World's Newest Countries
While it seems like the present-day map has remained unchanged for a long time, quite a few countries actually date back less than a few short decades.
From the fall of the Soviet Union to the dissolution of Yugoslavia to influence from the United Nations, there have been many modern-day impetuses for the formation of new nations. While some countries have gained independence only after war-torn, bloody conflict, others have established their autonomy following more peaceful decisions.
In any case, the world is constantly shifting, and what exists today could very well be different tomorrow. Discover which countries are the youngest in the world, so you can expand your bucket list with exciting new additions to our global map.
16. Germany — 1990
It’s hard to think of Germany — with its historic castles, 500 years of beer culture, brilliant composers and thinkers throughout the ages — as a “new” country. But while the language and land have, of course, been around for centuries, the country has only officially been Germany for less than three decades.
Long a victim of shifting borders and empires, the country most recently existed as two separate nations, West Germany and East Germany, during the throes of the Cold War. As the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union began to collapse at the end of the 1980s, Germany fully unified its eastern and western halves, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The official date of the reunification was October 3, 1990.
The story of Germany is a remarkable one; despite experiencing years of strife and division in the 20th century, it is today not only stable, but thriving. And its tourism scene is, too.
Nearly 40 million visitors head to the country annually, and that number is growing exponentially each year. Berlin, the most-visited city in the country and the third-most-visited in all of Europe, invites guests to explore remnants from a fraught past, while reveling in modern attractions and a progressive culture.
15. Yemen — 1990
A separation lasting 150 years came to an end in 1990 when Marxist South Yemen and conservative North Yemen unified as the Republic of Yemen.
Yemen, which sits at the end of the Arabian Peninsula, was first divided between the British and the Ottomans in the middle of the 1800s. The unification in 1990 didn’t go smoothly, to say the least, as Yemen had been divided along sectarian lines for centuries. The lack of a framework for the new state led to much dissension between north and south.
Elections were held in 1993, but the results exposed divisions and led to a coalition government. Soon, a civil war broke out.
Today, the situation in Yemen is that of crisis. The conflict is rooted in political failures that have occurred over the last 20 years.
Today, tourism is not advised to Yemen. Not only is it mired in civil war, but it’s been hit hard by cholera and famine. If and when the country does become safe for travel again, it will have much to offer adventurers, from nature reserves to desert cities to gorgeous beaches.
14. Namibia — 1990
A territory of South Africa until 1990, Namibia is the second-to-last African nation to gain its independence, following a 22-year war for separation waged by the Marxist South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO).
The country’s history is fraught and fascinating; Europeans began heading to the area when diamonds were discovered in the early 20th century, and from 1890 to 1915, it was a contested German colony. Still today, the country celebrates Oktoberfest and distributes a German-language daily newspaper.
Tourists are hard-pressed to find a country as striking in its natural beauty as Namibia. The nation’s name comes from the world's oldest desert, the Namib, which features plunging sand dunes that undulate down the Skeleton Coast. Inland, a spine of mountains create a striking backdrop, veined with rivers, wetlands and grassy plains.
Despite conflict in its past, the country is these days totally safe to visit.
13. Armenia — 1991
Unfortunately, Armenia is most closely associated today with the Armenian Genocide, also known as the Armenian Holocaust, which resulted in the killing of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. Throughout Armenia's history, it has been dominated by a variety of empires, from the Romans and Byzantines to the Arabs, Persians, Ottomans and Russians.
Armenia ended up as part of the Soviet Union in 1922, but gained full independence with the crumbling of the Iron Curtain in 1991. Since then, it has struggled through ongoing conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan, though there has been recent hope for peace.
Fun fact: The country was the first to make Christianity its national religion, all the way back in 301 AD. Still today, some 95 percent of Armenians are Christians.
Armenia is a safe and fascinating destination for tourists lured by culture, history, monuments and landscapes. That said, only intrepid travelers should consider it, as infrastructure is rough and transportation if difficult to figure out. English is also rarely spoken.
Those who are fit for the challenge will find much to love, including medieval monasteries and the capital of Yerevan, a charming, European-styled city.
12. Turkmenistan — 1991
Turkmenistan's history is one of frequent conquest. Starting in the 6th century BC, it was ruled by Persians, who were later conquered by Alexander the Great. Muslims, Mongols and Turkic battalions have also exerted power here.
In the late 19th century, Turkmenistan was annexed by Russia, and in 1924, it was made part of the Soviet Union. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Turkmenistan, along with the other "stan" countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), finally gained independence.
Today, Turkmenistan is known for its significant gas reserves, though much of the population still lives in poverty.
