There are between 165-270 countries in the world depending on how one defines the word “country.” The United Nations recognizes 190 undisputed “sovereign countries.” In other words, the U.N. congregates agree that there are 190 entities with no claims by other countries challenging that sovereignty (sovereignty is a fancy way of saying “you’re not the boss of me”). There are an additional 16 states whose sovereignty is disputed. Some of the disputes are silly, like Pakistan disputing the independence of Armenia – what the hell? The reason for the dispute is friendly support by Pakistan for Azerbaijan, who has been in conflict with Armenia over territory and the results of war, even though Azerbaijan itself doesn’t dispute Armenia’s independence. The most famous disputes are Taiwan vs. Republic of China and Israel vs. Palestine. The funniest (or saddest) one is North Korea and South Korea because they both claim each other.
Anyway, we’re really loose with our criteria. We scoured through flags of sovereign countries, autonomous states, partially self-governed territories, and even dependencies. Why? Because some of the best flags are hidden in that mess. Anyway, here is a list of the Top 20 Most Interesting Flags of the World.
20. Marshall Islands
The flag looks more like a product brand than a flag. The big sun with all the sharp rays kind of catches the eye. Marshall Islands is a Trust Territory of the United States and calls the southwest Pacific Ocean its home. The territory is made up over 1,100 islands and it’s located about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. It’s also famous for being the home of U.S. nuclear bomb testing. Death by radiation was not uncommon.
Territory Population: 68,000
19. Christmas Island
Christmas Island makes the list partially because its flag has a cool looking Golden Bosun bird on it. Just looks pretty. But the real fun comes in the fact that the island’s shape shown in the center of the flag looks like a bikini bottom. We deducted a point and dropped Christmas Island’s flag lower on this list since the Australian territory’s name was based on the fact that an explorer passed it on Christmas Day in 1643 and dubbed it accordingly. Lazy. And that’s even lazy for us. It’s located to the northwest of Australia and just south of Indonesia.
Territory Population: 2,072
This country’s flag is simple but its square shape sets it apart from the typically rectangular flags of other nations. The red cross symbol is found on the Victorinox knifes we carried around as Scouts. Not sure why that’s particularly important, but there you go. You’re welcome. Switzerland is also home to holey cheese (not to be confused with the holy cheese housed in Vatican City), pretty nurses, wooden clocks, Alpine horns (see Asterix in Switzerland), craggy mountains, discreet banks, and avoiding getting involved in wars. Switzerland is located in Europe in the area between Germany, France, and Italy. Update: We forgot to mention that Switzerland is also famous for chocolate. Duh! What’s wrong with us?! That’s like making a list of objects in the Solar System and forgetting to list the Sun! Geez.
Country Population: 8,000,000
17. South Korea
The flag looks kinda like a biplane’s exposed piston engine. And you know how much we like biplanes. South Korea is famous for not being North Korea. Whereas the North has typically been run by lunatics, the South has been run, until recently anyway, by corruption and small, lightweight automobiles. The South Koreans also produce a lot of twisted movies. Try Oldboy or I Saw the Devil on for size. South Korea juts out from the Chinese mainland and is southwest of Japan.
Country Population: 50,004,441
A parrot on a festive flag gives Dominica a placer on our list. The Sisserou Parrot is a huge beautiful bird native to the former colony of the United Kingdom and is located in the Caribbean. By the way, Dominica has nothing to do with Dominican Republic, a larger nation also located in the area. Dominica is in an area called the Antilles which is at the outer eastern edge of the Sea heading into the Atlantic Ocean.
Country Population: 72,660
Like a lot of the flags on the African continent, Zimbabwe’s flag carries multiple colors that signify agriculture (green), minerals (yellow), bloodshed (of course, this is Africa after all) (red), and heritage (black). The bird on the flag is a soapstone statuette representing the heyday of the magnificent ancient city of Great Zimbabwe (go read about it on Wikipedia). The Marxist star represents misguided revolutionary efforts to make a go at the real world after years of colonial repression. Instead of democracy, however, the country ended up with one of the worst tyrants in modern history (hello Robert “Hitler was too soft” Mugabe). As Roger Daltrey sings “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Country Population: 12,619,600
We just like it because of the hands. There aren’t too many flags with human body parts on them, so hurrah for the Bruneians. The hands symbolize the benevolence of the Sultanate’s Islamic government which actually means it’s backwards on things like women’s rights and religious tolerance. Surprise. Also, the flag has a fancy umbrella (sorry, “parisol”). Brunei is located in the South China Sea in an area carved out of Malaysia.
Country Population: 408,786
Big. Red. Dot. Simple and geometrically perfect. Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Reddish Sun … Japan is located east of China, the Koreas, and Russia. Japan is getting back to work on Monday at the same time as some parts of the United States are getting ready to go to church on Sunday. See, this is why we’re always running to catch up with Asia.
