Smallest Countries in Europe: (European Microstates) Guide

Smallest Countries in Europe
Vaduz in Liechtenstein; one of the prettiest and safest of the smallest countries in Europe.

When it comes to Europe, the big kids tend to hog a lot of the attention; Germany, Russia, France, Spain, Italy… we’ve all heard of them.

But what about the smallest countries in Europe? These European microstates seem to hide amongst the famous maps of the European continent, only seeming to make an appearance as an answer on a pub quiz.

Nations like Andorra that hide deep within the Pyrenees between France and Spain, or the Vatican City and San Marino; whose names would have you thinking it’s ‘just another Italian city.’

So what is a microstate and what do the smallest countries in Europe, and often the world, have to offer? From the ticking off of unusual countries on your travel list to simply lifting the lid on these often forgotten places, let’s take a look at what the european microstates and smallest countries in Europe are all about.

During this post I will be using the words European Micronations and European Microstates interchangeably, however both words refer to the same definition. 

What Exactly is a European Microstate, Anyway?

A microstate is a sovereign state that has a small population or a very small land area – usually both. While most countries take up huge swathes of land, often with long international borders and coastlines, a microstate will often only take up a small area, which is often smaller than other nation’s counties or cities. 

For example, one of the smallest countries in Europe, the Vatican City, takes up an area of 0.49km² which would make it 3,000 times smaller than the English capital of London. 

While some nation’s may be classed as microstates based purely on their landmass, there are six officially recognised microstates in Europe, all of which make up the smallest countries in Europe.

This guide on the smallest countries in Europe is those six plus Cyprus as an honourable mention (which technically, yet unofficially is two countries in one).

Let’s take a closer look. 

How Many European Microstates Are There? (Smallest Countries in Europe By Size)

Six official microstates make up the smallest countries in Europe by size (remember that Cyprus is an outside guest on this list). They are scattered across the continent and are some of the longest standing unchanged states, far outliving vast empires and countries. 

They all have their own histories, cultures and, in some cases, language. As size really does matter when it comes to talking about the smallest countries in Europe, let’s take a look at them in reverse order (largest to smallest) before moving onto the nitty gritty. 

Luxembourg (2,586.3km²)

Largest of the microstates and relatively more well known, Luxembourg covers an area of 2,586.3km². Its population sits just over the half a million mark with around 613,894 people calling Luxembourg home. 

Wedged between Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg draws much of its cultural and linguistic influence from these neighbouring nations.   

Andorra (467.4km²)

Nestled amongst the Pyrenees mountains, Andorra is a nation that covers just 467.4km² and has a population of 77,142. Although a blend of French and Spanish influences, the Principality of Andorra has managed to remain independent; both culturally and politically free from both these nations for millennia. 

Malta (315km²)

A small island lying between the southern tip of Italy and the North African coast, Malta has long been a focal point for the surrounding nations of Europe. It may only cover an area of 315km², but the 502,653 people that call the island home have a strong and definitive Maltese culture. 

Liechtenstein (160km²)

Officially known as the Principality of Liechtenstein, the country is a German-speaking microstate that stands amongst the Alps, bordered by Switzerland and Austria. This mountainous country covers a small area of 160km² and a population of 38,378. 

Notable for its pristine alpine landscapes and low crime rate – the entire national police force is made up of just 160 employees.  

San Marino (61.2km²)

One of the oldest republics in the world, the European micronation of San Marino is a landlocked nation, nestled just north of the Apennine Mountains and enveloped by Italy. The country is named after Saint Marinus, who built a chapel on Monte Titano and by doing so founded the state of San Marino. The country covers an area of 61.2km² and has a population of 33,860.

Monaco (2km²)

Another European Microstate principality. Known formally as the Principality of Monaco, this microstate lies on the southern coast of France and is part of the French Riviera. Primarily known for being a billionaire’s playground, the 40,000 residents of Monaco enjoy no income tax or property tax, with 1 in 3 residents being classed as millionaires. One of the most densely populated nations on Earth, the 40,000 strong population fits into a mere 2km².

Vatican City (0.49km²)

Just like its european microstate neighbour(ish) San Marino, The Vatican is surrounded by the magnificent country of Italy. Vatican City is not only one of the smallest countries in Europe but the smallest country in the world. 

Located within the city of Rome, Vatican City is dominated by St Paul’s Basilica and the Apostolic Palace, home of the Pope and the centre of the global Catholic Church. Vatican City’s collection of buildings and city gardens cover an area of 0.49km² and is home to just 825 people.

