The Coolest-Looking Flags Around the World

Now with new flags for Flag Day 2021

Flags. Seems like everywhere’s got one these days.

Ever since I started pledging allegiance to one, I’ve found the concept of flags, what they symbolize, and how that’s translated into a neat, usually 3'x5' colorful piece of cloth, fascinating.

The first flags to let fly in the modern sense (aka on cloth representing something people are obsessed with) are cited as being from India or China in 1000–250 BCE. That’s a pretty wide range, like those American flags you see flown in Texas, and the reason for that is partially because cloth doesn’t exactly last long, and also, vexillology — the study of flags — has only been a thing since 1961.

So let me just say: I’m even more of an amateur than that. But starting this Flag Day, I’m using this post as a means of definitively* ranking the coolest-looking (contemporary) flags around the world until there aren’t any left. See you next year, and until I’m dead.

And, uh, if it doesn’t go without saying, how cool a country’s flag is doesn’t mean its policies are.

*subjectively

North Macedonia

Hoo boy, there’s quite a bit of history with this cool ass flag. There’s this ancient symbol called the Vergina Sun, which was used by the ancient Greeks as well as Macedon’s ancient kings. So naturally when Macedonia broke free of the USSR in 1991, the newly independent country adopted a red flag adorned with a yellow Vergina Sun in the center. However, its neighbor Greece considers the sun to be a distinctly Greek symbol, and promptly dropped an economic embargo on ’em. It worked, and in 1995 the current flag — an eight-rayed sun representing the “new sun of Liberty” from North Macedonia’s national anthem — was adopted. Oh, and of course the reason the country is now known as “North” Macedonia is because Greece wouldn’t let Macedonia join the EU unless they changed it, as “Macedonia” is also a region in Greece and they kind of think it’s their thing too.

Bonaire

Bonaire is part of the jauntily named “ABC islands,” joined with its sister Dutch-controlled islands Aruba and Curaçao. One of the southern-most islands in the Caribbean, the dark blue naturally symbolizes the sea, the yellow the sun, and the sky is the white in-between. The inclusion of red in the middle of the compass is to show its Dutch connection, while the four points on the compass surrounding it represent that its people come from the four corners of the world. Whitney Smith, an actual vexillologist and not an aspirational one like your host, helped design it!

Mongolia

Any good vexillologist knows that incorporating an emblem or a crest onto a flag is like, boss level stuff. Regardless of the power of its significance, it’s not easy to get one of them on there without throwing off the whole thing. With the complementary yellow on a dark red though, the Mongolian flag pulls it off. The emblem here is the Soyombo, a national symbol representing fire, sun, moon, earth, water, yin and yang (so perhaps it’s no coincidence the flag feels balanced after all). This is laid over a red stripe, meaning “striving for eternity,” and the blue in the middle is the “eternal blue sky” of Tengri, a name for a deity among early Mongols.

Marshall Islands

Like the flag of Newfoundland & Labrador further down this list, the flag of the Marshall Islands looks like something straight out of a scifi flick — the kind of ensign you’d expect to see emblazoned on the side of a star fleet. It made its debut back when the islands achieved independence from the US in 1979, and was designed by the first First Lady Emlain Kabua. In an alternate reality, the flag might represent a spaceship engaging FTL travel and blasting through the stars, but here on Earth the diagonal band symbolizes the equator, whose white bar is sunrise and orange, sunset; the 24 points on the star in the left being the Marshall Islands’ electoral districts, and its four longer points the islands’ largest cities. Fun fact: this is the national flag with the most points on a star (read: at least they’re winning that space race).

Gibraltar

We got another exception to the rule, at least imo, of a flag with an emblem just absolutely owning it. The flag of Gibraltar features its coat of arms, which was granted by Queen Isabella I of Castile from 1502, despite that the Rock has been held by the British since 1704. Though it’s referred to as a “castle,” the design is actually based on the fortress of Gibraltar, and that the British Overseas Territory was once referred to as the “key to Spain” by the Moors, and the British called it the “key to the Mediterranean,” which has proved true. Since they captured it in 1704 — which required a fleet of 63 warships and 11 preceding sieges — it has never been lost since.

Rwanda

The Rwandan flag has an interesting history, where the previous red-yellow-green tricolor version was identical to Guinea’s flag, so they just slapped a big bold “R” in the middle of it to differentiate it. But in 2001 they did away with it all together, and designed a more distinctive flag that you see here. The green, or the foundation of it all, symbolizes “the hope of prosperity”; the yellow, economic development; the blue, happiness and peace; and the sun, enlightenment. Now that’s an improvement.

Papua New Guinea

PNG’s flag looks both authoritative and festive, a rare feat. It shares the inclusion of the Southern Cross with its South Pacific neighbors Australia and New Zealand, and on the other side we have the Raggiana bird-of-paradise, which is the country’s national bird and also quite a beauty. Then, its primary colors red and black are popular among many PNG tribes (and coincidentally, were part of the German Empire’s flag’s colors, its colonial possessor until 1918). It’s also a 3:4 ratio, making it one of only a handful of national flags that isn’t 1:2.

