Recently we did a day trip to San Marino from Rimini. The Republic of San Marino does not have a train station. Nor does it have an airport, although the nearby airport of Rimini has added “and San Marino” to its name. Travelling to San Marino is thus not as straightforward as to other countries. We went by bus. But actually many foreign visitors to San Marino travel there by cable car!
San Marino is a tiny independent state near the Italian town of Rimini – and completely surrounded by Italy. It was one of many small city republics that thrived in Italy in the Middle Ages. For instance, Florence, Milano, or Siena were all such city states. However, San Marino is the only one that somehow outlasted all the others, even after the unification of Italy in the 19th century. The Sammarinese trace their history back to 301 AD. Definitely, the city had city walls in the 10th century. Later it was briefly occupied a few times, but since 1740 San Marino has continuously been free and independent.
Travelling to San Marino by bus
“This bus stop is not served in winter.” The sign at the terminal stop of the San Marino shuttle, opposite Rimini Main Station, leaves us puzzled. Is March still winter? Does that mean the bus is not running at all? Travelling to San Marino may be somewhat eccentric, but is it impossible in winter? After all, the city is located on a mountain top. We begin imagining some sort of inaccessible Snow Queen Castle when the San Marino shuttle bus arrives almost on time.
After a brief ride through suburbs and fruit plantations, we pass an international border sign. Republic of San Marino, Speed limit … The bus stops in a cluster of industrial structures at a stop called “Outlet”, and one of the passengers gets off. For an extended shopping trip, we assume, as San Marino has considerable lower taxes than Italy. The bus immediately turns and leaves the state territory of San Marino again. We then cross more of those international border signs as the main road skirts along the outer perimeter of San Marino. By now, we can see the mountain. Alas – no snow!
Taking in a mountain and some villages in San Marino
Monte Titano, just over 700 m high and quite steep, rises above the surrounding area. The state of San Marino consists of Mount Titano and a few other hills and some flatter land. Its total area is just 60 square kilometres. On the foot of the mountain the bus passes the lower cable car station. There are parking lots next to it, and most of the Italian tourists who travel to San Marino driving their own car will take the cable car up from here. There is just not enough space on the mountain for all those cars! But there are some smaller parking areas.
From the final bus stop, steep cobbled streets lead further up the mountain. Picturesque townhouses line the streets, covering the mountain top in four or five rows. The mountain is so steep that nearly every house offers a view. Soon we arrive at Liberty Square, the Piazza de la Libertà. San Marino’s Statue of Liberty is a mediaeval queen in a leather jerkin. In fact, the statue is a gift dating from the late 19th century. That’s the same time as the city hall behind her which also looks very ancient and fortified but was rebuilt in 1889. Neo-gothic was in high fashion at that time – and even that romantic re-invention of the old city is today part of the UNESCO World Heritage inscription. To pay for the costly reconstruction, the Sammarinese just sold a few noble titles to rich European industrialists.
San Marino, a micro-state surviving from the Middle Ages
The small city hall is the seat of the parliament of the Republic of San Marino. Nevertheless, it is open to visitors when no parliament sessions are in progress. The tiny republic is indeed an independent state and not even a member of the European Union. But even so, the political leaders of San Marino do not need to make a lot of political decisions. The country closely follows Italian policies and is in an economic and monetary union with its larger neighbour. That includes the use of the Euro, which makes a day trip to San Marino from neighbouring Italy very easy.
However, the republican tradition is held high. Just as the Roman Republic had two consuls, the Republic of San Marino elects two equally-ranked heads of state. They only govern for half a year until the next election! So, if you are a citizen of San Marino, your chances of being head of state at one point are quite high. Conveniently, all those elections and investitures are great opportunities to show off colourful mediaeval-looking uniforms and parades. After all, tourism is one of the main sources of income of this landlocked mini-country.
Swords, wands, and witches
The winding cobbled streets of San Marino City look a bit like a mediaeval theme park. And guess what, you can buy magic wands and knights’ armour in every other shop. That is – the other shops sell either perfumes (for the duty-free feeling) or weapons. Not only swords and sabres, mind you. You can buy all kinds of handguns, automatic weapons, crossbows, and military equipment. Reading up on the regulations after our day trip to San Marino, we learn that the small state has one of the laxest gun laws in Europe. But of course, you are not allowed to export them from San Marino…
Three castles on the mountain ridge
Along the top of the mountain, three old castles and towers are linked by strong walls and fortifications. We stroll along the Passo delle Streghe, a fortified pathway between two of the towers. Its name means “Steps of the witches”, and old legends have it that witches were sometimes dancing on the rocks of Monte Titano at night. On an afternoon in late March, nobody is dancing on the mountain. A couple of somewhat bored tourists walk back and forth, most of the cafés and shops are closed. One of the castles contains a weapons museum. Unfortunately it is also closed for renovation.
Eventually, we end up with a coffee and pistachio croissant in one of the streets near the city hall before catching the bus back to Rimini.
A day trip to San Marino – is it worth it?
Visiting San Marino City took us 5 hours, and we didn’t feel like there was much more to see. In summer it’s probably nice to sit on a café terrace on the mountain catching a breeze. If you are interested in old weapons such as swords and crossbows, the shops and museums are worthwhile. But then, our day trip to San Marino was easily arranged from Rimini and not expensive, either. As we passed Rimini anyway on our way to Ravenna (great history! beautiful mosaics!), it was a nice detour which we didn’t regret. We stayed a night in Rimini because we liked the name, the cheap beach image and the Frederico Fellini connection.
Another very small country in Europe we visited is Liechtenstein. Read about our “long-distance” hiking trip in Liechtenstein and about everything else we experienced while travelling in Liechtenstein, and how we liked it.
How to do a day trip to San Marino from Rimini?
The direct bus leaves opposite the station several times a day and costs 5 Euro (2022) per person one-way. The Kiosk (Tabacchi) nearby sells tickets and also has a timetable of the buses. You can also buy the ticket on the bus.
NB: We were not sponsored in any way for this blog article about a day trip to San Marino. We paid all expenses ourselves.
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