Cyprus: Not an Official European Microstate (3,572km²)

Technically not classed as a microstate (just another reminder), the island nation of Cyprus covers a small area of 3,572km² and is home to 875,899 people – small by global averages. 

Lying in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has had cultural influences from both Europe and the Middle East. The northeast of the country is taken up by ‘Northern Cyprus’ a de facto state that is only currently recognised by Turkey, with a legitimate border (which can sometimes be trickier to cross).

Demystifying The European Microstates

If you’re keen to venture out and explore some of the smallest countries in Europe, here’s what you need to know in order to travel around them, so you can feel like you’re in some sort of secret society adventure club.

Luxembourg

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, as it is officially known, is a nation lying between Belgium, France and Germany, with borders on all sides. One of the oldest continuing states in Europe, the Duchy of Luxembourg has run since the 10th century. 

Drawing masses of influence from its neighbour states, much of Luxembourg’s culture and history is intertwined with that of France, Belgium and Germany.

A Brief History of Luxembourg

Luxembourg’s beginnings start in the early medieval period, rising as a surprising power, despite being one of the smallest countries in Europe. Luxembourg would then fall under French rule during the French revolution in 1797, a rule that lasted right through revolutionary France and into the rule of Napoleon. 

After the fall of the French Empire, Luxembourg joined a personal union with the Netherlands before gaining full independence in 1876.

Years later, Luxemburg was occupied by the German army in both World Wars which only ended in 1945. Post-war Luxembourg would soon rise to be one of the richest countries in the world with a booming financial sector. 

At the same time, the country became the seat of several institutions and agencies of the EU, which includes the highest European court, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg City. Although a European micronation, Luxembourg has firmly staked its place as an independent nation, free from the influence, or control of its neighbours.

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: Around 3 or 4 days should be enough to see the country.
  • Best time of year to visit: During the Spring and Autumn months, as May to September see peak tourist arrivals.
  • Currency: Euro €
  • Language spoken in Luxembourg: Luxembourgish, French and German.

Location of Luxembourg (+ Getting There)

Luxembourg is located in central Europe, just south of Belgium, with France to the west and Germany to the east. The capital, Luxembourg City has an international airport and is well connected to many of the major European capitals. 

If you’re already close by, you’ll also find direct rail links to Luxembourg City from Brussels, Paris and the German city of Trier.

Highlights of Luxembourg

For the majority of visitors, most of their time is spent in Luxembourg City whose Old Quarter is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Once one of the most highly fortified cities in Europe, this area of the capital is a fascinating mixture of fortifications, cobbled streets, old buildings and idyllic parks and gardens. 

The city’s National Museum of History and Art (Nationalmusée fir Geschicht a Konscht, or (MNHA) is an impressive collection of artefacts from the long history of Luxembourg and is well worth a visit too.

Travelling throughout the wider country, Luxembourg’s northern area is dominated by the beautiful forests of the Ardenne. With quaint towns and villages such as Witz and Clervaux, the area is a picturesque landscape of natural beauty and Luxembourg charm. 

For the history buffs among you, this is also the location of Nazi Germany’s final offensive in the west, known as the Battle of the Buldge. You’ll come across a number of museums and memorials to the fighting that took place here in the dying days of 1944.   

Pros and Cons of Travelling in Luxembourg

Pros:

  • Some of the most beautiful preserved buildings in Europe.
  • Endless miles of walking and cycling trails across the country.
  • Very easy to travel around.
  • Fairytale-like castles can be found all over Luxembourg.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have large booming cities like neighbouring France, Belgium and Germany.
  • It doesn’t take long to see the whole country.

Luxembourg: A Conclusion 

Along with being a European Micronation, Luxembourg is a microcosm of all that is European. While Luxembourg has firmly fixed its own strong cultural and national identity, the undeniable mix of French, Belgian and German influences are felt throughout the country. 

This mix of cultures has given birth to a country that is the very essence of Europeanness. With perfectly preserved medieval cities and castles, it is almost a fantasy land that has been untouched by the over modernisation that many western countries have fallen to. 

Often overlooked, travelling to Luxembourg will give you a whole new perspective on what it is to be part of Europe.

Andorra

One of the smallest countries in Europe, the Principality of Andorra lies in the high Pyrenees, between the southern border of France to the north and the northern Spanish border to the south. 

Andorra is the 16th-smallest country in the world by landmass and the 11th-smallest by population. Standing amongst the mountains of the Pyrenees, the Andorran capital of Andorra la Vella is the highest capital in Europe, situated at an elevation of 1,023 metres above sea level.

