Sustainable travel comes in many forms, from choosing a lower carbon flight or carbon offsetting, to opting for a travel destination that doesn’t suffer from overtourism (when too many tourists overwhelm local infrastructure and make it difficult for residents to live a normal life).
For your next European vacation, you can spend your time and money in a way that can have a positive impact on the planet. Instead of going all out in Paris or Amsterdam, consider adding one of these five sustainable cities to your itinerary.
While visiting these destinations, support their efforts to be more earth friendly by using only public transport, booking locally run tours and using your dollars to do good.
For Foodies: Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen (pictured above) is famous among European capitals for good reason. It tops sustainability lists thanks to its strong work-life balance and incredible seasonal food.
Spend time in the city’s 12 parks and don’t miss swimming in the harbor – the water’s lovely and clean. Copenhagen is one of the world’s best cities to explore by bikes, so be brave and get on two wheels!
Eco luxury has a new home in Copenhagen at the Bali-inspired Guldsmeden Manon Les Suites, a five-star hotel with a courtyard pool surrounded by lush green walls.
For History Lovers: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Go off the beaten track to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. Thanks to its slow tourism approach, this charmingly compact capital is packed with history but plenty of green space, too. A former European Green Capital, Ljubljana’s cobbled city center is car free, while forests and parks like Tivoli offer visitors hiking within the city limits.
Use the city’s river and head out for a standup paddleboarding tour under its beautiful bridges, which date back centuries, or hop on an electric train for a city-wide tour. Much of Ljubljana was landscaped for people to enjoy on foot, with stunning riverbanks and pretty views woven throughout the city.
Ljubljana is a diamond in the rough for anyone who wants to explore beyond France, Spain and Germany. Book a room at B&B Hotel Ljubljana Park, a four-star hotel that maintains beehives on its roof.
For Nature Lovers: Oslo, Norway
Norway’s capital is one of the five most sustainable cities in the world – and it aims to be a world leader in carbon neutrality.
If you’re looking for a place that’s green and clean and where you can spend a lot of time outside, Oslo fits the bill. Over half the city is made up of parks and forest and it’s easy to explore via bikes, e-bikes and electric ferries. And Oslo is strung across 40 islands, meaning you’re never far from pristine water to swim, sail or just enjoy strolling beside.
Nature lovers will appreciate the easy-access hiking routes surrounding the city. Try Maridalsvannet for dense forest at the water’s edge.
Thon Hotel Terminus is an eco-friendly, colorful hotel close to the train station that serves up incredible Norwegian breakfasts. For organic and locally grown food, book the local institution Cafe Elias or Nordvegan for vegan dishes by Michelin-starred chef Reuben Waller.
For Connected Visitors: Tallinn, Estonia
Crowned the European Green Capital for 2023, Estonia’s capital Tallinn is one of the most exciting and vibrant cities for a vacation. Sandwiched between Latvia and Lithuania to the south and Finland over the water to the north, Tallinn sits on the edge of the Gulf of Finland and makes the most of its location, with surfing, swimming and sailing on offer.
While its architecture is charmingly medieval, Tallinn has a modern approach to urban living, introducing free city-wide Wi-Fi, digital nomad visas and paper-free museum and travel tickets.
Check out the Estonian Open Air Museum to learn more about how people lived in the past (aka, a more sustainable way), explore the entire seaside city on foot (because it’s that small) or head to the Telliskivi Creative City, a reclaimed factory which houses artists, shops and restaurants.
For Families: Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich often appears on the most sustainable indexes and it’s no surprise. It is far more than a financial center, it’s a shining example of what cities can be – sustainable, green and charming. Spend an afternoon by the lake; the city has lidos galore, islands to explore and cruises and kayaks to hire. Or dive down ancient streets in the Old Town, stopping for insanely good hot chocolate at Confiserie Sprüngli.
Zurich’s cuisine is not all cheese and meat either, the city is home to the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant Haus Hiltl and The Artisan, which grows its ingredients in a community garden. Stay at the Widder Hotel for Swiss sustainable luxury.
AAA’s sustainable travel series is written in partnership with Kind Traveler, a women-and-veteran-owned sustainable travel platform empowering travelers to make a positive impact in local communities, and contributing writer, Georgina Wilson-Powell.