Size doesn’t matter: 7 tiny European nations to visit

Size doesn’t matter: 7 tiny European nations to visit

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

During rather brief geography lessons as young students, we learned where the “big” European countries were — England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and maybe a handful of others. However, hiding among the bigger nations are smaller, almost minute locales filled with spectacular scenery, glamour and fascinating stories just waiting to be discovered. Here are seven tiny countries worth putting on your bucket list.

Andorra

Perched in the valleys of the Pyrenees between France and Spain is the alpine nation of Andorra. This small but mighty country is the home to the highest capital city in Europe, Andorra la Vella. Ruled jointly by France and Spain for more than 700 years, the official language is curiously Catalan (and also French and Spanish). The jagged peaks lend themselves to excellent winter sports with more than 180 miles of ski slopes. Dense forests are home to fantastic hiking trails in the summer. Only accessible by land, walk across the serene landscape via the Gran Recorrido País trail, or slide your way through 3 miles of the La Rabassa forest on an alpine coaster.


Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein

Doubly landlocked (meaning it’s landlocked and its neighbors are as well) between Austria and Switzerland, Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe — measuring 160 square kilometers and 40,000 inhabitants. With awe-inspiring mountains, it’s no wonder Liechtensteiners excel in skiing. Earning 10 Winter Olympic medals, the country has never medaled in the summer games. They share a strong customs union and alliance with Switzerland; however, because of the unmarked border, Swiss troops accidentally invaded the country in 2007. The Liechtenstein government had no idea until it received a formally apology for the incident. At one point, rapper Snoop Dogg once tried to rent the entire country for a music video, whose request was politely declined by the government.

Luxembourg

Coming in at a whopping 999 square miles, Luxembourg is the largest country on this list. The only Grand Duchy in the world, this regal nation is landlocked by France, Germany and Belgium. Home to many European Union (EU) functions, the capital of Luxembourg City sits atop stunning cliffs cut from the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers. Beneath the city stretches 17 kilometers of underground tunnels. Originally built in 1644, the tunnels were used as air raid shelters during the World War I and World War II. Venture to the Mullerthal region, also known as Little Switzerland, where visitors can hike through lush forests, view tumbling waterfalls and explore castle ruins.


Colorful boats in Marsaxlokk, Malta.

Malta

Once an important trading post dating back to the Phoenicians, Malta is a mere 316 square miles. Just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean, this impressive nation was unfortunately occupied throughout much of its storied history. This former British colony gained independence in 1964, after rebuilding much of its infrastructure was destroyed by the Germans and Italians during WWII. The country is actually an archipelago comprised of seven islands — Malta, Gozo, Comino and four uninhabited islands. Sunken WWII ships dotting the pristine coastline provides great for adventures for divers. Dating back to 3600 B.C., Malta boasts Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest man-made structures in the world.

Monaco

Full of glitz, glamour and plenty of vacationing celebrities, the second-smallest country in the world is situated along the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean. Bordered by France, Monaco is ruled by Prince Albert II, whose mother was Hollywood starlet Grace Kelly. The elegant Place du Casino beckons high-stakes gamblers from around the globe. Adrenaline and racecar enthusiasts revel in the pageantry and excitement of the Monaco Grand Prix each May.


The Guaita fortress in San Marino.

San Marino

Completely landlocked by Italy and founded on the craggy slopes of Monte Titano is the world’s oldest surviving republic. Founded in 310 AD, San Marino is the fifth smallest in the world. during WWII San Marino stayed neutral despite being surrounded by Italy.  Although occupied and invaded several times over, three medieval towers perched on cliffs watch over the nation. Interestingly enough, President Abraham Lincoln was an honorary citizen.

Vatican City

Last, but certainly not least, is Vatican City. The smallest country in the world in population and size is also one the most visited places in the world. Just a mere .44 square kilometers, the Vatican’s population consists of Roman Catholic clergy from around the world. Home to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, the entire country is the only one in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Beneath the foundation of the basilica is a complex of catacombs, including what is believed to be the tomb of St. Peter.

Take a trip off the beaten path and explore these smaller, yet amazing places.

 

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