How would you like to hike a country?
Certainly for the well prepared traveler blessed with ample time, this is a popular goal. The Appalachian Trail, Spain's Camino Trail, the increasingly popular motorbike route from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi -- ample places offer the chance to spend weeks getting seeing the cross-section of a cultural.
For those with significantly less time and resources, of course, there's always A Walk In the Woods (the book, not the mediocre love letter Robert Redford filmed for Bill Bryson). Or, you could try something different and visit one of the world's smallest countries.
It turns out that Planet Earth is politically blessed with an absolute abundance of tiny nations. From island nations scattered past the horizon to ancient kingdoms like Luxembourg, it's surprisingly easy to find governments with less ground to their name than the state of Rhode Island.
You might not have the vacation days to hike from Georgia to Maine, but here are ten beautiful countries that you could cross in just a few days… or even over the course of a brisk jog.
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Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 2.
Size in Square Kilometers: 0.44
We'll start with the world's smallest independent recognized* nation. Vatican City, otherwise known as the Holy See, blends seamlessly into Rome, so much so that it's easy to miss that invisible line where you cross from Italy's capital to the heart of Christendom. By the time you're standing in St. Peter's Square, though, there's no missing it.
Vatican City may well be the most artistically blessed nation on the planet, with virtually every square inch a masterpiece. Don't let that fool you though, this is a fully functioning state with the Pope at its head.
Despite its religious purpose, the Vatican prints its own euros and issues its own stamps, passports and license plates. With the Swiss Guard as its armed agents, the Vatican can even offer political sanctuary if it chooses. Despite all that, the official population remains no more than approximately 1,000 total (many, if not most, of whom live abroad).
* While the world is filled with micronations, for our purposes we'll stick to official political entities as judged by the CIA Factbook.
Size in Square Kilometers: 2
Whereas virtue (and a deal with Mussolini) built the Vatican, Monaco is a principality living off of sin; at least, that's how some people might see it.
Monaco is a tiny state tucked away on France's Mediterranean coast on the border with Italy. The entire nation is built around its main city, Monte Carlo, which itself focuses on two things: a stunning harbor and the glamorous casinos. Don't worry about finding it. Inside Monaco, the casinos are nearly impossible to miss.
The city makes a living off of its climate, operating as a tourist hub and a financial haven for wealthy people who want to visit their money while getting some sun. And there's a lot to see here. This old-world European city climbs up and down cliffs along the Mediterranean Sea, creating a winding maze of stonework and blue waters. Unless you've got a million dollar yacht to anchor it might not be worth spending the night, but this is certainly a country to visit if you ever take a vacation in Italy or France.
And while there, throw on some evening wear and play a hand of blackjack in Monte Carlo. You'll never feel more like James Bond again.
Size in Square Kilometers: 26
Tuvalu hasn't made much of a ripple on the world stage. A former colony, the most important fact that the CIA Factbook chooses to note about them is that in 2000 this South Pacific country leased its domain ".tv" for $50 million.
Don't let that deter you from visiting.
Tuvalu is an island nation near Fiji and American Samoa. Like many similarly situated countries, it depends heavily on coral reefs and atolls for its little land mass. That makes for a very precarious ecosystem and absolutely lovely scenery. With lagoons and deep blue waters, perhaps the most striking part of Tuvalu is its main island of Funafuti, a ring atoll encircling a lagoon called Te Namo.
The Pacific Islanders of old became expert sailors and fishermen, in no small part because they just didn't have that much land to work with. That hasn't much changed. You won't go for many long runs on the coral sands of Tuvalu, but your morning swim will more than make up for it.
Size in Square Kilometers: 61
San Marino may be the world's oldest independent republic and is certainly one of the smallest. The world's actual smallest republic is an island near the coast of Australia called Nauru. However between a bustling phosphate industry and an ongoing political crisis over refugee internment, Nauru does not make for pleasant vacationing.
This tiny nation does.
Set in the mountains of Italy near the Adriatic coast, San Marino is surprisingly large for the fact that it sits square in the middle of somebody else's country. That hasn't stopped them from building a breathtaking, medieval-feeling state among their mountains. In fact, legend has it that the republic was founded by a stonemason named Marinus in the early 300s. If true, he certainly passed his skills down.
Unlike similarly-situated Monaco, this destination has several villages you can visit. Most importantly make sure to hike up to the Guaita Fortress, a fairytale castle that calls up images anywhere on the spectrum from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings. (It's too pretty for Game of Thrones.)
