaeological and artistic treasures. The 14th century Gallery of San Francesco is another attraction. It has Maranello Rosso collection at the foot of Mount Titano, of 25 Ferraris created by the legendary Enzo Ferrari. It is a tribute to San Marino’s position in the zipping age as the venue of the annual Formula One Grand Prix motor racing that attracts fans from across the world.
Love cars? Then you are in for a treat because the country is also famous for the San Marino Grand Prix. Although this world-renowned event does not actually happen in the city because of its diminutive size, you can always visit the San Marino Car Museum and discover an extraordinary collection of more than 100 vintage racing cars. The beauties it has on display will surely make the day for auto enthusiasts and historians.
These are just some of the attractions you can experience and enjoy in the walled city. For such a small area, San Marino certainly packs a punch for visiting tourists.
San Marino Transportation
For a few years prior to World War II, San Marino had a railway network consisting of a single line, connecting the country with the Italian rail network at Rimini railway station. Due to difficulties in accessing the capital, San Marino City (which has a mountain-top location), the terminus station was to be located at the village of Valdragone. However with a joint effort between San Marino and Italy the railway was extended to reach the capital through a steep and winding track comprising many tunnels. The railway was opened on 12 June 1932.
It was an advanced system for its time, being an electric railway, powered by overhead electric cables. The trains drew power from these cables by means of a pantograph system. The tracks were narrow gauge, which offered advantages in terms of costs and ease of construction given the geographical features of the route, but made the railway incompatible with the Italian network. The train carriages had a distinctive appearance, being liveried in the national colours of San Marino, blue and white layered horizontally; the service offered first class and third class seats. There were 17 tunnels, all located within Sammarinese territory, ranging from about 50 m to 800 m in length.
The railway was well built and well used, and in all probability would have been a long-term feature of Sammarinese public transport, but it was almost completely destroyed during the fighting in this region during World War II. Today there is no operational railway in San Marino, but many disused artifacts such as bridges, tunnels and stations are still well visible, and in some cases have been refurbished and converted to parks, public footpaths or traffic routes.
Most of the tunnels are well preserved today and three of them have been checked for safety, provided with lighting and opened for pedestrian use. Most of the others have either been closed for safety reasons or purchased privately for storage. Inside the last tunnel, about 500 m long, closest to the former San Marino station, some of the train coaches once used are still being preserved.
Some of the bridges and other constructions used by the former railway have become well loved landmarks, especially the “Fontevecchia” bridge, set in a pleasant countryside location. Dogana’s station is now the centre of a large public park. Other stations have either been converted to private homes or demolished.
Since 21 July 2012, next to the terminus station of San Marino, it was reactivated an 800 m-long electrified stretch, for tourist and promotional purposes. It was the first step to reactivate the line, or part of it, and the government of San Marino is committed to the restoration of the line to Borgo Maggiore.
There is a 1.5 km aerial tramway connecting the city of San Marino on top of Monte Titano with Borgo Maggiore, a major town in the republic, with the second largest population of any Sammarinese settlement. Indeed, for the tourist visitor the aerial tramway gives the best available views of Borgo Maggiore, as the cars sweep low over the rooftops of the main town square. From here a further connection is available to the nation’s largest settlement, Dogana, by means of local bus service.
Two aerial tramway cars, known as gondolas, and numbered ‘1’ and ‘2’, operate in opposition on a cable, and a service is provided at roughly fifteen-minute intervals throughout the day. A third vehicle is available on the system, being a service car for the use of engineers maintaining the tramway.
The upper station of the aerial tramway serves no other purpose (although it is situated close to a tourist information office). However, the lower station in Borgo Maggiore has a number of retail and catering outlets situated within its overall structure.
Taxi and private road vehicles
There are 220 km of highways in the country, the main road being the San Marino Superhighway. Roads are well used by private car drivers. Sammarinese authorities license private vehicles with distinctive licence plates which are white with blue figures, usually a letter followed by up to four numbers. To the left of these figures is printed the national Coat of Arms of San Marino. Many vehicles also carry the international vehicle identification code (in black on a white oval sticker), which is “RSM”. Since 2004 custom licence plates have also become available.
A limited licensed taxi service operates nationwide. There are seven licensed taxi operating companies in the republic, and Italian taxis regularly operate within San Marino when carrying passengers picked up in Italian territory.
There is a regular bus service between Rimini and the city of San Marino, popular with both tourists and tourist industry workers commuting to San Marino from Italy. This service stops at approximately twenty advertised locations in Rimini and within San Marino, with its two terminus stops at Rimini railway station and San Marino coach station, respectively.
San Marino also has its own small local bus system within the republic. This can be a useful means of transport for a visitor staying more than one day in San Marino, and therefore having the opportunity to explore the wider country and some its smaller communities. It is worth noting that tourists who are resident in a Sammarinese hotel are usually entitled to a discount on local bus fares (though not on the international service to Rimini, Italy).
There is a small airfield located 43.94942°N 12.51098°E in Domagnano right next to the border; there is also an international heliport located in Borgo Maggiore. Most tourists who arrive by air land at Rimini’s Federico Fellini Airport, Italy, and then make the transfer by bus.
Two rivers flow through San Marino, but there is no major water transport, and no major port or harbour.
Best Time To Visit San Marino
May, June and September; July and August get crowded
Enjoy your vacation in San Marino!
Browse our City Info category for more cities worldwide that may be of interest to your vacation preferences!