San Marino, the world’s smallest republic, has a reputation for being quite touristy — but the tourists visit for good reason. Ignore the souvenir shops and tourist restaurants and focus on the medieval towers and beautiful stonework of the city, which is perched on the top of a very steep hill.
Unfortunately San Marino’s train line was destroyed in the Second World War, so now the only way to get in is by road. A bus runs from nearby Rimini, Italy, several times a day, check out the timetable here.
We couchsurfed during our stay in San Marino, but there are plenty of hotels and a couple of hostels to choose from. The hostel on 28 Luglio in Borgo Maggiore is conveniently located on the bus route, and there are two walking paths from this lower town up to the Città.
Most of the tourist attractions are in the Città of San Marino, which is mostly pedestrian-only. Be prepared for some steep streets. To get to the top from lower down the hill, you can either drive, catch a bus, hop on the funicular (cable car) or walk. There are plenty of parking lots, and local buses run regularly, but many visitors opt for the scenic views the funicular offers. It runs every fifteen minutes and a return ticket costs €4.50.
If you choose to walk, look for the path near the lower funicular station — it’s on the far side if you’re approaching from Borgo Maggiore town. It’s divided into cycleway and footpath by a yellow painted line, and will take you through the old train tunnels, which are known as the galerias. This route will take you near the picturesque cemetery — stop in to check out the well-tended grounds and impressive family tombs.
You’ll arrive at St Francis Gate, where you’ll find a tourist cop directing both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
There’s another footpath from Borgo Maggiore to San Marino city, which features shallow steps of cobblestones — it’s better to go down than up. Find it on the north-western end of the city, just after the prayer cave.
What to do
Grab a map from the tourist office (the one in Rimini also stocks them) and explore. There are lots of museums to choose from, but 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 views from the ramparts is what’s really worth the entrance fee.
Of course, there’s a lot more to do than just visit these towers — you can also check out the beautiful San Marino Basilica, wander through the forest below the Witches’ Way, or have a leisurely lunch in one of the many restaurants. And if you can, come back after dark for a spectacular view of the lower countryside — the city certainly isn’t full of tourists then!