San Marino is a bit of an oddball within Italy since it isn’t actually an Italian city. Instead, it is its very own microstate, which is a country in and of itself. It just so happens to be a tiny country encapsulated with Italy. So you can imagine there is a lot of rich history within San Marino’s borders!
So we’ve dug through it all and come up with this list of absolute must-dos if you visit the area. Let’s dive right in. Here are the six best things to do in San Marino!
Rocca Guaita (Guaita Fortress) — Best for Exploring Ancient Ruins
Rising above the Republic of San Marino is a cluster of three impressive fortresses. All with their own special place in history and worth checking out, the oldest of the three is of most interest to visitors of San Marino — Rocca Guaita. Built way back in the 11th century, Rocca Guaita (also known as Guaita Fortress) has been standing for nearly a thousand years.
This ancient structure was built to defend the Republic of San Marino and Mount Titano — more on that shortly — but has served a few other purposes along the way. Over the last thousand years, this impressive fortress has served as a prison on numerous occasions and has undergone a full reconstruction more than once as well. You can visit the fortress on a San Marino Day tour.
The final phase of construction and rebuilding was finished in the 15th century as it served as a mainstay of the region during the war between San Marino and the House of Malatesta. A testament to its impressive size and strength in defense, Rocca Guaita stood strong through that war and many others over the years it’s been standing.
For its historical importance and the incredible views it offers visitors, checking out Rocca Guaita is an absolute must for anyone visiting San Marino. It takes a bit of effort to get to the top and requires climbing several stairs, but once you get there you’ll quickly realize that it’s worth all the effort. The views from up here are breathtaking, and the fortress itself is worth the effort to see up close.
Monte Titano — Best for Endless Views
Considering that the aforementioned Rocca Guaita fortress is situated on the ridge of Monte Titano, it makes sense to explore the mountain itself while you’re in the area. But even if you have no desire to visit and explore the fortress(es) adorning Mount Titano, scaling the mountain is still one of the best things to do in San Marino for the endless views of everything around.
As the highest point anywhere for miles, the top of Monte Titano allows visitors to see San Marino and the surrounding areas like nowhere else nearby. Depending on the weather during your trip, you can see clear across the entire Adriatic Sea. Just peer out over the area from the top of Monte Titano and see as far as your eyes can see. Talk about endless views!
As alluded to above, San Marino sits at the base of Monte Titano, and the top of the mountain is adorned with three fortresses. We’ve already discussed Rocca Guaita before, but let’s look at the second most interesting one on top of the mountain — Rocca Cesta. Interestingly, you can go from either of these two fortresses (and the third one) using a secret pathway known as Passo delle Streghe, which translates as the Witches’ Passage. Rising high above the other two as the tallest point on the top of Monte Titano, Rocca Cesta is where you must go to get the absolute best views of the area.
But the views of the surrounding area are not the only things that Monte Titano and Rocca Cesta have to offer. This fortress also contains a museum rich with the history of the surrounding area that’s worth checking out. It is also closed to several accommodations in San Marino. This area is so rich with history that all three fortresses, Monte Titano, and San Marino, are all considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Piazza della Liberta and Palazzo Pubblico — Best for Social Gathering
If you’ve ever been to any other city in Italy, you will likely know all about the popularity and importance of the public spaces of those cities. These public squares, or Piazzas, often act as the various social hubs of those cities giving visitors and locals alike a place to gather and experience that city’s culture. The Republic of San Marino is no exception to this, and its main public square, Piazza della Liberta, is a hive of activity.
People flock to Piazza della Liberta in great numbers to spend time with each other, watch the locals in their element, and, the main attraction, to watch the changing of the guard of the Guardie di Rocca. The changing of the guard is something unique to Piazza della Liberta and is one of the only places you can go to see the ceremony take place. The ceremony is a popular event for tourists from all over, but many locals enjoy watching it as well. It takes place multiple times throughout the day, so no matter what time you’re visiting Piazza della Liberta, you have a chance to catch the ceremony yourself.
Other than the Guardie di Rocca, the mainstay of the public square is the impressive Government House towering above the people below, Palazzo Pubblico. This incredible building is a fantastic place for visitors to check out. Constructed of stone carried over from nearby Monte Titano, the building is quite the architectural feat to look at. You can explore the public places on your own or join a San Marino walking tour.
