It is the duty of every nation to establish, protect and demarcate their borders. The unique histories of diplomacy, victory, or geography have resulted in some countries inheriting small pieces of land or standing their ground. Island nations are typically small, and their government’s jurisdiction is limited to their coastlines, but exceptions exist. Hispaniola is a moderately large island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Vatican is the world’s smallest country, with a total area of 0.19 square miles (0.49 square kilometres). Monaco (0.77 mi2), Nauru (8.1 mi2), and Tuvalu (10 mi2) follow as the next smallest countries. To simplify matters, the world’s smallest countries are categorized by the continents they occupy based on their total area.
Along with the small states mentioned before, many micronations worldwide claim independence or sovereignty but lack recognition from the international community. Some examples are Macau, Hong Kong, The Principality of Sealand, and Liberland. These micronations often have unique political or cultural identities, and their claims to independence can be rooted in historical or territorial disputes. While they may not be officially recognized, they often function as autonomous regions with their governments and legal systems. Despite their lack of international recognition, some micronations have gained a following and even attracted tourists interested in experiencing these unconventional entities.
This article sheds light on some of these small nation-states and how they compare amongst others in their region and globally.
Table of Contents
The Smallest Countries In Europe
Andorra is an independent state between France and Spain, with a small landlocked territory. It is technically a principality governed by two co-princes: the bishop of Urgell in Catalonia and the President of France. Although it is the first state on this list with a territory of less than 500 square kilometres, it is only the sixth-smallest state in Europe.
Andorra has a population of just under 80,000, with a majority residing in Andorra la Vella, its capital city. The country’s official language is Catalan, and its ethnic population has Catalan roots. Spanish, French, and Portuguese are also spoken in the country due to migration and location, but the government promotes the usage of Catalan and provides free language lessons to immigrants.
Liechtenstein is a tiny European country in the Alps, between Austria and Switzerland. Its official language is German, and it operates as a semi-constitutional monarchy, with the Prince of Liechtenstein serving as its leader. Due to its location, it is doubly landlocked by Austria and Switzerland, making it the world’s smallest country to share borders with two others.
Liechtenstein has a high GDP per capita regarding purchasing power parity and a low unemployment rate. It is known for its mountainous topography, making it a popular destination for winter sports. The capital city is Vaduz, and the primary language spoken is German. Around 34% of the population are foreigners. The state is famous for its mountainous terrain, with numerous winter sports resorts and tax havens attracting wealthy people. The country’s economy relies on international companies that benefit from Liechtenstein’s low taxes.
Did you know Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea with three main islands? Its stunning landscape is high hills, terraced fields, bays, harbours, and beaches. People have lived on these islands for thousands of years, with evidence of human settlement dating back to around 5200 BCE.
Malta is a small country, measuring just 216 sq. km., but it has a rich cultural history with prehistoric buildings such as the megalithic temples of Tarxien and the Mnajdra and Hagar Qim. The Hagar Qim temple was built during an exceptional era to function like a clock. Over the years, Malta has been a strategically important location and has seen many battles among its conquerors. Various nations ruled it before gaining its independence from Britain, each leaving a cultural mark on the country. Malta is now a popular cultural destination for tourists exploring its fascinating past.
Monaco, a microstate located on the French Riviera, is the second-smallest country in the world but boasts more millionaires and billionaires per capita than most other nations. The government is famous for its casinos, luxury hotels, and Formula One races. The Mediterranean and France border Monaco, and its distinguishing feature is the Rock of Monaco, which offers a panoramic view of the city. From this vantage point, one can easily see Monaco’s urban expanse, highlighting its small size.
Monaco is the most densely populated sovereign state globally, with over 19,000 people per square kilometre. The two biggest nationalities in the country are French and Monégasque, and French is the official language. However, a significant portion of the population also speaks Italian. Monaco boasts the world’s highest life expectancy, with people living up to almost 90 years.
San Marino is a small microstate located on Italy’s northeastern side of the Apennine Mountains. It covers an area of 24 square miles and is famous for its rugged, mountainous terrain. Mount Titano, the highest peak in the country, is topped by three towers that provide a panoramic view of the entire territory. The nation was founded by Saint Marinus, a stonemason, and is known for being the world’s oldest existing sovereign state and constitutional republic.
