Grace Lower | Aug 2, 2021
What better way to show your appreciation for nature than through sustainable travel? While journeying anywhere by plane has its environmental drawbacks, you can still do your part to reduce the carbon footprint and waste associated with tourism. And if you’d like to travel more sustainably, choosing an environmentally-friendly destination is a great place to start.
Since each country—and region, for that matter—has its own set of environmental policies, there’s no one way to determine which cities are the “greenest.” Destinations throughout the world have worked to create cleaner transportation, innovative architecture, and environmentally friendly tourist attractions. But if you’re an eco-conscious traveler (or an aspiring one, like me), here are a few highlights to consider for your next adventure:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Northern Europe tops the list of environmentally friendly destinations. Among a competitive pool, the Danish city of Copenhagen stands out. By 2025, Copenhagen plans to become entirely CO2 neutral—which would make it the first capital city to do so. To facilitate this lofty goal, Copenhagen has invested in an extensive (and incredibly efficient) public transportation system. On top of that, nearly 40% of Denmark’s population bikes to work each day, and the city’s bike-share program makes it easy for tourists to join in. And if you’re not a fan of bicycles, not to worry—Copenhagen is still quite pedestrian-friendly. Many of the city’s main attractions, from the Nyhavn entertainment district to Tivoli gardens are easily accessible by foot. As you explore, you’ll likely notice a number of parks throughout the city. Thanks to Copenhagen’s sustainable planning, 90% of residents and visitors can walk to a green space in 15 minutes or less.
No matter where you are in Copenhagen, keep an eye out for environmentally friendly architecture. Many buildings are equipped with green roofs to help with runoff and reduce the impact of carbon emissions. And if you’re looking for lodging, finding an environmentally friendly room in Copenhagen might be easier than finding a traditional one, since the majority of Copenhagen’s hotel rooms hold an eco-certification.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Like Copenhagen, Amsterdam has received plenty of accolades for its sustainability. When visiting Amsterdam, you’ll have countless opportunities to navigate the city without leaving a major carbon footprint. Rent a bike to explore Amsterdam solo, or tag along on one of the city’s many bike tours. You can also drift through Amsterdam’s famous canals on an eco-friendly pedal boat. Once you’ve worked up an appetite from all that boat- and bike-pedaling, try exploring the Saturday Farmers Market (Boerenmarkt op de Noordermarkt) for fresh local produce.
There are also a number of restaurants and cafes that champion all things natural, local, and eco-friendly. Whether you’re sampling a cold-pressed juice at Roots or an all-natural brunch at Gartine, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor to eat ethically in Amsterdam. To cap off your visit, spend a few hours unwinding in one of Amsterdam’s many green spaces — Vondelpark is particularly beautiful year-round.
Brazil is home to an enormous and diverse ecosystem; as such, it’s a natural destination for environmentally-conscious travelers. Puns aside, the Brazilian city of Curitiba is one of the greenest urban destinations in Latin America—and for good reason. With more than 500 square feet of green space per resident, a 15-block stretch of pedestrian-only paths, and world-renowned public transit, Curitiba is an unsung hero of Brazilian innovation. As a tourist, you’ll want to stop by the Botanical Garden of Curitiba. Home to an impressive collection of tropical plants, the Botanical Garden brings the beauty of the rainforest to an otherwise urban setting.
Following your visit, enjoy a bounty of local food from the Municipal Market of Curitiba—not only is the produce fresh, but all leftovers are given to local residents in exchange for any trash they collect. Reaching additional destinations is easy in Curitiba. Just hop on one of the city’s multi-car busses, and at just $1.15 per ride you can travel the city in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
Although it’s a major capital city, Stockholm has plenty to offer for nature-loving travelers. The city is celebrated for its architecture, which frequently repurposes older and industrial buildings to minimize environmental impact. Meanwhile, new developments are built with sustainable materials and designed to be energy efficient. Among eco-friendly architectural landmarks are the Artipelag arts venue and the Woodland Cemetery—both combining functionality with sustainability. Just outside the city lies the Stockholm Archipelago: the perfect place to get in touch with nature. Made up of nearly 30,000 islands, the archipelago has quiet beaches and hidden coves that are ideal for unwinding after exploring the city.
Before booking a hotel in Stockholm, you can seek out lodging with the Nordic EcoLabel. More than 250 hotels meet this standard, and they all feature the green Swan logo to confirm their eco-friendly status. What’s more, if you’re stocking up on groceries between meals, look for products with KRAV branding—these foods have been nationally certified as environmentally friendly.
The city-state of Singapore is a fantastic case-study in sustainability. Although 100% of the population is considered “urbanized,” Singapore holds the title as Asia’s greenest city, and is a world leader in eco-friendly development. It is the only country in the world to include green construction requirements into its legislation—if any developers are interested in building in Singapore, they must commit to replacing any greenery that was displaced in their efforts. The result is spectacular.
The Gardens by the Bay is one such project, and it’s home to a series of enormous vertical gardens, called “supertrees.” The towering green spaces are filled with over 162,900 plants comprising more than 200 species—all of which are intended cut back on carbon emissions and beautify the city. The Singapore Botanical Gardens are another testament to the city-state’s commitment to conservation. A UNESCO world heritage site, the 202-acre gardens are a favorite venue for researchers and families alike.
Portland has long been heralded as one of the hipster capitals of the west coast. As such, it takes sustainability seriously. With more than 175 LEED certified buildings, this otherwise urban setting has transformed into an eco-conscious destination. For ethical eats, visit one of Portland’s most popular eateries, Bamboo Sushi. Normally, sushi is notorious for its adverse effect on the ecosystem, but by focusing on local ingredients, Bamboo Sushi holds the title as the world’s first sustainable-certified sushi restaurant. For other environmentally friendly food, try stopping by one of Portland’s many food trucks for fresh ingredients and extensive vegetarian options. Portland is also known for its craft beer scene, and HopWorks’ BikeBar is the perfect venue for sampling the latest brew. The bar features stationary “exer-cycles” that you can pedal to help generate electricity for the venue (and work off that lager!).
While Portland has plenty of green spaces, the city’s state park, Tryon Creek, is just 15 minutes south of center city. Its 645 acres are home to extensive biking trails, areas for horseback riding, and a three-mile bike path. If you’re more of a city-dweller at heart, you can still make environmentally friendly choices by shopping for locally-made or gently-used clothing at urban retailers like Rock & Rose.
Whether you’re a card-carrying tree hugger or simply want to make a difference this Earth Day, sustainable travel can be a great way to conserve natural resources. No matter where your journey takes you, show some kindness to the planet you’re exploring by traveling green.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.Read more of Grace’s blogs