A Brief History of Andorra

Andorra was established in the 8th century and is thought to be the single remaining Marca Hispanica – a series of buffer states created by Charlemagne to protect Christain France from the Islamic Moors. 

Andorra managed to keep its independence for the next few hundred years, when it was briefly occupied by the Crown Aragon twice, in 1396 and 1512. Throughout the preceding centuries, Andorra existed in relative isolation, with little contact with its neighbouring nations. 

Declaring neutrality during both World Wars, it wasn’t until the post-war area that this relatively impoverished nation began to open up and improve its economic status through the tourism industry. 

Along with its winter sports culture, Andorra has thrived off its financial services sector, increased by its reputation as a tax haven and its banking secrecy laws. 

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: You can see all of Andorra’s sights within a day or two.
  • Best time of year to visit: Visit Andorra from May to mid-July, and in September, when you’ll benefit from the Mediterranean sunshine and warmer weather on the Pyrenean slopes.
  • Currency: Euro €
  • Language spoken in Luxembourg: Catalan

Location of Andorra (+ Getting There)

Andorra is nestled between the borders of France and Spain, high amongst the Pyrenees mountains. It doesn’t have any international airports or a rail network, so travelling to the country can only be done via its neighbours. 

Popular routes into Andorra include flying to the Spanish airports in La Seu d’Urgell, Barcelona, Lleida or Girona and taking a minibus or coach service to the Andorran capital. You can also fly to a number of French destinations and do the same. These include Toulouse, Carcassonne and Perpignan. 

I drove from Barcelona, it was a lovely drive and I highly recommend it if you have the time and money.

Highlights of Andorra

Andorra’s capital Andorra la Vella is one of the highest in all of Europe and is one of the country’s main highlights. Surrounded by the picturesque mountains and foothills of the Pyrenees, the city’s beauty is worth the visit alone. 

Andorra la Vella is known for its streets of boutique shopping districts, galleries, cafés, and restaurants. There are also a number of beautiful buildings throughout the capital, including the 12th-century Sant Esteve Church.

Away from the capital, Andorra is also a nation of extreme natural beauty and harbours a booming skiing culture. The northwest ski resort of Vallnord offers fantastic skiing through the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees. During the summer months, the region also provides a network of mountain biking trails through the hills. 

Travelling up to the very north of the country will bring you to the idyllic town of Ordino, with its quiet streets and charming buildings that are, in some cases, hundreds of years old. Apart from gazing at the postcard-like landscapes, you can also gaze upon the peaks of Casamanya Mountain.

Pros and Cons of Travelling in Andorra

Pros:

  • Unique and ancient country, giving you an interesting travel experience.
  • A mixture of epic mountain views and small charming towns and villages.
  • The possibility to see ancient architecture unchanged by the destruction of wars and time.   

Cons:

  • Can’t fly directly and have to travel via France or Spain.
  • Some areas of the country can be expensive to visit if you’re starting out and on a tight budget. 

Andorra: A Conclusion 

An often-overlooked nation, Andorra has frequently passed under the radar of many travellers and visitors to Europe. Isolated in the high Pyrenees, the nation has developed its own unique culture and history, free from its Spanish and French neighbours. 

Ignore silly clickbait articles like this Smithsonian author referring to Andorra as the “ugliest country in Europe.” It’s simply not true. While it may not be the prettiest out of the smallest countries in Europe, it’s certainly not an eyesore and undeserving of such an ostentatious piece.

This, combined with its slow-paced way of life and mountainous surroundings give Andorra a feel as if time stood still and it was a welcome escape from busy Barcelona for me to unwind and decompress before moving onto the other European Microstates.

Malta

Another European micronation and one of the smallest countries in Europe is the island nation of Malta. Lying just under 60 miles south of Italy and 186 miles north of the North African coast, the island has been a key stepping stone for European and African cultures and relations. 

Made up of three islands, the nation is an archipelago rather than a single island nation and has been a melting pot of cultures and empires for centuries.   

A Brief History of Malta

The islands of Malta have seen human activity from 5900 BC and are still home to some of the oldest free-standing structures on earth. 

The country was first conquered by the Phoenicians and then the Romans in 218 BC. This Roman rule continued well into the formation of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Byzantines that ruled it. A multicoloured thread of invasions by Arabs and then Sicilians, Aragonese and Spanish Christianised the islands.

During the mid-16th century, Malta was given to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller. Under their two-century rule, the island saw a growth of arts, culture and overall improvement in society. 