Sierra Leone

The flag of Sierra Leone, a country the British referred to as the “Province of Freedom” because they released freed African-American slaves there—but like they also kept it was a colony until 1961, so I’m not so sure about that spin they were trying to pull. When it achieved independence, Sierra Leoneans adopted a tricolor flag where the bright green evokes the country’s agriculture and forested mountains; the white symbolizes “unity and justice”; and the blue is for the natural harbor that its capital Freetown surrounds, as well as the hope of achieving world peace.

Solomon Islands

Are you starting to notice that flags in the South Pacific has some pretty fun designs? We’re back there again with the Solomon Islands. This is just a clean-looking flag with some eye-popping colors, with each holding multiple meanings. The blue is not only for the Pacific Ocean surrounding the islands, but also their many rivers and plentiful rainfall. The green is the land, in homage to the sustenance it provides, and the yellow for the rays of sun that shine upon this tropical paradise. Because if you got it, flaunt it.

Tanzania

Despite its simple and clean design, Tanzania’s flag has a surprising amount of symbolism. Like many other flags on this list, the bright green stands for the country’s agricultural resources, while the blue represents the Indian Ocean, which it borders. The black symbolizes the Swahili people, native to Tanzania, Then, much like an ore vein itself, the yellow — though there’s some debate that it’s actually gold — lines represent the country’s vast mineral deposits. (Personally, I’d go for “gold” being the right color then.)

Wales

In 2019 I featured Bhutan’s flag as one of only two national flags bold enough to feature dragons on them, and this year we certainly have to talk about Baner Cymru. The Red Dragon traces its origins to 655 (good year), adopted by King Cadwaladr, a figure whose history is legend: he is said to be the last with ancient ties to the title “King of Britain.” He is mythologized by Y Ddraig Goch, “the red dragon” representing the Britons, who was prophesied by Merlin (yes, that Merlin) would one day wrestle its way free from grip of the white dragon, or the Saxons who invaded Great Britain hundreds of years ago. Aside from the fact that dragons themselves are badass, the origins of this flag involve the legend of King Arthur, so like, this is obviously one of the coolest out there. The once and future flag.

South Korea

There’s something calming about South Korea’s flag. Red and blue can be harsh, but the muted tones chosen here just vibe. The “trigrams” (which look like pallets) surrounding the central circle, too, look protective — anchoring the sea of white. And that’s no mistake, of course: the white color represents peace and purity; the circle is balance; each trigram is an element representing movement and harmony. It’s all vibing, man.

Malawi

Malawi, in Southeastern Africa, adopted its flag on 6 July 1964 to symbolize its independence from the United Kingdom as well as the broader independence movement across the continent. The sun up top represents the dawn of that new era; its 31 rays for Malawi being the 31st state freed from European rule; the black represents the indigenous people; the red their blood spilled fighting for freedom; the green its natural bounty. It’s rare to find a flag that conveys a deep history in only three colors and shapes.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s flag is simple and elegant. With two of the most classic flag colors, white and red, the five triangles formed by their jagged lines symbolize the five pillars of Islam. They also remind me of those serrated scissors I used to get to mess around with in elementary school, and those were fun as hell.

Isle of Man

Three disembodied legs arranged in a triskelion over a deep blood red, now may I say again: simple and elegant? Perhaps less elegant and more fucking awesome. Anyway the legs as a triskelion — a cool new word we both just learned, which is any three same things arranged in a symmetrical fashion — is a thing the ancient Greeks invented (classic) and nobody knows why it was chosen for the flag of the Isle of Man. Seems like they just have a good sense of what’s rad and what isn’t.

Slovakia

All right so, you’re probably asking, “Hey Josh, when so many Slavic states use this tricolor combo, why feature Slovakia first?” It’s a question I’ve got before and surely will again. The reason is that Slovakia really put in the time on this sleek banner of national unity. Following independence in 1990, they had a painter and expert in heraldry, Ladislav Čisárik, create a new coat of arms, and boy, did he. The crest is just the right size — not too small, not too big, just to the left — it’s not just a cross but a DOUBLE cross for even more faith, and then you got the white/blue/red combo, which is a tried-and-true deal.

India

Being one of the countries where modern flag design is thought to originate, it’s no surprise India has a beautiful flag. The Indian Tricolour is another one of these flags that nails the three-color scheme and tells a storied history through its symbols. The central “spinning wheel” was originally proposed by Gandhi in 1921, whose goal was to make Indians self-reliant; to spin cloth for themselves. Then, the saffron represents “courage and sacrifice,” the white “peace and truth,” and the green “faith and chivalry.” 26 years later, when India did achieve independence, the central symbol was replaced by the venerable Ashoka Chakra for the rule of law. And it rules.

