When people start thinking about where to travel, they don’t often opt for the smallest countries in the world but instead go for the larger, more well-known towns and cities.
Smaller countries are often overlooked for fear that they will not have enough to keep the traveller occupied or won’t provide the best amenities, but is there any truth in this?
Should we give the ten smallest countries a chance to shine and show us that they can pack a punch?
I hope this post will dispel any myth that being a small country means a visit is not warranted and instead highlight that these little pockets of delight are just waiting to be explored.
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List of the ten smallest countries in the world
Malta – Area 316km2
The tenth smallest country in the world.
With an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, Malta is a perfect year-round destination for sun and clear blue skies but be warned; it does get sweltering in the summer.
But don’t come to Malta for just the sun and beaches; other countries have far better beaches. But do come for the history, ancient temples, historic forts, the culture, the festivals and the people.
I may be biased, but I live in the most beautiful part of Malta. Well, I would say that! I live in the historic Three Cities, just a five-minute ferry ride from Malta’s charming capital, Valletta.
The Three Cities are a delight to roam. It is jampacked with charming alleys, historic homes, Maltese balconies, forts, and even an Inquisitors Palace. Lose yourself in the streets, meet the friendly locals, observe the local fisherman and the water taxi boats, and experience real day-to-day life.
Best things to see and do in Malta
This is the only smallest country in the world where the capital, Valetta, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With its stunning 16th-century architecture, incredible cathedral, and excellent restaurant choices, it is a great place to base yourself during your stay in Malta. You won’t get too lost; at just 0.8 square kilometres, it’s the smallest capital in the EU.
Away from the historic cities, visit the megalithic temples of Malta. Temples are so ancient they even predate Stonehenge by 1000 years.
If you crave nature, you should head to the north of the island for pleasant views and sandy beaches. A stroll along the Dingli Cliffs on Malta’s west coast makes for a lovely day hike.
Out of season, do visit Comino Island and the Blue Lagoon; it’s stunning, but please don’t go in July and August, as it’s severely overcrowded.
If you have the time, visit lovely Gozo, a short ferry ride from the north of Malta. Gozo is much quieter than Malta, with more nature and a change of pace – it is a delight to explore.
Maldives – Area 300km2
The ninth smallest country in the world.
You hear so many travellers returning from a trip and saying their destination was like “paradise on earth” that you begin to believe that nowhere can top the list. Well, I can tell you the tiny islands in the Maldives can and should be on every traveller’s bucket list.
Everything you have ever heard about the 1192 islands in the Indian Ocean between Sri Lanka and India is right. Azure waters, white sandy beaches, tropical foliage and abundant sea life are all here.
Of course, this can all come with a price. Indulge at the ultra-luxurious Baros Resort or Velaa Private Island and be prepared to re-mortgage your house, but can you put a price on paradise?
Stay in a beach bungalow and walk out each morning onto powder-soft sand as you enjoy a view of blue skies and water; so tranquil and exactly how one might imagine a desert island should be.
Stay in an overwater villa and be prepared to be wowed; it is like nothing you have ever or will ever experience again.
Best things to see and do in the Maldives
Expect spa treatments, first-class service, gourmet dining and time in paradise to do nothing. Doing nothing is often your only option, as some islands are so tiny you can walk around them in minutes.
It is a mind field trying to decide which island to choose. They offer many options, from accommodation and in-house facilities to whether the resorts are on the South Atoll, requiring a seaplane transfer from the airport or the North Atoll, which is accessible by speedboat.
Enjoy deep-sea fishing, scuba diving excursions, snorkelling, cookery classes, non-motorised water sports or a relaxing massage in the spa. You can do as much or as little as you want, depending on which resort you have booked.
But how do you get to this idyll without the funds?
In 2009 the Maldivian government allowed locals to open their homes to travellers. Guesthouses, restaurants and diving schools appeared so they could offer a budget stay in an island village.
Of course, you won’t get the resort standards, but you will get an authentic experience of everyday life in the Maldives. For some, it may appeal more than a glitzy resort but remember that Islamic laws must be upheld outside of a resort. Ladies must cover up from shoulders to knees, and no alcohol can be consumed.