During the Napoleonic Wars, a French invasion was repelled by the combined alliance of British, Neapolitan and Portuguese, resulting in Malta becoming a protectorate of the British Empire.

Malta was one of the most important British naval bases during the Second World War, a status that brought utter devastation to the island at the hands of the German Air Force. 

Never giving in without a good scrap, the island remained a stronghold for the allied nations and in doing so the entire country of Malta was awarded the George Cross, the highest award bestowed by the British government for non-combatants. The cross remains on the national flag of Malta to this day. 

Malta finally gained its independence from Britain in 1964 and would go on to join the European Union in 2004.

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: Around four days is a perfect amount of time to visit Malta.
  • Best time of year to visit: Spring and early summer (April, May and June) is the best time to visit Malta. Temperatures are not too high and tourist crowds are low.
  • Currency: Euro €
  • Language spoken in Malta: Maltese and English 

Location of Malta (+ Getting There)

You’ll find Malta in the central Mediterranean, south of the Italian island of Scilly and north of the Libyan coast. The easiest and most common way of getting to Malta is to fly directly to its main international airport on the southern end of the island. You can also take a ferry from the Scillina city of Catania to Malta which takes between 4 and 7 hours, but not many choose to take this route. 

Highlights of Malta

Malta is an island mixed with Mediterranean culture and European history. 

You can get a real feel for the island’s experiences during the Second World War by visiting the Lascaris War Rooms. This huge underground complex of tunnels and chambers right under the capital of Valletta is like a subterranean city. 

Its numerous rooms and deep shelters were used to coordinate the island’s defences and all this is brought to life by the modern-day museum that is set up in the underground Lascaris War Rooms. 

With its clear blue water and vibrant reef, Malta is also a diver’s paradise. The numerous Second World War shipwrecks provide a home for a plethora of marine life, many of which are a short distance offshore. The middle island of ​​Comino is also another must-dive spot, home to a network of underwater caves and pristine reefs.

One of Malta’s most fascinating historical sites is the temple ruins of Ġgantija on the northern Maltese island of Gozo. Dating back to 3600-3200BC, this structure predates Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, making it one of the oldest free-standing buildings in the world.

If simple island relaxation is more your thing, Malta has plenty. With blue lagoons and sandy beaches, a perfect balance of history, culture and Mediterranean island life the European microstate of Malta has something to offer you during your stay. 

Pros and Cons of Travelling in Malta

Pros:

  • A plethora of historical sites from across the centuries.
  • Beaches, lagoons and seascapes.
  • Idyllic diving spots, including shipwrecks and underwater caves.
  • A huge mix of people and cultures.
  • Easy to get by if you can only speak English.

Cons:

  • Public transport is unreliable, so you’re best off renting a car. (Negative if you don’t drive).
  • It’s not as pretty as you think it is in your mind.

Malta: A Conclusion 

Visiting the island of Malta is a real melting pot of experiences, from its plethora of historic and cultural sights to the laid back and reset vibe of the Mediterranean island. 

The patchwork of empires that have ruled over the island has given it a unique feel, including a strong connection with the British. Malta also strikes a gentle balance between being a resort-like holiday destination and some relatively untouched set of islands, allowing visitors to have multiple experiences when visiting the island.

Liechtenstein

Pronounced (Lich-en-stine) in English. Wedged between the nations of Switzerland and Austria lies the Principality of Liechtenstein, a triangular country in the Upper Rhine Valley of the Alps. 

Harbouring one of the largest GDPs in the world, Liechtenstein thrives off a booming financial sector, centralised in Vaduz and once known as a billionaire’s tax haven. 

Surrounded by the foothills and mountains of the Alps, Liechtenstein is not only a country of outstanding natural beauty but a popular winter sports location too.

A Brief History of Liechtenstein

The Rhine plain has been occupied by settlers for thousands of years, and for centuries, the area that would become Liechtenstein was ruled by two lordships: the Holy Roman Empire and Vaduz. 

Founded in 1719, the Principality of Liechtenstein was named after the family Liechtenstein, which in turn lived at Lichtenstein Castle in Austria. This dynasty was first incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire and then the Confederation of the Rhine during the early 19th century.

Later, Liechtenstein would lean more towards the empires of Austria and Austro-Hungary, contested right up to the First World War. Although claiming neutrality throughout the war, its closeness to Austria led to economic sanctions, and eventually, economic devastation. 

This led Liechtenstein to join in a customs and monetary union with Switzerland, which would represent Liechtenstein to the rest of the world.   

