A Guide to Europe’s Smallest Countries

Next time you visit Europe, don’t forget about the little guys! These less sizable nations tend to remain under the radar, but each one boasts a distinct culture and a myriad of fun activities for tourists. Besides, a quick trip across the border just represents another tick-mark on your personal ‘countries visited’ list; a lot of your fellow travelers have seen the Eiffel Tower and touched the Berlin Wall, but how many can say they’ve visited Liechtenstein or San Marino?

Andorra
Size: 181 square miles
Nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains that divide Spain and France, Andorra is a major tourist destination that boasts more than 10 millon annual visitors. The official language is Catalan, but French and Spanish are widely spoken. Interestingly, Andorra does not have any armed forces; instead, each community is equipped with a coalition of able-bodied gents between the ages of 21 and 60 who respond to military emergencies and natural disasters as needed. Andorra is also home to a rich folk dancing tradition; esbart troupes stage choreographed routines that reflect folklore and cultural beliefs of the Catalan people. The country’s numerous peaks and ranges provide optimal conditions for skiing and snowboarding, while summertime visitors can enjoy outdoor concerts (jazz, flamenco, pop, etc.) and take part in annual feasts held nationwide.

Expert Travel Tip
“Unless you trek across the mountains the only way to reach Andorra is by road from neighbouring Spain or France. If you’re driving, top up your tank when you get there; fuel in Andorra is about 20-percent cheaper than in Spain and a good 30-percent cheaper than in France” – Lonely Planet

Liechtenstein
Size: 62 square miles
This tiny republic is the only country that lies entirely within the Alps, so its no surprise that it has become a winter destination for European snowhounds. Liechtenstein is also one of the world’s most productive nations; it boasts the highest gross domestic product anywhere, and citizens enjoy their country’s status as a tax haven. Tourist attractions include the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, which boasts expansive collections of international art; Vaduz Castle, which dates back to the 12th century and currently serves as the official residence of Prince Hans-Adam II, Liechtenstein’s head of state; and the country’s highest point, Grauspitz, a popular hiking and mountaineering site.

Expert Travel Tip
“If you plan to travel to Liechtenstein via the motorways in Switzerland or Austria you must purchase and display a motorway vignette or face large on-the-spot fines in these countries” — UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Luxembourg
Size: 998 square miles
Luxembourg covers an area roughly equivalent to the size of Osaka, making it by far the largest country on this list. According to Forbesit is also the second richest country in the world with an average personal income of $81,466; the country also placed favorably on the Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, the United Nations’ Human Development Index, and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life Index. So basically, Luxembourg is a great place to be — and a fun spot to visit. The capital city, Luxembourg, is home to the expansive National Art and History Museum, as well as notable monuments like the Walls of the Corniche, Grand-Ducal Palace, and Chapel of St. Quirin.

Expert Travel Tip
“The Saint-Michel occupies a little side street in the Old Town, but lights up the entire city with classic French cuisine that makes no concessions where quality is concerned” – Frommer’s

Malta
Size: 122 square miles
This island nation sits in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia, and has played an important role throughout European history, from the Napoleonic conquest to World War II. Malta boasts a sub-tropical climate, allowing for brilliant summers and cool winters. Visitors are urged to forego a rental car in favor of public transportation; Malta boasts one of the highest automobile densities in Europe, and the bus lines are both cheap and reliable. More than a million tourists travel to Malta every year, and the sparkling blue coastline is dotted with luxury hotels and bungalows. Other popular activities include SCUBA, parasailing, abseiling, and salsa dancing. The nearby islands of Gozo and Comino also offer a relaxing environment for sun-bathers and beach-combers.

Expert Travel Tip
Spend the first morning wandering around the charming capital Valletta. Built by the Knights of Malta in the 1570s, it is surrounded on three sides by sea and on all sides by massive fortifications designed to repel further attempts at invasion by the Turks who nearly took the islands in the Great Siege of 1565. The whole city is a World Heritage Site” – Telegraph Travel

Monaco
Size: 0.76 square mile
The term ‘luxurious’ comes to mind when one thinks of this city-state situated along the French Riviera. Visitors may put a few dents in their checking account, but they will encounter a wealth of activities to keep themselves occupied. Daytime destinations include the Place du Palais, offician residence of Monaco’s ridiculously wealthy royal family; the Flower Garden of Princess Grace, located in Fontieiville; and the Formula 1 Grand Prix track, site of one of the world’s foremost auto races. When the sun goes down, feel free to order a martini and settle in for a game of baccarat; Monte Carlo, Monaco’s capital, is home to some of the most prestigious gambling in the world.

Expert Travel Tip
“Tipping is always a difficult notion in foreign countries, as the rules vary widely and leaving an inadequate tip can be offensive. In Monaco, hotel and restaurant bills usually already include a fifteen percent service charge. If this is not on your bill, fifteen percent is customary. Fifteen percent also applies to taxi drivers” – Yahoo! Voices

San Marino
Size: 24 square miles
Located entirely within the nation of Italy, San Marino was founded in the 4th century A.D., making it the oldest sovereign and state constitutional republic in the world. Despite its size, San Marino boasts four armed forces units, including an organized volunteer militia and the undeniably awesome-sounding ‘Crossbow Corps’. The tiny nation rests against the Appenine Mountains, so the terrain is rugged and the climate is pleasantly cool year-round. More than 2 million tourists visit every year to check out landmarks like the Relics of Saint Marinus, housed inside the Basilica de Santo; Castello della Cesta, the country’s largest fortress; and the eye-popping Museo della Tortura, which features many old-school torture devices (including racks and skinning implements) on display.

Expert Travel Tip
“As in other tiny states, quirky laws and tax regulations are used to stoke the economy. As sales tax is half what it is in surrounding Italy, shoppers have long come here for the savings” — Rick Steves

Vatican City
Size: 0.17 square mile
Vatican City may be the world’s smallest country, but it is also one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Some come to take a firsthand look at Michelangelo’s ceiling installation at the Sistine Chapel, among other treasures of the Renaissance art movement. Others come to catch a glimpse of the pope and pay tribute to Catholicism, the world’s largest religion; as a result, the nation receives millions of annual visitors and is largely sustained by its thriving tourism sector. And since Vatican City is located in the heart of Rome, a day-trip can easily be sandwiched between a visit to the Coliseum and a weekend at the Cinque Terre.

Expert Travel Tip
“For those wanting a more in-depth and personalized tour of Vatican City, many tour agencies offer private and group tours that can be customized to include special events and features like the weekly papal address on Wednesdays, where tourists will view the pope in person” – USA Today

By Brad Nehring

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