Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Highlights of Europe's Smallest Countries

Living in Europe has given us an amazing opportunity to not only explore some of the major European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc.) but also some of its smaller, lesser known countries as well.

The first small country we visited was the Vatican City, back in May 2014. Vatican City is .44 square kilometers, or .17 square miles. It essentially contains St. Peter's Square and Basilica, along with the Vatican Museum and Gardens. It is considered the smallest country in the world both in terms of area and by population (somewhere around 800 people).  We were lucky enough to visit on a Wednesday, so we did get to see Pope Francis greet the people gathered in the Square before making our way to the Vatican Museums.

The second small country we visited was the country of Liechtenstein in June, 2014. We took a road trip from Switzerland to Austria and Germany, and on the way back to Zurich decided to take a short detour into Vaduz, the capital city of Liechtenstein. 

Liechtenstein is the 4th smallest country in Europe, by area, checking in at 160 square kms, or 62 square miles. Liechtenstein's claim to fame is that it has the lowest amount of external debt of any country in the world. That is likely because it is well situated in the Alps, which brings in tourism, and they also use the Swiss Franc as their currency, which is one of the strongest in the world. 

The highlight of our trip was definitely a 'train ride' tour of the city of Vaduz, where we were able to see the palace of the monarchs of the country, as well as the vineyards and views of the countryside.

In September 2014, we went to the second smallest country in Europe, which is Monaco. Monaco is 2 square kms or about .78 square miles. Monaco is of course home to one of the most famous casinos in the world, as well as one of the most famous Grand Prix races. Therefore, Monaco is also quite wealthy and boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. 

Surprisingly, the local residents of Monaco are prohibited by law from gambling in the Monte Carlo casino. Also prohibited are tourists who try to come in wearing open-toed shoes, hence the reason the picture is taken outside.

Finally, in January, we visited Luxembourg, which is MUCH larger than the other small countries we visited. Luxembourg measures a whopping 2586 square kilometers, or about 998 square miles. While this is still smaller than the smallest US state of Rhode Island, it felt huge compared to the other small countries we've visited. (Also, I swear when I was growing up I was told this was the smallest country in Europe - what lies!! It is the 7th smallest!) We spent the majority of our time in Luxembourg City, which is a very charming old-style European city. We enjoyed walking along the old city walls as well as exploring the city's town square and restaurants.

While collectively we probably only spent a total of 48 hours in these 4 countries, they are definitely worth a visit. The main thing is that they are surprisingly self sufficient, and therefore their residents enjoy an amazing quality of life.