San Marino is Europe’s third smallest country just ahead of the Vatican City and Monaco. It is a landlocked micro-state completely surrounded by Italy. While technically not a member of the European Union or Schengen Zone, San Marino is considered a Schengen Associate Member and shares an open border policy with Italy. San Marino’s existence dates back to 301 A.D. well before Italy was an united country like today. During the long history of Italy, there were many small states and city-states that eventually united to become Italy. San Marino managed to survive the unification of the Italian peninsula and today proudly celebrates it’s 1717 years of independence.
I had an opportunity to visit San Marino recently on a short day trip from Bologna, where I currently live. San Marino might be small, but it is absolutely worth the trip! I was able to “leave” the European Union for the day, get my passport stamped, and add to my continually growing country count.
How to Get There
San Marino is an easy day trip from most of Northern Italy. The country is not linked to the train system, and can only be accessed by road. The nearest train station to San Marino is in Rimini – a nice coastal town on the Adriatic worth a visit in and of itself. Immediately outside of the Rimini train station, there is an hourly bus to San Marino. Tickets are sold right next to the Burger King in a small shop across from the station, and the bus meets in front of the shop. There is a clear timetable in the shop for each bus departure. The end of the bus line is right in downtown San Marino, and the ride takes about 45 minutes each way. The ticket costs 5 euro or 10 euro return. Bus times are listed on the San Marino website.
Because San Marino has an open border policy with Italy, it is not necessary to obtain a visa before visiting assuming you have been granted entrance into the Schengen zone.
What to Do in San Marino
San Marino is small, and I would not recommend more than a day. While it is possible to spend the night in San Marino, there isn’t enough to do warranting a two day trip.
San Marino City, the capital of San Marino, is located on a steep hill with a massive cliff on one side facing the Adriatic sea. The city was obviously built on this hill for strategic purposes being difficult to attack due to its location. This means that along the edge of the cliff, there are several fortified castles with the city below.
One of the best things to do in San Marino is simply walk around and take in the incredible view. There is a nice path along the cliff with excellent views of all three castles. It is possible to pay 5 euro and enter the first two castles to climb the tower, but the third is closed to the public.
Besides the castles, San Marino has many restaurants and shops catering mostly towards tourists. Because San Marino has different laws than Italy, it is possible to buy swords and knives at many shops throughout town. Also because the 21% Italian consumption tax does not apply in San Marino, many will come to buy cigarettes or designer brands for a discount.
There are also several odd museums in San Marino. I did not have a chance to visit any because they seemed a bit tacky, but the most well-known ones are the Torture Museum and the Museum of Curiosity.
San Marino can be a bit crowded with tourists during the summer months especially on the weekend, but I heard that the best time to visit is actually on a Sunday evening when the crowds tend to die down. The sunset in San Marino is absolutely beautiful so I think it is worth it to come later in the evening.
Getting Your Passport Stamped
Let’s be honest – the main reason I came to San Marino was to get my passport stamped. It is possible to get this done in the Official Tourism Information Office near the top of the hill. This website details their address and summer/winter hours. It costs 5 euro, and they will first glue a small San Marino paper stamp into your passport before sealing it with their ink stamp. The stamp looks really cool and is definitly worth the small fee.
As a side note, some people may be concerned getting their passport stamped with a “souvenir stamp”. This is not the case. San Marino is a fully independent country and United Nations member. They have the right to stamp passports and issue visas at their own discretion, and you should not encounter any problems.
I happened to be visiting San Marino on a unique day – September 3rd is their national Independence Day – so when I got my stamp, the date had been updated to say “1717”. Many people like to come to San Marino to collect unique postage stamps, but I feel like I got one of the most unique of them all – a visa stamp on their Independence Day.
Around San Marino
On my way to San Marino, I accidentally missed my stop on the train through Rimini and ended up traveling an additional 25 minutes south to the seaside town, Pesaro. When I got there, I discovered that I needed to wait an extra hour and a half before the next train to Rimini. With this extra time, I decided to walk around and discovered a beautiful Italian town close to Rimini but free of the massive hoards. I’ll just leave some pictures below. I recommend adding Pesaro to your San Marino day trip. Furthermore, if you have some time in Rimini, check out the old city as well.