Designed by the famous Italian architect Francesco Azzurri and constructed in the 19th century, Palazzo Pubblico is one of the most recognizable buildings in San Marino. The building’s front fascia is decorated with the Republic’s coat of arms, and the inside is full of the lavish decor you may expect in an Italian government building.
Basilica di San Marino — Best for Italian Architecture
One of the other mainstays of most Italian cities (other than the aforementioned public squares) are the seemingly countless churches and basilicas dotting every city across the nation. And again, San Marino is no exception to this, with the impressive Basilica di San Marino rising above most of the Republic’s skyline with its impressive architecture and design.
The impressive Basilica di San Marino was designed in the popular Neo-classical style and built around the same time as the Palazzo Pubblico above, in the early 19th century. It was constructed right on the foundations of an old Romanesque church from the 4th century that had since been abandoned. The building consists of a majestic entrance with a massive doorway, eight gigantic stone columns rising up to the roof above, a large staircase leading from the public square right to the front door, and just sheer and impressive size.
You can — and should — spend a bit of time appreciating the sheer size and magnificence of the structure from the outside. But the beauty doesn’t end there. Once you get inside the church, it only gets better. Inside, the massive open space swallows you up and encapsulates you in classic basilica style. The long walkway down the middle is standard among many churches, but the outside walls are adorned with seven altars.
You read that right, seven! Each altar has its own artwork and decor making it worth every second you spend checking it out, but none of them compete with the high altar at the heart of the church. Prominent among the rest, the high altar immediately grabs your attention and directs it towards its statue of St. Marinus and a nearby urn holding the remains of the same religious figure. It’s a beautiful place drowning in rich history that should be part of anyone’s to-do list that is visiting San Marino.
Museo di Stato (National Museum) — Best for History Lovers
Anyone interested in observing ancient artifacts and absorbing a place’s history will feel right at home at the next place on our list. San Marino is known for its wide array of museums showcasing the Republic’s rich history. Standing among them all as the best museum in San Marino is undoubtedly the Museo di Stato or the National Museum.
The Museo di Stato is located within the incredible Palazzo Pergami Belluzzi, which in itself is another place that you should consider visiting while you’re in San Marino. So before you start exploring the museum, spend some time taking in everything else that the Palazzo Pergami Belluzzi has to offer. Take a look around and you’ll see lavish decorations everywhere you look and great examples of Italian artwork adorning the walls.
But the main attraction at the Pergami Belluzzi Palace is, of course, the National Museum. Created in the late 19th century after receiving a slew of historical donations from all over the world, this museum has stood strong for over 150 years as it showcases the history of San Marino to all its visitors. Once you step inside, you’ll be blown away by how big it is and just how much it is for you to explore and see.
The Museo di Stato spreads over an impressive few floors, each of which is dedicated to certain times in history or themes. The floor that you enter on is full of exhibits of San Marino archaeological finds, many of which are totally priceless. The floor above the main floor houses many of the donated exhibits that really helped get the museum started over 150 years ago. And lastly, you can check out the basement with some of the other archaeological finds of the area, including ancient and incredibly rare coins.
Castle Towns — Best for Discovering Quaint Villages
While you were on top of Monte Titano enjoying unobstructed views of the surrounding areas, you undoubtedly saw the many hills and peaks all around you. Set atop many of these hills are a bunch of peculiar little towns and villages. You looked out all around and were curious about these small hilltop villages, right?
Well, all these little villages set on the hills and ridges around San Marino are known as the Castle Towns, and they are well worth a visit to check out and explore. There is a whole slew of these small hilltop villages around the area, but let’s take a look at a number of the most popular ones and what makes them so special. These Castle Towns include:
- Domagnano — The fortress of the small village of Domagnano, known as the Fortress of Montelupo, played a major role in San Marino’s aforementioned war against Malatesta (the same war that utilized the famous Rocca Guaita).
- Faetano & Fiorentino — Following San Marino’s defense against and subsequent defeat of Malatesta, the Republic acquired two more of these areas from the defeated region: the territory of Faetano and the castle of Fiorentino.
- Borgo Maggiore — Borgo Maggiore & its neighboring village of Serravalle have become some of the most important residential areas of all of San Marino. Imagine the peace and serenity you could have if you lived in one of these quaint little hilltop villages in the countryside of San Marino.
- Montegiardino — If you were to look out over all of the Castle Towns and had to pick one that jumped out at you as the most beautiful among them, our guess is that you would choose the castle of Montegiardino. This ancient hilltop down dates back to Ancient Rome and offers the most beautiful architecture of them all.