About San Marino
We were both filled with excitement to reach the country, San Marino, which is, in fact, the 5th smallest country in the world with only 61.2 km². San Marino is reportedly the world’s oldest surviving republic, it was founded in 301 AD by San Marinus and Christians fleeing persecution.
The tiny country is surrounded by Italian soil, with the local language also being Italian. Despite not knowing much about San Marino at all, we had both seen photos of their breathtaking towers and were keen to visit. There are 9 towers in San Marino and they are the symbols of the country, their flag even features 3 of them.
With the grassy green landscape, dotted with mountains and hills welcoming us as we passed through the border, it was love at first sight and things only got better from there.
San Marino is the 20th country I have visited
San Marino is the 20th country that I have visited, so our arrival became a special occasion which we celebrated. I have come far from being a person who was once in their early 20’s and had not left Australia once. While I don’t strive to hit milestones like this, it is nevertheless cool when it happens and a very good reason to celebrate.
Getting to and wandering around the city centre
The historic city centre of San Marino is a small but incredibly interesting place to wander around, especially at night when it is lit up, it sets a romantic scene. There are lots of steep walking areas and occasionally some stairs so I would recommend wearing shoes suitable for walking. Very conveniently there are a number of elevators that take you up to the city centre from below, including from parking complexes.
There are a number of museums in the city, some of which have good reviews – I recommend to check Trip Advisor beforehand so that you know what to expect and see if they will actually interest you. We, unfortunately, didn’t have time to visit museums as we were only in San Marino for less than 24 hours.
There is a mix of stores in the city, from lacklustre cheap rubbish to some boutiques with pricey designer goods and in between, there are some shops with reasonable prices and decent goods. I am not normally in a city to shop but I am on the hunt for some winter clothes out of necessity so I kept my eye out.
To celebrate visiting my 20th country, we decided to celebrate in style by dining at a restaurant with a view – La Terrazza (The Terrace). Most days while travelling I stick to a small budget but on this day, I said: “forget the prices, let’s celebrate.” We shared a cheese platter with a range of local cheeses, ate pasta with truffles, shared a salad and bottle of wine – this came to 67 Euros.
I would recommend booking in advance if possible so you can eat on the actual terrace, we ate inside and while the view was amazing it was affected by the light glare on the window (dining at night). Service wasn’t terribly impressive but it was a great experience to eat some regional food and see how the other half live ;).
Exploring the towers: up close and from afar
From the city centre, you can visit 1-3 towers up close, for a fee. If you decide to do this please wear sturdy walking shoes as it is an uphill climb and bring a bottle of water. We regrettably didn’t enter as we were short on time.
Outside the city centre, you can get some cool perspectives of the towers especially if you have a car at your disposal.
Budget-friendly accommodation fit for a king and queen
Our accommodation at Modà Antica Dimora at 45 Euros per night was an absolute steal, the well-designed, regal-looking interiors had us feeling like we were staying in a palace AND we had views of 3 of the 9 famous towers.
Our stay at Modà Antica Dimora was definitely our most luxurious feeling stay and it is in our top 4 accommodation experiences from this trip. Located in Montegiardano, it is a 15-20 minute drive away from the historic city centre of San Marino. I highly, highly recommend this accommodation.
Montegiardino itself was a wonderful place to stay in, we had a very peaceful wander around this area as there was not a tourist in sight, just a few locals going about their day.
- Be sure to pick up a Tutto San Marino card – we were given this for free by our hotel’s receptionist and you can request this card at any hotel you stay at. This card provides you with very generously discounted admission to the cities museums and discounted parking in the city. For more information about the discounts, you can receive with the Tutto San Marino card, follow this link.
- Everything in San Marino is cheaper than where we visited in Italy likely due to lesser taxes so If you are doing a road trip, do yourself a favour and fill up on petrol here (we regretted not doing this).
A unique souvenir
- There is no border control between Italy and San Marino, however, if you wish to receive a passport stamp for the novelty/as a souvenir you can visit the Tourist Office of San Marino and pay 5 Euros for them to stamp your passport. I opted not to do this because I’d prefer to spend my money on trying some novel regional food or clothes/something that will be more long-lasting.
- We did encounter huge crowds from multiple bus tours (mainly in the shopping areas and around the towers) which are very unpleasant in a small city, so during busier seasons (which seems to be every season except winter), I would recommend trying to explore the city in the morning, especially if you wish to visit the towers. The city was also very quiet at night with only a few tourists and locals wandering around.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with our experiences San Marino, it ticked all of my boxes, I only wish I had more time there. We were able to get the most stunning accommodation at such a crazy price (I am sure travelling in Autumn helped), we only ever encountered welcoming locals and we were swept off our feet by the landscapes, as well as the pretty city and charming little villages.
Impressive tourism board
I was also pleasantly surprised with the high level of organisation by the tourism board of San Marino and the way in which they look after tourists, with the tourist cards and information freely and easily available. This is the first country I have been to that really takes care to ensure their visitors have a great experience.
Visit for a low key experience where you can enjoy nature as well as the beautiful old city and towns
All in all, I definitely recommend visiting, especially for people like me who prefer low-key experiences in places where you can admire both the beauty of nature as well as buildings that can take you back in time. It is a relaxing place to be, with the whole country seeming to have a small country-town vibe. Marko and I definitely intend to return one day but for a longer amount of time.
Recommendations for surrounding areas (for road trippers especially)
We weren’t personally very impressed with the stretch of coastline down from Trieste to San Marino (we have travelled mostly along the coast for this trip), it was full of tacky, touristic beach towns with designs that seem like they would’ve been a lot cooler 30 years ago. If you visit the beaches in this area you are unlikely to be able to see the shore due to the number of hideous sunbeds. It is the opposite of my ideal beach experience.
I would recommend instead visiting inland cities instead such as Bologna or Florence but this is just my own personal preference. We headed from San Marino to Parco Nazionale del Gargano where we spent a lot of time, this is, however, quite a drive from San Marino (about 4.5 hours to get to the entrance of the national park) but nature lovers cannot miss it!
Special thanks to Marko for taking some great shots of me in San Marino.
Until the next post,
PS. I have a lot of content to share but I am currently still travelling and have had long periods of time without WiFi, there is a lot to come, though. I especially look forward to sharing the next post!