Malta vs Madeira: Which should you visit?

Malta

A sunrise view of Malta’s capital, Valletta (Dreamstime)

Population: 475,700

Size: 316 sq km

Famous for: Medieval architecture and coastal resorts

Expect: A busy events calendar, Knights Hospitaller relics and outdoor thrills

Madeira

Looking towards the town of Camara de Lobos in Madeira (Dreamstime)

Population: 254,876

Size: 801 sq km

Famous for: Fortified wine and Cristiano Ronaldo

Expect: Island beauty, festivals and an adventurous feel that belies its go-slow reputation

Culture

The Blue Lagoon on Malta’s Camino Island (Shutterstock)

This middle-of-the-Med archipelago is made up of three main islands – lively Malta, laid-back Gozo (pictured) and virtually unpopulated Comino – all of which are layered with cultural influences.

Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and the British are among those to have held sway here, resulting in a uniquely Maltese mix.

A Portuguese island region that sits almost twice as close to the African coast as it does to Lisbon, Madeira is essentially a subtropical outpost of Europe in the Atlantic.

You’ll therefore find a version of Portuguese culture – great food, old-world architecture, lots of festivals – played through the prism of island life.

Day trips

At the right time of year, you can enjoy dolphin and whale watching trips from Madeira (Shutterstock)

In Malta, the UNESCO-listed city of Valletta, Europe’s smallest capital, is the noble legacy of the medieval Knights Hospitaller and has a Grand Harbour as spectacular as you’ll find anywhere.

Elsewhere, Mdina is a fortified city brimming with its own history, while over on Gozo, the Ġgantija temples date back to megalithic times.

Madeira’s capital city Funchal has bags of charm, although its flower gardens (pictured) and produce markets are perhaps best enjoyed when cruise-ship groups aren’t in town.

Elsewhere, off-road jeep trips are a great way of sampling the scenery, and there’s also dolphin- and whale-watching (at its best between April and October).

Eating

A plate of Maltese seafood (Shutterstock)

The Maltese love their food. Drawing on flavours and traditions from the Med, North Africa and beyond, Malta’s cuisine reflects its crossroads location.

Fresh seafood features heavily, as do island delicacies such as gbejna (sheep’s cheese), pastizzi (savoury stuffed pastry) and imqaret (a sweet date-filled pastry).

Madeira is synonymous with the fortified wine that’s been made here for centuries. It’s stickily lovely stuff – and the food’s pretty good, too.

Classic dishes include espetada (skewered beef prepared with garlic and salt then wood-fired) and grilled tuna, while the local bolo de mel (honey cake; pictured) hits the spot.

Outdoor activities

Hiking in Madeira (Shutterstock)

Malta has 300 annual days of sunshine to shout about, so its al fresco appeal is something of a given.

Cyclists (pictured), rock climbers, kitesurfers, kayakers and hikers all have ample excuse to book a trip here, while the scuba-dive sites are some of the best in Europe, with reefs, wrecks, caves and clear waters.

Madeira’s sumptuous landscape is arguably its top draw.

Covered in lush valleys, volcanic peaks and forested slopes, it’s also laced with some 2,000km of levadas – man-made waterways that double as walking trails.

Mountain biking and canyoning are further draws, while the Atlantic swell also attracts surfers.

The verdict

Both Malta and Madeira have suffered from rather staid reputations in years gone by – well, not any more. If you’re in search of some short-haul island adventure, both now offer superb opportunities for travellers.

True, Malta perhaps has the edge in terms of historical drama and Madeira has an altogether grander, rawer feel to its scenery, but neither of these edge-of-Europe getaways are going to leave you feeling short-changed.

Read more on Malta and Madeira:

Go further in Malta: 7 reasons to explore the island of Gozo

1. Head to the cliffs

Dwejra Bay (Visit Malta)

Quiet Gozo has a geological secret. Like the mainland, it tilts to the north-east, forming huge limestone cliffs that skim the west coast. These yield spectacular walks, with trails south of Xlendi Bay edging past old salt pans to the white clifftops of Sanap and Ta Cenc beyond, each footstep accompanied by sprouting garrigue and purple mallow flowering at your feet.