Whatever you decide, be sure to visit them once in your lifetime as, sadly, studies report that due to rising oceans caused by climate change, the Maldives could be completely submerged within the next 30 years. Find out all you need to know about travelling to the Maldives.
St Kitts and Nevis – Area 261km2
The eighth smallest country in the world.
The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis is a small Caribbean island country that spans 104 square miles across its two islands.
Despite its small size, there is so much to do that you could easily spend a week on the islands and not be bored. However, if you are short on time, the locals’ hospitality and various activities will provide a full experience in only a few days. The growing tourism infrastructure makes planning and enjoying a holiday in this small island country easy.
The one downside to choosing a small country, like St. Kitts, over a larger country can be the cost of travel and travel time.
Flights to St. Kitts & Nevis are slightly higher in price than flights to some larger countries since fewer airlines fly to the islands and fewer flight times are available. However, you will not be disappointed once you arrive on the islands.
From the moment you set foot on St. Kitts, you will be drawn by the locals’ welcoming nature and the islands’ beauty.
Best things to see and do in St Kitts and Nevis
St. Kitts & Nevis has something for every interest and every budget. Are you looking to relax? Check out one of the many gorgeous beaches, or take a two-hour ride on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway.
Want more history and culture? Check out UNESCO World Heritage-listed Brimstone Hill Fortress or visit Romney Manor.
Are you seeking adventure? Hike to the crater of Mount Liamuiga volcano or scuba dive in Frigate Bay.
St. Kitts & Nevis also offer various dining options, from beach bars like Chinchillas to authentic Kittitian food at El Fredo’s to elevated farm-to-table experiences at Belle Mont Farm.
An excellent destination for solo travellers, couples, and families alike, St. Kitts & Nevis is a small country that should not be overlooked when considering your next holiday destination!
Marshall Islands – Area 181km2
The seventh smallest country in the world.
The Marshall Islands is such a remote and obscure country that not many travellers go there unless it is to do volunteer work such as teaching or building. So, where are the Marshall Islands?
They lie in the South Pacific and consist of up to 29 atolls and five islands. The Marshallese residents are of Micronesian origin and migrated from Asia centuries ago.
The seventh smallest country in the world was, until 1986, under the US administration as part of the UN Trust. However, the Marshall Islands are now an independent country. Unfortunately, as a US territory, nuclear testing was carried out between 1947 and 1962, and the residents and government are still fighting for compensation.
Best things to see and do in the Marshall Islands
Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, is where most inhabitants live and is tiny compared to most capital cities. A few hotels, b and b’s and bars are available, but it is not a destination geared up for tourism.
Don’t expect a south seas paradise as the capital is over-populated and has litter-strewn beaches and unsightly grey concrete buildings.
You won’t go short on fish in the Marshall Islands, as they were nicknamed “the fishiest country on the planet”. Local fishers bring in their daily catch, which can be bought and cooked from the local open-air market in Majuro.
Yearly visitors to the Marshall Islands are in the low hundreds, probably due to its location and infrastructure. Marshall Air and United Airlines fly to the islands with flights to the outer islands once per week from Majuro. A visa is required for entry.
Liechtenstein – Area 160km2
The sixth smallest country in the world.
Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth smallest country and is squeezed between Austria and Switzerland.
The principality was established in 1719 after the Liechtenstein family, originally from the lower Austrian Liechtenstein Castle, purchased the independent land. Liechtenstein was historically connected to Austria but was linked to Switzerland after the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
The principality belongs to the world’s wealthiest countries because it was a past tax haven for the rich. Today, its main business is in the financial and banking sector.
Best things to see and do in Liechtenstein
The capital city of Vaduz offers several points of interest for visitors. For great views, hike up to the Vaduz Castle. The castle is not open for tours because it’s a private home of the princely family. You can find modern art exhibits in the Kunstmuseum below the castle hill.
A few steps to the south, Liechtenstein Treasury Museum, Liechtenstein National Museum and St. Florin Cathedral are worth your attention. Don’t miss the government buildings and the Red House. Wine lovers will enjoy tasting the local wines in the Princely Wine Cellars of the Prince of Liechtenstein. Food lovers should try the Torkel Restaurant, Adler and Landgasthof Au.