Greenland

We covered Denmark’s Dannebrog in 2019 and now we have to talk about Erfalasorput, or “our flag” in Greenlandic. The Danes just know how to make a classy flag, what can I say. After Greenland won home rule in 1978, it took them a good ten years to come to a consensus on a flag design — many folks wanting a Nordic cross to be involved — but I think we can all agree: the wait was worth it. The white on the top is its glaciers, while the red is the ocean around them. Most agree the circle’s top is the sun, with the bottom white half being its reflection onto the sea, but some say the circle is the top and submerged bottom of an iceberg — an image that also would have been useful for another inhabitant of the North Atlantic: the captain of the Titanic.

Uzbekistan

One thing I’ll say is that I’m a sucker for a sassy bright shade of a classic color. The Uzbek flag’s colors just look… good together. Especially with the red drawing your eye to the center, whose white line symbolizes peace and the Zoroastrianism religion — dominant there before Islam, which is referenced in the top left (the “canton,” or the upper-most corner of a flag from where it’s hoisted). The 12 stars spell “Allah” when connected. The red is a symbol of life, the green nature, and the blue, sky blue sky baby.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has had many flags in its complicated history, but it finished with its best and hopefully, last. The red field is the same red on the Chinese flag, and was originally adopted in 1990, seven years before it was officially hoisted at the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. Its design shows solidarity with China and its “one country, two systems” policy, and with the central five-petal flower to show off the iconic Hong Kong orchid tree. It is now rightfully being used by Hongkongers fighting for democratic reforms.

Trinidad and Tobago

You don’t really need me to tell you that this flag is clean. Although only adopted at independence in 1962, this flag design and color scheme is timeless. Red, white, and black are powerful on their own and really pop when together, and here they respectively symbolize courage, dedication, and equality, which are also dope things.

Kiribati

One definition of being “cool” is being “chill.” Kiribati’s flag falls into the latter category because everything on it is chill as hell. Adapted from the former flag of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands, they basically just got rid of the Union Jack and made the sun, waves, and bird bigger because hey, that’s just a solid marketing campaign for some islands in the South Pacific.

Barbados

If Atlantis were real (read: and not currently underneath the Atlantic), you know this would be its flag. It’s simple, it’s elegant, it’s got a freaking trident on it. Poseidon himself certainly would’ve flown this bad boy.

Denmark

The Dannebrog, aside from sounding like something you valiantly slay in a cursed forest, is also supposedly the “oldest national flag still in use.” But the main thing for me here is that it inspired all the other Scandinavian flags, from Iceland to Finland, and all of those are slick too. So what I’m saying is that it’s like the Apple logo of flag design.

United Kingdom

The Union Jack was kinda crap until Great Britain’s union with Ireland in 1801. Sure, the original union flag of 1606 was all right, but that red diagonal Cross of St. Patrick really steps it up a notch. When you think of a complex but aesthetically pleasing flag, this is where you should start. (I mean, come on, it’s still featured on 19 other national flags — and don’t even get me STARTED on provinces.)

Albania

This reference is a little Byzantine of them, but since the 15th century Albanians have used the Byzantine eagle as a symbol of rebellion. When they finally gained independence from the Ottomans in 1912 they decided to stick with that because it’s one bird you clearly don’t wanna mess with (second only to that owl in Ocarina of Time).

Newfoundland & Labrador

I mean, what the fuck? Have you ever even heard of this? It’s the most eastern of the Canadian provinces, basically a bunch of islands and a bit of the landmass above Quebec and somehow it got this badass flag that looks like a weapon straight outta Star Wars.

Bhutan

One of only two national flags with a dragon on it, I gotta give the “coolest” award to the flag of Bhutan. The Welsh flag is pretty sweet as well, but Bhutan’s has got the Thunder Dragon on there. Like Buddhist monks back in the 12th century, I understand that you don’t fuck with something that has “Thunder” included in its name. So I’m not about to start doing that now.

Dominica

“First” discovered by the Spanish, colonized by the French, and passed onto the Brits, after all that these guys rightfully were just like “Fuck it, let’s drop a ref to the verdant landscape and the parishes and shit, then just put a bird on it and call it a day.” And that’s a good birb.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s flag might look like it’s all about unity, with the rainbow and trees and all that, but it’s also clearly confirming the existence of the Illuminati. And what’s that taking the place of the pyramid’s eye? It’s an outline of Nicaragua itself. So I’m gonna go ahead and put this one on here in case they’re watching me.

Seychelles

First of all, good name for a country. Second of all, this flag looks sick while symbolizing a lot of good stuff: the ocean and sky, the sun, the people, unity and love, and the earth. It leaves you thinking, “Say — chill flag, that is.”

Uruguay

Had a bad day? Boss won’t get off your ass? The ol’ ball and chain won’t let you have a night out with the boys? Just take a look at Uruguay’s flag. Take it all in. Think about what the sun would look like if he had sunglasses on. Everything will be just fine, dude.

Sint Eustatius

Nothing much to say here, it’s just a good-lookin’ flag. That’s the island right there in the middle, see it? It’s part of the Netherlands, formerly the Antilles. Just thinking about it makes me wanna go there. Man, I need a vacation.

Happy Flag Day. Check in next year for another dozen or so flags, and an updated ranking.

Podcasts & politics. Just trying to make a living.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store