Over the recent decades, the world has seen a drastic depletion of natural resources, leading to an urgent need for cities to be more sustainable.
Sustainability is the act of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A sustainable city is a city that operates in a way that minimizes environmental degradation through its infrastructure and facilities.
Presently, there has been a rise in eco-conscious travelers who opt for the most sustainable ways to enjoy travel around the world. This includes indulging in local eateries, staying in locally owned hotels, among other things. Being aware of one’s carbon footprint especially during travel is becoming more common among travelers which positively impacts the places you visit.
The concept of green or eco-friendly tourism has changed over the years. What initially referred to supporting small-scale local tourism and visiting natural areas, now includes traveling in an environmentally friendly manner.
Many cities are revamping themselves to operate more sustainably and support green tourism. Keep reading to find out what makes a city sustainable and the top 15 most sustainable cities in the world. Plan an eco-friendly vacation using our guide!
What makes a city sustainable?
Several factors contribute to making a city sustainable.
Large and populated cities are huge contributors to pollution and climate change due to the overuse of fossil fuels for energy. Recently there has been a push in the use of more sustainable forms of energy or ‘green energy,’ such as solar energy, geothermal energy, and the likes to reduce carbon footprint.
Good public transport is the need of the hour. Cities that have the kind of infrastructure with easy access to public transport will automatically reduce their carbon footprint. When a city has good and affordable public transport, its citizens are more likely to rely on public transport for everyday travel.
Being a sustainable city also means that the means to achieve sustainability should be affordable to all. The use of green energy for houses should be affordable and easily accessible to the citizens of a city to ensure that sustainability becomes a natural part of their lifestyle.
Although no level of pollution is safe, efforts to reduce the level of pollution can improve the level of life expectancy and pave the way for a healthy future. Having good air quality is crucial especially for large cities and contributes to a sustainable lifestyle.
The quality of air is an important aspect of what makes a city liveable and sustainable. Curbing pollution, increasing the number of green spaces, encouraging the use of public transport, and the use of green energy can help improve the air quality in cities, making the air healthy and breathable.
Consumption of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas for energy and electricity increases the amount of CO2 emissions in the air. CO2 makes up the majority of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and is greatly contributing to climate change. Many cities are working towards reducing their carbon footprints and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Percentage of green space available
As urbanization continues to grow, the level of pollution in cities has and will reach dangerous levels. Having large green spaces like parks and other such areas can help reduce the effects of pollution and the urban heat effect.
Top 15 Sustainable Cities in the World
With multiple active sustainability initiatives in place, Copenhagen has become one of the leading eco-friendly cities in the world. The city aims at becoming carbon neutral by the year 2025 and is successfully getting there. Seeing people cycle around, whether they’re in a business suit or casual attire, is becoming increasingly common. Even hotels provide bicycles for their guests to use! Copenhagen is believed to have overtaken Amsterdam as being the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. You will also find electric vehicles for you to get around the city. If you want to travel on water, don’t worry about your carbon footprint because even their boats are solar and electric powered. Up to 24% of the total food sale is made up of organic produce. Be sure to check out their many organic and vegan restaurants on your visit. Don’t miss out on the one-of-a-kind artificial ski and snowboard slope made of recycled material, a treat for both residents and visitors!
Although Zurich is known for its financial powers, it is undoubtedly a leading city in sustainability. Its focus on efficient public transport, focus on education, waste-reduction goals, and the use of renewable sources of energy, all make Zurich one of the most liveable cities in the world. Zurich is located in Central Europe making it easily accessible by different means. If you’re traveling to Zurich by train or bicycle, you’re doing something for the climate. If you’re traveling by flight or car, try to stay for a longer duration so you can minimize your carbon footprint. Indulge in the ample green spaces and parks spread across the city and breathe in the clean, fresh air. Stay at a green hotel, eat at local or vegan restaurants, grab yourself a bike, and enjoy the sustainable city of Zurich.
Recommended experiences in Zurich
Nature is an integral part of everyday life in Helsinki. There is an abundance of parks, forests, and water bodies in and around the city as a reminder for the residents to contribute towards sustainable living. Waste recycling, the development of green public transportation, and becoming a carbon-neutral city are the main sustainability aims of Oslo. Helsinki is one of the two cities that were awarded the title of European Capital of Smart Tourism along with Lyon. This goes to show the efforts of the city in making sure travelers are easily able to engage in eco-friendly activities on their visit. Enjoy riding cycles or electric bikes, shop at recycled clothing and accessory stores or stay at any of the many environmentally friendly hotels on your visit to Helsinki. Helsinki is also regarded as a vegan-wonderland with a wide range of vegan restaurants and cafes.
