The smallest countries in the world have always intrigued me. How did they manage to remain independent and not get swallowed up by their much larger neighbors? How different would it feel to live in a country smaller than many cities? How closely related is the culture to that of the nearby countries? I realized this summer, as we traveled to both San Marino and Luxembourg, that I have now been to the seven smallest countries in Europe. Here are some interesting facts about these tiny countries.
At just 0.17 square miles (0.44 square kilometers) the Vatican is the world’s smallest independent nation. The Disneyland theme park in California is bigger than the Vatican. It sits entirely within the city of Rome, and the Vatican has less than 800 residents, none of whom are permanent residents.
I have now visited three times, and even though it’s a very interesting place filled with stories of scandals and beautiful art, I think three times might be my limit. Read about the Vatican and Sistine Chapel tour we took in June.
The Principality of Monaco is 0.78 square miles (2.02 square kilometers) and borders only France and the Mediterranean Sea. With a population of over 36,000, it is the most densely populated country in the world. The tiny country is known for casinos and Formula One racing. Monaco does not charge income tax, has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world, and has 0% unemployment. It is NOT a cheap country.
I visited during my first trip to Europe in 1994, and all of those pictures are film and stored in my parents’ basement. Even though Andy and I planned to take a day trip there from Nice in May, we were exhausted and decided to skip it. But we did catch a glimpse from the train on our way to Italy.
Another tiny nation completely surrounded by Italy, San Marino has an area of 23.6 square miles (61.2 square kilometers), and it is the oldest republic in the world. When Garibaldi was uniting Italy, he left San Marino along because they let him seek refuge there when he was fleeing from the Austrians a decade earlier.
Andy and I visited San Marino in June on a day trip from Rimini, Italy. The views are amazing from the high perch of the capital city. Definitely worth a trip if you’re in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Read here for more about the oldest republic in the world.
The country of Liechtenstein is sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria. Its area is 61.78 square miles (160 square kilometers). It does not have a train station, but you can easily reach it by bus from the nearby train stations in Austria and Switzerland. It is one of only two countries in the world that is doubly landlocked, meaning it is surrounded by only other landlocked countries. Liechtenstein uses the Swiss Franc as its currency. It is the world’s largest producer of false teeth.
Andy and I went to Liechtenstein shortly after I moved to Germany. Our apartment was still undergoing a few remaining renovations, and we needed a break. Once we got out of the capital city of Vaduz, the country was very charming and beautiful. Read Andy’s post here about Liechtenstein beyond Vaduz.
Malta is an island nation in the Mediterranean covering about 122 square miles (316 square kilometers) which is just a little smaller than the city of Atlanta. It includes three inhibited islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, plus a handful of uninhibited islands. It is south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya. Malta has two official languages, Maltese and English, and it gained independence from the UK in 1964.
A friend of mine married a guy from Malta several years ago, and when they went back to Malta to have a church wedding there, she asked me to be in the wedding. I spent most of my time on the island of Gozo since that’s where he was from. I’d love to go back and see more of the country someday since I didn’t get to do much sightseeing.
Andorra is a mountainous country in between France and Spain. It covers an area of 180.7 square miles (468 square kilometers) and its capital, Andorra la Vella, has the highest elevation of any European capital. The official language is Catalan, although Spanish and French are widely spoken as well. Andorra is mostly known for shopping due to its duty free status and skiing in the Pyrenees in the winter months. There are no airports or train stations, so to get there you either have to drive or take a bus.
Andy and I made a short one night stop in Andorra last summer before continuing on to Barcelona. It was interesting to me that even in the touristy areas, signs were in Catalan, Spanish and French, but no English. Just like with Liechtenstein, we thought the country was much nicer outside of the capital city. Read about our Andorra adventure here.
Locked in between Belgium, Germany and France, Luxembourg has an area of about 998 square miles (2,586 square kilometers). This is still more than 200 square miles smaller than the state of Rhode Island. Luxembourgish, French and German are the official languages. Each language is used in different levels of school and each one serves a different purpose in society, so most people speak all three.
This was where Andy and I started our trip in May. Though we did enjoy seeing Vianden Castle, we were not so impressed with the rest of our time there. Read here for more on Vianden Castle.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed this journey through the seven smallest countries in Europe. Though these countries are all very small, they pack a lot in. Each has its own culture and history, and a unique place in Europe. Some, like Andorra, are a little more difficult to get to and require a little more planning, but then there’s the Vatican right in the middle of Rome.
It’s hard to really grasp how small they are or understand much about their history without visiting, and I’d highly recommend traveling to at least a few of them. I’m trying to curtail my list-ticking tendencies these days, but I’m happy to have been to the seven smallest countries in Europe.