But Liechtenstein’s real treasures lie elsewhere – in the eastern half of the territory, the mountains. Liechtenstein is a paradise for hikers and skiers.
The beautiful alpine nature, steep peaks, perfect slopes and excellent facilities in Malbun promise winter wonderland vacations. Hikers will appreciate the scenic trails on a compact territory. Liechtenstein is walkable, and its villages are connected by hiking and cycling trails.
Despite Vaduz Castle not being open for visitors, medieval architecture lovers can explore the Gutenberg Castle in Balzers, and the Obere Burg ruins in Schellenberg.
San Marino – Area 61km2
The fifth smallest country in the world.
Landlocked by Italy, the micro-state is often billed as San Marino, Italy. It is, in fact, a tiny republic and entirely independent of Italy. This fact makes San Marino, the fifth smallest country in the world, a very unique and special place to visit.
The micro-nation sits high on the slopes of Monte Titano. The capital, also called San Marino, is a beautiful medieval cobblestoned town surrounded by ancient walls with three mini fortresses to guard it. The capital also has a UNESCO status. Due to its elevated location, the views over the Emilia Romagna region are stunning. They seem to go on forever in every direction.
Best things to see and do in San Marino
San Marino has one of the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe. The citadels date back to the 11th century and once helped to protect the state and its people. After the views, my favourite activity was to explore the towers linked by an ancient pathway.
I climbed to the top of two towers. It was an effort, but well worth it as the views improved. For history buffs, the Cesta Tower is home to the Armoury Museum containing weaponry and armour from the thirteenth century. The third tower, Montale, is not open to visitors.
San Marino’s picturesque old town is pleasant to wander around. It’s set within the medieval walls and is mainly closed to traffic. Make time to visit the basilica, Houses of Parliament and Palazzo Pubblico. Restaurants, bars and cafes line the streets, and much of the shopping is duty-free.
Before you leave, drop into the tourist office and get a San Marino stamp in your passport. The cost is €5.00, but having a stamp from the world’s oldest surviving sovereign state is fun.
Tuvalu – Area 26km2
The fourth smallest country in the world.
Tuvalu consists of 9 tiny thin Pacific islands in the South Pacific and is the fourth-smallest country in the world. Few tourists visit these islands as they are not easy to reach. The only airport is on the central atoll of Funafuti. The rest of the islands can only be reached by boat and take days.
About 20 smaller islets in the Funafuti atoll encircle a large, protected lagoon. Several of the most pristine and uninhabited of these “motu” lie within the Funafuti Conservation Area.
Most are quite tiny yet are home to hundreds of nesting seabirds, such as black noddies and crested terns. Endangered sea turtles also nest in the soft white sand of these small atolls. Manta rays, colourful coral reefs, and tropical fish can be seen swimming in the crystal-clear water offshore.
If you want to save some money and still see pristine islets and virgin land, check out the tide schedules and plan a walk south of Fongafale.
The next islet south is Fatato and can be reached at low tide. If you are a good swimmer and time the tides well, you can make it down to the next islet, Funangongo. These are untouched uninhabited islets filled with beautiful flora and fauna. These peaceful “Motus” were the highlight of our visit to Tuvalu.
Is Tuvalu worth a visit?
Tuvalu is not your typical tourist destination. There are no luxury or even standard hotels to book. Nor are there easily accessible sandy beaches or any hiking trails to explore. Yet, this tiny nation does have some pristine crystal-clear water around its remote islets – you just have to get to them.
Would we go back to Tuvalu? No, there are more exciting places to visit, like New Caledonia or Kiribati.
Do we regret going? No, Tuvalu has shown us a fascinating and remote culture. The imminent danger of climate change is evident here. A palatable reminder that we need to carry with us and consider daily.
Nauru – Area Size – 21km2
The third smallest country in the world.
Nauru is the smallest island nation in the world and the third smallest country.