One enticing detour slips into the beautiful Mgarr ix-Xini gorge, fording tall grasses and the twisting roots of old fig trees. The rocks here are popular with climbers, and further in you’ll find an abandoned 19th-century pumping station built by the British, its entrance overgrown with scrub. A wild find. 

Alternatively, head further west to San Lawrenz and Dwerja for Gozo’s most iconic walk. Here, the coast winds down to where the Azure Window once stood and where an inland sea still cuts through the cliff. Gaze out to spy Fungus Rock, a gnarled outcrop of limestone that once grew a herb that was jealously guarded by the island’s medieval rulers. 

2. Trot into the wild

Tas Salvatur Hill (Visit Malta)

There is a longstanding horse culture on the island. Ta Xhajma racetrack, near Nadur, still hosts regular meets, with riders pulled in traditional chariot-style traps that you often see rattling the roads around the stadium.  

But to experience Gozo from the saddle yourself is a different story. Most horse-riding tours are based on the eastern side of the island, trekking quiet rural routes from the villages of Qala and Xaghra out to the soft red-sand sands speckling the coast.

It’s another gear entirely, as you hack into silent valleys along old donkey tracks, taking in sights such as Tas-Salvatur Hill, atop which stands a six-metre-high Christ statue. This dates back to 1901 (albeit it is one of many incarnations) and is shrouded in local folk tales. Hacks finish out on the coast, typically trotting pretty Marsalforn beach or shores overlooking Comino to the south as the sun either rises or sets in the distance.

St Nicholas Bay (Visit Malta)

3. Explore the coast

View of the Citadella (Visit Malta)

The fringes of Gozo are ideal for kayaking and sailing. Between here and the mainland lies the treeless isle of Comino, barely a kilometre off Hondoq Bay. It was once a smuggler’s hideout, but these days its coves and famed ‘Blue Lagoon’ hold more appeal for tourists. So the chance to paddle or sail its rocky nooks and hidden caves away from the others, tumbling into the water to snorkel the shallows at will, is a rare and cherished thing.

Alternatively, offshore tours of the north-east coast show an older side to island life. Bob past the salt pans of Qbajjar, hewn into the rock to allow the seawater to collect and evaporate, then head up the coast to Dahlet Qorrot, its colourful boathouses carved from the shore. As you veer north, past Mars-like shores and fishermen in brightly painted luzzu boats, hidden bays yield isolated coves to paddle. 

Scuba diving in Gozo (Visit Malta)

4. Get your culture fix

The Duke Boutique Hotel

One of Gozo’s most iconic locations is capital Victoria’s Citadella. You can almost see it from everywhere on the island. This hill has been settled since neolithic times but was refortified in the early 16th century to protect against raids from pirates and Ottoman Turks. It’s a joy to wander, with narrow alleys hiding lace shops and museums and sweeping views from atop the ramparts.

The best-known historic site on the island is undoubtedly Xaghra’s UNESCO-listed Ggjantia Temples, reputedly the oldest free-standing monument in the world. It dates from 3,600 BC but remains in impressive condition, thanks to the tough corraline limestone from which it was built. Just exploring these stone foundations is an evocative experience.

Elsewhere, there’s no shortage of institutions narrating the island’s history, from Nadur’s eclectic Maritime Museum, which has some usual British relics including timber from Lord Nelson’s ship, to the Heart of Gozo in Victoria, showing restored artworks from the town’s impressive basilica.

5. Take a dive

Ta’ Frenc

Malta is famed among divers. Waters here are warmest between July and October, but it rarely gets too chilly. Gentle, sloping shores make it ideal for beginners, and an abundance of sheltered inlets mean the weather is never an issue. It has something for everyone, yet the outer islands are unique.

The mainland might boast more historic wrecks but what’s special about Gozo comes naturally. Its shifting tectonics has created a wealth of interesting dive sites, from the vast grouper shoals of Reqqa Reef to the double arches off Xwejni Bay and the dazzling Blue Hole of Dwerja, a seemingly bottomless sinkhole that drops down to reveal a wild underwater world.   

