After my trip around the Balkans, I decided to make a detour to Italy as I wanted to tick one new country off my bucket list. That country was San Marino and to get there, I had to find myself a city interesting enough to serve as my base. Given Italy’s many fast trains, it is entirely possible to base yourself anywhere in Central Italy and be able to do San Marino as a day trip. However, the most practical cities to make that trip with the least possible connections would be Rimini and Bologna. Rimini gets you there the quickest due to a direct bus, but it’s more of a resort town and I wanted a place with some history and good food. I then looked a bit farther at the map and found Bologna, which only required an additional 1 to 1.5 hours from Rimini. So Bologna it was. Bologna is one of Italy’s great cities and is perhaps most well known for its food. Tagliatelle al ragu immediately springs to mind!
Where Exactly is San Marino?
When I was about to enter San Marino, I ran a poll in my Instagram account and asked people if they knew where San Marino was. For a very small country, I was surprised to find that more than half actually knew! I ran a similar poll asking people if they knew where Bosnia and Hercegovina was and fewer people recognized that far larger country.
San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world – the 5th smallest to be exact. It is a landlocked country, located in between the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy. Geographically speaking, the country sits somewhere near the central part of Italy but it is north of Rome.
If you are visiting San Marino from Bologna, here are the easy steps you’ll need to follow to get there.
Step 1: Purchase your train ticket from Bologna to Rimini
The first thing you will need to do after you’ve decided to make that trip to San Marino and to use Bologna as your base in getting there is to book your train tickets. For Italian trains, your best bet is to book via Trenitalia, the official website of Italy’s train system or ItaliaRail, an agency where you can book train tickets. It is best to compare as fares can be cheaper in either one. In my case, I booked my tickets a day before my intended departure and found a cheaper price from Trenitalia.
There are no direct trains to San Marino as San Marino does not have a train station. Instead, you will first need to make your way to Rimini (Stazione di Rimini), the nearest large town from San Marino. For the Bologna to Rimini route, there are various types of trains that you can choose with journey times of as little as 53 minutes to as much as 1 hour and 41 minutes. You can also choose between direct non-stop trains as well as trains with multiple stops, depending on your budget and whether you are pressed for time. In my case, I chose a reasonably fast Freccebianca train that had 4 stops and which brought me to Rimini in just a little over an hour.
To choose the best train timing, you may want to check out the Rimini to San Marino bus schedule to make sure you don’t have to wait unnecessarily long. You can check the updated bus schedule here.
Step 2: Head to Bologna Centrale to catch your train
As with the usual case in Italy, the city’s main train station is not too far from town. You can easily reach Bologna Centrale after around 20 minutes of walking from the old town.
Step 3 – Purchase bus ticket once you arrive in Rimini
It is pretty common to do day trips to San Marino from Rimini and ticket kiosks to the small republic are not difficult to spot once you arrive in Rimini’s station. The local tourist office there sells tickets for the #72 Bonelli bus that goes to San Marino. It costs EUR 5 for a one-way ticket and EUR 10 for a round trip ticket. The tickets are not timed so if you miss a bus you can always take the next one.
If you are planning to leave your luggage somewhere, it is possible to do so at the train’s station tourist office for a nominal fee. Do note the office is open from 8:30AM to 5:45PM.
Step 4 – Board the Bonelli bus #72 heading towards San Marino from the bus stop
Once you have your ticket, head to the bus stop. From the train station’s exit, you can find it across the road just near the Burger King. Do note that there are actually two bus stations outside Burger King. The one directly in front of Burger King is a bus stop that serves the locality of Rimini. You’ll have to go to the other one a few steps away for the buses that go to San Marino.
Tip: The line of people waiting for the bus to San Marino can get very long so it’s important to wait in line as soon as you arrive in Rimini. Just because you have already bought yourself a bus ticket doesn’t necessarily mean you can just wait it out inside the Burger King or a cafe nearby. If there are more people than seats, you may find yourself having to stand for the entire journey (if they even allow that) or wait for the next bus.
Step 5 – Alight at San Marino
The journey time from Rimini station to the last stop in San Marino takes approximately 50 minutes but runs through a few towns in the country. You officially “enter” San Marino at approximately the 23-minute mark, passing through larger towns such as Serravalle and Rovereta. Unless you are interested to do a bit of duty-free shopping, most tourists will get off at the last stop which is in the namesake town of San Marino.
The capital of San Marino, a city (citta) with the same name, lies on the slopes of Mount Titano. The bus will drop you off at the bus parking lot on the lower parts of town.
The City of San Marino
Once you’ve arrived, you can spend the rest of your time exploring the zigzag streets of the capital – a more comprehensive guide will come soon! The citta is a charming little town filled with quaint shops, plenty of viewpoints from which to glimpse the entire country (and Italy beyond it) as well as get a taste of this nation’s fiercely independent culture. I highly suggest taking one of the earlier train/bus combos and arrive in San Marino before 9AM. You will find the city all to yourself in some parts!
In my case, I spent around 5 hours there. I arrived at around 10AM just when the crowds start to arrive. In that short span of time, I managed to climb two of the three towers, visit the museum, check out the parliament building and go for a spot of lunch. If you have a few days to spare, it is actually worthwhile to stay a night in San Marino. The city is known for its fog during certain months. As the town is high up the mountain, you can sometimes see a “sea” of clouds in front of you with the lowland areas completely covered up with fog.