Top Microstates to Visit

On the map, they’re just little blips. You might not even notice them at first. But when you do, curiosity takes over. Look at those tiny outposts sticking out by themselves in the midst of a much larger country. How did they get there? Why aren’t they just part of the larger country? Well, as you may have guessed, there are some interesting stories behind the creation of microstates. Here are a few unique ones particularly worth a visit.

Monaco


On the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded on three sides by France, Monaco has an interesting history. Near the site of an ancient Greek colony, the city-state was given by the Holy Roman Empire to the Republic of Genoa. In 1297, Francesco Grimaldi, head of an ousted Genoese family, captured Monaco. At times it fell under the possession Aragon, France, Sardinia and the Axis Powers of World War II. Through it all, the Grimaldi family has been there, and their opening of a casino in the 1860s and subsequent abolition of income tax turned Monaco into the playground for the rich and famous. The casino remains a big attraction, as do the annual Monaco Grand Prix Formula One car race and the yacht-filled harbor.

Singapore


Just barely an island, Singapore lies off the southern tip of Malaysia but has been an independent republic since 1965 after bouncing between the influence of various empires, being colonized by the British, captured by the Japanese in World War II, falling back under British control and briefing becoming part of Malaysia. Singapore has always been a trading center at the crossroads of East and West. It remains a powerhouse economy with a high standard of living and quite a bit of diversity among its population of nearly 6 million. Though, as anyone who remembers the caning controversy involving American teenage Michael Fay knows, law and order are a big deal to the local authorities.

Hong Kong & Macao


Strategically located at the mouth of the Pearl River Estuary, both cities are today part of China. But their status as special administrative regions lends insight into their histories. Hong Kong was part of Imperial China before being colonized by the British in the 1840s. After a brutal Japanese occupation, the trading power became an industrial and financial center following World War II and was officially transferred to Chinese sovereignty but maintains a great deal of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy.

Similarly, Macao was under Portuguese control for more than 400 years before being handed over to China yet retains its own legal and monetary systems. Macao is the most densely populated area in the world with 650,000 people living in less than 12 square miles and is the world’s gambling capital.

Vatican City & San Marino


For more than a thousand years, the popes were in control of a large swath of central Italy known as the Papal States. With the Unification of Italy, the pope lost these territories, and Rome itself became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. For a few decades after that, the status of the pope was an open question until it was settled by the 1929 Lateran Treaty, which established the independent state of Vatican City. It is today the smallest state in the world at about 110 acres and 1,000 residents and yet welcomes more than 5 million visitors per year.

A 24-square-mile enclave surrounded by Italy, San Marino may well be the oldest sovereign state still in existence, dating to the year 301. Located atop Monte Titano in the Apennine range, San Marino is certainly picturesque, but it’s the charm of its citizens that has kept it independent all these years. Regent Antonio Onofri managed to earn the respect of Napoleon, who promised not annex the republic. Later, thanks to San Marino’s offering of asylum to people persecuted for supporting Italian unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi honored the republic’s wish to not become a part of Italy.

Top places to ring in the New Year

A new year means a new beginning. A chance to start fresh, when anything is possible and you don’t know exactly what adventures lie ahead. We all have our own traditions, and as long as you’re spending time with people you care about, there’s really no wrong way to ring in the new year. But some destinations put on a better show than others, and here are a few at the top of the list.

Sydney

Featuring not one but two fireworks shows, Sydney Harbour provides an excellent venue for the celebration. The festivities kick off while the sun is still out, with a tug-boat water display followed by an air show. A cleansing ceremony honoring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures takes place around sunset, as flares and eucalyptus smoke fills the air. At 9 p.m., there is an 8-minute fireworks show that serves as both an appetizer for the main event and allows children who might not make it to midnight to celebrate. After that, a parade of elaborately lit boats fills the harbor, ushering in a dazzling fireworks display at the stroke of midnight that illuminates the water and iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Hong Kong

If there’s anyone who knows fireworks, it’s the people of Hong Kong. The city celebrates just about everything with a dazzling display, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. Victoria Harbour serves as the setting for this party, which kicks off at 10 p.m. with a performance fusing theater, dance and circus elements. The countdown to midnight starts early, with pyrotechnic shooting stars lighting up the harbor every 15 minutes beginning at 11 p.m. leading up to fireworks being launched from barges and from the roofs of skyscrapers in a dazzling display stretching two-thirds of a mile along the waterfront.

Rio de Janeiro

Cariocas never turn down a chance to party, and the thousands of revelers flocking to Copacabana Beach on New Year’s Eve know how to do it right. Adorned in white for peace, green for luck, yellow for wealth, red for passion or purple for inspiration, they eat lentils for health and pork and fish for prosperity in the new year. And of course, seven raisins before midnight, storing the seeds in their wallets so they’ll always be full. They then send candles and flowers into Guanabara Bay in honor of the ancient water deity Iemanja before dancing the night away to live music as fireworks explode over the bay.

Miami

New York’s Times Square is still the most popular U.S. destination for New Year’s. But it’s not so pleasant lining up for hours in the cold for a short countdown. Better yet, head to South Beach and leave your coat and gloves at home. You’ll need feeling in your limbs to dance as much as the Magic City requires. A variety of DJs, salsa acts and of course Mr. 305 himself, Pitbull, will keep the party jumping long into the wee hours. Plus, it’ll be about 40 degrees warmer than New York.

Cape Town

As with the other entries on this list, Cape Town’s climate and waterfront setting make it a stellar option for ushering in the new year. Festivities actually begin Dec. 30 with the start of a three-day festival in the Durbanville Wine Valley full of food, music and, naturally, wine. At the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the New Year’s Eve celebrations kick off at 7 p.m. in four activity zones representing earth, air, fire, and water. Everything converges at midnight with fireworks igniting over the water and Table Mountain, which is the perfect spot for a pre-party hike to work up an appetite for a wonderful dinner and maybe a sip or two of Champagne.

By Damien Martin