Tiny home vacation rentals have become all the rage for adventurous and budget-minded travelers. But what about visiting the smallest country in the world? To get there, you’d probably want to fly to Rome’s Ciampino Airport. That would place you just 10 miles from, you guessed it, Vatican City. The littlest fully independent nation-state has an area of 0.44 of a square kilometer within its official boundaries, That places it on the bottom of a list of the 234 countries of the globe ranked biggest to smallest. Monaco, which ranks next to last at 233, is almost five times as big, occupying 1.95 square kilometers. Heck, New York City’s Central Park is almost eight times bigger.
This landlocked nation-state within Rome is also the smallest country by population, no contest. While other small countries might have around 10,000 inhabitants, Vatican City is somewhere in the 1,000-and-under population range. That’s compared to a population of 1,433,783,686 in 2019 for China, the world’s biggest country. But being small and sparsely populated doesn’t mean make this country boring. Both as a cultural hub and a tourist destination, Vatican City rates. Here’s how:
Why the Pope heads up his own country
Even though he’s the Bishop of Rome, the Catholic Pope resides in the Vatican palace in Vatican City. The rest of the worldwide church’s governing body lives there, too, which is how the smallest country in the world earned the alternate name of the Holy See. The Catholic church has members worldwide, so how did this tiny area quite near Rome become the place where the Popemobile parks? While the papacy has been around since Pope Linus succeeded Saint Peter as the Bishop of Rome in AD 67, Vatican City didn’t become an independent state until 1929. Although various power struggles had resulted in the Vatican gaining control of parts of Rome between the 4th century and 1870, those days were done decades before the Fascist Italian government recognized the Holy See’s independence in 1929’s Lateran Treaty.
The 266th and the current pope is Pope Francis. Like all his predecessors since 1929, Pope Francis has ultimate judicial and legislative authority within the walls of the smallest country of the world. (His sovereignty also extends to a few other locales worldwide, including And this nation-state has some pretty long walls, so many that outsiders often get the impression that the entire enclave is walled in. But that’s not true. The Pope’s front yard, better known as St. Peter’s Square, is not walled off. Within the security restrictions, anyone can sashay right through the square. But tourists to Vatican City are still cautioned to expect long lines and big crowds, particularly in the world-famous churches with their legendary artwork.
More like a tiny town than a country
In some ways, Vatican City looks more like a large space station than a country. Of course, most space stations aren’t funded by voluntary tithing from the world’s 1 billion-strong Catholic population. But both a space station and Vatican City must import necessities. Vatican City doesn’t produce any of its own food, gas or water. Its residents, mostly priests, nuns, and service providers, pay zero income tax. The tiny country also allows unlimited export and import of monies. And the place is self-contained, from its internal telephone system to its private planetarium, radio station and post office. Swiss Guards make up part of the modest population. They’ve been guarding the pope since 1506.
All the control and insular activity probably wouldn’t be possible if Vatican City wasn’t smaller than most small towns or large farms. It takes up just 109 acres. But if Vatican City were a town instead of the smallest country, it would be a tourist town for sure. The two most iconic attractions are the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s. Ironically, the latter is the largest Christian basilica in the world. The Vatican Museums are also a draw for art and architecture aficionados the world over, with their ancient Roman sculpture and
What’s the next smallest country?
The runners up for smallest country in the world honors offer an interesting contrast to Vatican City and each other. For each, the land measured falls within their official boundaries. Monaco comes in at No. 2, with an area of about 1.95 square kilometers. It’s officially the “Principality of Monaco,” and known for being a monarchy and playground for the exquisitely rich on the French Riviera. At 21 square kilometers, Nauru is third on the list of smallest countries by area. A tiny island entirely surrounded by a coral reef, Nauru is just 42 kilometers south of the equator. It’s 190 miles away from its nearest neighbor. Nauru’s population is more suiting to a town, with 11,200 residents according to 2018 census data. A democracy, Nauru became the 187th United Nations member-state in 1999.
Rounding out the Top 10 smallest countries in the world are Tuvalu, San Marino, Liechtenstein, The Marshall Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, The Maldives and Malta.
And then there’s Earth
If you want to contemplate just how little mass Vatican City occupies on this vast planet, consider this. Vatican City is 0.44 square kilometers. Earth in its entirety is 148,940,000 square kilometers. So Earth is more than 300 million times bigger than its smallest country. But that’s cool because Vatican City has the most magnificent chapel ceiling on earth. And if you want big, you can always visit China. Or perhaps Malaysia, home to the world’s biggest hotel?