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Do you consider the “green credentials” of a place when you’re planning a trip?
Clean air, pure water, pedestrian-only streets, bike paths, parks, botanical gardens and other public green spaces, green trains, eco-hotels, rivers, lakes, hiking trails, good public transportation and quality vegetarian dining are all among the environmental strides towards sustainable tourism now implemented by some of the most beautiful capitals of the world.
In Europe, from Finland and Slovenia to Italy and France, many cities are making efforts to tackle the climate crisis and assume the lead on environmental action. Cities such as Grenoble and Budapest have mayors elected with eco-platforms and are leaders in sustainability projects.MORE FROM FORBESThe 50 Best Restaurants In The World 2021: Copenhagen's Noma At The Top, AgainBy Cecilia Rodriguez
To determine its new list of 20 Best Green Capitals in Europe, the European Best Destinations (EBD) organization considered criteria including air and water quality, public transport with zero CO2 emissions, green spaces per inhabitant, percentage of people who walk, cycle or take public transport to work, quality of life and the number of kilometers of cycle paths.
It also included destinations awarded the title of European Green Capital by the European Commission for Environment, as well as those designated as a European Destination of Excellence (Eden) by the European Commission.MORE FOR YOU
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, with the highest percentage of green space per inhabitant in Europe, has been ranked #1 European Best Green Capital.
The capital of Slovenia has not only been ranked the #1 European Green capital, it has also been the only capital in Europe to be included six times on the Sustainable Destination Top 100 list.
Among its eco-conscious offers, Ljubljana center has been car-free since 2008; it allows locals and visitors free access to a bike-share scheme for up to an hour at a time; and it has developed more than 542 square meters of green spaces including the Bee Trail, which takes in 4,500 hives placed around the city.
A bike-friendly city, Ljubljana has more than 200 kilometers of cycle paths and at 70%, boasts the highest rate of household waste separation in the E.U.
Globally recognised for its commitment to sustainable tourism, Slovenia is the leading country and pioneer in green tourism in Europe. It’s the most-awarded destination by the European Commission for its sustainable tourism offer that features destinations such as Bohinj, Soca Valley, Lasko, Idrija,
Helsinki: Even if the capital of Finland has not yet been awarded the title of "European Green Capital”, its environmental commitment is recognized worldwide.
It’s the capital with the purest air and water in Europe and ranks second among European cities for the best quality of life.
Nature is everywhere and is accessible to people with reduced mobility or families with strollers.
Lahti: Awarded this year the title of European Green Capital by the European Commission Lahti has carved out an environmentally-conscious identity.
Aiming to become Finland’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025 (with the whole country to follow by 2035), Lahti’s green initiatives range from an app for residents to track their individual carbon footprint to heating systems powered by recycled fuel, as well as local, FSC-certified wood.
The city, 60 miles north of Helsinki’s international airport and harbors, has also been ranked among the best nature destinations in Europe and best sustainable destinations for outdoor sports.
Lahti is a gateway to the Finnish Lakeland – the largest in Europe. Finland has more than 188,000 lakes and the water is the cleanest in the world.
Three-quarters of Lahti is covered by forests, while 11% consists of bodies of water — and it’s only 2 1/2 hours by train from St. Petersburg.
In the summer, visitors can soak up the 24-hour sunlight on the harbor, which has been transformed from an industrial port to a thriving hub of restaurants and cafes.
Päijänne National Park, with its pristine waters, islands and birdlife, sits just on the city’s doorstep.
For years, the capital of Sweden appears among the greenest in Europe.
Now Stockholm also has been awarded the title of European Green Capital by the European Commission. With its air and water quality among Europe’s best, and more than 80% of the population commuting to work by public transport, bike or on foot, the city stands out as a destination combining both city break and nature holiday.
Parks and gardens are many and include Djurgarden Park, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, "Marabouparken and its collection of sculptures and exhibitions of contemporary art, the Royal National City park considered the green lung of Stockholm and the Kungstradgarden Park established in 1400 in the heart of the capital, open all year round but most recommended from March to early May when the cherry trees are in bloom.
