Everyone knows Vatican City and Monaco are the two smallest countries in Europe (or at least you do now). But while those tiny countries pack in big tourist crowds, Europe remains home to a handful of additional charming micro nations often overlooked by backpackers making their way along the well-worn trails from Barcelona to Berlin. Europe’s next five smallest countries may have a combined size smaller than Denmark, but they still pack in some big-time adventure.
1. San Marino: 23.5 Square Miles
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Located about 60 miles east of Florence but overlooked by most travelers making the rounds from Venice to Rome, this spectacular mountain enclave is also known as “The Most Serene Republic of San Marino.” And one visit quickly reveals why. Set atop the stunning Monte Titano that rises up from the placid green hills of the surrounding countryside, this tiny nation of 31,781 people is little more than a collection of a few small towns smattered amid mountainside terrain around one-third of the size of Washington D.C. Its capital of San Marino (known as “The Citta” to locals) is a gorgeous walled city famous for its picturesque cliffside towers and medieval fortresses. You can ride the aerial tramway, enjoy tax-free shopping at upscale shops and even buy AK-47s if that’s your thing (the country has Europe’s most relaxed gun laws). But we recommend simply strolling the peaceful cobblestone streets of the world’s oldest republic and enjoying the view.
2. Liechtenstein: 61.8 Square Miles
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Once famous as a tax-free billionaire hideaway, Liechtenstein these days is a welcoming (if still expensive) mountain paradise of fresh alpine air and medieval castles. Wedged between Switzerland and Austria, this country is home to a population of around 37,000 people who boast one of the world’s highest standards of living. The Prince of Liechtenstein (valued at around $5 billion) lives in an opulent castle perched high on a mountainside and, while his home may be inaccessible to visitors, the rest of the country is a wide-open and welcoming collection of massive mountain peaks and placid countryside valleys. While cities like the capital Vaduz are clean and modern, you best get out in the mountain towns of Ruggell and Triesenberg to truly experience this country Sound of Music-style.