We take you on a whirlwind tour of three of Europe‘s tiny micronations: San Marino, Monaco, and Andorra. They were the last three countries we hadn’t visited in continental western Europe, and they were a part of our IndieRail trip.
The medieval towers and beautiful stonework of this hilltop city-state makes San Marino a great place to visit. You’ll see the main sights in a day trip, but the city is quite magical after all the tourists have left in the evening.
You’ll have to arrive by road, as San Marino’s train line was destroyed in the Second World War, and it doesn’t have a coast or airport for boat or plane arrivals. A bus runs from nearby Rimini, Italy, several times a day, check out the timetable here. Rimini has an international airport for ease of access.
The biggest attraction are the three towers which are the country’s symbol. You can get a “red card” ticket for €4.50 which gives you entry to the first two towers; the third can’t be visited. There’s a weapons museum inside the second tower, and information panels in the first, but the view from the ramparts is what’s really worth the entrance fee.
You can also check out the beautiful San Marino Basilica, wander through the forest below the Witches’ Way, or catch the cable car to or from Borgo Maggiore (€4.50).
Monaco deserves its reputation as the most expensive country in Europe (and possibly the world) — when we were looking for hotel rooms there was nothing cheaper than €120 a night. It’s possible to visit on a budget, though — just stay in nearby Nice.
The train to and from Nice costs €3.50, but you’re better off catching the bus (number 100) for just €1 because the views are amazing and you save €2.50.
You’ll want to visit the casino, of course, but it doesn’t open until 2pm. Fill your morning with a visit to the Japanse gardens, which are open from 9am, and a wander along the harbour to check out the yachts. While we were there there was a semi-permanent funfair by the water, and the air was filled with terrible music and the sound of people having terrified fun.
Head up to Monaco-Ville (also known as “the rock”), where you can visit the Monaco Cathedral, the Oceanographic museum, and the Prince’s Palace — which has a changing of the guard ceremony every day at 11.55am. We missed it. We also missed the Exotic Gardens, which are located at the top of a cliff.
Walking’s the best way to get around, though there are public buses if you want to use them. Make use of the public elevators dotted around the city if you need to get up a hill.
At 2pm, you can enter the main room of the casino, which has gambling machines and some table games. It’s free to enter, but you’ll have to leave your bag in the coat check. If you want to enter any of the other gaming rooms, you’ll have to be formally dressed and pay an entrance fee. Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside.
Perched in the Pyrenees, Andorra is well known as a skiing and shopping destination. The easiest way to arrive is by bus — it costs €27.50 from Barcelona, and there’s also a bus from Toulouse in France. We did it the hard way and arrived by train to the border town of L’Hospitalet. There are two buses daily from the train station to Pas de la Casa in Andorra, but they run at around 7am and 7pm — not ideal for us. Luckily the French train network also run just one bus daily, which connected with our train and left at 9.35am — and we could use our Eurail passes on it.
In Pas de la Casa, mini-buses left every half hour or so for Andorra la Vella, and cost about €5. That journey was incredibly beautiful, one of the highlights of our stay. Pas de la Casa is right at the top of the mountain and Andorra la Vella is further down the valley, and as we descended the snow disappeared and the verdure of the lower areas emerged.
In Andorra la Vella, shopping is the main activity if you’re not there to ski. There are some nice walking paths along the valley walls, and the old town is worth a visit. The river is very pretty and we went to a small exhibition about Andorran Olympic athletes.
IndieRail is brought to you by ACPRail.com, providers of a wide range of rail passes and train tickets including Eurail, BritRail, Rail Australia, Japan Rail and more. Great pricing, friendly service. We’re glad to be working with them. Local day trips are provided by Urban Adventures. We’re sharing stories as they happen thanks to Droam: mobile data without boundaries. Check out our next destination…