There are some towns and cities that stand out around Europe as being pioneers in protecting our planet. Led by visionaries within the community or local government, we salute you.
Not many people are aware that, every year, a city is awarded status as European Green Capital of the year by the European Union to Europe’s top eco cities. For travellers who want to explore the low carbon way, here are some of our favourite urban spots which are aiming high on the sustainability scale, some EU award winners and others still waiting but doing the right thing in the meantime.
Notorious for its red lights perhaps, Amsterdam’s green lights shine brighter than most cities. Cycling is almost the law in this bike-berserk city, with rental facilities all over town, and a particularly handy one right at Centraal station. As well as bike transport, trams run everywhere, you can explore the canals on an eco-boat, and there is some excellent eco accommodation such as Conscious Hotels.
For good Amsterdam food, there are plenty of sustainable options - from packing your pannier with street food from Noordermarkt, very central and well signposted and open Saturdays 9am-3pm, to the stunning Restaurant De Kas in the former city greenhouses in Frankendael Park. Or check out Pllek located in converted shipping containers across the River Ij (accessible on a free ferry service to NDSM Werf). After exploring this European green city and its environs by bike, take yourself off on one of hundreds of cycling trails this country is famous for.
As well as aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025, the Danish capital of Copenhagen is also often cited as a world leader in green town planning expertise. This enables a large percentage of the population to cycle to their places of work or study and, of course, for tourists to enjoy Copenhagen the slow and sustainable way. Copenhagen now also has its own sustainable district, Nordhavn, which is developing all the time. Another sussed city when it comes to tourist board info, check out the Copenhagen eco travel page for more information. We like a Danish that is both sweet and sustainable.
As well as extensive cycling lanes and a superb city bike scheme, Bycyklen, organic and slow food is central to Copenhagen’s wide array of restaurants. Such as Gro Spiseri with its own rooftop farm or La Banchina, with its hip, hygge harbourfront vibe (and wood-fired sauna for those who want to swim before tucking in). The street food market, Reffen, is all about keeping the food scene organic, local and plastic free. Copenhagen is by far one of Europe's greenest cities.
Lisbon is the green leader for the new decade, being awarded Green Capital status for 2020. Read our Lisbon blog for more details. The main thing about Lisbon is the fact that it is completely steering away from cars. The city’s iconic yellow trams are one of the best ways to get about, but with a superb bus, train and three funky funicular facilities, Lisbon started to leave cars behind in the last decade. The public cycle Gira scheme is easy to use via its app, where you can buy a 24-hour pass, or longer if you need it.
There are plenty of green things to do in Lisbon, such as bird watching along the Tagus estuary, the most important wetland in Portugal, and habitat to over 250 species. Or walk further afield to Parque Natural da Arrábida, which is as special to Lisbon’s natural heritage as fado is to its cultural one. All music to a nature lover’s ears in fact.
Germany’s leading port city of Hamburg was Green Capital in 2011, when it proved to be ahead of the game in terms of going green. The jewel in Hamburg’s emerald crown was the urban regeneration of its port area, HafenCity, with eco buildings, cycling paths, natural spaces and electric vehicle charging points, as well as plenty of right-on restaurants. It is also home to giant cruise ships, however, which is in slight contrast to the eco vision it may have once held.
Hamburg’s tourism board dedicates a section to green travel, making it ahead of the game compared with many other destination websites. This makes it easy for travellers to find green spaces such hiking in the Harburg Hills or exploring the sand dunes of Boberg, as well as cycling routes along the River Elbe or out along the longer Leide-Heide-Radweg. As well as the StadtRAD Hamburg bike scheme, there are plenty of cycling tours and bike rental places in the city.
Slovenia’s capital bore the green crown throughout 2017, a relatively small city in terms of population. It has pedestrianised the city centre (with only delivery vehicles allowed in the early morning hours), made massive improvements to public transport, and also boasts superb cycling access. Indeed, over 75% of this city is green space thanks to careful urban regeneration, the planting of thousands of trees and five new parks alone over ten years. One of the city’s most famous green spots is the Path of Memories and Comradeship, a circular route around the city with 7000 trees, swaying to the sound of carbon sinking, and cyclists singing.
You can also explore Ljubljana on its BicikeLJ city bike scheme, by boat along the River Ljubljanica, or on foot to nearby natural nirvanas such as Šmarna Gora and Sv. Jakob hills or out across the Ljubljana Marshes.
If you enjoyed reading about our top European green cities, you might enjoy our green London guide
Image credits top to bottom: Cycling on dyke in frost iStock ©boogje, Aerial view Copenhagen iStock ©JaySi Planten um Blomen park with famous Heinrich-Hertz-Turm, Hamburg iStock ©bluejayphoto wall in Lisbon iStock ©typographics View of Ljubljana iStock ©Kasto80
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