The geology offshore kicks up endless surprises. Head to Comino, for example, to explore the shallow caves of Santa Marija, a picturesque dive lit by sunbeams bouncing off its vertical walls to reveal swaying nudibranches, moray eels and bolting octopi. Wherever you go, you’ll find wonders.

6. Great places to stay

For most Maltese, Gozo is the place they escape to. It’s rural valleys hide myriad stone-built farmhouses, some over 400 years old. Many have been converted into plush poolside stays, making for the perfect weeklong retreat devouring ftira (a Gozitan take on pizza) fresh from the bakery and wandering old countryside trails in peace.

A historic town alternative is the Duke Boutique Hotel in capital Victoria. It lies on the site of another old stay, originally built in 1880, and has fine views of the medieval Citadella and over to the coast.

For a taste of village life, Quaint hotels and apartments are scattered across the island’s hamlets, yielding plenty of pleasant surprises. Their Xewkija stay, for example, overlooks the village church’s huge rotunda, said to be one of the largest domes in Europe.

However, the finest setting surely belongs to the Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz, a five-star cocktail of luxury set in the rugged west. Its spa, gardens and pools make an indulgent base for exploring the coastal wilds.

7. Fine food

Meals here are typically preceded by a mezze of chopped tomatoes, capers, olives, local gbejniet (cheeselets), tapenade and Gozitan sausage. After that, all the flavours of the mediterranean palate are catered for.

Head to Ta’ Philip in Mgarr for an upmarket taste of local cooking. Everything here is made in a wood-burning oven, slow-roasting local pork, lamb and kid to perfection. It also does a rather fine take on Malta’s classic stuffat tal-fenek (stewed rabbit) dish – a legacy of the old rural roots of the islands.

For a more countryside setting, head west of Xaghrato Ta’ Frenc, in the garden of a converted farmhouse. Its founder sadly passed away recently, but a bold new chef, a superb wine list and inventive takes on Mediterranean staples ensure his culinary legacy lives on.

Lastly, for a surprise, Gozo Picnic are one of the more ’grammable options on the island – especially in socially distanced times. They simply send you a location; you then turn up to a fully prepared, locally sourced picnic (breakfast, lunch or dinner), typically with finely curated views. A true delight.   

Save! Over £400 per couple on a seven day holiday to Gozo

Enjoy a 7 night’s holiday in October at the five star Kempinski San Lawrenz hotel, including direct flights from London, breakfast and boat transfers. You will also get a booking discount and a free room upgrader. 

Book now by calling: 020 7368 1200

Feeling inspired? 

For more information and inspiration on travel to Gozo, visit the official Malta website. 

Visit now

Full travel guide to Malta

How to get around Malta and the islands of Comino and Gozo

Valletta has regular ferry services across its harbours (Shutterstock)

 

The best way to get around Malta is by car; due to the size of the island, there are no metro or train systems here. While a reliable bus network connects all the major sites, beaches and towns, a car just allows for more freedom, especially on day trips out to the remote west coast or the peaceful island of Gozo.

For smaller jaunts, capital Valletta has regular ferry services across its harbours, linking cosmopolitan Sliema to the north and the historic Three Cities (Senglea, Cospicua, Birgu) to the south.

To reach the islands, the Ċirkewwa terminal at the northern tip of the mainland has a 24-hour car-ferry service to Gozo; passengers disembark at the tiny port town of Mgarr. Boats and water taxis can also be booked at both ports to take you to the island of Comino. 

 

St John’s Co-Cathedral (Visit Malta)

If you only do three things in Malta…

Explore Gozo island (Shutterstock)

1. Visit the UNESCO sites

Malta has been occupied for thousands of years, and has had almost as many masters. Yet none changed its destiny quite so much as the Knights of St John, a crusading medieval order whose fingerprints are all over the islands.

Malta’s UNESCO-listed capital, Valletta, was fortified by the Knights after fending off the bloodiest of Ottoman sieges in 1565. They raised a city that would be both a stronghold and a statement, filling it with examples of their wealth and devotion. Its walls and regal Grandmaster’s Palace are matched for grandeur only by the Co-Cathedral, whose baroque interior puts even the churches of Rome in the shade. Ambling its cobbles, beneath 17th-century palazzo mansions and their pastel balconies, is like walking a living museum.