Of the Central Asian "stan" countries, Turkmenistan is one of the most mysterious. While it was ruled for a long time under the dictatorship of Saparmurat Niyazov until his death in 2006, it is a land of great tradition and natural beauty.
Want to explore the history, culture and landscapes of this little-visited nation on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea? Head to the ancient cities of Merv and Konye-Urgench, known for the passing of caravans along the Silk Road.
For a study in contrasts, take in the silent beauty of the Karakum desert and the vitality of the capital city of Ashgabat.
11. Croatia — 1991
These days, Croatia is one of the most popular countries to visit in Europe. But it wasn't always this way.
Originally known as the Kingdom of Croatia, this country on the Adriatic Sea was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its dissolution in 1918. The next few decades were, to say the least, tumultuous: After being renamed Yugoslavia in 1929, it was invaded by Nazi Germany during World War II, then turned communist before finally gaining autonomy in 1991.
As with Germany, this is a country that has rebounded spectacularly after a turbulent history.
Today, Croatia continues to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, welcoming 18.6 million tourists last year. Visitors flock to see its seaside cities and picturesque islands. And — of course — they travel to discover Dubrovnik, the real-life King's Landing from “Game of Thrones.”
10. Bosnia and Herzegovina — 1992
The modern history of Bosnia and Herzegovina (sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina) closely echoes that of bordering Croatia, with time spent under the auspice of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, under Nazi rule and as part of Yugoslavia.
The country's declaration of independence in 1992 incited one of the most violent wars of our time, with three years of violence between the Serbs, Bosnians and Croats resulting in the death of 90,000 to 300,000 people.
Finally, in 1995, a peace agreement was reached, laying the groundwork for a more stable future.
Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina
Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the lesser-traveled countries in Europe — but it’s precisely this under-the-radar status that makes it so appealing. Culturally a blend of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian traditions, it also boasts stunning mountains, a magnificent collection of waterfalls, medieval-castle ruins and plenty of outdoor-adventure options, including a robust skiing scene.
Just note that travelers are asked to exercise increased caution when visiting the country.
9. Czech Republic — 1993
Before World War I, the area we now know as the Czech Republic was made up of Bohemia and Moravia, aka Czech Lands.
After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the war, the Czechs united with their Slovak neighbors to form Czechoslovakia. That nation was under Communist rule until 1989, when the Velvet Revolution led to the 1993 Velvet Divorce.
This peaceful dissolution created the Czech Republic — along with Slovakia — as separate and independent nations.
Visiting the Czech Republic
Since the fall of Communism, the Czech Republic has become one of the hottest travel destinations in Europe. Prague in particular, with its historic architecture, castles and 14th-century Charles Bridge crossing the Vltava River, lures millions of travelers from around the world.
8. Slovakia — 1993
Since gaining its independence when the Czech Republic did, Slovakia has similarly established itself on the global stage. Its move toward autonomy is generally viewed favorably (as Slovakian journalist Pavol Mudry told the BBC last year, "The split was really smooth"), and both countries are now part of the European Union.
Slovakia, while less traveled than the Czech Republic, has emerged as a bucket-list spot in its own right. (And can boast of being less swarmed by tourists than its buzzy neighbor.) A land of castles and mountains, it features walking trails through mountain passes, glacier lakes and a blossoming cultural capital in the form of Bratislava.
7. Eritrea — 1993
Eritrea was originally part of Italy's colonial empire until it fell under British control after 1941. Afterwards, the United Nations made a serious attempt to establish Eritrea as an autonomous region within Ethiopia, but Ethiopia annexed the country in 1961, triggering a brutal war that lasted nearly 30 years. The rebels in Eritrea won in 1991, and in 1993, Eritreans voted for their independence.
The U.S. State Department lists Eritrea as a Level 2 country— meaning it’s ok to travel there, but tourists should exercise increased caution. The primary concern is the existence of landmines in many remote areas of the country.
The safest bet is to head to the capital of Asmara, a city so steeped in history, it’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you can explore fantastic Art Deco architecture — remnants from the country’s time under Italian colonialist rule — and enjoy quirky attractions like a graveyard for military vehicles and a bowling alley dating back to the 1950s.
6. Palau — 1994
This country comprised of 340 coral and volcanic islands has a long history— the first inhabitants arrived around 2500 BC — and a complicated one. Over the years, it’s been occupied and claimed by a long list of nations, including Spain, Germany and Japan.
Starting in 1947, Palau became a member of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, this time under the administration of the U.S. The U.S. government dissolved the trusteeship in 1986, but Palau was unable to win support for free association until 1993.
Finally, in 1994, Palau became a sovereign state. Its modern-day government is a unique and successful one, relying on a democratically elected President advised by a Council of Chiefs who oversee traditional laws and customs.
