In a world dominated by headlines featuring global superpowers and well-known nations, there exists a tapestry of smaller, lesser-known countries that often go unnoticed. These hidden gems, scattered across different continents, possess unique cultures, rich histories, and breathtaking landscapes that are waiting to be explored. In this journey of discovery, we invite you to venture beyond the familiar and delve into the captivating stories of 15 lesser-known small countries that, despite their size, pack a punch in terms of charm, authenticity, and allure.
While these countries may be geographically compact, their contributions to the global tapestry are immeasurable. From the vibrant traditions of Bhutan to the stunning natural wonders of Suriname, each of these nations offers a distinct flavor, providing a refreshing perspective on what it means to be a small player on the world stage. As we embark on this exploration, prepare to be captivated by the lesser-known corners of our planet, where big adventures unfold in small nations. Join us on this intriguing journey, and let’s unravel the hidden treasures of these 15 remarkable small countries together.
São Tomé and Príncipe
The two islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, off the west coast of Africa, in the Gulf of Guinea, cover only 963 square kilometers, but compensate for this smallness by offering us a sumptuous and almost virgin nature, in especially on the remote island of Principe.
The astonishing needle-shaped volcanic peak of Pico Cão Grande rises more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) above a magnificent territory with a wealth of biodiversity.
Uninhabited until its colonization by the Portuguese in the 15th century, the archipelago today has only around 200,000 inhabitants, of whom only 10,000 live in Principe.
With its 60 square kilometers and 30,000 inhabitants, San Marino, a landlocked microstate in north-central Italy, is the fifth smallest country in the world. Dominated by Mount Titano and its three medieval fortresses – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – San Marino is said to be the oldest republic in the world.
A stroll through the cobbled streets of the capital of the same name will give you the impression of stepping back in time. You can take a day trip from Florence and also take advantage of your visit to admire the breathtaking view of the Adriatic Sea.
Dominica, nicknamed “the natural island”, is often confused with the very popular tourist destination of the Dominican Republic. But this tiny mountainous country of just 751 square kilometers is a nation in its own right offering some of the best hiking and diving in the Caribbean. The Morne Trois Pitons National Park, for example, is classified as a natural world heritage site by UNESCO.
In Dominica, you’ll see lush rainforests, mighty waterfalls, and stunning coastal views. The island is also home to the last group of Carib Indians, the Kalinago, who live among the island’s 70,000 inhabitants.
This Pacific island nation is an archipelago of 33 atolls, or coral islands, covering roughly the same area as Dominica – just 810 square kilometers. But the atolls are so scattered that Kiribati is the only country in the world to straddle the north-south, and east-west hemispheres of the Earth.
Only 20 of its islands are inhabited by the country’s 108,000 inhabitants. Visitors to Kiribati will find some of the best deep-sea fishing in the world, as well as miles of saltwater flats.
But hurry to see this tropical paradise while it still exists; rising sea levels threaten to engulf it entirely. These 13 other islands will disappear for the same reason within 80 years.
Like Princess Genovia in spite of herself (which unfortunately does not exist), Andorra is located in the Pyrenees, wedged between France and Spain. Interesting fact: it is the French president (currently Emmanuel Macron) who becomes prince of this micro-country, when he is elected.
An agreement between the French monarch and the bishop of Urgell, Spain, in fact established in the 13th century that they should jointly govern Andorra to avoid war. This strange arrangement has since continued.
This country of 469 square kilometers and 77,000 inhabitants offers very beautiful ski slopes and excellent shopping opportunities, the whole territory being a duty free zone.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
This two-island country once had three, but Anguilla gained independence in 1971. The smaller Nevis, just 93 square kilometers in size, also tried to secede, but was unsuccessful.
Saint Kitts and Nevis, at just 261 square kilometers, is the eighth smallest country in the world and the smallest country in the Americas and the Western Hemisphere. Lost in the Caribbean, the country offers you the opportunity to visit historic ruins of sugar cane plantations.
Here is the least visited country in the world… and yet the one that comes closest to paradise. Travelers to Tuvalu, a remote South Pacific destination, will find a thriving Polynesian culture, beautiful lagoons and coral reefs perfect for snorkeling.