To the south of Valletta, you’ll find signs of civilisation built millennia before the Knights set foot here. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a 6,000-year-old subterranean burial chamber so fragile that the amount of daily visitors are strictly limited, so book far in advance. It’s one of a number of UNESCO-listed ancient sites, together with a collection of megalithic temples scattered across the islands. Of these, Ġgantija Temples on Gozo is the grandest, and thought to be the oldest free-standing man-made structure in the world. 

Enjoy Malta’s incredible dive sites (Visit Malta)

2. Explore Gozo and Comino

It might only be a 25-minute ferry ride from the mainland to the islands of Gozo and Comino, but these Maltese outposts are another world entirely.

Gozo is where mainlanders go to escape. It’s quiet, rural and dotted with old farmhouses converted into plush poolside stays. Modern capital Victoria (aka Rabat) wraps an old medieval citadel that is visible across most of the island. But the coast is the real lure here. To the west, trails hug the wild and rugged clifftop, dropping to pristine bays and inlets. To the east, the Mars-like sandstone of Xwejni Bay reveals old salt pans cut into the rock, while the beautiful red sands of Ramla Beach lie to its south. It’s the perfect stop for adventurers.

Comino is as different again. Only one family lives on this tiny island, home to a small trail. Boat tours run here regularly, but the best way to visit is by kayak, paddling from Gozo’s Hondoq Bay and dropping in on the glistening Blue Lagoon before splashing away to hidden sea caves and quieter snorkel spots.

3. Go diving

Malta has plenty to endear itself to divers. Its warm waters mean it’s diveable year-round, and an array of small bays and inlets offer a gentle introduction for first-timers, or a useful alternative in times of bad weather. Even kids as young as ten can earn their PADI certification alongside darting wrasse in the fjord-like inlet of Gozo’s Mgarr-ix Xini and other quiet coves.

For the more experienced, there are wrecks galore. Scuttled ships such as the Imperial Eagle (sister to Jaques Cousteau’s Calypso), off Qawra, are a thrill to explore, its exposed wheel now furred in red sponge. Or dive down to the remains of a Second World War-era Beaufort fighter plane, which ditched on takeoff from Sliema in 1943 and remains in perfect condition.

Malta’s rocky underwater terrain is the other big lure, with the shallow reef off Comino a fantastic opportunity to swim through a series of caverns known as the Santa Maria Caves. And if you head further north to Gozo, divers can emerge into the spectacular underwater Cathedral Cave, which is said to be larger than the dome of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

Where to stay in Malta

Phoenicia, Valletta

Michelin-starred De Mondion

Though it lies just outside the gates of the city, the Phoenicia remains a grand dame of the old order. While hotels in the Old Town are often constrained for space, this elegant Art Deco stay makes use of the added room, with excellent fine dining spots and a spa to complement its busy socialite vibe.

Learn more

Start by exploring Valletta (Visit Malta)

Embassy Valletta

Explore the cobbled streets of Birgu (Shutterstock)

Set on the rather hip Strait Street, a once notorious alley turned stylish nightlife quarter, the new Embassy Valletta Hotel offers a rate dash of modernity amid the Old Town. A rooftop pool, in-house cinema, bookstore and even a sweet shop make it a rather cosmopolitan base for wandering the cobbles, ramparts and labyrinthine backstreets.

Learn more

Explore Mdina (Visit Malta)

Hyatt Regency Malta, St Julian’s Bay

Dingli Cliffs at sunset (Shutterstock)

North of the townhouses and boutiques of Sliema, the shores of St Julian’s is where the chic crowd segue into the evening with a cocktail or two. The new Hyatt Regency certainly leans into its milieu, with all the trappings of a five-star escape. If you ever get bored of the coastal views from the rooftop pool, there’s a choice of bars and eateries in which to indulge. Plush. 

Learn more

Where to eat in Malta

Noni 

Valletta’s playful Noni is a Michelin-starred restaurant in the capital which takes rustic Maltese influences and mines them for flavour.

Learn more

Under Grain 

Also located in the capital, Under Grain is another Michelin starred restaurant which finds ample room for expression in a menu of unfussy Mediterranean staples.