Country Population: 126,659,683
Hey, another sun flag, this time from a European country. We like the yellow rays on the red background. Just different. Macedonia is one of the countries that sprang forth after Yugoslavia blew up. It’s on the southern end of Europe. Incidentally, Greece and Macedonia both claim the name “Macedonia” as their own and this has been a source of contention between the two countries. Smells like another war opportunity.
Country Population: 2,058,539
Another colorful African flag with a bird. This time, the bird is a Grey Crowned Crane. The colors represent Africa (black), sunshine (yellow), and the blood of brotherhood (red). What is it with Africa and blood? Uganda is a landlocked country (meaning it has no shoreline to access an ocean or sea) and it’s located in the same vicinity as Kenya and Congo. Like much of Africa, Uganda has experienced its fair share of political and tribal violence. The AK-47 may not be on its flag like Mozambique (see below), but it might as well be.
Country Population: 35,873,253
Not one, not two, not three, but four snakes! It’s even cooler that they are vipers. The flag of this overseas region of France apparently isn’t really an official flag. So what. It merits attention anyway. Martinique is located in the Caribbean, just south of Dominica (see above).
Region Population: 403,795
9. Vatican City
This flag is rather bland, but it is interesting because, like Switzerland, it’s square. The keys really strike our fancy. They represent heavenly (gold) power and earthly (white) power. Ha! We just realized that we wrote that the key symbolizes white power. That’s controversial in a way, we suppose, although one doesn’t typically associate the Catholic Church with white supremacy … or does it, Herr Ratzinger? Vatican City is located in Rome, Italy and is an independent nation, technically, but relies on resources from outside its walls.
City-State Population: 836
8. United States
OK, this is where we are torn. We are Americans so naturally we have been enveloped by our flag so much more than other countries’ flags. So, with our bias we really aren’t sure if this flag should be higher or lower or even on this list. But the reason we think it deserves attention is that there is so much going on. 50 stars, 13 stripes. There’s a lot packed into Old Glory. The United States is located … do we really need to explain? And just so you don’t think we only pick on other countries, we acknowledge that our country is the only one to have used nuclear weapons against human beings in wartime. We also still execute people (the United States was the only country to do so in the entire Western Hemisphere in 2012). We hate communism but don’t mind tax subsidies for major private corporations. Many, if not most, of our citizens would be hard-pressed to identify the majority of the flags on this list (and lest we be charged with hypocrisy we admit that we could not identify in any way nine of the flags on this list until we started researching for this post). Ours is a country of massive contradictions. But, we have to openly and firmly admit that we love our country for all of the good that it represents to ourselves and hopefully to some of the other countries on our small globe.
Country Population: 315,706,000
The fact that one of the primary versions of the flag has so much black on it makes it unusual. A big sun with curved rays, sugar cane, and three fleurs-de-lis make it even more distinct. Like Martinique, Guadeloupe is a French region so the flag is unofficial. Guadeloupe is located in the Caribbean Sea north of Dominica and Martinique (see above).
Region Population: 405,500
Pretty much a perfect illustration of what one would think of when envisioning the traditional image of Africa — primitive weapons. Hey, don’t blame us for the stereotypes. Most of you thought the same thing. Swaziland is a landlocked country located mostly within South Africa and is bordered on the east by Mozambique. It’s a relatively small country and relies heavily on trade and economic aid from South Africa. Swaziland is run by a monarchy.
Country Population: 1,185,000
The emblems and colors are nothing special to look at, but the jarring triangular shapes are super interesting and make this an instantly recognizable flag. Nepal is a landlocked country (what is it with the flags of landlocked countries and small island nations?!) that is sandwiched between India and China. Well, not really China. Tibet is its north neighbor. But who are we to stir the political pot? Oh, hell. Here we go. Long live the Dalai Lama! Use your airbending skills against the Chinese Fire Nation! We love you. Sorry Nepal. We stole your thunder.
Country Population: 26,494,504
A dragon on rollerballs. Can you imagine? Actually, they’re jewels, but rollerballs sound cooler. Like Nepal, Bhutan is a landlocked (again) Asian country that has the misfortune of being surrounded by Tibet and India. We’d hate to be in the middle of that mess. Bhutan had its own nastiness to deal with, though. It was guilty of ethnic cleansing (without the wholesale murder like in the former Yugoslavian nations) by booting out hundreds of thousands of Nepalese Hindus in the name of their flavor of Buddhism. So much for peace and acceptance.
Country Population: 742,737
3. United Kingdom
The Union Jack. A significant number of the world’s flags have the crosses of the British empire on them. It’s that cool. Or it represents the UK’s conquering colonial reach. Either way, it’s a sweet design. Even if it isn’t the most interesting, it’s probably our favorite flag overall. Yeah, we’re Americans and we’re also Anglophiles. What of it?
