During my most recent trip to Italy in November of 2019, I had planned on spending a few days in Venice. Unfortunately, that was also when Venice suffered from the horrific flooding so those plans were quickly cut. However, I still had a flight to Italy and needed to spend a few days in the country before moving onto France for the Strasbourg Christmas Markets. So, I decided I’d spend a few days in Bologna. I’ll admit, as excited as I was to eat my way through Bologna, a big part of why I picked that particular city was because I could visit San Marino on a day trip. A place I’ve been eyeing for years. Oh, and it had the added benefit of adding another country to my list.
A Little Bit About San Marino
If you didn’t know already, San Marino is, in fact, its own county located in the middle of Italy. A little random? Yes. But also pretty interesting.
San Marino is actually one of the smallest countries in the world and is believed to be the oldest surviving republic in the world.
Here are some quick facts about this tiny country:
- About 33,400 people live in San Marino
- The official language is Italian
- The currency is the euro (although San Marino is not part of the EU)
- The entire country is only 61 km squared
Despite being small (so small that many don’t even know it exists!) San Marino is definitely worth a visit! You can stay overnight (or for a couple of days) if you choose but in this blog post, I’m going to share how you can easily travel from Bologna to San Marino for a day trip.
How Far is it From Bologna to San Marino?
Getting from Bologna to San Marino is about 3 to 3.5 hours by public transit. Of course, this is assuming that the trains and buses run on time so you don’t end up waiting too long for the other on either end.
If you drive, it will be a lot faster. When I visited in November, there was plenty of parking around San Marino. However, I expect it would be very different during high season so, for that reason, I recommend taking public transit.
How to Get from Bologna to San Marino?
Bologna to San Marino is a relatively easy route that can be done by taking a mix of train and bus. From Bologna, you will want to take a train to Rimini. The journey is just under two hours long. Tickets can be purchased in advance, or day of at the train station. Despite not visiting during high tourist season, the morning train that I took was still quite busy with local commuting to and from work, so keep that in mind!
Once you arrive in Rimini, exit the train station and head directly across the street. There is a small kiosk type shop where you can buy your bus ticket to San Marino. It’s 5 euro each way. I suggest getting your return ticket there.
Once you exit the kiosk turn left and walk a little way down the street. You will see a bus stop sign that says S. Marino in big blue letters at the bottom- this is where you want to be.
It’s important to note that just because you bought a ticket, does not guarantee you a seat on the first bus that comes along. So, once you buy your ticket go and stand in line as it will fill up. Your tickets are good for any bus, but they don’t run all the time so you want to get on the first one you see.
Once you present your ticket to the driver, grab a seat and settle in. The bus ride from Rimini to San Marino City takes about 50 minutes. San Marino city, where you want to get off, is the last stop.
To get back, repeat the same process in reverse. Where you get dropped off in San Marino City is also where you will be picked up to return to Rimini. Again, go a little early because it’s first come first served. Be mindful to check the schedule on the post as well, buses do not run 24/7.
Things to do in San Marino
San Marino City is the capital of San Marino and where you will want to spend the day exploring. It’s quite hilly, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes for the cobblestone streets. Don’t worry though, San Marino is a fairytale city so there are lots of places to take pictures (aka a rest) if you get tired.
As for things to do in San Marino, here’s what I suggest for a San Marino day trip:
Get your passport stamped
Is it a bit cheesy? Yes, but it’s still worth it (at least I think so). To get the San Marino passport stamp you will need to visit the tourist’s office. There is a five-euro fee to do this but, if you are a country counter, that’s not much to spend. This office is also a good place to pick up a map of San Marino to help you better find your way around.
The Three Towers
The most well-known attractions of San Marino are, without a doubt, the three towers. Each one is like a little castle perched on a cliff overlooking this tiny nation. The views are beautiful and had me thinking that, if dragons ever existed, it would be here.
The first tower is called Guaita and it is the oldest and most famous. It was originally built in the 11th century but the tower, as seen today, is from the 15th century.
The second tower is Cesta. It is the highest of the tower’s and has an impressive weapons museum. Cesta was constructed in the 13th century.
The third tower is Montale. It is the smallest of the towers and once served as a prison. Montale was constructed in the 14th century and, unfortunately, is not open to tourists.
Tickets for the first and second tower cost 4.50 euro (entry for both)
The Public Palace
Another interesting building is the Public Palace located by Liberty Square. The Public Palace is the town hall and the official government building of San Marino. If you visit during the summer, you can watch the changing of the guard here every 30 minutes between the hours of 8:30am and 6:30pm.
Basilica Di San Marino
The Basilica Di San Marino really stands out in San Marino city due to its Roman architecture. The basilica itself is pretty new, it dates back to 1836, although the site on which it was built has housed a church since the 4th century.
Cava Dei Balestrieri
Located on the side of one of the city walls, this is where the San Marino’s Crossbowman’s Federation (formed in 1956) practices. If you are lucky, you might get to see some of the members showing off their skills. Sadly, there was nothing going on when I visited.
Wander the Historic Streets
A lot of San Marino’s charm lies in its winding streets filled with shops and restaurants and museums. Keep in mind, tourism is a big draw here so you’ll find lots of touristy knick-knacks are probably higher than normal food and beverage prices but even if you don’t buy, it’s fun to browse and take photos.
Final Tips for a San Marino Day Trip from Bologna
So is it worth it to do a San Marino Day trip from Bologna? Absolutely! It makes for a long day, but it’s a really fun one. Keep in mind that, as I mentioned earlier, San Marino is a big tourist destination so start your day early to try to beat the crowds.
It’s also worth mentioning that, being a tourist city more than a local city, a lot shuts down during the winter months. I visited at the end of November which in some ways was incredible because there was really nobody else around (I was actually the only person in the first tower other than the ticket vendor). However, a lot was closed, shut down, or under renovations. That being said, I still recommend going.
San Marino is a gorgeous and unique place to visit and definitely worth a day trip from Bologna.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Italy
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.