Learn more 

De Mondion 

Over in Mdina, hotel restaurant De Mondion has also earned a star from Michelin for its impressive formal Mediterranean delights which are served up amid the stoic walls of the Silent City. 

Learn more

How to spend two days in Malta

Day one

Start in Valletta. The capital has some 320 historical sites, so you’re never short of options. The Co-Cathedral is the hidden jewel of the Knights of St John: a deceptively plain exterior that gives way to a cold shower of baroque majesty. Every square inch of its vaulted ceiling and carved walls has been smothered in gilded inlays and exquisite murals, while a number of works by the Renaissance artist Caravaggio are on display in its new museum.

Next, make your way to the Grandmaster’s Palace, once home to the leaders of the Knights. Its armoury, art collection and state rooms are impressive, but for a more contextual history of the Knights’ reign, head to Fort St Elmo. This doubles as the National War Museum, and on an island forged by near-constant invasions, it narrates Malta’s story with flair and wit.

For lunch, drop by the Is-Suq Tal-Belt food market before making your way to the battery for the ceremonial canon firing at noon. From there, take the stairs down to the War Rooms (book in advance), the old British army HQ. Guided tours here tell the tale of the dying days of the Second World War, as the Allied forces made their final push across the Med.

Hop in a car and drive (or take the ferry) over to the Three Cities, on the south side of the Grand Harbour. The quiet streets of Senglea and Birgu are a joy to wander as the afternoon cools, or just settle on the harbour with a drink. If time (or booking) allows, drive to the nearby Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum to explore the island’s ancient past.

Finish back in Valletta for dinner. Strolling its cobbles at night is a pleasure. Alleys branch off to outdoor bars where cushions are slung on stone steps and jazz fuses with the warm air. Try one of the city’s newly Michelin-starred restaurants, Noni or Under Grain, where you’ll encounter Mediterranean fare with plenty of imagination, then skip to Strait Street for a bedtime cocktail.

Day two

Hire a car and head out early to the beautiful ‘Silent City’ of Mdina and the surrounding town of Rabat. Beneath the latter sprawls a labyrinth of underground chambers, forming a Roman necropolis known as St Paul’s Catacombs. Romans were prohibited from burying their dead in Mdina (then known as Melite), so they dug tunnels and hypogea (tombs) around it, carving them from the solid rock. You can lose yourself down there for hours.

Mdina is another of the Knights’s grand citadels, its sandstone fortifications every bit as majestic as Valletta. At its centre stands St Paul’s Cathedral, rebuilt in the baroque-style in the early 1700s after an earthquake decimated its forebear. An excellent accompanying museum lies cross the square. After a visit, stop by the Fontanella Tea Garden, high on the city ramparts, for a snack and the best views in town.

From here, drive west to the coast, stopping to stretch your legs along the dizzying Dingli Cliffs, before continuing north to catch the ferry to Gozo. After disembarking at Mgarr, zoom winding country roads to the island capital, Victoria (Rabat), for a late lunch in its medieval Cittadella. This is home to the Ta’ Rikardu restaurant, famed for its freshly made gbejniet (cheeselets).

Weigh up your mood post repast: east of here takes you to the red sands of Ramla Beach to relax; to the west is Sannat, where the clifftop trails up to Xlendi make for some of the finest walks and mountain biking in Malta, not to mention swimming in the ‘Inland Sea’.

Finish, as the sun sets, with a trip to the Dingli cliffs to watch the lowering sun dye the sea orange, before making for the old fishing village of Marsalforn, where a handful of excellent seafood restaurants line the pretty harbour.

Feeling inspired? 

For more information and inspiration on travel to Malta, visit the official website. 

Visit now

Inside our virtual event: Exploring the islands of Malta

With talks on the history of Maltese gin, an insight into the traditional gastronomy, and an exploration of Malta’s UNESCO-listed sites, our virtual Malta event was as much educational as it was inspirational, and it certainly left many of us with a desire to visit as soon as we can. If you couldn’t be there live, then here is your chance to catch up on the full recording of the event and find the answers to your questions.