Modern Liechtenstein would claw back its economic status through a thriving financial sector in the latter part of the 20th century, increased by its low corporate tax rates which drew many companies to the country, a reputation that has upheld the principality ever since.

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: Many of the sights can be seen within a couple of days.
  • Best time of year to visit: Based on the weather alone, you’ll want to visit between May and September. 
  • Currency: Euro €
  • Language spoken in Liechtenstein: German  

Location of Liechtenstein (+ Getting There)

Liechtenstein is located in the central European Alps, with Austria to its east and Switzerland to its west. The fastest way to get to Liechtenstein is to take a flight to the Swiss city of Zurich and then take a two-hour train journey to the Liechtenstein capital of Vaduz. 

Highlights of Liechtenstein

Looming large over the backdrop of stunning alpine mountains and hills, Liechtenstein is well known for its impressive castles, and no visit to the country would be complete without visiting at least one. 

Vaduz Castle, the most famous in the country, is the home to the Liechtenstein Royal Family and is only open once a year. In the likelihood that you don’t visit Liechtenstein during this auspicious day, there are plenty of other castles to visit. 

Gutenberg Castle is one of five castles to be constructed during the early 12th century and epitomises the romantic notion of a Liechtenstein castle. Overlooking the charming town of Balzer, the castle offers tours in both English and German, taking visitors back through the centuries of Liechtenstein history. 

With a myriad of alpine foothills, walking tours of the country are a popular way to see Lichtenstein and famous above all these is the Princes’ Way Hike. Winding its way through the Rätikon Mountains, this six-kilometre hike allows you to really soak up the best of Liechtenstein’s countryside.

Pros and Cons of Travelling in Liechtenstein

Pros: 

  • Breath-taking views of the Liechtenstein Alps, so gorgeous!
  • Chance to see idyllic castles linked with ancient European Royalty.
  • Being one of the smallest countries in Europe, you can travel the nation in a short period of time.
  • Being a double landlocked nation and small, you can visit Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria in one trip.

Cons:

  • It is not possible to fly directly to Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein: A Conclusion 

Hidden amongst the alps of central Europe, Liechtenstein is a nation that seems to glow from a bygone age; royal princes, mountainous castles and a mystic that keeps an allure that is gone from many modern western nations. 

The fact that there is no direct route to Liechtenstein means it still has an old school way of travelling to its borders – something that only adds to its appeal.

San Marino

Keeping with the theme of the isolated mountainous nations of European microstates is the nation of San Marino. Surrounded on all sides by Italy, the Republic of San Marino is arguably the world’s oldest microstate. 

Only arriving on to the world stage to play football friendlies against England, the nation of San Marino often goes under the radar on a global scale, but is one of the wealthiest countries in the world in GDP per capita. 

A Brief History of San Marino

One of the oldest continuous states of Europe, it is said that San Marino was founded by one Saint Marinus, who left the island of Rab in modern-day Croatia and built a small church on the mountainside of Monte Titano in the early 4th century. 

This was the first building that would then go on to become the city and the state of San Marino – an etymological link to Saint Marinus.  

Through the next thousand years, San Marino sought to save its independence, often coming under conflict with the domineering Papal States and the Vatican. This conflict resulted in numerous occupations by the papacy every century from the 14th right through to the last occupation in the mid 18th century. 

Keeping its independence throughout the 19th century and early 20th centuries, San Marino declared neutrality when Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War. 

Following suit during the Second World War, San Marino again declared neutrality – though this didn’t stop the British from mistaking German troop movements and accidentally bombing the area.

Post-war San Marino saw the first democratically elected communist government in the world, holding office between 1945 and 1957.

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: Two days should be sufficient enough to see San Marino.
  • Best time of year to visit: April to June or from mid-September to the end of October is the best time, owing to the pleasant temperatures.   
  • Currency: Euro.
  • Language spoken in San Marino: Italian.  

Location of San Marino (+ Getting There)

San Marino is surrounded by Italy in the northeast of the country, high amongst the northern Apennine Mountains and just southwest of the Italian city of Rimini. 

With no airports, the quickest and easiest way to get to San Marino is to fly to the Italian city of Rimini and take a car or bus to San Marino. The 160 bus takes 35 minutes and costs between €3 – €5. (I got an Uber the whole way because I had flown from Colombia to Italy and I was exhausted!)

Highlights of San Marino

The long ridge of Mount Titano that makes up the centre of San Marino city should be your first port of call when visiting the country. The fortress of Rocca Guaita was constructed in the 11th century and is both an interesting historic construction and also offers breathtaking views of the country below. It takes a bit of hiked climbing to get to the top, but the beautiful views make it all the more worth it.

