It’s a known fact that traveling by plane is bad for the environment. At the same time, traveling provides inspiration beyond imaginable, exposure to new cultures, different ways of doing things, makes us question the life we’re living at home and fills us with joy and memories. So surely there’s a balance to be found between spending our lives in airports and committing to never flying again. Reducing considerably plane travel and only flying when going abroad for a long period of time is one thing and offsetting while not the ideal solution it a step towards reducing the climate impacts of planes until eco-efficient fuel is discovered and allows us to travel guilt-free!
But what about choosing “eco” destinations? I’m not necessarily talking about places to stay, though it’s very important to choose an environmentally friendly hotel and B&B when possible; I’m talking about the destinations in themselves. Cities, regions, countries that have made a commitment to our planet and who are offering visitors enough eco-alternatives, greenery and preserved nature to be considered environmentally-friendly.
Shouldn’t we all aim for these kinds of destinations? Well if you’re planning on visiting the old continent soon, here’s a list of seven places in Europe that qualify perfectly and make great destinations for the conscious traveller!
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
The 2013 European Green Capital recipient is a biker’s dream and is regularly competing with Amsterdam for the title of “most cycle-friendly” city in the world. And with over 450 kilometers of bike lanes, it doesn’t surprise. Copenhagen’s goal is to reach carbon neutrality by 2025 (which would make it the first capital in the world if it achieves this). Plus, the city is full of highly rated vegetarian and vegan restaurants where food is often organic and if you need any more reasons, Denmark is home to the “Hygge” lifestyle!
2. Bristol, UK
Named European Green Capital in 2015, Bristol has some pretty strong credentials when it comes to the environment. The British city has achieved a zero waste to landfill status, has a bus that runs on poo (yes you read that correctly) and its inhabitants use less energy per household than any other city in the UK. The place is also known for its “alternative” vibe, meaning you can eat in restaurants that only use previously discarded ingredients, participate in a city council meeting about renewable energy or enjoy the street art that can be found throughout the city.
3. Barcelona, Spain
While this beach city and Catalan capital is known mostly known for its Ramblas, tapas bar and crazy nightlife, it’s also on the path to becoming a super green city! The local government has revealed plans to plant 235,000 new trees and create 54 new green spaces within the city which will enable reduction of CO2 emissions and protection of biodiversity. The city also sees regular beach clean ups and is home to the Posidonia Green Festival, an international eco festival of art, environment and sustainable development taking place in November. Finally, to make the city more viable than it is now, the council has passed a law to limit the number of beds on offer in an attempt to reduce the number of tourists visiting each year. So quick tip: If you’re planning on visiting, don’t hesitate to book way ahead so you’re in before they fill the yearly tourist quota!
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4. Ljubljana, Slovenia
As hard as its name is to pronounce, this city is very serious when it comes to the environment. Another European Green Capital award winner (this time in 2016), Ljubljana is known for its pedestrian-only downtown center, public green areas that make up a third of the city’s area, and for being the first capital in the EU to take part in the zero waste program which led to the achievement of reduction and recycling targets that surpassed the EU average. Finally, they declared a total of 1400 hectares as forest that is designed to become a CO2 sink. How cool is that?
5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
One of my personal favorites, Amsterdam is probably the queen of bikes with more bicycles than people. With over 450 km of bike lanes, peak hour looks very different than in most cities filled with cars. If you’re not into bikes – that’s okay too! There’s plenty of pedestrian areas throughout the cities and beautiful parks to rest after meandering around on foot. Around 43 percent of the waste is recycled and used to fuel the city’s bus network and last but not least Amsterdam is FULL of little vegan, organic cafes and local markets.
6. Oslo, Norway
Another Scandinavian city which shows just how dedicated they are to sustainability! Not only is Oslo stunning with its colorful houses and its canals, it’s also very committed to protecting its environment. Two-thirds of the city are protected areas and around half of the city is covered in greenery. Oslo also has one of the lowest carbon footprints of all the major cities probably thanks to efficient public transport and its inhabitants’ very green mindset. Which is helped when you’re surrounded by nature as beautiful as the Norwegian mountains, glaciers and waterfalls!
7. Azores Island, Portugal
This autonomous Portuguese archipelago made of nine volcanic islands is often called the “European Hawaî” for its beautiful landscape filled with stunning untouched nature. Whether you’re into hiking, diving, or pretty much any outdoor activity, or you love excellent food and wine, this is the place to go. At the moment, 37 percent of the electricity comes from renewables and the goal is to increase it significantly with new geothermal and solar plants being built.
The islands are covered with natural parks and UNESCO Biosphere reserves and over 24 marine species pass by the Azores during their migration including rays, blue whales, dolphins and sperm whales.
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What’s your next destination? Have you been to some of these places? What eco-criteria do you choose when you travel? Would love to know! Leave your recommendations and tips below!
Before embarking on your travel journey, make sure to check out these zero waste travel tips from popular zero waste experts. And one last thing, ‘eco travel’ isn’t ‘eco’ if you’re not offsetting your carbon so make sure you do! You can learn more about carbon offsetting here.
Heading to the United States? Make sure to check out our New York eco-friendly travel guide here. You’ll also find our San Francisco eco-friendly travel guide here and our Los Angeles one here.
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