Watch the full webinar

Trailfinders inspired us with some exciting holidays to the islands of Malta…

Don’t forget to phone Trailfinders to make the most of their exclusive holiday offers for Wanderlust readers.

Find out more about Trailfinders’Gastronomic Delights of Maltatourhere.

Find out more about Trailfinders’Historic Malta and Stunning Gozotourhere.

Read more about Trailfinders’ Peace of Mind policyhere.

Learn more about Taste History

The Malta Maritime Museum experiences discussed in Liam’s talks will start to be available from the end of the year, but Taste History operates across various Heritage Malta sites so there’s plenty to enjoy if you visit sooner. Fort St. Angelo is one of the oldest forts on the island, with sweeping views of the Grand Harbour and larger groups can enjoy the food that was eaten there by Nelson himself and the Knights of St John. To learn more about the Taste History initiative, look up Taste History Malta on Facebook.

Your questions answered

Mellieha Sanctuary (Visit Malta)

When is the best time to go to Malta to avoid the crowds?
Travel habits may change due to Covid, but May, October and November are great months to visit as the Islands are less busy, you can still enjoy the mild Mediterranean weather and the sea is still warm from the summer sun. Malta also hosts events year round, like the Mdina Grand Prix, Rolex Middle Sea Race which happen every autumn. What is the best way to get around Malta?

What is the best way to get around Malta?

Malta is compact and it’s easy to explore all the main sites on public transport; I recommend Malta’s public transport but hiring a car will allow you to access some of the more remote bays. A week-long unlimited pass for public transport is €21/ adult €15/child and the Gozo ferry takes 25minutes, runs every 45minutes and costs €4.95 return. Local car hire is also very affordable.

Are there many accommodation options in Valletta?
Yes, a lot of town houses and restored palazzos are now boutique hotels, each steeped in history. Valletta is a compact city, so wherever you stay within the walls of the capital, you’ll be close to all the sites. There are a couple of larger hotels directly outside the city walls, plus more boutique hotels across the Grand Harbour, in the Three Cities.

How is the road cycling in Malta? Is there a lot of traffic?
As with all countries, roads around the main throughways can get busy but there are cycling trails that take in roads and coastal paths. Gozo is the quieter, more rural island.

Is there information available on hiking trails?
Trailfinders offer a ‘Walking in Gozo’ holiday. You can find out more about it here. You can also find further walking inspiration on the Visit Malta website.

A street in the Three Cities (Visit Malta)

What books would you recommend to learn more about the history of Malta?
For those interested in the Second World War, James Holland’s book ‘Fortress Malta’ covers how Malta became the most bombed place on Earth. If you’d like to see more of Malta’s scenery, Gladiator, Troy and The Count of Monte Cristo are just a few of the film’s shot on the Islands.

What is Malta like for people with mobility issues?
Most tourist sites are fully accessible, but it’s best to check their website or call in advance to confirm. We have 32 museums and Heritage sites on the island: 30 of them are fully accessible and two are partly accessible. Though Valletta and the Three Cities have a few steep hills, most of the resort promenades are flat and public transport in Malta is also fully accessible

What is the water temperature? Would you wear a dry suit or wet suit?
The water temp ranges from 12°C in February to 26°C in August. I’ve always dived in wetsuits.

Does Malta cater to special diets?
Vegetarian, vegan and coeliac diets are widely catered to across the islands; and some completely vegan cafes have started opening across Malta over the last few years.

How far does your spending money go in Malta?
The Maltese islands are very competitively priced; whatever your budget, you’ll have plenty of food, drink and accommodation options.

What did you have to say?

Mdina (Visit Malta)

It looks so interesting. I haven’t been to Malta before but am now very keen to visit!

Looks like fantastic culture and history.

Looking forward to visiting. It’s top of our list.

What an amazing place! Why haven’t I been before now!

Adore Valletta, one of my most favourite cities.

That really has whet our appetite for Malta.

Very informative and interesting. Thank you all.

Really enjoyed everyone’s presentations, hope to be able to visit soon.

Really enjoyed all the presentations. I’ve been to Malta twice and can 100% recommend it – I can see there’s so much more to see and can’t wait to go back!

