Little Countries, Big World: Gadling’s pint-sized guide to the world’s smallest countries

I’m not sure what it is about small countries that makes me so interested in them. Maybe it’s the fact that they seem so manageable, so knowable. I could spend the next five years in, say, China, and still feel like I hadn’t seen a fraction of what it has to offer. But in some of my favorite smaller countries– Ecuador, Guatemala, the Czech Republic– I’ve always felt like I have a fighting chance.

As for the countries below, the world’s five smallest, you could get to know most of them pretty well in an afternoon. Here’s a quick ‘n dirty guide that proves that size, as the old adage goes, is not everything…

Vatican City

In a nutshell: The world’s smallest sovereign state at just under two-tenths of a square mile, Vatican City is headquarters of the Catholic Church and home to the Pope. The Vatican, an enclave within the city of Rome, features the magnificent Sistine Chapel, famous for its Michelangelo-painted ceiling, as well as St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s biggest Christian church.

Turn-ons: Carpenters from Nazareth, piety, extolling the Christian virtues of humility and simplicity in the midst of unparalleled opulence

Turn-offs: Prostitution, drugs, promiscuity, and just about anything else fun

Interesting factoid: The College of Cardinals has never made it to an NCAA Tournament.

Monaco

In a nutshell: Sandwiched between France and the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco is one of the world’s wealthier countries per capita, thanks in large part to its status as a tax haven. Monaco is also home to the Monte Carlo Casino, among the most famous in the world, although citizens of Monaco are not permitted to enter the casino’s gaming areas.

Turn-ons: Grace Kelly, the American actress who famously became Princess Grace after marrying Rainier III, Prince of Monaco; gambling; lettin’ it ride; pleading that Mama needs a new pair of shoes

Turn-offs: Giving people their space– Monaco has the highest population density in the world.

Interesting factoid: Monaco’s sovereignty was established by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861– and I think we all remember where we were when that baby was signed!

Nauru

In a nutshell: Nau-who? Chances are you’ve never even heard of tiny Nauru, an island nation of 10,000 in the South Pacific. Once one of the wealthiest countries per capita on Earth thanks to large phosphate deposits, Nauru’s population has mostly been impoverished since the phosphate ran out in the early 1990s.

And there’s no money from tourism either. Says Wikipedia: “Tourism is not a major contributor to the economy, because there is little to see or do here, the climate is very unpleasant, and there are few facilities for tourists.” Other than that, I’m sure it’d make a fine place for a trip.

Turn-ons: Suckling at nearby Australia’s teat for millions of dollars in foreign aid, unemployment levels over 90%, accepting Australia’s asylum-seeking rejects

Turn-offs: Skinny people– Nauru has one of the world’s highest obesity rates

Interesting factoid: President of Nauru from 2003 to 2007, Ludwig Scotty might have one of the coolest names of any president ever.

Tuvalu

In a nutshell: A group of Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, Tuvalu consists of about 10 square miles upon which 12,000 mostly impoverished people roam. Tuvalu is perhaps best-known for its internet domain suffix “.tv” which it leased to a company for a cool $50 million back in 2000. Tuvalu is also one of the countries most concerned about global warming– and for good reason. It’s highest point is only 15 feet above sea level.

Turn-ons: Naming its nine islands hard-to-pronounce things like Niulakita, Nukufetau, and Nukulaelae; thanking New Zealand for agreeing to take in Tuvalu’s residents if rising sea levels swallow the country whole

Turn-offs: Making fun of Tuvalu’s ridiculous-sounding capital of Funafuti; disparaging copra production, Tuvalu’s main industry

Interesting factoid: Want a rare passport stamp? Go to Tuvalu, where only about 100 tourists visit every year.

San Marino

In a nutshell: The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, as the country so humbly calls itself, is one of Europe’s lesser-known nations, but it’s actually the world’s oldest republic, dating from the 4th century. An enclave of Italy, San Marino is located on Mt. Titano in the Apennines mountain range. Though the tiny city-state does not have an airport, San Marino manages to welcome over three million tourists per year.

Turn-ons: Hanging out with fellow micro-states Liechtenstein and Andorra, relying on Italy for national defense

Turn-offs: Olympic medals

Interesting factoid: National Geographic points out that San Marino prides itself on its finely minted coins and postage stamps, which, when you think about it, is actually rather depressing.