Country Population: 63,181,775
2. British Indian Ocean Territory
Before you cry foul that we’ve double dipped, keep this in mind. The fact that the British crosses are on the flag is actually the smallest part of what makes this interesting. What really gets us are the wavy stripes. C’mon! They’re just too cool. Maybe we’re a bit jaded because we love the ocean so much. Anyway, can you imagine how crazy the flag looks when it’s fluttering in the breeze? Waves upon waves. It almost looks like a wild variant of the U.S. flag, huh? Top it off with the British royal crown and palm tree and the semi-official flag of this British territory has it all going on. The additional fact that it flies over an area with no formal population (it’s a military zone) and that the British and Americans booted out the native population and that it’s a disputed territory (Seychelles also lays claim) just makes it even more crazy.
Territory Population: 3,000 personnel
1. Saint Pierre and Miquelon
This was a hard one. We really, really like the British Indian Ocean Territory flag, but in the end we felt this one was more interesting. Since “interesting” is the operative word in the title of this list, interestingly enough, it belongs right here. Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a self-governing French territory (not a region like Martinique and Guadeloupe) that’s situated in the North Atlantic near Canada. What makes this flag the most interesting on the list is only partially because of the big yellow ship. As we said above, we may be jaded because we love the ocean, but we think that anyone would be drawn to this flag because of this unique artistic element. But it doesn’t end there. This flag has the flags of three other nations on it: Basque Country, Brittany, and Lower Normandy. How cool is that? And those other flags are interesting because …
- The Basque flag has a cool name (ikurrina). Its colors represent the Basque people (red), the famous oak tree of Guernica (green), and a cross to symbolize a fierce devotion to Catholicism (which is odd, since the Basques were originally and natively pagans until they were conquered by foreigners (Romans) that brought a foreign religion with them; we know the Basque people so we don’t understand how a fiercely independent nation now swears fierce fealty to the religion from faraway Palestine and Rome).
- The Breton flag also has an interesting name (Gwenn-ha-du). The black and white colors are unusual on a flag, and the shapes are ermine coats (i.e., fur from stoats, an animal that is part of the weasel family; this makes us sad, but, well, there it is).
- The Lower Norman flag: It is a provincial banner from a northern region of France and displays two leopards. Yes, leopards!
So, yeah. There you have it. And of course, what complicated list wouldn’t be complete without honorable mentions:
Isle of Man: watching three armored legs running around in a circle is mesmerizing. The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Dependency.
Dependency Population: 84,655
Albania: It just looks so sinister. And therefore, very interesting. Albania is a Balkan country located next to the former Yugoslavian countries and faces into the Mediterranean Sea.
Country Population: 2,821,977
Mozambique: We feel bad that we pick on Africa’s inability to stop the bloodshed and try peace for a change but … well, here we go again. This flag cracks us up in a sad way: A pile of items are stacked up on top of a Marxist star: a book, a hoe, and … an AK-47! With a bayonet fastened to it! What the hell did colonial and post-colonial countries do to Mozambique? And when will the mother effin gun manufacturers and dealers be brought to justice for choking the possibility of peace out of the continent? Yeah, never. You’re right. Hope dies. Mozambique is located along the southeastern shores of the African continent and faces into the Indian Ocean, although it’s blocked by Madagascar and a bunch of confused former zoo animals.
Country Population: 23,929,708
Turkmenistan: The intricate design of the carpets is fascinating. Turkmenistan was reborn out of the death of the U.S.S.R. It’s population is mostly Muslim although one can argue that they are also Niyazovists given their weird cult-like endearing feelings towards the former president/dictator. We won’t bother with the details here. Go read up on him somewhere else. He was nutty and cruel. Turkmenistan is located north of Iran and is surrounded by a bunch of other Stans to the east.
Country Population: 5,125,693
Ceuta: This flag of the autonomous Spanish city is actually fantastically interesting to us. We love the black and white gyronny (a shield design) behind the coat of arms. We considered putting this flag into the list but it really stretched the general criteria of showcasing flags of countries and territories. Vatican City is an autonomous city but a separate state as well, so it’s different. Ceuta is located on the tip of Africa at the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. We don’t understand why the Spanish bitch about Gibraltar when they claim this piece of Morocco across the Strait. And, of course, Morocco disputes this Spanish Acquisition (what? we thought that little play on words was funny).
City Population: 75,241
And, since we’re Americans, we’ll go ahead and highlight the most interesting State flag. Maryland’s flag is by far the coolest. It’s unique design is based on the coats of arms of a prominent family that founded Maryland.
State Population: 5,884,563
And for your final Bonus Round, here’s the word for the day.
Vexillology is the study of the history and usage of flags. So, if you made it all the way down here, consider yourself a Vexollologist Level One. Good job!