Conserving our planet’s resources and spending our holidays as responsibly as possible is a top priority when choosing a travel destination. From green cities to mountain villages – here are 10 European destinations that are leading the way in terms of sustainability – with great outdoor activities around the corner.

Gothenburg in Sweden

Gothenburg in western Sweden, with its archipelago off the coast, has transformed itself from a dingy harbour town into one of the world’s most sustainable travel destinations. Whether kayaking in the archipelago or hiking along the Bohusleden or biking and swimming in the many surrounding nature reserves – Gothenburg offers countless outdoor activities right on the doorstep. Many hotels obtain their electricity from wind turbines. Single-use plastic has been completely banned from the city and the majority of waste is recycled. According to Euromonitor International’s Sustainable Travel Index 2023, Sweden is also the most sustainable travel destination in the world. This is due not least to the Swedish flight-shaming movement, which continues to have a positive impact – the number of domestic flights has fallen from 6.6 per cent of trips to 2.7 per cent.

Lahti in Finland

Lahti on the Finnish Lake District in the south of the country is the gateway to over 188,000 lakes. Covered 74 per cent by green forests and 11 per cent by water, the varied region around Lahti is ideal for water sports such as kayaking, canoeing and swimming, but also for hiking, trail running and mountain biking. In winter, there are over 100 kilometres of cross-country skiing trails. Lahti’s waterway connects Lake Päijänne, Finland’s second largest lake and the source of drinking water for the entire Helsinki region, with Lake Vesijärvi. The Salpausselkä mountains naturally filter and purify the drinking water. In 2021, Lahti, which is aiming for UNESCO status, became the first city in Finland to be recognised as a green capital for its climate-friendly strategies. These include the development of an app to help locals lead a carbon-neutral lifestyle by 2025.  Lahti’s residents are constantly encouraged to participate in sustainable urban development projects and free workplaces are available around the city in the middle of nature.

Icefishers outside of Lahti (Photo: Hert Niks)

Geilo in Norway

While Geilo in the south of the country is a winter sports paradise in the cold months, in the snow-free season the focus here is on paddling a SUP, kayak or canoe on the River Voss, canyoning at waterfalls and trekking in the surrounding mountain landscape. When hiking in Hallingskarvet National Park, it is not uncommon to encounter the Arctic fox between high cliffs. The Hardangervidda National Park with its many roaming reindeer herds is also a popular destination for mountain tours. Geilo was one of the first destinations in Norway to be recognised for its sustainable efforts back in 2016. With its tourism strategy Geilo 2030, the region wants to ensure that more responsible and sustainable developments are also guaranteed in the long term and create a balance between tourism offers, local value creation and environmental protection. Feedback from the local population is particularly important in this respect. Tourism has now also made Geilo an attractive place to live.

Tallinn in Estonia

Not far east of Tallinn, you can go hiking in Laheema National Park on countless trails between lush forests, moors, steep cliffs and sandy beaches. The Jägala waterfall, not far east of the city, is another excursion destination that is particularly dramatic in winter with its hanging icicles. Free diving, windsurfing and swimming in the sea are also popular activities in and around Tallinn. The endeavour to become a sustainable city has borne fruit in the Estonian metropolis: Tallinn has officially been the European Green Capital since 2023. One of the visions for 2035: all residents and tourists should be able to reach all infrastructure within 15 minutes using environmentally friendly modes of transport such as walking, running or cycling. Carbon neutrality is also to be achieved by then. Locals will also be able to get involved in ensuring biodiversity and help shape urban green spaces.

Grenoble in France

Whether hiking, biking, skiing or climbing – Grenoble is nestled in the middle of the French Alps between the rivers Isère, Drac and Romanch and is a green outdoor mecca. The national parks and mountain reserves Parc naturel régional du Vercors, Parc national des Écrins and Chartreuse Mountains are just outside the city gates and invite you to go on extended trekking tours in unspoilt wilderness. Grenoble is the European Green Capital and was the first municipality to present a climate plan, which includes the fight against pollution and a focus on sustainable urban development. Greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 50 per cent by 2030. Grenoble was already able to reduce its C02 emissions by 25 per cent between 2005 and 2016.