Another building that is well worth a visit is the neoclassical Basilica di San Marino. Built in the 19th century, the interior is dedicated to the San Marino founder and hero of the country, St Marinus and is adorned with paintings, statues and altars.

For more breathtaking views of the country, take advantage of San Marino’s Funivia, or cable car. Leaving at 15-minute intervals, the cars take passengers from lower Borgo to the upper Citta quickly and conveniently. Once at the top, you can enjoy sweeping views of the Adriatic coast and the blissfully green countryside below. 

For the petrol heads amongst you, the Maranello Rosso Ferrari Museum in San Marino is a must. Home to a huge collection of rare Ferrari models and vintage Ferrari memorabilia.  

Pros and Cons of Travelling in San Marino   

Pros:

  • Stunning mountainous views surround the country.
  • Chance to visit one of the oldest microstates in the world.
  • You are able to visit San Marino and Italy on one trip.

Cons:

  • Unable to travel directly to the country.

San Marino: A Conclusion 

San Marino is one of the most ancient European micronations and offers visitors a chance to experience a mountainous country weaved with historic architecture and a colourful origin story. 

Closely linked with the people and culture of Italy, there is a little feeling of visiting another Italian city, with an ultra-strong independent identity about them. 

No disrespect to San Marino people, but it’s basically a mini Italy. Which is a compliment because Italy is a bloody brilliant country to travel. Jackpot!

Monaco

 One of the smallest countries in Europe, the microstate of Monaco sits on the French Riviera, bordering southern France. One of the most densely populated nations in the world, Monaco has long had a reputation for being the playground of the rich and swanky.

The nation’s reputation for opulence is seen through institutions such as the Monte Carlo casino, the Monaco Yacht Show and the Monaco Grand Prix – one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world.

A Brief History of Monaco

The early history of Monaco predominantly revolves around the Rock of Monaco, a 200 ft monolith jutting out along the coast. It first acted as a shelter for the early settlers of the area and then as a fortified point for the many empires and people who came after. 

The Phoenicians and then the Greek Phocaeans were the first peoples to take control of the Rock of Monaco and the surrounding area, later passing to the Romans. 

After the fall of the Roman Empire, rule passed to the House of Grimaldi, a Genoise family that would go on to rule the area for hundreds of years. Much of the wider lands of Monaco were ceded to France, resulting in the modern borders we see today.

In 1869 the principality stopped collecting income tax from its residents, a feat that the House of Grimaldi could afford because of the success of its casinos. 

Other than a brief occupation of Italian, and then German forces, Monaco has continued to keep its independent statehood. Though it remains to have many political and cultural ties to France, including the French military being responsible for Monaco’s defence, while not having to pay tax for their hypothetical services (not a bad gig at all).

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: You’ll only really need a day to see Monaco.
  • Best time of year to visit: Spring and autumn are perfect if you want to explore Monte Carlo without it being too hot and overwhelmed by tourists.
  • Currency: Euro €
  • Language spoken in Monaco: French

Location of Monaco (+ Getting There)

Monaco sits along the southeast coast of France, only 15km west of the Italian border. The fastest and most common way of getting to Monaco is to fly to the French city of Nice, which is only a half-hour drive from the microstate. 

From here, you can either catch the airport shuttle bus or organise a private taxi transfer to make the drive eastward. Monaco is also connected to France and Italy via rail, with the Monaco train station conveniently situated in the centre of the city. 

Highlights of Monaco

One of the most famous areas of the principality is the area of Monte Carlo, lavished with gourmet restaurants, Michelin-starred establishments and, most famous of all, the Monte Carlo casino that’s right up there with gambling establishments such as Las Vegas and Macau

Aside from pretending you’re James Bond in Casino Royale and trying your luck with a few casino games, the building itself is a wonder to behold. Built in the Beaux-Arts style, there are huge onyx pillars, breathtaking chandeliers and a plethora of artwork adorning the walls.

Known for its over the top lavishness, Monaco is a shopping mecca and if that’s your thing, a shopping trip through the principality will not leave you disappointed. From jewellery stores, perfume shops and an endless stream of designer stalls, Avenue de Monte-Carlo is the perfect place to splash some cash.

Aside from the rich luxury of the place, Monaco is also home to the perfect sunbathing beach. White sands and blue waters lap up Larvotto Beach and provide the ideal spot for watersports. Wide nets are erected just out at sea, ideal for keeping the population of jellyfish at bay. 