With a population of only around 30,000, San Marino is known for having one of the highest GDPs per capita worldwide. The official language spoken in the country is Italian, but it has the lowest Human Development Index score in Western Europe.
Vatican City, located within Rome, Italy, is the smallest internationally recognized independent state worldwide, measuring only 0.19 square miles. It has a population of fewer than 500 residents and is completely landlocked. Despite its small size, the city-state encompasses some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, such as St. Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Gardens, contributing to its stunning architectural layout. The country was established in 1929 when Pope Pius XI signed a treaty as compensation for the Vatican’s loss of influence in other parts of Italy.
The Vatican, renowned as the religious centre of Catholicism and housing the iconic St. Peter’s Basilica, attracts a daily influx of visitors, predominantly of the Catholic faith. Financially, the Vatican sustains itself through donations, the sale of postage stamps, souvenirs, and museum admission fees. St. Peter’s Basilica boasts some of the world’s most celebrated art, and the entirety of the Vatican State is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Singapore is a small country located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It has a land area of 281 square miles, slightly more than twice the size of the Maldives. The country comprises one main island and over 63 smaller islets. Its highest point is Bukit Timah Hill, which rises 538 feet above sea level. The terrain features a central plateau surrounded by lowlands and small rainforest areas. Singapore is strategically located on major sea lanes, making it one of the busiest ports in the world. Despite its size, the country has a population of over 5.5 million, making it the third most densely populated country globally.
Singapore is a small country with a significant population. It is recognized for its diverse culture, strong economy and well-developed infrastructure. Singapore boasts the second-highest GDP per capita (PPP) in the world and is a popular destination for aviation, financial, and maritime shipping. The country has four main ethnic groups, each with its official language: English, Malay, Standard Chinese, and Tamil.
The Smallest Countries In Africa
Mauritius, covering an area of 790 square miles, is an island country east of Madagascar. The government predominantly comprises a plateau that gradually rises towards a central range of mountains. The primary city is Port Louis, home to a population of 148,000, while a few villages are located along the coast. Due to its tropical location, Mauritius has a fascinating maritime and colonial history, with French rule only ending in 1968.
São Tomé And Príncipe
São Tomé and Príncipe is an island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea, covering an area of 372 square miles. The country consists of two main islands and several islets, and its terrain is diverse, ranging from savannah to rainforest. The highest mountain, Pico de São Tomé, stands at 6,640 ft and is a steep rock formation that few have successfully climbed.
It’s fascinating to learn that São Tomé and Príncipe remained unpopulated until the 15th century. Portuguese explorers discovered the island and colonized it over the following century. Presently, São Tomé and Príncipe is an independent nation with Portuguese as its official language. The country boasts a population of roughly 223,107, with the majority residing on the island of São Tomé, where the capital city shares the same name.
Did you know that Seychelles is the smallest country in Africa, with a total land area of 175 square miles? It’s an archipelago located in the Indian Ocean near the border with the Somali Sea, consisting of 115 islands. Seychelles boasts a mix of coral atolls and granitic islands, including the Morne Seychellois National Park, which occupies almost 20% of the main island of Mahé (60.7 mi2). The capital and largest city of Seychelles is Victoria, located on Mahé Island, which is approximately 15,000 kilometres (810 nautical miles) away from Africa’s east coast.
Seychelles is a prosperous African nation that has undergone impressive economic growth since gaining independence in 1976. Formerly relying on agriculture, it has diversified into a thriving service and tourism industry. With a population of around 100,000, Seychelles is the smallest sovereign African nation. Its unique culture blends British, French, and African influences, reflected in its official French, English, and Seychellois languages.
The Smallest Countries In North America
Antigua And Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda is a small dual-island nation in the Caribbean Sea, covering only 440 sq. km. The islands are situated where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Lesser Antilles and have hilly terrain, lush vegetation and gorgeous golden sand beaches. Their history goes back to pre-Columbian times when they were inhabited by Arawak or Ciboney peoples. Antigua was colonized by British interests in 1632, while Barbuda only had a permanent settlement due to recruiting free African slaves and former enslaved Africans from the surrounding Caribbean Islands. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1981, Antigua and Barbuda has become one of the most prosperous nations in the region, having excellent tourist infrastructure and a stable government.