Valencia in Spain

Located in the Mediterranean climate on the south-east coast of Spain, Valencia is criss-crossed by a network of 200 kilometres of cycle paths to explore the city and surrounding area in an environmentally friendly way. You can also explore the two national parks on the outskirts of the city by bike: the Parque Natural de l’Albufera with its rich bird life and the Jardín del Turia nature park with its natural pools and a natural river bed, through which many wonderful hiking trails lead. Valencia has been recognised as the European Green Capital 2024 for its continuous improvement of the environment and quality of life of its inhabitants. Sustainable strategies, inclusion and the involvement of the local population in development are important milestones here. 500 hectares of green spaces are located here – including a 120 square kilometre area with farms whose yields supply local markets and restaurants. Valencia was the first city in the world to measure its carbon footprint and water consumption in tourism. It wants to become a completely climate-neutral destination by 2025. Among other things, 100 per cent of its electricity is to be generated from renewable energy sources.

Geneva in Switzerland

Geneva is located between the Alps and the Jura mountains with a view of the spectacular Mont Blanc. Hiking or skiing in Chamonix and on Mont Blanc are popular outdoor adventures in the surrounding area. Both the expansive Lake Geneva and the River Rhone are ideal for swimming. Geneva was the first canton in Switzerland to pass a public law on sustainable development. A large number of targets relating to waste management and energy management have been implemented.  The canton also fulfils the highest environmental protection requirements in agriculture and numerous innovative projects are currently underway in the areas of air quality, renewable energies, social affairs, equality and diversity. Since 2020, the public areas of the city of Geneva have been free of single-use plastic. The canton’s CO2 emissions will be reduced by 70,000 tonnes per year by 2025. Geneva obtains 80 per cent of its drinking water requirements from Lake Geneva and 20 per cent from the groundwater table. Today, lake water is also used to cool and heat buildings. Switzerland’s second-largest solar power plant with 15,000 solar cells is located on the congress centre in Geneva. Tourists in Geneva can also use public transport free of charge.

Seefeld in Tirol in Austria

The Seefeld region is Tyrol’s high plateau and borders directly on the Karwendel Nature Park. Sure-footed outdoor adventurers can let off steam here on 245 kilometres of cross-country ski trails and 142 kilometres of winter hiking trails. In summer, there are extensive hiking and trekking tours as well as via ferratas. The destination is also ideal for mountain biking. Seefeld in Tirol was the first destination in Austria to be awarded the eco-label for tourism destinations in 2023. The focus here is on efforts to implement far-reaching climate protection measures, promote the protection and conservation of biodiversity and preserve the region’s unspoilt nature for future generations. Seefeld in Tirol is guided by the sustainability goals of the United Nations’ Agenda 2030. A section of forest was reforested as a “climate-fit” mountain forest to increase biodiversity: The “Genuinely Sustainable” project encourages tourism companies in the region to implement ecological and social improvement processes. The energy is to be generated from 100 per cent genuine green electricity such as photovoltaics, wind power or hydropower. The wildlife-rich high plateau also supplies high-quality meat with the lowest CO2 footprint. Restaurants are encouraged to serve local fish and, above all, vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Kerry in Ireland

County Kerry, with its dramatic rugged coastline and many picturesque peninsulas in the west of Ireland, is a surfer’s paradise. At Sea Synergy in Cahersiveen and Waterville, a centre that combines environmentally conscious research with activities, kayaks and SUPs can be hired and snorkelling and seashore eco-tours can be taken. As towns and cities in County Kerry are quite close together, they are easily accessible by bike. The Kerry Act sets out a national climate target that requires a transition to a climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and carbon-neutral economy by 2050 at the latest. Ireland is therefore now on a legally binding path to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest and a 51 per cent reduction in emissions by the end of the decade.

Want to discover more inspiration? Check out Suston’s Europe’s 10 outdoor capitals guide, or our Sustainable Tourism FAQ.


Lead image: Kayak paddling outside of Gothenburg, Sweden (Photo: Henrik Trygg)

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