Off The Grid: 5 Tiny Countries Brimming With Charm

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Earlier this year, this column examined small countries with big global influence. Today, the lens tightens to focus on diminutive nations while paying no mind to their exporting punch. Minnow states, if you will, are way off the radar, even easier to negotiate than the aforementioned and just as worthy of your wanderlust.


Located on the island of Borneo, Brunei (pictured above) is known for pristine beaches, protected rainforests, golden mosques and stilted villages. A tad smaller than Delaware, the country gained independence from the UK in 1984. Thanks to an oil surplus, Brunei has been rolling in the dough ever since and ranks as the fifth richest nation in the world. Partygoers take note: this is a “dry” Islamic country, meaning no alcohol, bars or nightclubs. Officials are accepting of other ideologies, however, and even allow non-muslims to import booze for personal use. Highlights include the Saifuddien and Bolkiah Mosques, Ulu Temburong National Park, Tasek Lama Recreational Park, big-nose monkeys, and Istana Nurul Iman—the world’s largest residential palace.


Photo: Berit Watkin, CC-BY

If Arabia, Sicily and colonial Britain designed a trio of Mediterranean islands together, it might look like this. Located just south of the famous Italian island, Malta has been inhabited since 3600 B.C. by Romans, Moors, Knights of the Crusade, French and British. In fact, there are buildings here that are older than the pyramids, and fortresses and megalithic temples that are twice the age of America. In addition to being the place where Gladiator was filmed, highlights include year-round diving off the island of Gozo, the old city of Mdina, Azure Window, Blue Grotto (pictured) and the capital nightlife of Valletta. For best weather, visit in February-June.

San Marino

Encompassed entirely by northern Italy, San Marino is the third smallest country in the world, the oldest republic (established in 301) and reputedly the only country with more vehicles than people. But that’s not why visitors come here. They come for the mountainous and medieval walled city, narrow cobblestone streets and castle-like citadels erected in the 11th century. For the most stunning view, see Castello della Guaita from the top of Mount Titan. Cesta Tower, Palazzo Pubblico, and getting your passport stamped at the tourist office—no border controls here—are also popular attractions. To beat the crowds, visit in May-June or in September.


Photo: Cristian Bortes, CC-BY

For a place that’s 50 percent smaller than Rhode Island, you wouldn’t expect Luxembourg to be so naturally diverse. But that’s exactly what it is. Landlocked by Belgium, France and Germany, the country is known for its fairytale good looks, high-rise castles, Ardennes terraces and surreal cliff settings such as Bockfelsen. Also nicknamed “Little Switzerland,” Luxembourg easily competes for the title of “Europe’s most picturesque country,” writes Lonely Planet. That’s quite an endorsement for a place that can be explored head to toe in a week. Best time to visit: May-August.


Photo: Raging Wire, CC-BY

Calling this the Las Vegas of Europe is unfair on so many levels, but it’s also an accurate one considering all the gambling, glamour and rich and famous high-life taking place there. An independent city-state on the Mediterranean coast of southwest France, Monaco is known for billionaire yachts, Monte Carlo Casino, exotic sports cars and Formula One Grand Prix. It’s also a world-renowned spot for fine dining. At just 500 acres, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican. But oh, does it live large.

Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him on Twitter.

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