Maybe you’re looking to visit Europe, but not that Europe. Not the Paris boulevards clogged with beret-wearing aesthetes, or the endless swirl of Vespas around the Roman colosseum, but the sedate countryside around some ancient, little-known castle, or an alpine town that time forgot where you can imagine you’re part of a high renaissance drama.
Or maybe you just came here to test your geography.
Either way, you’re in luck. Here are Europe’s 8 least-visited countries.
Note: The figures regarding number of visitors come from the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Total tourists (2017): 1,281,000
This landlocked Balkan nation may be little-visited partly because it was so hard to see for so long. During the Cold War, Serbia was part of the larger state of Yugoslavia, a decidedly Communist place. In the 90s, the region was roiled by ethnic violence as Yugoslavia splintered up into many smaller autonomous countries. But today, Serbia is plenty safe and pleasant to visit, though it has yet to really make a name for itself in the world of tourism.
Visitors report that the capital, Belgrade, rivals Berlin in terms of fun and nightlife. If history is more your thing, you’ll find ruined castles aplenty. Also, more Roman emperors were born in Serbia than anywhere else aside from Italy, and most of them left some statues and relics behind.
Total tourists (2017): 1,054,000
Not quite France and not quite Germany, Luxembourg is smack dab in the middle of the territory that was disputed between the two for more than a thousand years. The remains of fortifications, which can still be seen today in the city of Luxembourg, testify to its strategic (and vulnerable) position at the crossroads of Western Europe.
It’s hard to say why the world’s only Grand Duchy isn’t more popular with tourists. Perhaps it’s because the whole country is less than 1,000 square miles and not terribly well-known. Another factor could be the famously high cost of living and visiting.
6. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Total tourists (2017): 770,000
Like Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a former Yugoslav republic that descended into chaos in the 90’s as that country disintegrated. While things are much calmer today, B-H remains largely overlooked in favor of its far more popular neighbor, Croatia.
One possible reason is that Bosnia-Herzegovina is almost entirely landlocked, with only a 12-mile coastline on the Adriatic. The rest of that coast — rich with beaches, villas, and ideal for sailing — is now part of Croatia. Another potential reason few travelers venture here is the lack of infrastructure. Bosnia-Herzegovina has few highways, and landmines (a relic of wars in the 90s) remain a genuine concern. Despite vigorous efforts to find and remove them, there may still be as many as 80,000 mines dispersed throughout the country.
Those who do visit will find a diverse, mountainous terrain, and a fascinating population that’s almost equal parts Christian and Muslim.
5. North Macedonia
Total tourists (2017): 510,000
The modern incarnation of Alexander the Great’s homeland (contrary to common misconception, he technically was not Greek), Macedonia was once a great power of the ancient world. Today, it’s far less famous (and less visited) than its historic neighbor to the south — Greece. But all that may be about to change.
North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia — its name was officially changed in 2019) has been a candidate member of the European Union since 2005. These days, it looks like it’s about to perform a reverse-Brexit and attempt to join the EU as a full-fledged member. That could mean a major influx of tourists from elsewhere on the continent, so we may be witnessing the last of the country’s sleepy, undiscovered days.
Although landlocked, this relatively small country has a number of beautiful lakes. It’s characterized by its hills, valleys, and historic architecture — mainly inspired by Orthodox Christianity but influenced by its Albanian Muslim minority as well.
Total tourists (2017): 336,000
For such a small country, Monaco really packs a punch. It is world-famous for its annual Grand Prix race, the Monte-Carlo Casino, and for a third of its people being millionaires (the highest concentration on earth). And it does all this in an area of less than 0.8 square miles with fewer than 40,000 permanent residents.
Perhaps Monaco’s reputation as a gambling and yachting haven for the super-rich has kept the tourists at bay more than anything else. While Monaco definitely merits a visit, there are cheaper places to see France’s Mediterranean coast.
Total tourists (2017): 121,000
121,000 visitors sounds pretty small, but it’s actually a drastic improvement for Moldova, a smallish landlocked country between Romania and Ukraine. Back in 2014, the county reportedly welcomed just 11,500 foreign tourists! The greatest challenge to upping that number is likely the fact that most people have never heard of Moldova. That, in turn, is likely due to the fact that it has only existed since 1991.
Fascinatingly, there’s another country you’ve never heard of inside this county you’ve never heard of. A breakaway faction in the east of Moldova actually controls its own republic, which is known as Transnistria. Although it isn’t recognized by any other countries, Transnistria is recognized within Moldova as an autonomous region. Moldovan nesting dolls!
Though some have characterized it as gloomy and poor, Moldova has become somewhat more popular due to cheap flights from European hubs. And the country is a god place to spend a relaxing weekend, with its old world charm, bikeable steppes, and wineries.
Total tourists (2017): 69,000
Landlocked between Switzerland and Austria, the Principality of Lichtenstein is undoubtedly the micro-nation with the most entertaining name. Still, with a population of less than 40,000 people living in an area about 60 miles squared, it’s not hard to imagine why few visitors come to call. The relative isolation is heightened by the absence of an airport, which means the best way to visit Liechtenstein is probably via train or bus.
The last surviving vestige of the Holy Roman Empire, Liechtenstein will surely make you feel like you’re in an old world principality, with its castles and sweeping alpine scenery. But in other ways, it’s a very modern place. Residents have a standard of living comparable to any neighboring country, and a vibrant financial sector that has made the them rich. In fact, Liechtenstein is known for it’s ask-no-questions banking, and is a popular place to set up sketchy holding companies.
You know. Just in case you were hoping to launder some money while you’re in town…
1. San Marino
Total tourists (2017): 60,000
San Marino is a tiny country about half the size of Liechtenstein, surrounded by Italy, close to that nation’s Adriatic coast. According to legend, San Marino is the oldest republic in the world, founded by a mason named Marinus at the beginning of the 4th century AD. The beating heart of San Marino is Mount Titano, the site of the capital. The great height, and the walled towers constructed on the pinnacles of Titano, provide a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. Smaller towns dot the shoulders of the mountain, comprising the rest of the country.
As to why so few outsiders visit, the truth is the same for many of the destinations on this list: San Marino is unjustly overlooked.
We hope this list of the least-visited countries in Europe has made you consider boldly going where few have gone before. Happy trails!