At just 26 square kilometers, this nation of nine islands, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is the fourth smallest in the world. More than half of the population of 11,000 resides in Funafuti, the capital. But away from the main island, you’ll feel like a castaway.
Liechtenstein, a land of fairy tales, is the only country located entirely in the Alps. With its 134 square kilometres, the German-speaking microstate is landlocked between Switzerland and Austria.
The wealthiest country in the world, Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy headed by Prince Hans-Adam II, which rules over a population of around 38,000.
Every year for the Staatsfeiertag, the national holiday on August 15, you can join the royal family and all their subjects for a beer in the gardens of the picturesque Vaduz Castle. A party and fireworks conclude the celebrations.
Off the east coast of Africa and north of Madagascar lie the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands scattered across the Indian Ocean. Despite this large number, the total area of the country is only 456 square kilometers and almost 90% of its approximately 94,000 inhabitants live on the largest island, Mahé.
If he ventures to the most remote islands, the visitor will find himself in contact with unique species, marine reserves and a breeding site for giant tortoises. He will also discover the Vallée de Mai – listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a prehistoric forest sheltering the coconut palm, which produces the famous coco-fesse. Oh, and the pristine tropical beaches aren’t bad either.
You may have heard of the Vatican, but did you know it was a city-state? Located in the city of Rome, the enclave is just 40 hectares (100 acres), one-eighth the size of Central Park, New York.
Ruled by the Pope, the country – also known as the Holy See – has less than 1,000 inhabitants, including the colorfully uniformed Swiss Guards. These soldiers, the Papal Zouaves, have been protecting the Pope and his residence since 1506.
Visitors can enter it simply by walking from Italy (no borders) and visit St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, as well as the masterpiece painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Italy is home to other historic cities, like Venice, one of the 10 must-visit destinations on the way out.
The Republic of Palau has a few hundred tiny islands near the Philippines and does not exceed 458 square kilometers for a population of 21,000 inhabitants.
Its varied topography, which stretches from the mountainous main island of Babeldaob to the featureless coral islands, makes it an ideal destination for hiking and off-roading, as well as diving. Many World War II relics can be found on these islands and in their waters.
To protect its ecology, Palau now requires visitors to sign a passport in which they pledge to “act with care and gentleness and explore mindfully”.
Located on China’s coast, Macau is self-governing… but considered a Chinese “special administrative region” – just like its neighbor Hong Kong, across the South China Sea. Its gleaming casinos, hotels and shows have earned Macau the nickname ” China’s Las Vegas .”
With a territory that extends over barely 28 square kilometers, Macao is also the most densely populated city in the world, with 600,000 inhabitants. A former Portuguese colony, Macao retains all the charm of its heritage in its historic center. The fusion between the East and the West is found in the architecture as well as in the gastronomy.
A small island nation in South Asia, the Maldives rise just above the Indian Ocean, south of Sri Lanka. Their area of 298 square kilometers makes them the ninth smallest state in the world.
This country, which is home to more and more luxury resorts, is also the lowest in the world, rising two meters above sea level. Its priorities therefore constantly oscillate between mass tourism and combating sea level rise.
Visitors can (responsibly) explore the crystal clear waters of the island and even swim with whale sharks, which regularly come to the surface – just keep your distance from these gentle giants.
Not to be confused with neighboring Slovakia, this tiny Central European country is one of the continent’s best-kept secrets. Slovenia, formerly a province of Yugoslavia, only became independent in 1991.
It’s the largest country on our list, but still the 45th smallest country in the world. And most people have never heard of it.
From snow-capped mountains to crystal-clear rivers to charming castles, it offers a spectacular destination for those who want to get off the beaten track.
Islands / Tonga
Back in the South Pacific with our last small country: the Tonga Islands, 717 square kilometers, not far from the Fiji Islands. The only monarchy in the Pacific, this country is unique in that it has never completely lost its indigenous government. Many cultural traditions still exist there today.
Very welcoming, the kingdom of Tonga and its 106,000 inhabitants offer visitors an authentic Polynesian experience with its active volcanoes, its “fishing pigs” (yes, they dig the seaside at low tide in search of fruit of sea), its humpback whales, and its breathtaking beaches.