Stockholm is an excellent choice for an eco-friendly holiday, having worked hard to give travelers and residents facilities, experiences, and places that foster sustainable living. Here are some reasons to plan an eco-friendly visit to Stockholm. Sweden as a whole doesn’t just recycle its own waste but also recycles waste for other countries. It has amazing outdoor spaces that attract many eco-travelers every year. Discover numerous parks, gardens, and nature reserves across the city. Buses and trains will get you to every corner of Stockholm, and you have the option of cycling around the city as well. You can also hop on to a solar-powered boat and explore all of Stockholm’s islands. For all you eco-considerate foodies, enjoy a wide range of eco-friendly restaurants and supermarkets made with sustainable ingredients from local food producers. Overall, you can count on having a wholesome, memorable, and environmentally friendly holiday in Stockholm.
Voted the European Green Capital in 2019, Oslo is on its way to becoming the greenest city in the world, having others follow in its footsteps. The city has solid goals in terms of sustainability, one of which is to reduce emissions by 95% by the year 2030. Oslo is the perfect place for an eco-friendly travel destination. Over 2/3rds of its land is covered in protected forests, waterways, and agricultural land, all of which are easily accessible. Make sure you grab an Oslo Pass once you get there so you can use the bus, tram, taxis, and other public transport for free. City bikes are also available for use with 250 stations spread across the city. You’ll find bike lanes all over the city even within forests, so put on your adventure hats, grab a cycle, and explore Oslo. Eco-friendly hotels, electric bikes and cars, eco-friendly events, and more are all part of the green travel experience at Oslo.
Berlin is a popular tourist hub with a mix of entertainment, culture, history, and lots of greenery. Over the years, sustainable living has become ingrained into the Berlin lifestyle, making it easy for travelers to remain eco-friendly on their trip. Berlin has an array of green spaces, parks, and forests, that form a natural part of the city, easily accessible to all. Tiergarten and Viktoriapark are two of the more popular ones that you can stop at. You will find many vegan and vegetarian restaurants and eco-friendly food markets, where you can enjoy delicious locally produced food. Don’t even worry about traveling around Berlin because its public transport is excellent and becoming increasingly green. Electric buses, trams that run on green tracks, and the use of cycles are excellent examples of how easy it is to travel in an eco-friendly way in Berlin.
Recommended experiences in Berlin
Japanese culture, technology, and food have become immensely popular over the years, attracting more and more tourists to the country. With strict recycling laws and practices, green energy-efficient homes, and huge regard for nature, Japan is making sustainable living a norm. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, take advantage of its public transport that even connects nearby cities, helping you reduce your carbon footprint. Japan has over 30 national parks throughout the country and multiple hiking spots to choose from. Seasonal eating is a huge part of Japanese culture which directly contributes to sustainable living. Indulge in the local seasonal cuisine or opt for vegan/vegetarian options that are becoming increasingly popular. Plan your stay at any of the local hotels, where you can contribute to the economy and simultaneously enjoy picturesque views and surroundings on your visit to Japan.
Recommended experiences in Osaka
Known for its countryside vibe, Ljubljana in Slovenia is a great choice for a green holiday. Travelers get to enjoy fresh air, green landscapes, and clean streets. Ljubljana was one of the first European countries to aim for a zero-waste goal and is doing so much to achieve the same. Being a highly environmentally conscious city, it is perfect for eco-friendly travelers. Enjoy plant-based beverages and meals at the many vegan restaurants, or explore the city on a walking tour with the help of a local guide, or hop on a cycle and travel around the city by yourself. The organic culinary scene is huge in Ljubljana. You’ll find loads of restaurants with local organic food, giving you fresh and delicious dishes to enjoy on your trip. Take a hot air balloon ride to marvel at the greenery or go on a shopping spree at local sustainable stores, either way, you’ll have ample experiences to choose from.
Vancouver is already regarded as one of the most sustainable cities in the world and is on its way to becoming the greenest city in the world. In Vancouver, you will find a multitude of parks, including the largest park in North America, Stanley Park, which is spread over nearly 1,000 acres of land. Biking is another effort of the city to try to reduce its carbon emissions and the whole city has been redesigned to be more biker-friendly. Now you can explore the city on a bike without worrying about your carbon footprint. You also have the option of public transport with the city being well connected with buses, rails, shuttles, and even sea buses. Zero waste is another strong initiative followed by the city so if you’re traveling to Vancouver, be sure to carry your own reusable bottle on your visit. Staying at one of Vancouver’s many green hotels is another way to make your eco-friendly travel complete.