It is located in the South Pacific, south of the Marshall Islands. It has gone through quite a bit in the last 70 years (since its independence in 1968). At that time, Nauru possessed the highest GDP per capita in the world due to its discovery of rich phosphate reserves. The government over-mined their riches and quickly became one of the poorest countries.
Unfortunately, the phosphate mining also left the small swath of land depleted of its former beauty. Today the island is grungy and dirty, and the beaches are littered with trash. The only area that still possesses a bit of charm is Anibare Bay, where limestone rises out of the ocean, forming exciting shapes.
Interesting facts about Nauru
To support themselves, Nauru has now become Australia’s detention centre arm. All asylum seekers arriving in Australia are immediately sent to Nauru’s detention centre.
The national unemployment rate is at 90%, with the remaining 10% employed by the government. Nauru is also known as the country with the most obese people globally, with 97% of Nauruan men and 93% of Nauruan women being obese or overweight.
Nauru only issues about 200 tourist visas annually, which are not easy to get.
So, was travelling to Nauru worth it, you may ask?
We walked around the 19.5km of the smallest independent nation in the world in 3.5 hours. All in all, getting to Nauru was more exciting than being there. The place is pretty uneventful and, at times, depressing.
Unless you are counting countries like us and want to visit all 193 sovereign nations, we recommend skipping Nauru.
Monaco – Area 2km2
The second smallest country in the world.
Monaco is a unique destination bordering France on three sides and the ocean on its fourth.
Prince Albert II of the Royal Family Grimaldi is Monaco’s head, and the country is a principality, a state ruled over by a prince. Wander its cobbled streets and enjoy the glitz and glamour that is evident all around you.
Make sure to see the harbour and be astounded by the size of the superyachts docked in its waters. Check out the casino and imagine you are in a James Bond scene, ready to win at the roulette table.
Visit the Prince’s Palace and Cathedral and discover the history of the rulers of the second-smallest country in the world.
Monaco is a tiny country you can enjoy in a day; however, a more extended stay is warranted as it has so much to offer, including local trips along the French Riviera.
Vatican City (the Holy See) – Area 0.44km2
The smallest country in the world.
Out of all the smallest countries in the world, Vatican City is a country unlike any other on Earth. Situated in the centre of Rome, it is a minuscule 110 acres making it the world’s smallest nation in land area and population (only about 1,000 people!)
Whatever your thoughts on organised religion, it is undeniably impressive that the Catholic Church maintains this territory as an independent theocratic state.
The Church has full sovereignty within its massive walls.
Arriving at Vatican City, we were excited to see some of the Roman Catholic church’s most famous attractions, including St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, and the Sistine Chapel.
On Wednesday mornings, you can come to Saint Peter’s Square for the Papal Audience and see the Pope speak from the Saint Peter’s Basilica entrance. It begins at 9:30 a.m., but people arrive as many as three hours beforehand to get to the right spot.
Bodyguards of the Papal Swiss Guard protect the Pope. It comprises 135 unmarried Roman Catholic men who must be of Swiss citizenship and aged between 18-30.
Working with the “gendarmerie” (the Vatican Police), they protect the pope and all entrance and exit points to and from the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence.
The Swiss Guard is the smallest security force globally and is easy to spot in the Renaissance style red, gold and worn blue uniforms.
Discover the treasures of the Vatican Museum
The highlight of our visit was seeing the Vatican Museum.
The museum is a massive patchwork of historically significant buildings housing priceless artwork and artefacts dating back to the Middle Ages. Guides ferry tour groups around a particular route.
The rooms cover everything from lavish personal quarters to the famous Sistine Chapel. It felt surreal observing 500-year-old murals painted by the Italian masters Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
If you want to visit the Vatican Museum, purchase your tickets online with the “Skip the Line” option. Waiting in line during the high season can take upwards of four hours, so the extra four euros you pay to enter directly is very much worth it.
Vatican City is not without flaws. The opulence and wealth of the Church didn’t sit well with us, especially considering the history of plunder and colonialism that allowed for such a concentration of wealth in one place.
We had mixed feelings about paying to perpetuate this in the 21st century. However, the Vatican is still worth visiting simply to marvel at the epicentre of a major religion with 1.3 billion followers worldwide and a history going back millennia.
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