The economy of this place is mainly dependent on tourism, and it is renowned as a luxurious vacation spot, contributing over 50% to the annual GDP. Financial services and investment banking also significantly affect the nation’s economy. About 97% of the population resides on Antigua Island, which houses the capital and largest city, St. John’s.
Barbados is a small independent state located in the Eastern Caribbean. It covers an area of 430 square kilometres and is the easternmost island of the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Atlantic. It is a popular tourist destination and is frequently visited by travellers in the Caribbean. The island boasts beautiful weather with constant sunshine, making it a paradise for visitors. Despite its small size, Barbados has a population of approximately 287,000, making it one of the most densely populated islands in the world.
Over the past 40 years, manufacturing, tourism, and offshore financial services have emerged as significant contributors to Barbados’ economy. These industries have propelled the country to the 52nd position in GDP per capita rankings. Despite this, a considerable percentage of the population still struggles with poverty.
Dominica is a small country situated in the Caribbean Islands, specifically in the Lesser Antilles Archipelago. It is the newest island in the Lesser Antilles and is shaped by geothermal-volcanic activity. Additionally, it boasts mountainous rainforests home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including some that are rare.
The island of Dominica was first inhabited by the Arawak people, who came from mainland South America. However, the Kalinago people later forced them out in the 15th century, and Europeans eventually colonized the island. France brought enslaved people from West Africa to work on coffee plantations, but the British took over in 1763 and made English the official language. Dominica gained independence in 1978, but English is still the official language today.
Grenada is a small island nation covering 133 square miles and is the second smallest independent country in North America. It is situated in the Lesser Antilles and has a terrain characterized by a central highland spine. Mount Saint Catherine is the highest point on the island, which stands at an impressive height of 2,757 ft (840 m).
Grenada, a Caribbean island, is nicknamed the Island of Spice due to its numerous nutmeg plantations. The French colonized the island from 1649 to 1763 and were controlled by Britain before finally gaining complete independence in 1974. Grenada comprises one main island and two smaller islands, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, as well as several other small islands that are part of the Grenadines. Grenada’s primary export is nutmeg, and tourism also significantly contributes to the country’s economy.
Saint Kitts And Nevis
Saint Kitts and Nevis are two island territories with a combined area of 101 square miles, making them the smallest sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere. They are located in the Caribbean Sea and make up the Lesser Antilles. The islands are primarily volcanic landscapes, with Mount Liamuiga being the main physical feature, reaching a height of 3,793 ft (1,156 m).
The Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles Archipelago in the Caribbean are home to an island country comprised of the main island of Saint Vincent and numerous smaller islands. This country is the smallest and least populous in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth-smallest worldwide. Additionally, it is the only sovereign federation in the Caribbean and the world’s most miniature. The islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis boast breathtaking rainforests, mountains, and beaches that draw tourists to their natural splendour and nearby diving possibilities.
Saint Lucia is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea, part of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago. It sits at the border of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The capital and largest city of Saint Lucia is Castries, home to most of the island’s population of 184,961. The second-largest city is Soufrière, which was once the French colonial capital. Saint Lucia is a volcanic island that boasts more mountainous terrain than other Caribbean islands. The Pitons, two volcanic spires near the western coast, are the island’s most notable peaks. Mount Gimie is the tallest point on the island, towering at 950 meters (3,120 feet) above sea level.
Saint Vincent And The Grenadines
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a nation an archipelago located in the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. The entire area spans 150 square miles and consists of a central island, Saint Vincent, and a smaller chain of islands called the Grenadines. The area’s most prominent feature is La Soufriere volcano, which is the highest peak in the country and has been active since 1995 with ongoing eruptions. The capital and main port of the country is Kingstown, situated at the southern tip of the island of Saint Vincent. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have been independent since 1979, entirely separated from the UK.
The Smallest Countries In Oceania
Federated States of Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia, also known as FSM or Micronesia, is a country that consists of four island states in the western Pacific Ocean: Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. It should not be mistaken for the Micronesia geographic subregion of Oceania.
