Eco-Friendly Destinations in Europe

With the significant increase in sustainable building practices and green policies, cities across the globe have been rising to the environmental challenges of the twenty-first century. Furthermore, as green travel is more and more appealing to tourists, popular tourist destinations are striving to attract those environmentally responsible travelers by improving their international green credentials. For those in search of eco-friendly destinations in Europe, this list is a good place to start.

In order to be considered an eco-friendly or green city, urban areas must meet a number of requirements. In addition to encouraging green architecture and other sustainable construction practices, it’s also important to adopt green policies geared towards increasing recycling, reducing energy usage and waste, and investing in alternative energy sources. On a human level, green cities have high percentages of commuters who bike or walk, a significant number of citizens with access to farmers markets and organic and/or locally grown food, and lots of greenspaces like parks or botanical gardens.

This list has been compiled from a number of sources, including the prestigious European Green Capital Awards.

Essen, Germany

Winner of the 2017 European Green Capital Award, Essen is working to overcome a heavily industrial past to transform itself into a green city for the future. There are citywide initiatives encouraging green building, most prominently represented by Krupp Park, formerly the very industrial area known as the Krupp Belt. They also embrace policies to reduce their carbon footprint and to minimize waste across the board, developing new and improved wastewater treatment systems, ways to improve air quality, and methods to increase energy efficiency. Their greenspaces are more than just parks, too – they actively conduct research into promoting and protecting biodiversity in urban spaces.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

This popular tourist destination consistently ranks highly on compilations of green destinations and has been an environmental pioneer in Europe. Their adoption of creative energy management policies and projects over the last few years have resulted in some important developments like power hookups for electric cars, widespread solar power usage, and even households that employ wind turbines for power. They also have the ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 40% in the next few years! As you might expect, Amsterdam also ranks highly when it comes to things like local fare and organic food. Residents also prefer biking or walking to driving, making cycling far and away the most popular mode of transportation.

Malmö, Sweden

Narrowly beating out the capitol of Stockholm on many green lists, Malmö is pretty impressive on a global scale when it comes to sustainable practices. It boasts the world’s third-largest wind farm, for starters! This Swedish city also has an impressively large development with exclusively green structures on the western harbor, with buildings that utilize wind energy, solar power, and water reclamation in a 100% renewable energy area. They’ve also got an extensive network of cycling and walking paths, plus a large system of greenspaces, so the residents can enjoy greenspaces at home and out on the town.

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg continues to make a strong showing among eco-friendly cities after winning the 2011 European Green Capital Award. They’re home to a wide variety of public parks and gardens, including everything from riverfront beaches to stretches of woodland. Popular green tourist activities include cycling, boating, and jogging or walking. Their dedication to a “green vision” has also resulted in progressive energy policies that aim for massive reductions in C02 emissions by 2020 and even more substantial reductions (up to 80%) by 2050.

Zurich, Switzerland

You might expect a winner from this gorgeous country with vast swathes of natural beauty. In fact, Zurich makes pretty much every green list because of their significant dedication to eco-friendly policies both by the city and its residents – there are even individual C02 emission limits! They’re also working to develop renewable energy sources with wide applications and have begun to implement progressive waste management programs. Zurich boasts plenty of eco-friendly activities for the adventurous tourist, from hiking and skiing the Alps to boat trips and woodland strolls. They even have bicycle-only zones!

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest not only puts forth extensive green policies designed to improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, and increase the use of renewable energy, they also work to bring green awareness to the community. Fun eco-friendly activities organized around Earth Day (like the 2009 Eco Costume Fashion Show, among many others) are popular in the city, as are recycling initiatives, cycling events, and more. Visitors to this popular Hungarian destination will be delighted to know that hotels across the city are adopting sustainable practices, including popular hostels. Add that to frequent farmers markets, the availability of bike rentals, and many parks, you’ve got one green city.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Frequent geothermal activity in the Reykjavik region provides a significant source of the city’s power, rendering it one of the most energy-efficient European cities across the board. Their goal of making the entire city fossil-fuel-free by 2050 is ambitious but on track, as they consistently promote policies and regulations designed to reduce detrimental impacts on the environment. They’ve even got hydrogen buses in lieu of traditional fossil-fuel burning vehicles. Iceland’s largest city also has also reduced pollution and improved air quality over the last several years.  Cycling and walking replace cars as the most popular forms of transportation, too.

Riga, Latvia

Latvia as a country has made significant strides in reducing carbon emissions, in no small part because of their natural peat bogs and forests that work to convert C02. Of course, it helps that they have the lowest carbon emissions in the EU, too. There is also a diversity of outdoorsy activities to enjoy, from lounging on beaches to hiking bountiful jungles. Boating, camping, biking, and bird watching are among other popular options. The Gauja National Park is a particular favorite among visitors. This Baltic country is only becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Often ranked as one of the world’s best places to live, Copenhagen is a massive city with massive green aspirations. They’ve got a substantial wind farm to power public buildings and ambitious green goals like the aim for carbon neutrality by 2025. They’ve also got a large collection of local companies that devote themselves to environmentally friendly practices, known as the Cleantech Cluster. And of course, tourists have plenty of opportunities to partake in green activities, from swimming and biking to enjoying the world’s first carbon-neutral theme park, Tivoli Gardens. You’ll also find eco-friendly produce and even eco-fashion lines here.

Nantes, France

Nantes has a lot to offer their residents and to visitors when it comes to green living. Many parks and gardens dot the city, and the urban areas are well maintained to reduce pollution and waste. Electric trams and bicycles are the most frequently used forms of transit, although many people in the city center walk as well. The result of such prominent green transportation means that their carbon emissions are quite low compared to similar cities, and their goals for carbon neutrality are well on track. Nantes also boasts a beautiful botanical garden with plants from around the world that brings the beauty of nature into urban spaces.

Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

This Spanish city won the European Green Capital Award in 2012, and has remained at the forefront of green development. The city is characterized by a unique structure that makes green living easy – the city center is surrounded by two wider concentric circles of greenspace. Their beautiful “Green Belt” is a park area made from partially reclaimed urban areas and some natural greenspace, and it entirely surrounds the city center. The third circle is predominantly woodland and mountains, offering even more natural options for locals and visitors to explore. One of their biggest sustainable policies has to do with reducing water consumption and waste, although they also work to reduce carbon emissions and explore alternative energy sources.