The goal we set ourselves was to visit 40 countries by the age of 40. Yes, that is completely arbitrary. But that arbitrary target thankfully encouraged us to flit around Europe throughout our 20s and 30s, seeing much of our continent and chalking up countries as we went.
We mostly flew, on budget airlines that are mostly no longer with us, but we also crossed borders by train, foot, even hydrofoil.
We were EU citizens then, meaning we breezed across borders with little more than a glance from a border guard, or at most a quick computer scan of our passports.
That ease of travel – the ability to enter another EU country with the minimum of bureaucratic fuss or bother – had one small downside for the nerd in us: no passport stamps. We were happy with that trade-off; seeing the Canadians, Australians and others stuck in their static queue underlined the value of our burgundy passports. But, nonetheless, there was a jarring contrast between the amount of travel we were doing and the lack of stamps in our passports.
There is one category of European country however that combines ease of entry with the possibility of securing that inky, bureaucratic souvenir: the microstate.
There isn’t a precise definition of what constitutes a microstate. Some include Iceland on the list, but whilst it does have a smallish population, it is also 2.5x the physical size of Switzerland. Others include Malta, which is small but as a member of the European Union it just doesn’t feel right to think of it as a microstate. To us, a microstate should be more like an anomaly; a modest parcel of land sandwiched between two other places or randomly popping up inside another, ideally by some fluke of history.
So, who makes our list of European microstates? Well, on our list is Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, and the Vatican City. We’ve spared the blushes of Iceland and Malta.
And, for each of these countries, how did we bag the all-important stamp?
Well, let’s start with the last country on our list, which is also by far the smallest and least populous: the Vatican City. Sadly, they don’t do passport stamps. They could, easily. We can’t help but feel they are missing a trick. They could ask people to pay a few euros; hordes would readily hand over their cash – ourselves included – for an imprint of the Holy Father’s face, and – hey presto! – they would have earned something to put towards poverty alleviation. But, alas, they don’t.
Anyway, onto the places where we have had our passports stamped.
Getting your passport stamped in Andorra
This one is actually the trickiest, and it is easy to miss the opportunity if you assume you can get it done once you have got there and checked into your hotel. With the other microstates – Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Monaco – we got our passports stamped in a tourist office. In Andorra, you actually have to get it done at the border.
When we visited Andorra, we travelled by minibus from Toulouse. We were advised to tell our driver in advance that we wanted our passports stamped so we asked him to stop at the border.
Just like the other microstates here, Andorra isn’t in the EU – and the border crossing is very un-EU. It is not at all seamless or unmarked. Indeed, as you approach it there are gantries over the road, with armed border guards. The bus was stopped and the driver told the officer that we wanted to have our passports checked and stamped. We were asked to get off the bus. The border guard took our passports, confirmed we wanted them stamped, and did this against a breeze block in middle of the road. It felt very authentic. No smiling customer service host in an airconditioned building. He handed them back, we got back on a bus full of people confused as to why we had done it, and we were on our way.
This one is no tourist gimmick, and that thankfully means it’s free. But you must make sure you get it done as you cross from France or Spain into Andorra.
Getting your passport stamped in Liechtenstein
In Liechtenstein, head to the Liechtenstein Center in the capital, Vaduz. They’ll get the job done for a fee of 3 Swiss francs or 3 euros. This is a nice one. A simple, minimalist design. On our visit, the person stamping our passports was actually quite surly, but we were no doubt simply unlucky.
We visited Liechtenstein whilst on a trip to Zurich. It is a bit of a detour to get there, but you do get to visit another country – and, of course, get that all-important stamp. From Zurich, we took the train to Sargans, still in Switzerland, from where we picked up a bus that took us across the border and into Liechtenstein.
Getting your passport stamped in San Marino
Our visit to San Marino was tacked on to a visit to Bologna, which actually also saw us visit Florence and Rome (including the Vatican City). To get to San Marino from Bologna, we took a train to Rimini and bought tickets for one of the coaches that runs between the city and San Marino.
Once you reach San Marino, you need to follow the signs to the tourist office. Just like in Liechtenstein, for a small fee they will issue you with a stamp for the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, the world’s oldest republic. This one is rather nice as it includes an actual stamp which they stick into your passport before adding an inky stamp over the top.
Getting your passport stamped in Monaco?
This was where we were going to write that Monaco is the best of the microstates. When we went there, a daytrip whilst staying in Nice, we got our passports stamped free of charge at the tourist information office by a lady who seemed genuinely delighted to do it for us.
But checking things before we wrote this blog post, we have discovered that it looks like Monaco has stopped doing this. It now seems that they offer instead a novelty Monaco passport, which they stamp for you. We are not sure this is quite the same, but we will say that we rather enjoyed our daytrip to the principality. It is still very much worth a visit if you’re staying in the area.
So, sorry, it looks like that door has closed if you hadn’t already obtained one. But maybe that’s all the encouragement you need. You may be too late for the Monégasque passport stamp, but you can still get the Andorran, Liechtenstein and Sammarinese ones.
Have you already got one or more of these stamps? If so, why not share photos in the comments? Is anything we’ve written out of date? If it is, please add updated information in the comments too. Do you have any rare or noteworthy visas or passport stamps that you are happy to share? You know what we are going to say: please share photos in the comments.
Thanks for reading – and safe travels!