Pros and Cons of Travelling in Monaco

Pros:

  • A nation of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” like nowhere else in the world. If you have the money to live it up Monaco style even one time in your life, then why not? I’m not judging. Have fun.  
  • Possible to visit both France, Italy and Monaco in one trip.
  • Gamble in some of the most luxurious settings in the world.
  • Shop in some of the top outlets.

Cons:

  • Can be very expensive if you’re on a budget.
  • Limited in the range of experiences.
  • Losers being whiny and faux-outraged, when they find out that you went somewhere so fancy, and didn’t bother to consult their precious feelings beforehand. 

Monaco: A Conclusion 

Arguably one of the most obscure European microstates on the continent, Monaco is like nowhere else. The undeniable opulence and lavish living that is done here does nothing to dispel the label of playground for the rich. 

Yet, if you have the cash to spend and yachts, diamonds, champagne and high stake gambling is your thing, Monaco is the paradise you wanted and needed it to be.

Vatican City

The Vatican City is not only one of the smallest countries in Europe but takes the title of the smallest country in the entire world, coming in at only 1/8th of New York City’s Central Park in size; the microstate of Vatican City is so small that it actually sits within the city of Rome. 

The Vatican City is one that is tied firmly with a religious organization, in this case, the Catholic Church. Its entire population is only 453 and all are linked with the Catholic Church. 

A Brief History of Vatican City 

The first formation of the Vatican City came through the Papel States, a large region of mainland Italy, all under the control of the pope. This lasted for centuries until the area was seized when the nations of Italy were unified in 1870. 

The Popes continued to hold political power until 1929 when their role was left to only spiritual matters. The Lateran treaties of 1929 granted independence for the Vatican City state, set aside from the rest of Italy.

This independence would last right through the 20th century, with the Vatican City claiming neutrality throughout the world war – something that was accepted by the Allied Forces during the Second World War.

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: Vatican City can be visited during one day.
  • Best time of year to visit: To avoid the overwhelming crowds, it is often best to visit the Vatican City during the winter months.
  • Currency: Euro.
  • Language spoken in Vatican City: Italian.

Location of Vatican City (+ Getting There)

The Vatican City is located within the Italian capital of Rome. The easiest and quickest way to get to the tiniest of European Microstates is to fly straight to Rome. Not all of the Vatican City is open to visitors, only the Vatican Museums, St Peter’s Basilica, or a guided tour of some of the gardens. 

Highlights of Vatican City

One of the top highlights in the Vatican City has to be St Paul’s Basilica, the centrepiece of the Vatican.  Built between the 16th and 18th centuries, St Paul’s Basilica is a jaw-dropping collection of architecture and interior design, having been crafted by a collection of famous artists. 

As soon as you walk in there are sculptures by famous Italian sculptor Bernini and mosques by Giotto. Entering the huge nave of the Basilica, there stands Michelangelo’s famous Pietà. 

Another must-see is of course, the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s domestic chapel which was built in the mid 15th century. Many of the renaissance frescoes that are here were famously painted by renaissance artist Michelangelo. 

The side walls are covered with biblical frescoes by other notable artists such as Perugino, Botticelli, Rosselli, Pinturicchio, Signorelli, and Ghirlandaio.

Stepping out onto the streets of the Vatican City will take you to another famous spot, Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square). This is famous for crowds gathering to hear speeches by the pope or where senior cardinals elect a new pope.

Pros and Cons of Travelling in Vatican City

Pros:

  • Vatican City is easy to get to
  • The country holds some of the best renaissance art anywhere in the world.
  • Can be a spiritual place for Christians.
  • The Vatican can be visited as part of visiting Rome.

Cons:

  • The Vatican can have overwhelming crowds and queues.
  • You’re not allowed to take photos of The Sistine Chapel. I respected this rule, many didn’t. I’m no angel when it comes to rules usually, but I figured for once it would be nice to not have photos to run to for a memory, and all that I have is my memory and imagination. It’s refreshing 🙂 

Vatican City: A Conclusion 

The smallest country in Europe and the world, Vatican City really is like no other place on earth. Firmly linked with the pope and the Catholic Church, the whole European microstate is dedicated to Catholicism and its institutions. 

Unlike many other states on earth, actually visiting the country involves only seeing part of it, cut off from those outside the official Catholic Church. 

Cyprus (Honourable Mention of The Smallest Countries in Europe Club)

The island nation of Cyprus lies within the eastern Mediterranean, flanked by Turkey to its north and Lebanon and Syria to its east. Drawing culturally from many influences, both Greek, Turkish and middle eastern cultures can be found throughout the island; a homogamy of nations that has given birth to the Cypriote identity. 

