The Six Microstates of Europe

April 19, 2018

Valetta, Malta
Valetta is the beautiful capital of Malta, one of the six microstates in Europe.

> Play a map quiz on European microstates.

The term microstate refers to a sovereign country that has an exceptionally small population and land area. In Europe, the six existing microstates are primarily political holdovers from a bygone time when feudal lords ruled over a defined territory.

They have withstood the tides of history as neighboring territories were absorbed into larger political entities to become the modern states that we know today. Despite their small size, they each have their own unique qualities and characteristics that make them worth knowing more about.


Situated between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein is a mountainous microstate with a population of only 37,000. Even though its territory is only 160 square kilometers, it has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world.

The country garners most of its wealth from being a global banking center for the world’s financial elite, but also from being an attractive winter sports haven. Liechtenstein is officially a principality, meaning that it is ruled by a monarch with the title of prince.

San Marino

San Marino is considered to be an enclaved microstate because it is completely surrounded by Italy. Not surprisingly, Italian language and culture predominate in this independent country located on the northeastern side of the Italian Peninsula. Its 33,000 people live in an area of just 60 square kilometers, making it one of the smallest states Europe.

Since gaining its independence from the Roman Empire in 301 AD, San Marino has the distinction of being the oldest sovereign state still in existence. In addition, the country continues to be governed by a constitution written in the 16th century, which is the oldest governing document still in effect.


Bordered by Spain and France, Andorra is an independent state in the Pyrenees Mountains. Much of its cultural influence, such as its official language of Catalan, come from the Spanish province of Catalonia.

Despite having only 77,000 people, Andorra dresses a full soccer team that competes in UEFA competitions. Since beginning regular competition in 2000, however, they have only won six games.

As is the case with other European microstates, Andorra is a financial haven for the global elite and a winter sports destination for the wealthy. Those economic sectors have helped it become one of the wealthiest countries in Europe.

Vatican City

The Vatican City State, as it is officially known, is the smallest political entity in the world, both in terms of size and population. The total area is only 44 hectares, meaning that you can easily cover the entire expanse in a few hours. The population fluctuates, but is estimated to be around 1,000 residents at any given time. That includes, of course, the Bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope.

Even though Vatican City is small, it contains some of the world’s most visited landmarks, such as the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.


Although geographically located on the French Riviera, Monaco is an independent city state with a resident population of about 35,000. With an area of only two square kilometers it is the second smallest European state; only Vatican City is smaller.

Monaco has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since the 13th century, when founder of the dynasty moved his soldiers and lordship from Genoa in Italy to its current location. Apart from being a tax haven for the world’s financial elite, Monaco is well-known for its famous Formula One Grand Prix event, which is widely regarded as the most prestigious motor race in the world.


Compared to the other microstates of Europe, Malta’s population of nearly 500,000 is relatively large. However, it is the smallest country in the European Union.

While the seven islands of Malta are near Sicily, it was part of the United Kingdom in 1964, and English still a co-official language along with Maltese, and most people speak and understand Italian as well. Despite the island’s historic ties to the United Kingdom, the Maltese people have a unique ethnic identity that dates back thousands of years.