The world's 10 smallest countries

VATICAN CITY STATE

The world's tiddliest sovereign state both in area (44 hectares) and population (about 1000) is proof that small doesn't equate with uninteresting or uninfluential. It also packs a serious cultural punch. St Peter's Basilica is a baroque masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel is gloriously painted by Michelangelo and the Vatican Museums house the world's richest art collection. If you fancy something a bit different, book a tour of the Vatican gardens. See vaticanstate.va

PRINCIPALITY OF MONACO

This mini-state on the French Riviera is a tad over two square kilometres (and counting, thanks to land reclamation) but packs in the world's densest population and a surprising array of sights, including a palace, cathedral, several delightful gardens, the excellent Oceanographic Museum and, of course, its famous casino. This is certainly the most glamorous of small countries: sunny, immaculately kept and tempting with every extravagance. See visitmonaco.com

TUVALU

This sleepy assortment of three islands and six atolls only musters 26 square kilometres of land. It lies halfway between Queensland and Hawaii, and is so remote it gets just a couple of thousand visitors a year. Travellers hankering after an eco-getaway of low-key accommodation, individual exploration and a complete absence of cruises and tours will be happy to snorkel in the lagoons and soak up the laidback charm. See timelesstuvalu.com

REPUBLIC OF SAN MARINO

Founded in 301, this enclave in northern Italy is the world's oldest sovereign nation and the last survivor among the independent states that once existed across Italy. At 61 square kilometres, it managesseveral towns and some rugged scenery, plus some spectacular outcrops topped by castles. Its eponymous capital is World Heritage-listed; visit the Museo di Stato for an overview of this curious nation's history. See visitsanmarino.com

PRINCIPALITY OF LIECHTENSTEIN

This splinter of a country lodges in the flanks of Austria and Switzerland, and shares the Rhine Valley and splendid alpine scenery, making it an unusual place for jaded travellers to ski, hike or mountain bike. The high-altitude Prince's Way is an epic yet uncrowded walk. Snow-backed, 12th-century Vaduz Castle above the capital is a stunning sight, though it's closed to the public. See tourismus.li

REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS

Though independent, this Pacific nation is a US-associated state, with America underpinning its economy and currency. It has over a thousand islands and 29 coral atolls; Bikini Atoll became infamous for atom-bomb testing, and gave the swimwear its name. This is a scuba-diving mecca, especially for sunken World War II ships, including an aircraft carrier. It's also a great destination for surfing, kite-boarding and deep-sea fishing. See rmiocit.org

REPUBLIC OF NAURU

The world's smallest island nation and republic sits reef-fringed in the Pacific Ocean. As host of Australia's offshore detention centre, it makes news for all the wrong reasons. A perimeter road offers sparkling scenery (the inland is barren) and old Japanese World War II remnants provide passing interest but, with no great beaches and little tourism infrastructure, this is the only micro-nation you probably don't need to visit. See nauruair.com

FEDERATION OF ST CHRISTOPHER AND NEVIS

St Kitts (credit St Kitts Tourism Authority)
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The smallest country in the western hemisphere: St Kitts. Photo: St Kitts Tourism Authority

The Caribbean nation informally known as St Kitts and Nevis is the western hemisphere's smallest country and has Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Chief attractions are lovely reef-protected beaches, dormant volcanoes such as Mount Liamuiga and Mount Nevis, rugged rainforest, colonial-era towns and the splendid Brimstone Hill Fortress. Nevis is the more tranquil island and has fine botanic gardens. See stkittstourism.kn and nevisisland.com

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REPUBLIC OF MALDIVES

Asia's smallest country by both population and area is made up of a scattering of islands across vast areas of Indian Ocean. Its highest natural point is 5.1 metres above the waves, making it an unfortunate posterchild for global warming. It's best known for snorkelling and scuba diving, dazzling white-sand beaches and luxury resorts, though local guesthouse accommodation also puts this destination within reach of budget-minded wanderers. See visitmaldives.com

REPUBLIC OF MALTA

The Citadel of Gozo in Malta (credit Visit Malta)
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The Citadel of Gozo in Malta. Photo: Visit Malta

The world's 10th tiniest country has two main islands (Malta and Gozo) plus several others, influenced by centuries of domination by Mediterranean powers. Though small, it boasts three World Heritage sites, some of Europe's longest history (including megalithic temples dating to 3150 BC) and sumptuous architecture, culminating in its fortified Renaissance-era capital, Valletta. Add a spectacular coastline and almost perpetual sunshine for big pleasures in a small place. See visitmalta.com

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