Visit Italy’s San Marino, the World’s Smallest Country
June 2, 2019
by Alex Wright
If you’re planning a trip to the Mediterranean, or Italy, then definitely take a road trip through to San Marino while you’re there – the world’s smallest, and oldest, country. For the most part, San Marino is an unexplored gem in the middle of the Italian countryside, often ignored, overlooked, or visited just for the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the capital city.
About San Marino
San Marino is officially known as The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, and it’s one of the most intriguing countries in the world. Something of an enigma thanks to its off-the-beaten-track status and lack of tourist traps – for the most part – San Marino is completely landlocked by Italy, and benefits from the amazing Mediterranean weather of that region. In fact, the country once belonged to Italy, gaining independence in 301AD – making it the oldest surviving sovereign state ever. In fact, it was founded during the 4th century by a saint of the very same name, once a stone-mason fleeing from Dalmatia because of the religious persecution that pervaded the medieval time period. The capital city, Città di San Marino is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, complete with beautiful arches, ramparts, and the picturesque, famous slopes of Mount Titano. The capital is the most touristy area of the country, and outside of this, there are sweeping fields and countryside, with countless villages set amongst a backdrop of fairy-tale lakes and forests.
Top things to do in San Marino
One of the three notable peaks overlooking San Marino, Rocca Guaita is the most famous, first constructed during the 11th century. The three towers all combine to form part of San Marino’s flag, and Guaita is typically considered in the same round trip as Torre Cesta – which is home to an interesting museum about the traditional weaponry of the country. Climbing to the top is well worth the hike, with views across miles of land – all the way to the Dalmatian Coast.
State Museum of San Marino
Not only the world’s smallest country but San Marino is also the oldest – plus it’s managed to stay safe from hordes of tourists, having recently won the title of “least visited country in Europe”. The city has barely changed since its original conception – and you can see that history played out in the State Museum, with artifacts and information that dates back to the 5th century BC. In fact, some of the exhibitions hold objects from the Neolithic Period, as well as ancient Etruscan and Roman items, and paintings and artwork from the 1600s.
Watch the changing of the guard
A summer tradition in San Marino, the changing of the guard takes place multiple times a day during the months of June-September. The ceremony takes place in Piazza della Liberta, with the guards dressed in dark green double-breasted jackets, red trousers complete with a green stripe, hats with red pompoms, and even white gaiters.
Museum of Curiosities
Definitely one of the weirdest and most interesting things you can do in San Marino, the Museum of Curiosities is full of strange items and inventions dating back hundreds of years. It’s the perfect place for visitors to go and learn about the weird and whacky side to San Marino’s history. With over 1000 things in the museum, it can be hard to know where to start. From the 1700s German mousetrap to the 17th century hand-pumped shower, the silver covers used by Chinese Mandarins to protect their long fingernails and even something called a “nose watch”, which was quite literally what it says on the tin: a watch, for your nose, that told the time by releasing different smells for every hour of the day.
Where to stay in San Marino
Typically, people will visit San Marino on a day trip has part of a longer holiday to Italy, with a lot of people opting for a hotel in Rimini. However, that doesn’t mean staying in the world’s smallest country should necessarily be overlooked – even if it’s just for bragging rights. Despite the country’s size, there are plenty of fantastic places to stay, although the heart of Old Town is hands down the best spot if you love history. The town oozes history – make sure you check out the old Roman bridge, first built in 20AD.
How to get to San Marino
Due to its status as the world’s smallest country, San Marino doesn’t actually have its own airport. Instead, the easiest way to visit is to fly into Federico Fellini International Airport which sits just outside the city of Rimini in Italy, and from there catch a train to Rimini Central Station. The only way to then get into San Marino is by bus from the center of Rimini, which will take you all the way to the capital of the country – unless you want to get off earlier and explore another side to San Marino. Alternatively, you could drive across Italy into San Marino in a car, taking the scenic route – although definitely park the car up for the majority of your trip and experience the country on foot, soaking up the sights.
The best time to visit San Marino
San Marino is lucky enough to share the same Mediterranean climate as Italy, which means it can get some pretty incredible weather. However, Mediterranean weather is unpredictable, with shockingly hot summers and freezing winters – and the summer heat isn’t helped by the sheer volume of tourists that traipse through the country every day. With that in mind, the spring / early summer months of May-June, and the early autumn months of September-October are the best times to visit: the number of tourists are down, the weather is moderate and manageable but without being too cold, and there are a lot of fun events happening in the country at this time. These include the crossbow tournament that takes place every year on 9th September, which is held in order to commemorate and celebrate the anniversary of the republic’s foundation.