Despite being one of the smallest countries in Europe, Cyprus is the third most populous and third largest island in all of the Mediterranean, but is not an official European Micronation (ok, I promise this is the last time I will say this).

A Brief History of Cyprus

Found at such a pivotal crossroad in southern Europe, the island nation of Cyprus has been ruled by numerous emperors and peoples, from the Roman empire right up to its independence in the 1960s. 

From the 4th century BC onwards, the island was completely Hellenised, creating a firmly-placed Greek culture throughout. Romans, and then the Byzantine Empire, ruled right through the middle ages, until the Ottoman invasion during the 16th century. Much like the wider middle east and eastern Europe, Cyprus was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire until its fall during the First World War. 

The special guest of this smallest countries in Europe article, was then passed into the hands of British rule until the 1960s when they gained independence.

Soon after, a civil war broke out between pro-Greek and pro-Turkish factions, resulting in the Turkish seizure of the north parts of the island. Northern Cyprus has only ever been recognised by Turkey, whereas the rest of the world still sees the Turks as an occupational force, complete with a UN buffer zone between the two sides.

Know Before You Go:

  • Time needed: Despite being a small island, give yourself at least a week to explore Cyprus.
  • Best time of year to visit: The best time to visit Cyprus is either side of the peak summer heat, in the months of May, June, September and October. The weather is still pleasant, but you’ll avoid the busiest time of the year.
  • Currency: Euro €
  • Language spoken in Cyprus: Cypriot Greek

Location of Cyprus (+ Getting There)

Cyprus can be found in the eastern Mediterranean, 40 miles south of Turkey and 60 miles west of Syria, making it an island cut off far out to sea. Based on this, the quickest and easiest way to get to Cyprus is by air. 

Cyprus has two main international airports, Larnaca International Airport on its southeastern coast and Paphos International Airport on the island’s southwestern coast. Both enjoy direct flights from most major locations across Europe.

Highlights of Cyprus

Cyprus is a mix of beautiful Mediterranean coastline and fascinating historical sights. For beach vibes, check out Cyprus’ Nissi Beach on the southeastern coast – with white sands and turquoise waters, this is a beach bum’s paradise. 

Alongside the natural beauty of Cyprus, there are also a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites scattered across the island. One of the most famous of these is the town of Paphos on the west of the island. 

Here, you can see the ruins of the ancient site of Paphos, complete with buildings, statues and all manner of references to the ancient world. Thought to be the mythical birthplace and home of Aphrodite, there are numerous shrines and ruins dedicated to the goddess here.

Pros and Cons of Travelling in Cyprus

Pros:

  • A nation full of historical sites, going far back to Ancient Greece.
  • Fantastic Mediterranean weather.
  • Delicious Cypriot cuisine.
  • Two (unofficial) countries in one! Get over the border from either side and you will witness a Cyprus with a different culture.

Cons:

  • Very popular with tourists so can be overcrowded at times.
  • Seen as a beach holiday and can be a little too laid back for some.
  • Two (unofficial) countries in one! Border might be hard to get over. Depends on which way you look at it; is your cup half empty or half full? 

Cyprus: A Conclusion 

Cyprus is a melting pot of Mediterranean cultures; a mixture of Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern influences. Travelling through the country allows you to experience the laid back feel of a Med’ island, blending with an ancient history and tasty Cypriot cuisine. 

You’ll find a mix-match of coastal resorts and small villages to choose from, with very few major cities to speak of. Often seen as a holiday resort destination, there is so much more to the country than its mega-hotels and private beaches. 

Smallest Countries in Europe: Are They Worth The Effort?

I absolutely loved my tour of the smallest countries in Europe. They seemed to stand apart in their own way, with subtle nuances and unique personalities displayed within each European micronation.

After travelling in some pretty run-down regions of the world, it really wasn’t much of an “effort” at all, just a pleasure and one thing that they had in common was that they were all extremely safe (I guess small populations equals lower crime rates, also it helps that most of the citizens are rich as f**k!)

It’s difficult for me to pin down a particular favourite. Liechtenstein and San Marino both stand out brightly in my memory, but that could be because 2 good friends who I hadn’t seen in ages, separately travelled there to meet me for a much-needed catch up.

None of the nations were bad in any distinct aspect, and I only have good vibes when it comes to thinking about the smallest countries in Europe. Give it a go for yourself and see which European micronation steals your heart.

Anthony Middleton

Former loser who took a risk. Visited over 100 countries. Trying my best to not get skinny-fat during Covid.

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Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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