Size in Square Kilometers: 160
We're still in Europe, and not for the last time. (For a continent whose history is beset, if not defined by, wars of conquest, a shocking number of tiny nations managed somehow to survive…)
Most readers will probably have heard of Liechtenstein. It stretches about 25 kilometers across the border between Switzerland and Austria and boasts several towns in addition to its capital of Vaduz. The nation also claims to be the last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire. Sadly for history buffs, its inhabitants do not speak Latin.
This is a lovely country set in the Alps, and a visit to the country means enjoying the absolute best scenery that Swiss mountains and Austrian forests have to offer. Yet much like Luxembourg, this is a functional country set in a very pretty place. Liechtenstein's economy focuses on financial and legal services. Throw in some government work and the expat community that follows and you have a recipe for a prosperous, if expensive country with some nice restaurants and not a lot to offer the average tourist.
But as a country to hike the length of? You would be hard pressed to do better.
Size in Square Kilometers: 261
On the other hand, we have St. Kitts, a Caribbean island well known for its tourist industry.
An island spared much of the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Jose, St. Kitts offers many of the traditional island amenities, from resorts to golf to diving and rum on the beach. In fact, in the face of shifting economic patterns, the island shut down its sugar industry altogether in 2005 (once an agricultural mainstay). Today they focus on tourism and economic citizenship, offering people the opportunity to get a local passport in in exchange for generous local investments.
The price tag is steep, but the reward for admission is legal residency on a long beach looking out into the Atlantic. People have made much worse deals.
Size in Square Kilometers: 298
Tucked away in the Indian Ocean, to the south of India itself and Sri Lanka, are the Maldives. Visit them now, because if global warming has its way this little set of 26 atoll islands won't be there much longer. (Indeed, this is one of many island nations that has considered buying up enough mainland space to relocate the entire population if need be.)
In the meantime, there is so much there.
Like Tuvalu, the Maldives is at once tiny and large. With roughly two dozen islands spread over the Indian Ocean, the country occupies a decent amount of space on the map. In terms of actual land, however, that's defined by the tiny size constraints of atoll and lagoon geography. Long sweeps of beach surround interior bays, which makes for beautiful scenery but not a lot of actual space to put buildings on.
For swimming or diving, well… Lonely Planet got it right when they called this place "nature's sunken garden." And if you do want city living in the middle of the ocean, there's always the tiny urban center of Male.
Size in Square Kilometers: 316
We've written about Malta before. This ancient Crusader stronghold in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea has something to offer just about everyone, from architecture and history to a food culture that combines the best that France, Italy and Greece all had to offer.
It also offers the comfort of size.
Malta's three inhabited islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino) have a combined footprint about twice the size of Washington D.C. That belies the true size of this small nation, though. The main island of Malta, at just 27 kilometers across, can offer a determined hiker a comfortable week's worth of tours. That's assuming plenty of stops and detours along the way, which would make sense in a place with terraced villages serving Italian wine and megalithic sites that date back to the stone age.
Size in Square Kilometers: 468
We've said it before, we'll say it again: Europe loves its little countries. In this case, welcome to Andorra, perhaps the least-known entry on our list.
It's actually rather surprising how few people have heard about this country stuck in between the borders of France and Spain. Paradoxically, despite flying under the radar, Andorra does a brisk tourist trade. Approximately 6 million people per year visit for its landscape among the Pyrenees, a location which offers hiking and skiing among many other allures.
Andorra is also one of the world's odder political states. For over 700 years the French and Spanish split governance of this nation, with co-princes from each culture ruling together. Since the early 1990's that system has been replaced by a parliamentary democracy, but the odd arrangement continues to this day in ceremonial form.
It can't be all bad, though. While you're hiking from Spain to France through this tiny nation, you'll have access to an internet connection unique in the world along Andorra's micro-fiber optic network. Clearly they're doing something right.
Size in Square Kilometers: 697
The largest of our tiny nations, anyone who has not been to Singapore should consider hopping on a plane.
The Singapore city-state started as a British trading outpost. Today it's an independent nation on the very tip of the Malaysian peninsula. Flying over the city you might be hard pressed to see where Singapore ends and the Malaysian city of Johor begins. Don't let the aerial view or Singapore's reputation fool you though. This city is not all glass and steel. In fact, on its island the government has carved out a surprising amount of room for green space, parks and wetlands.
Downtown, though, the city represents the best of a small nation. Like all of the other entries on our list, Singapore doesn't have enough space to make its living off of minerals, manufacturing or agriculture. Relying purely on its human capital, this city has built itself into one of the leading economies of the 21st Century. It's worth a visit for that reason alone.