Vegan food, sustainable stores, and a luscious spread of natural landscapes are just some of the many reasons why you should visit Lisbon, Portugal. Portugal as a whole won the Best of Europe Award for sustainable tourism at ITB Berlin, the world’s leading tourism fair. Spend your summer in Lisbon as you soak up the sun by the beach, enjoy its rich cultural heritage, and indulge in Portuguese cuisine. Here you’ll find a perfect blend of tradition and modernity, making an exquisite holiday destination for you. Recently, about 300 acres of green space has been added to the city, which means parks and green spaces are all around. Using electric vehicles to commute around the city or engaging in eco-friendly shopping will additionally add to your green experience.
Recommended experiences in Lisbon
The Garden City of the World, Singapore, is dedicated to economic and environmental sustainability. Regarded as the greenest city in Asia, Singapore attracts millions of travelers every year having a multitude of experiences to offer. Singapore is actively working towards sustainable tourism, making its many attractions easily accessible by public transport. Whether it’s buses, trains or even cable cars, you can be sure to explore the city in an eco-friendly way. You will also find local and international eco-friendly resorts to make your stay memorable and green, while also indulging in exquisite vegan dishes around the city. It was even voted to be one of the top 10 vegan-friendly cities in Asia! Green construction is another initiative by the city to make sure buildings and other infrastructure run on natural resources, while also being easily accessible by residents and tourists.
Recommended experiences in Singapore
One of the fastest-growing cities in the world along with an abundance of fossil fuels, going sustainable could seem a task. However, Dubai has made huge leaps towards adopting a more sustainable way of living. Public transport is easily accessible and used by many individuals in the city. Buses and the metro are also very spread out throughout the whole city making it well connected. As a tourist, you can be sure to find plenty of vegan options and vegan restaurants, as well as vegan food products in the supermarkets. You can also choose from multiple parks where you can unwind, have a picnic, or simply breathe in the fresh air. Many developments are being made in Dubai to maximize the use of natural and renewable resources. Plan your green trip to one of the most iconic cities in the world!
Recommended experiences in Dubai
13 Palau Island
A powerhouse of sustainable tourism, the archipelago of Palau Island is made up of luscious green islands amidst beautiful blue ocean waters. With over 500 species of coral and 1,300 types of fish, Palau Island has gained the reputation of being one of the top diving destinations in the world. This plus the fact that it’s a hidden paradise, attracts many tourists every year. It’s important to note that the economy of Palau thrives on tourism, accounting for almost a third of its total GDP. So by traveling to Palau, you’re directly contributing to its overall economy. Sustainability has been embedded in the lifestyle of its locals, especially because the very future of the islands depends on the preservation of its reefs and marine life. Palau is currently aiming at becoming carbon neutral by promoting local food production and local foods, something you can do on your visit too.
Not many people know this but Montevideo is one of the leading Latin cities when it comes to eco-friendly policies. More than 97% of its electricity comes from renewable energy sources, making it a powerhouse of sustainability. Bursting with parks, flowers, footpaths, and fresh air, the city is refreshingly clean and liveable. If you’re planning a trip there, you’ll easily fit into the relaxing livelihood. Its efficient public transport system makes all corners of this little city extremely accessible and safe, especially for solo female travelers. Experience a spread of flea markets, vegan restaurants, culture, music, architecture, and so much more. Lay by the beach and soak in the waves and sun, hop on a bicycle and explore the city, or go hiking on a nearby trail. There’s so much to do and see in a responsible way.
Other than being one of the happiest countries in the world, Bhutan is also one of the greenest countries. In fact, the country’s happiness index also includes sustainable development and environmental preservation. The beautiful country has encouraged low-impact tourism, inviting travelers from all around the world. Over 60% of its forests are protected and the country also holds the world record for planting the most amount of trees per hour. It is also proudly recognized as being the only carbon-negative country in the world! Explore the luscious untouched greenery of the country intertwined with free-flowing rivers and picturesque sights, giving you the perfect vacation. Being a Buddhist nation, vegetarianism is the choice of the majority along with plenty of vegan options. So if you’re vegetarian or vegan, Bhutan will be the perfect place for you! All this and more makes Bhutan one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world.