Before travelling to San Marino this week, I’m not even sure I knew it was a country! While I only spent about 24 hours in this stunning micro state totally surrounded by Italy, I learned so much! It’s a beautiful nation with so much to offer, from weird museums to delicious cuisine, spectacular vistas and a fascinating history. Here’s 17 great reasons to visit San Marino this summer!
Reasons To Visit San Marino (The Country!)
17. A Fascinating History
San Marino (or the Republic of San Marino) is said to be the oldest sovereign state and oldest republic in the world. It was founded on the 3rd September 301 A.D. when Saint Marinus left a nearby island in Croatia, sailed to Italy and ended up building a church on top of Mount Titano, where the present day City of San Marino is located.
A lot of tourists and visitors ask “Why is San Marino located totally inside of Italy?” to which the locals reply “Why does Italy totally surround San Marino?!”, the joke being that San Marino is in fact the older country! It was officially recognized as an independent country by the Papacy in 1631.
It had always been a neutral country, not involving itself in World War 1 or 2, despite its obvious close proximity and solid relationship with Italy.
16. Unique Politics (with TWO Presidents)
San Marino probably has one of the most unusual political systems in the world which makes for a fascinating visit. They have not one but TWO Presidents at any one time, and both Presidents serve one of the shortest terms of any republic on earth – just 6 months each! Considering the population of the entire country is just 33,000, the short 6 month Presidential term means that most residents will personally know and be friends with the republics presidents.
There are also lots of interesting traditions such as giving the President a car for the duration of his Presidency, but making him walk home from work on his last day with no future income or benefits provided! For his 6 months, everyone (even friends) must refer to him as “Your Excellency” and can be imprisoned for up to 3 years for failing to do so.
15. Spectacular views and vistas
Of all the countries in the world, the old City of San Marino, built of top of Mount Titano, has one of the most spectacular views you’ll ever be lucky enough to see. Almost everywhere you look rewards you with breathtaking vistas. Be it from one of the country’s famous three towers, the Parliament Building or virtually any cafe or restaurant in town, expect to have your breath taken away more than once.
As most tourists only travel to San Marino on a day trip from Bologna or Rimini, the old town is totally deserted each evening. This means sunset lovers will have the place to themselves and can watch the sun set in the horizon from a number of romantic sunset spots scattered around the old town. Believe me when I say, watching the sunset from San Marino is a moment in life you’ll never forget.
14. Super weird museums
Who doesn’t love a weird and wacky museum to visit and San Marino has no shortage of these – especially given how tiny the country is!! From a Vampire Museum to the Museum of Torture and the Museum of Curiosities – there’s plenty of weird here to keep you entertained for a few hours.
13. It’s NOT expensive
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world (THE wealthiest based on income per capita!), it’s not an expensive country. A nice hotel room for two people including breakfast set us back €99, dinner for two including drinks cost just €30 and there’s also some great discounts on shopping – with most things costly considerably less than their Italian neighbours.
It’s easy to walk around so you won’t need money for transport and most hotels give you a “San Marino Tourist Pass” which is a card that gives you discounted entry to museums and a discount at cafe’s, shops and restaurants in the old town.
12. Beautiful architecture
As the Old City of San Marino was constructed from the sandstone of Mount Titano, the architecture is a real treat for the eyes. All the buildings are built of the same soft stone, with many painted very pale pastel shades adding a fairytale feel to the town.
From the city walls that remind one of The Great Wall of China, to the ancient towers (the Guaita Tower, the Cesta Tower, and the Montale Tower) and city gates to tiny cafes draped in ivy or hanging flower baskets, the neo-classical architecture is both stunning and unique.
11. Europe’s least visited country
Want to travel to a country that none of your friends or family has been to? Turns our San Marino, which is the 5th smallest country in the world, is also the least visited in Europe. Recent records state that just 60,000 international tourist visited in the past year. Great way to feel special!
While you don’t need your passport to enter, you can get stamp in it if you bring it to the tourist office in the old town (for a small fee!).
10. A photographers dream
From interesting sculptures to unique architecture, a city built on top of a mountain that is surrounded by rollings hills and spectacular vistas, is most definitely a photographers dream.
Early morning walks or sunset strolls, as the golden hour shines light on the three towers and the winding streets and alleyways of the old town, make this place a heaven for photography – and the lack of other tourists is the cherry on top! While in other places you’ll fight for space to photograph the destinations most famous attractions, in San Marino you’ll have sunset views of the Witches Path or of the Parliament Building all to yourself. BLISS.
9. Visit the country in a day
At just 23.6 square miles in area, this micro state can very easily be visited in one day. Most people do day trips from Bologna to San Marino, and many cruise ship passengers travel from far and wide just to tick off another country on a day trip.
While this is totally doable (it really is tiny!!) I highly recommend staying the night in one of the 15 hotels located in the old town – it will make for a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience.
8. A foodie heaven
While nor part of Italy, the benefit of being so close if the huge Italian influence on the food in this micro state. The cuisine is very similar to neighbouring Emilia Romagna, a region of Italy famous for being a foodie haven, with fresh paste, cured meats and of course excellent locally produced wine of which Sangiovese and the Biancale would be the most famous.
Most of the restaurants are small and family owned, so expect locally sourced products, meals with a home cooked feel, and some local delicacies on the menu such as Bustrengo (cake with raisins) or Cacciatello (a local dessert).
7. Fun transport options
One of the best things about visiting San Marino is getting there!! Have you ever arrived in a new country by bus and cable car?! Well, here’s your chance!
You can of course also drive, but the cable car with its unparalleled views is the better option! Feeling adventurous? Why not hike to the top!
6. It’s a Stargazers paradise
On a clear night, stargazing from the top of Mount Titano is a very unique experience. While there is light pollution from the town, a short stroll away and you can experience total darkness, making it a top spot for astro-photography or just plain old star-gazing!
5. Visit the world’s tiniest stadium
The National Stadium in San Marino Old Town barely has capacity for a few hundred people! Granted, their National sport is Cross Bow so not much space is really needed.
While they do love their soccer, their tiny population makes it almost impossible for them to compete at top international levels so they instead compete in the “Small Nations Olympics”, a biennial competition launched by San Marino for all the world’s small nations and micro states to compete against each other. (P.s. There’s also a much bigger stadium, but it’s not in the city of San Marino.)
4. There’s no traffic!
Most of the streets in San Marino are pedestrianized, so traffic here is never a problem! Some local residents do of course have cars, and they’re allowed to drive them through town and certain designated times, but in general the City if devoid of traffic bar the two cars of the Presidents which remain parked on the town square all day.
3. They use a different calendar
This is a weird one. San Marino actually use a different calendar to the rest of the world. Instead of a regular calendar, they like to say what date it is based on how many years, months and days have passed since they became a republic! Republic Day is September 3rd each year, so the first day of their year begins in September 4th! This means they celebrate New Years day twice every year!
2. No official religion
While 97% of people living here are said to be Catholic, there is no official religion in San Marino which makes it one of the most unusual countries in the world – and even more unusual considering it is totally surrounded by Italy and so close to the Vatican!
1. They use (rare) euro coins
While not in the European Union, they have been given special permission to use the Euro! This makes visiting from Italy and other EU countries very easy as you don’t have to change your money. Euro coins from San Marino are also quite rare, as so few are minted each year. One for the coin collectors!
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