Today, tourists head to Palau in search of paradise. The country features towering limestone cliffs and volcanic islands carpeted in forest, all ringed with electric-blue water.
Diving is the number-one reason to visit Palau, which is surrounded by reefs, wrecks and diverse marine life. In fact, the waters surrounding Palau have been dubbed "the underwater Serengeti."
5. Timor-Leste — 2002
As has been the case with so many countries on this list, the road to independence for the nation formerly known as East Timor was a long and brutal one.
After gaining independence from Portuguese colonial masters in 1975, Indonesia claimed the territory and violently suppressed independence movements. More than 200,000 people, a quarter of the population, were killed from fighting, famine and disease.
In 1999, a change in leadership in Indonesia allowed the East Timorese to vote in an independence ballot. Seventy-eight percent of voters opted for independence, and in 2002, East Timor became a sovereign state and adopted the name Timor-Leste (in Portuguese, “leste” means “east”).
Unfortunately, autonomy has not freed the nation from the grip of violence; in more recent years, political tensions have led to ongoing conflict and protests. Yet there have also been encouraging signs of progress as the country looks to establish peace and develop its infrastructure.
Timor-Leste is safe to visit and makes for a wonderful off-the-beaten-path destination. Like Palau, it is a diver's paradise, rife with pristine reefs and a rich diversity of marine life.
You can explore museums in Dili, the capital, or venture into the hills to explore jungle caves and remote mountain villages.
4. Montenegro — 2006
Montenegro became a free state in May 2006 after 55 percent of the population voted for independence, officially breaking the nation’s unification with Serbia. (The country had previously been called Serbia and Montenegro and then the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.)
The EU brokered the deal in order to stabilize the region and prevent further changes to borders in the Balkans. The agreement subsequently created Serbia as a sovereign state, as well.
Today, Montenegro is a rising destination for tourists. Blanketed with thick forest and crisscrossed by mountain ranges, it is one of the most striking countries in the world. It also borders the Adriatic Sea, making for stunning seaside scenery, and features the Tara River canyon, the deepest and longest in Europe.
Cultural attractions include Njegoš Mausoleum, the magnificent, mountaintop resting place of former Prince-Bishop Petar II Petrovic-Njegoš. Explore the site after taking in the natural wonder of Lovcen National Park, where the mausoleum is located.
3. Serbia — 2006
After Montenegro voted for independence, Serbia also became a standalone sovereign state.
The country's relations with Kosovo (read on!) have been fraught, but it's also embraced some progressive policies, and even endorsed the country's first female and first openly gay prime minister in 2017.
While Montenegro comes with a Level 1 travel advisory, Serbia is listed at Level 2, meaning travelers should exercise increased caution when visiting.
Though safety is somewhat a concern, though, Serbia definitely has its charms. A surprisingly robust assortment of wineries offer tours and tastings, while the city of Belgrade is a nightlife hotspot.
2. Kosovo — 2008
Although it officially declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo’s history dates back centuries. The nation was part of many of the world's great empires: Roman, Byzantine, Serbian and Ottoman.
Serbia acquired Kosovo in 1912 after the First Balkan War. In the 1980s, heightened Albanian nationalism led Serbia to revoke the autonomous status of Kosovo, which led Kosovar Albanians to declare independence in 1991.
At the end of the 1990s, Serbians waged a war of genocide against ethnic Albanians, prompting NATO interference in 1999. Kosovo became a country in 2008, though today Serbia and 43 percent of the United Nations do not recognize it as its own nation. The United States does recognize its independence.
Europe's newest country is noted for its picturesque mountain towns, hiking and 13th-century monasteries painted with medieval art. Despite its recent traumatic past, travel to Kosovo today is perfectly safe.
In fact, because of its history, it remains one of the last under-the-radar destinations in Europe. Go now before people catch on.
1. South Sudan — 2011
Finally, that brings us to the world's newest country — The Republic of South Sudan.
The nation actually initially gained its independence in 1956, when it was granted autonomy from the countries that had been co-ruling it, England and Egypt. But the newly established state immediately suffered through a bloody war when the Muslim north clashed with the Christian south.
A peace agreement reached in 2005 stated that after six years of autonomy, the south would vote in a referendum. An overwhelming 98 percent voted to become a newly independent state in 2011.
Visiting South Sudan
The violent and bloody emancipation of South Sudan has rendered it one of the poorest and least developed nations on the planet. It is one of the most unstable places in the world, so the State Department advises against all travel for now.
When the country does become safe, visitors will surely enjoy its spectacular national parks, where animals including leopards, elephants, cheetahs and lions roam.