The world's smallest countries and why you should visit them

Whether it's amazing art, beautiful beaches or drunken monkeys, the world's smallest countries have plenty to offer travellers.

As the saying goes, great things come in small packages. We Australians might live in one of the world's largest countries, but size doesn't always matter - it's what you do with it that counts.

The world's smallest countries often punch above their weight when it comes to attracting tourists. Here are 12 of the world's tiniest countries and why each one is worth a visit.

Vatican City (0.44 square km. Population: 840)

Some of Rome's most famous sights are not actually part of Rome, but enclosed in the tiniest state in the world – Vatican City. It's population of 840 and 0.44 square kilometres make it the smallest internationally-recognised independent state in the world, by both area and population. This teensy country packs in some of Rome's greatest hits - St Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. It even has its own postal service, said to be one of the best in the world, which is mostly used by tourists and disgruntled Romans who often make the trip to the city to avoid using Italy's service of ill repute.

Monaco (2.2 square km. Population: 36,000)

Packing as much glamour and glitz as it can into two square kilometres, Monaco's horseshoe-shaped harbour is lined with dazzling white yachts on blue seas that sparkle in the sunlight. Step ashore and soak up the hedonism that unabashedly flaunts itself from every corner of this tax haven, still ruled by princes and princesses. There's exotic gardens, a golf course, fancy cars and grand prixes, not to mention the world's most famous casino. Recently voted one of the world's least friendly cities, you can sample how the other half live in this European Vegas on a day trip from Nice.

Nauru (21 square km. Population: 9000)

There's nothing worse than not knowing what you've got until it's gone, right?


Nauru's high phosphate reserves endowed it with the highest per-capita income enjoyed by any sovereign state in the world during the late 1960s. 'Pleasant Island', however, soon found itself anything but rich, mined beyond its capacity with its environment destroyed. With money drying up, Nauru turned into a tax haven and money laundering centre until the Australian government made it an offer it could not refuse.

Why should you visit? Good question. There's little to gain from a visit to Nauru except an education. Most of your fellow travellers will be made up politicians, diplomats or development workers. To make matters worse, flights, visas and inclement weather make the island hard to access, and when you get there, infrastructure is poor. But it's not all bad news; not if you're into diving in any way. Underwater there's diverse reef marine life, and the WWII remnants and skeletal remains of mining structures are fascinating. Alternatively, Fiji is just a cheap flight away from Australia...

San Marino (61 square km. Population: 32,000)

Enigmatic UNESCO heritage-listed San Marino towers over the surrounding Emilia Romagna near the Adriatic Coast of Italy. The enclaved microstate is the third smallest country in Europe, and the fifth in the world - measuring 61 square kilometres. It is composed entirely of hilly terrain, with a medieval fortress including a torture museum and prison tower that looms over the settlement, resting on the slopes of Monte Titano.

From below, the vision is spectacular, dark and alluring; however its carnival-like interior is overrun with piadina-munching tourists and souvenir hawkers similar to those found within the walls of France's Carcassone or Spain's Morella. Consider yourself warned!

Gibraltar (6 square km. Population: 30,000)

The British captured Gibraltar back from Spain in 1704. At six square kilometres,  it's one of the smallest, but also one of the most densely populated nations in the world. What keeps people here? Most likely it's a combination of warm weather year-round, favourable tax conditions and high street shopping. It's also a haven for tourists wanting to take a break from tapas and dive into some pub grub. Gibraltar is also famous for two things: its huge landmark rock that dominates the landscape, and cheeky Barbary macaques, the only primates found on the European continent. Superstition has it if the primates ever leave, so will the Brits.

Tuvalu (26 square km. Population: 10,000)

If your dream was to escape to a deserted tropical island, then Tuvalu would indeed be it. Located in the middle of the Pacific and scattered across three reef islands and six atolls over a total of 26 square kilometres, the country sees few visitors and had a grand total of 360 tourists visits in 2010. Those few intrepid travellers were treated to lagoons, reefs and uninhabited islets, and chances are, they probably would have had the lot to themselves. Come here to relax -  life operates at a much slower pace. Divers will also appreciate the shipwrecks and plane wrecks from WWII.

Liechtenstein (160 square km. Population: 37,000)

Resting between Austria and Switzerland, landlocked Leichtenstein is a mere 160 square kilometres; and if you are so inclined, you can ride from one country to the other via Liechtenstein in a few hours, a handy fact for the active, as there's is no airport. Like its neighbours, it is a beautiful alpine country, featuring spectacularly placed, Disney-esque Gothic castles set along lush, snow-capped mountains. Spend your day taking in magnificent views while cycling, skiing, snowboarding or monarch-spotting.

Marshall Islands (181 square km. Population: 68,000)

Those searching for a Robinson Crusoe-style getaway will be satiated on the Marshall Islands. Actually consisting of a thousand or so islands, there's one for every traveller's tastes, as islands can range anywhere from the heavily developed, with cars, expensive restaurants, etc to the charming, outer atolls where you can indulge in fantasies of deserted beaches, drink from coconuts and wreck-dive. Luxury nomads can hang at resorts on exclusive private islands.

Saint Kitts and Nevis (261 square km. Population: 50,000)

This two-island country in the West Indies is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, in both area and population. Why visit? Apart from all the usual perks tropical islands have to offer, it is famous for its troupe of vervet monkeys who have inherited a very interesting taste for rum.They acquired their taste after drinking the fermented juice of sugar canes left in the fields. Research carried out on the monkeys found their drinking habits to be similar to that of humans. They appeared to be social drinkers; they preferred it diluted; except for five per cent who were found to be binge drinkers and had a tendency to drink fast, get drunk, and get into fights. Unlike humans, however, monkeys that chose not to drink showed no disrespect for those which did. Pay close attention to your drinks in beachside areas - these monkeys have an insatiable thirst.

Maldives (300 square kilometres. Population: 393,000)

This may be one of the world's most widely dispersed countries, consisting of 1192 coral islands spread over 90,000 square kilometres, but it is also the smallest Asian country with a landmass of only 300 square kilometres.

Forget any ideas you have about travelling, as the Maldives is a place you come to relax, perhaps do a bit of snorkelling, island-hop, sunbathe or paddle about in crystal clear waters, chase tropical fish, or watch dolphins leaping out of the Indian ocean. Sound tough? It's also home to some of the best beaches, and high-end, hotel-owned private islands, complete with pillow menus and personal butlers. The Maldives is a haven for honeymooners who flock to the isles for privacy.

Malta (316 square km. Population: 452,000)

At any given time, 316-square kilometre Malta hosts three times the amount of tourists than there are residents. Why do they come? Firstly, its capital city, Valetta, is a UNESCO world heritage site for the sheer number of historical buildings found in its tiny space. Secondly, the Maltese dig a festival, and one of its most unusual involves fireworks where factories compete with each other with their finest works. The country's latest claim to fame, however, involves everyone's favourite television show, Game of Thrones. One of its spectacular cities, Mdina, was used as a backdrop for King's Landing during the first season. It has also been used in Hollywood blockbusters such as Troy and World War Z.

Grenada (344 square km. Population: 110,00)

The 'island of spice' is yet another island of exquisite beauty in the Caribbean; 344 square kilometres of it. Think colourful houses scattered on lush green slopes that fall into calm turquoise waters where scuba diving is king. Unusually, this island has also become renowned for its spooky underwater sculpture park, a ghostly burial site reflecting life above ground which features cyclists, a person watching telly, houses, cars, pianos, crowds… all of which attract a stunning array of marine life. You can even perch yourself on an underwater park bench to take in this breathtaking sight.