Which Is The Best SMALL Country In Europe To Visit?

27 Jul,2018 By jagabond

The Small Country Phenomenon

I remember years ago perusing a small country list of Europe. I was a country hoarder at the time, counting my happiness by number of borders crossed. Discovering the small country phenomenon sent me into planning mode. Here was a way to quickly stockpile my list!

Or so I thought. In some cases small equates to little tourism, which means limited travel options. That’s why Andorra isn’t on this list…I decided a bus trip there wasn’t worth giving up a day in Barcelona. I also left off Vatican City, because it’s more museum than country. Why is Malta here but not Cyprus? Cyprus is my white whale…still chasing that one down.

Sometimes I was shocked by the beauty confined to such a small space, and other times I thought places had potential but were years away from recognition. I list my rankings below, from worst to first. I take into account accessibility, cost and maximum length of trip.

 

Small Country Rankings – Europe

7. Liechtenstein

Accessibility – Difficult

Cost – High

Maximum time to spend – Four hours

What more can be said than hard to get to, expensive and not much to see? In fairness, Liechtenstein doesn’t exactly market itself for tourism. Getting there involves a train from Zurich to the border of Switzerland, then a bus to Vaduz, the tiny capital of Liechtenstein that more resembles a mountain village. There is a moderately interesting stamp museum, and a castle towering over the town. You can’t visit the castle because the royal family still lives there. I can’t imagine spending the night here…there’s simply not enough to do.

liechtenstein - small country in europe

6. Monaco

Accessibility – Easy

Cost – High

Maximum time to spend – Overnight

Just to be clear, I would never spend the night in Monaco. I list that as maximum time for those casino lovers out there. I didn’t partake in the Monte Carlo gambling scene, but spent a few hours walking around observing. There is high end shopping here. The kind of stores that would call the police if you entered wearing a hoodie. The amount of money in this small country is ridiculous, as evidenced by the yachts lined up in the harbor. I get the novelty of Monaco, I just didn’t find it that exciting. It’s an easy day trip from Nice by train so probably worth stopping by.

monaco - small country in europe

5. Kosovo

Accessibility – Difficult

Cost – Cheap

Maximum time to spend – Weekend

This is a struggling economy, ranked towards the bottom of Europe. There’s also no easy way to get here. Flights are intermittent and not cheap, while driving can present issues at border control. My first experience was in Pristina, the capital, which seemed to be still recovering from the war. Many houses were without windows to avoid paying a tax for completed homes. Luckily I went back to Kosovo, and found Prizren, a true hidden gem. Hike uphill to Kalaja Fortress for great views of the city, and to take an iconic shot with a cannon.

kosovo - small country in europe

4. San Marino

Accessibility – Difficult

Cost – Moderate

Maximum time to spend – Four hours

I was very intrigued by San Marino. First off, it’s a small country located completely within the borders of Italy. Second, they somehow stayed neutral during World War II…someone needs to explain that to me. It’s set on a hilltop, thus the views from here are beautiful. Their three towers, depicted on the flag and coat of arms, are Tolkien-esque in appearance. The most famous is Guaita, a former prison built for Instagram. This is a touristy day trip, but well worth fighting the crowds. Driving is probably the best option, though buses do leave regularly from Rimini.

san marino - small country in europe

3. Luxembourg

Accessibility – Moderate

Cost – Moderate

Maximum time to spend – Weekend

I’m not sure why Luxembourg doesn’t get more love. I equated my weekend here to life back in high school. I met locals at the pub the first night, then linked back up with them randomly as I walked through town the next few days. It almost felt like I was in a clique. The capital city is compact, but I felt that made the people closer and more welcoming of outsiders. The streets are impeccably clean, quality of life is high, and everyone gets crazy for the Grand Duke’s birthday in June. There are easy train options from Belgium, France and Germany.

luxembourg - small country in europe

2. Montenegro

Accessibility – Moderate

Cost – Cheap

Maximum time to spend – Three days

I think tourism here is about to blow up. As Croatia continues to be overrun with Game of Thrones fans, that will push people south to Montenegro, an easy drive from Dubrovnik. The coastline is nearly as beautiful and the prices are significantly lower. Young adults can stay out late in the party town of Budva, and families can enjoy beauty by the Bay of Kotor. There is still much to discover here, as a colleague of mine recently spoke of some hidden fishing villages she found. This seems like a place to just rent a car and drive the mountainous terrain for a few days.

montenegro - small country in europe

1. Malta

Accessibility – Easy

Cost – Cheap

Maximum time to spend – One week

My favorite small country in Europe is an island…or three to be exact. Malta is the largest with the most attractions, Gozo is a worthy day trip (or overnight if you’re into wineries), and Comino is home to the magical Blue Lagoon. Malta truly has it all – ancient history, modern war history, pristine beaches, shimmering blue water, city escapes like Valletta and Mdina, and so much more. Budget airlines now fly frequently to Malta from a multitude of European airports. You can read more about my love for Malta here.

malta - small country in europe

 

The Small Country Bottom Line


I think people are attracted to small countries for the same reason as small towns. You can soak in more of the culture and surroundings in a shorter time. Spending a week in London would still not scratch the surface of UK lifestyle, while in a small country or town the vibe seems to hit you right away.

 

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