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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.

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Tropical beach with palm trees and pristine blue sea. Praia Piscina, Sao tome and Principe.DrimaFilm/Shutterstock

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.

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san marinoVladimir Sazonov/shutterstock

San Marino

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.

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Scotts head in Saint Mark Parish in Dominica. Scotts Head is a beautiful marine reserve in the Caribbean.Emily Eriksson/Shutterstock


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.

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Tabuaeran beach on the Fanning Island, Republic of Kiribatiemperorcosar/Shutterstock


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.

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Sant Esteve church in Andorra la Vella, AndorraLeonid Andronov/Shutterstock


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.

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Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis town skyline at the port.Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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.

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Tuvalu island paradise beach blue lagoon on pacific island sea and oceanmbrand85/Shutterstock


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.

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Landscape view on Balzers village with saint Nicholas church in LiechtensteinRossHelen/Shutterstock


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.

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Granite Rocks at beach on island La Digue in Seychelles - Anse Source d'Argent Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock


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.

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Saint Peters Square in the Vatican and an aerial view of the rooftops of Rome, Italy in a travel and tourism conceptAdrian Flory/Shutterstock

Vatican City

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.

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Capital Building at Ngerulmud in PalauErika Bisbocci/Shutterstock


This nation of hundreds of tiny islands near the Philippines comprises only 177 square miles of land with a population of 21,000. Its varying topography, which ranges from the mountainous main island of Babelthuap to low-lying coral islands, makes it the perfect destination for hiking and off-roading, as well as snorkeling and diving. World War II relics dot the islands both above and below the sea. To protect its ecology, Palau now requires visitors to sign a stamped passport pledge to “tread lightly, act kindly, and explore mindfully.” Palau is also one of the world’s most incredible beauty destinations to add to your bucket list.

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Macau, city skyline at sunset.Sean Hsu/Shutterstock


Located on China’s coast, Macau is autonomous although technically still a Chinese “special administration region” like its neighbor across the South China Sea, Hong Kong. Its glitzy casinos, hotels, and shows have given Macau the nickname “the Las Vegas of China.” Only about 11 square miles, Macau is also the world’s most densely populated, with 606,000 residents. A former Portuguese colony, Macau retains the charm of its heritage in its historic center, and the fusion between east and west can be seen in everything from the architecture to the cuisine. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia.

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Beautiful tropical Maldives island with beach , sea , and coconut palm tree on blue sky for nature holiday vacation background concept -Boost up color ProcessingStockforlife/Shutterstock


The small South Asian island nation of the Maldives floats in the Indian Ocean south of Sri Lanka. Its 115 square miles of land make it the ninth smallest country in the world. Home to a growing number of luxury resorts, the country is also the world’s lowest, rising to only six feet above sea level, so its priorities have wavered between environmental protection from increasing sea levels and mass tourism. Visitors to the island can (responsibly) explore the islands’ crystal waters and even swim with whale sharks, year-round residents who regularly come to the surface. Just keep a safe distance from these gentle giants. The Maldives features one of the most breathtaking underwater hotels around the world.

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Cityscape view on Ljubljanica river canal in Ljubljana old town. Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and famous european tourist destination.Georgios Tsichlis/Shutterstock


Not to be confused with nearby Slovakia, this little county in central Europe is one of the continent’s best-kept secrets. Part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has been an independent nation since just 1991. It’s the largest country on our list, but still only the 45th smallest nation in the world—and most people have never heard of it. From snowy mountains to aqua-colored rivers to charming castles, it features spectacular, off-the-beaten-track destinations.

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Kingdom of Tonga viewed from aboveMichal Durinik/Shutterstock


We’re back to the South Pacific for our final tiny country, the 277-square mile islands of Tonga, near Fiji. The only remaining monarchy in the Pacific, the country is unique in the region for never totally losing its indigenous government, and many cultural traditions remain today. Known as the “Friendly Islands,” Tonga and its population of 106,000 are welcoming. Visitors to Tonga will discover an authentic Polynesian experience along with active volcanoes, “fishing pigs” (yep, these feral porkers actually catch fish), migrating humpback whales, and truly incredible beaches. Don’t miss these other secret island escapes around the world.

Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a regular contributor to’s Culture and Travel sections. She also writes about health and wellness, parenting, and pregnancy. Previously editor-in-chief of Twist magazine, Donvito has also written for Parade Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine online, among others. Here work was selected by author Elizabeth Gilbert to be included in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. She earned a BA in English and History from Rutgers University.

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