Five amazing European countries for “green” travel

Travel is often one of the first activities people consider when they are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

According to the BBC, a return flight from London to San Francisco emits 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per person – that’s about half the average annual carbon footprint of a person living in Britain.

It’s also important to consider the effects that tourism can have on the natural landscape and the local population. For example, tourist hotspots often experience habitat destruction due to the construction of hotels and the surrounding infrastructure. A large influx of visitors can also cause problems with waste and pollution.

Fortunately, there are some excellent destinations where sustainability is a priority. By visiting these places, you can support positive practices and help limit damage to the environment.

Here are five amazing European countries for “green” travel you could visit this year.

1. Scotland

Staying close to home can be an effective way to reduce your carbon emissions when travelling. While you may prefer to travel abroad, there are some incredible destinations right here in the UK, and Scotland is a brilliant place for sustainable travel.

Scotland has the lowest population density of any country in the UK, with most people concentrated in the major cities. As a result, there are huge areas of wild countryside to explore. Various authorities preserve these natural landscapes and prevent damage from tourism.

Outside the cities, there is a strong focus on small, locally owned businesses. Many of the islands, for instance, are supported by the whisky industry, while the pubs and restaurants, hotels, and shops are typically independently-owned.

You can also find some incredible wildlife in Scotland. For example, Greyhope Bay in Aberdeenshire is one of the best places to see bottlenose dolphins off the UK coast, and you can often spot Eagles in the highlands.

2. Wales

Wales is another destination close to home where you can find some of the most progressive environmental initiatives around the globe.

The Welsh government were the first in the world to put specific legislation in place outlining key principles for sustainable development and they often spearhead green initiatives in the UK.

For example, they led the move toward charging for plastic bags in shops. They also support businesses in reducing waste as they hope to become the a “zero waste” economy by 2050. Wales even generates twice as much energy as it uses and exports the rest.

As a visitor, you can explore the Pembrokeshire National Park, which is more accessible than ever after a campaign to improve rail links in the area. While this might be the UK’s smallest national park, it boasts incredible coastlines as well as rolling hills and valleys, and dense woodland areas to explore.

You’ll also find the Brecon Beacons and the Eryi National Park, with plenty of amazing hiking routes, including Snowdon if you want to tackle the highest mountain in England and Wales.

3. France

You don’t need to stay in the UK to travel sustainably. France is a great option as you can travel there without flying relatively easily, by ferry or through the channel tunnel.

It’s also a brilliant country for green travel. Local municipalities often focus on putting money from tourism back into the local community. For example, in Bordeaux, the local authorities revived an old military barracks and turned it into an eco-village called “Darwin”. You will find markets and restaurants all serving produce grown in the urban farm in Darwin.

There is also a whole host of entertainment venues and shops to visit too, making this one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. And every penny spent by visitors goes back into supporting this community, which serves as a model for sustainable living.

Cities such as Marseille have adopted this approach to food production too. The Green Key and Ecotable labels show you which restaurants and hotels have committed to reducing waste and using locally sourced, sustainable produce.

As a result, when you visit France and sample their world-famous cuisine, you are often supporting local producers and contributing to a more environmentally friendly supply chain.

Travelling around France is also very green as they limit short-haul flights, encouraging people to use their high-speed rail network instead.

4. Iceland

Climate change is perhaps more visible in Iceland as glaciers are collapsing due to rising temperatures. That’s why they made a commitment to reach net zero by 2040.

As a tourist, you can get involved with this initiative by offsetting your carbon emissions using the calculator on the official Visit Iceland website. You’ll also find the “Icelandic pledge” for tourists to sign before they visit.

The pledge includes lots of simple but important actions you can take to limit your effect on the environment while in Iceland. This includes leaving places as you found them, only parking in designated areas, and only camping in official campsites.

This dedication to ethical tourism means that Iceland is a very sustainable place to visit, provided you follow the guidelines. It’s also a great place to see some of the most incredible natural landscapes in the world and remind yourself why eco-friendly travel is important in the first place.

5. Spain

Spain is at the forefront of the green revolution in 2024, as Valencia was named the European Green Capital, taking over from Tallinn in Estonia.

The coastal city earned the title because of its investment in green initiatives, with the aim of being carbon neutral by 2030. This includes a citizen-funded solar energy plant, energy-saving smart streetlights with built-in electric vehicle chargers.

Valencia is also championed for protecting the Albufera National Park, a lagoon area just outside the city.

The rest of Spain shares this focus on green living and most cities have incredibly well-connected public transport links, often with electric vehicles. You’ll also find some amazing green spaces, and cities that are set up for pedestrians and cyclists.