15 Tiny Countries You Never Knew Existed
From island paradises to little lands tucked away in Europe, these small nations are big on scenery and culture.
Sao Tome and Principe
The dual-island nation of Sao Tome and Principe off Africa’s west coast in the Gulf of Guinea is only 372 square miles, but what it lacks in space it makes up for in gorgeous, unspoiled nature—particularly on the remote Principe. The amazing needle-like volcanic peak Pico Cao Grande rises 1,000 feet sharply into the air from the surrounding terrain on the island, which is rich in biodiverse species. Uninhabited until the Portuguese colonized them in the 15th century, the islands are home to only around 200,000 people today, with just 10,000 on Principe.
Only 23 square miles with a population of just 34,000, the little-known nation of San Marino, surrounded by Italy, is the world’s fifth smallest country. Dominated by the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mount Titano and its three medieval fortresses, the country is said to be the oldest republic in the world. A ramble through the capital’s narrow stone streets makes your visit feel like a step back into history. Come for a day trip from Florence, and stay for the amazing views of the Adriatic Sea.
Dominica, “The Nature Island,” is often confused with the popular tourist destination of the Dominican Republic. But this small country of only 290 mountainous square miles is a nation in its own right, with some of the best hiking and diving in the Caribbean, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of volcanic Morne Trois Pitons National Park. In Dominica, you’ll see lush rainforests, pounding waterfalls, and sweeping coastal views. The island is also home to the only remaining population of Carib Indians, known as the Kalinago, who are part of the island’s 74,000 inhabitants.
This Pacific island nation of 33 atolls, or coral islands, are together around the same size as Dominica—just 313 square miles. But because the atolls are so spread out, Kiribati is the only country in the world to fall into all four hemispheres (northern, southern, eastern, and western). Only 21 of the islands are inhabited with the country’s 109,000 residents. Visitors to Kiribati enjoy some of the best deep-sea fishing in the world, as well as miles of saltwater flats. But see this tropical paradise before it is no longer—rising seas are threatening to swallow the country whole. Here are more breathtaking places to visit before they disappear.
Not to be mistaken for The Princess Diaries’ Genovia (which unfortunately isn’t a real place), Andorra lies in the Pyrenees mountains on the French border. But interestingly, the president of France (currently Emmanuel Macron) actually becomes a prince of the tiny country when elected. In the 13th century, an agreement between the French monarch and the Bishop of Urgell, Spain, decided they should rule Andorra as “co-princes” to avoid war, and the odd arrangement has been in place ever since. This country of 181 square miles and 86,000 people boasts excellent skiing and duty-free shopping. Check out 14 more enchanting places that look like they came from fairy tales.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Another dual-island nation, this country once consisted of three islands, but Anguilla was allowed to become independent in 1971. Smaller Nevis, which is just 36 square miles, has made attempts to secede as well but hasn’t been successful. At 101 square miles total, St. Kitts and Nevis rank as the eighth smallest country in the world, and the smallest country in the Americas and the Western Hemisphere. A Caribbean hideaway, the country features historic sugar plantation ruins, green vervet monkeys, and spectacular hiking.
The least-visited country in the world is the closest thing to paradise, but travelers who make it to the secluded destination of Tuvalu in the South Pacific will find a thriving Polynesian culture, gorgeous lagoons, and coral reefs perfect for snorkeling. At only 10 square land miles, the nation of nine isles, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is the fourth smallest on Earth. Over half of the population of 11,000 reside on Funafuti, the capital. But away from the main island, you’ll feel like you’re a castaway. Here are more of the most remote places on Earth.
The fairy-tale country of Liechtenstein is the only nation to be located completely in the Alps. At 62 square miles, the German-speaking microstate is “double-landlocked” between coast-less Switzerland and Austria. The richest country in the world, Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy led by Prince Hans Adam II, who rules a population of about 38,000. You can join the royal family and all their subjects for a beer in the gardens of picturesque Vaduz Castle every year for the national holiday, Staatsfeiertag, on August 15. A fair and fireworks follow the celebration.
Off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean and north of Madagascar are Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands. Despite that large number, the country’s total land area is only 176 square miles, and almost 90 percent of its nearly 95,000 residents live on the largest island, Mahé. But venturing to the more remote islands can bring visitors up close to endemic species, marine reserves, a breeding ground for giant tortoises, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Vallée de Mai, a palm forest largely unchanged since prehistoric times. Oh, and the pristine tropical beaches aren’t bad either. See more gorgeous beaches with the clearest water in the world.
You’ve heard of the Vatican, but did you know it’s its own nation? Set inside the city of Rome, the enclave is just 100 acres—an eighth the size of New York City’s Central Park. Headed by the Pope, the country, also known as the Holy See, has 1,000 residents, including the colorfully uniformed Swiss guards. These soldiers have guarded the Pope and his residence since 1506. Visitors can simply stroll over from Italy to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, as well as Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.