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is a collection of 607 islands covering just over 700 square kilometres of land. However, the islands are situated over a vast ocean area, spanning more than 2.6 million square kilometres, giving the country the 14th-largest exclusive economic zone globally. At the same time, tourism is gradually gaining momentum in Micronesia, the country’s geographical isolation and insufficient infrastructure present significant challenges to the industry. Most of the population engages in subsistence agriculture or fishing, and the country heavily relies on financial assistance from the United States.
Kiribati is an archipelagic nation that occupies a vast area of 3.5 million square kilometres in the ocean. Despite its extensive territory, the country has a small area of only 811 km2, distinguishing it as one of the world’s smallest nations. Its habitat consists of 32 atolls and one remote coral island, 20 of which are inhabited.
Did you know the Kiritimati Atoll is the largest in Kiribati and covers almost half of the country’s total land area? It was previously used for nuclear weapons testing by the United States and Britain in the 1960s. Still, today it serves as a home for a significant coconut plantation, fish farms, and satellite stations.
The Marshall Islands is a nation in the central Pacific Ocean with 29 atolls and five islands. It covers an area of 70 square miles and is characterized by flat terrains that do not exceed 10 feet above sea level on average. The largest atoll, Kwajalein, has a substantial lagoon that measures around 1,125 square miles, despite the island’s tiny encircling landmass of 5.6 square miles. Although the Marshall Islands has a small land area, its extensive aquatic territory is a valuable resource that helps the government maintain its sovereignty.
Notably, Nauru, situated in Oceania, is the world’s smallest island nation, covering a mere 8.1 square miles. Furthermore, this tiny republic possesses the second-lowest population count of all countries. Despite its diminutive size, Nauru boasts a distinctive landscape well worth exploring. The central plateau, known as Topside, is dotted with scattered phosphate rock outcrops, and the contrast between this rugged terrain and the narrow coastal strip adorned with palm trees is truly awe-inspiring. The island’s compact size is perfectly exemplified by the scenic Buada Lagoon, a stunning inland feature that residents of Nauru can enjoy.
The island had significant phosphate reserves that helped build a robust economy, which peaked in the 1970s. However, the economy has since declined sharply due to the depletion of phosphate reserves and the cessation of mining activities. Despite the possibility of smaller ships accessing the island, the surrounding coral reef has hindered seaport construction. Additionally, Nauru boasts an international airport.
Palau is an island nation in the western Pacific, comprised of hundreds of islands. With a population of approximately 18,233, the most densely populated island is Koror, home to the largest city in Palau, also named Koror.
Palau was first inhabited about 3,000 years ago by people from Maritime Southeast Asia. The islands were ruled by different countries during the 19th and 20th centuries but gained independence in 1994. Palau’s economy heavily relies on tourism, thanks to the stunning beaches and marine life surrounding the islands. Subsistence fishing and farming also contribute to the economy.
Tonga can be found in the Southern Pacific Ocean and is a Polynesian nation comprising 117 islands, with 45 inhabited. The largest island of Tonga is Tongatapu, where approximately 70% of the population resides. The capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, is also located on this island.
About 2,500 years ago, the Lapita civilization became the first inhabitants of the Tongan islands. These settlers developed a strong cultural, linguistic, and ethnic identity as Tongans over time. Tonga spent numerous years expanding and colonizing the Pacific, gaining power over many islands in the Southern Pacific Ocean. Throughout its history, Tonga has maintained its independence.
Tuvalu, located in Oceania, is a small country spanning only a few square miles. It comprises nine coral atolls, with Funafuti serving as its capital. The country’s highest point is a mere 15 feet above sea level, emphasizing its tiny size. However, Tuvalu still manages to conserve its coast through the Funafuti Conservation Area, which is spread across 12.7 square miles and includes both reef and land.
Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world, with an area measuring only 25 square kilometres. The country, formerly the Ellice Islands, is situated in the Polynesia subregion of Oceania, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Tuvalu comprises three reef islands – Nanumanga, Niutao, and Niulakita – and six other atolls. The population of Tuvalu is slightly over 11,000 people, with the majority being of Polynesian descent. The official languages of the nation are Tuvaluan and English.