I absolutely cannot wait to go back, but for longer next time. We stayed five days in Malta and two in Gozo, but there’s so much more I want to explore.

This has been one of the most interesting webinars I’ve watched this year. A huge thank you to you all.

A little look inside the evening

Wanderlust’s founding editor Lyn Hughes warmly welcomed us to the event

We were joined by Malta experts

Liam Gauci unearthed the secrets of Malta’s culinary past

Jack Organ from Trailfinders inspired us with some great holiday ideas for Malta

After more Malta travel inspiration? Head to the Visit Malta website

Don’t miss our future events! See what’s on here

It’s a small world after all: Europe’s 7 tiniest countries

1: Vatican City

The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican (Dreamstime)

Size: 0.44km2
Capital City: Vatican City
Pop: 825

An independent state within the city of Rome, the Vatican City is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and the smallest state in the world in both size and population. The main attractions include St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. Its income is derived mainly from the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, and its ATMs are the only ones in the world to offer you the option of conducting your transaction in Latin.

2: Monaco

Monte Carlo harbour (Dreamstime)

Size: 1.95km2
Capital City: Monaco
Pop: 38,682

With its elegant belle-époque casino. Luxurious boutiques and restaurants and yacht-lined harbour, the tiny city-state of Monaco has become an upscale playground for the rich and famous. The Mediterranean weather helps. So does the generous tax breaks. And the annual grand prix on its narrow streets brings a bit of old school excitement and glamour. Little wonder then, that Monaco has the world’s lowest poverty rate, highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capital and the most expensive real estate.

3: San Marino

San Marino castle (Dreamstime)

Size: 61 km2
Capital City: Città di San Marino
Pop: 33,785

Also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, this mountainous microstate in north-central Italy is the world’s oldest sovereign state and its oldest republic. The capital, Città di San Marino, clings to the slopes of Monte Titanos, its medieval walled old town and cobbled streets an UNESCO listed site. Like the Vatican, postage stamps and coins – keenly sought by collectors – are important sources of revenue.

4: Liechtenstein

Castle on top of the mountain in Vaduz, Liechtenstein (Dreamstime)

Size: 160 km2
Capital City: Vaduz
Pop: 38,378

Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked country, between Switzerland and Austria, in the heart of the Alps. It is the fourth smallest state in Europe, the smallest to border two countries and a popular winter sport destination. Although an important financial centre today, the country was destitute after the Second World war and had to sell a Leonardi Di Vinci portrait, ‘Ginerva de’ Bencini’ to pay the bills. These days it has more registered companies than citizens.

5: Malta

Traditional boats in fishing village of Marsaxlokk, Malta (Dreamstime)

Size: 316 km2

Capital City: Valletta

Pop: 493,559

A small archipelago in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and North Africa, Malta packs a lot into its tiny 316 km2. Here you’ll find megalithic temples, Roman ruins and Norman cathedrals, each marking a stage in the islands’ staggering 7,000 year old history. In 2018, the capital Valletta is a European Capital of Culture.

6: Andorra

Modern glass pyramid in Escaldes-Engordany (Dreamstime)

Size: 468 km2
Capital City: Andorra la Vella
Pop: 76,177

Another tiny independent principality famous for its ski resorts, duty-free shopping and generous tax breaks, Andorra is nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. When the snow melts, the country is criss-crossed with hiking trails, ranging from leisurely walks to more demanding treks. The capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital in Europe.

7: Luxembourg

Luxembourg city snow covered at winter (Dreamstime)

Size: 2,586 km2
Capital City: Luxembourg
Pop: 613,894

Small, compact and bordered by Germany, Belgium and France, the Duchy of Luxembourg is also one of the three richest countries in the world. Away from the medieval, fortified old town of the capital, the country ismostly rural, with dense Ardennes forest and nature parks in the north, rocky gorges of the Mullerthal region in the east, and the Moselle river valley in the southeast. There are numerous hiking and biking trails across the country, and with a surprising number of vineyards and breweries, as well as producers of meats and cheeses, Luxembourg is increasingly popular with foodies.

Population figures taken from the latest estimates from the UN’s World Population Prospects