Copenhagen is also ranked as one of the greenest cities in Europe by independent, private organizations, while the European Commission awarded it the European Green Capital prize.
Denmark’s capital is on track to be carbon neutral by 2025 and the country has redirected its energy sources to meet 95% of its needs by hydropower.
Copenhagen is second only to Bern, Switzerland, among the destinations with the happiest populations in the world.
As you stroll the many parks and botanical garden, don’t miss a short trip to the “Deer Park" located in Dyrehaven.
The capital of Norway is surrounded by the Marka Forest and the famous Olso Fjords.
Nature is everywhere and is particularly well preserved in Oslo — see for yourself on a kayak or canoe trip to discover the nature that surrounds this green city.
Like Braga in Portugal, Olso is committed to becoming one of the cities with zero CO2 emissions and has halved its emissions between 1990 and 2020.
More than three quarters of residents go to work on foot, by bicycle or in zero-emission public transport.
An example of urban living, Nijmegen, the Netherlands’ oldest city and near the German border, was already declared European Green Capital in 2018 for promoting a happier, healthier lifestyle for its citizens.
Like Braga and Bern, the city is committed to becoming energy neutral and appears among the best sustainable tourism destinations in the world, making it to The Times list for its sustainability efforts in local development and ecology.
Also designated as the best destination to visit in the Netherlands, it’s frequently recommended as a great city to settle in, establish a start-up or a professional or personal life project.
With one of the best qualities of life in Europe, Nijmegen is establishing itself as a must-see destination in Europe.
The capital of the Netherlands suffered from over-tourism in the early 2010s and joined with other popular destinations such as Paris and Bruges to promote sustainable tourism.
With more ecological means of transport such as cycling, public transport as well as many parks in the heart of the capital, it has established itself in recent years as one of the best green capitals in Europe.
Bicycling is the preferred means of transport in Amsterdam for locals and tourists alike. It’s not only environmental-friendly but the fastest way to get around, including day trips to destinations including the Zaanse Schans with its windmills, the traditional fishing village of Volendam and Haarlem with its amazing cathedral.
Want to escape the beaten track? Discover the best hidden gems in the Netherlands such as Uitdam and Veluwezoom National Park.
Bern stands out among Europe’s green capitals for the quality of life of its inhabitants, the best in Europe, ahead of Copenhagen and Vienna.
The quality of water and air is also among the best in Europe and it offers its inhabitants and travelers a number of green spaces, parks and gardens in which to relax and reconnect with nature.
Bern was ranked among the best Christmas Markets in Europe and the best Christmas markets in Switzerland. It’s also one of the safest destinations in Europe.
Grenoble is ranked among the leading destinations in nature and sustainable tourism in France for its hiking, climbing, skiing, biking, gourmet and wellness getaways offers.
The city favors slow travel, public transport, cycling and encourages local organic production of seasonal fruits and vegetables. For those reasons it is also one of the official European Green Capitals 2022.
Surrounded by mountains and beautiful forests, secret valleys and natural prairies, Grenoble is a favorite of nature lovers.
Grenoble city center is also rich in green spaces such as the Pompidou and Champs Elysées parks, the Parc des Dauphins pleasure gardens and the Botanical Garden.
There’s a large “Greeters” community that loves their city and will accompany visitors.
The historical capital of Estonia recently won the European Commission’s prestigious title of European Green Capital for 2023, awarded every year to raise awareness and share best practices on environmental issues in urban Europe and accompanied by a $710,000 fund to invest in green projects.
Tallinn is committed to a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 and is on its way to net zero by 2050.
Tallinn already boasts titles among the best Christmas Markets in Europe and best medieval destinations in Europe.
Berlin is one of the brilliant stars of city breaks, not only as a cultural and shopping destination but also as a great destination for nature lovers.
Suitable for slow journeys such as cycling because it’s relatively flat and maintains safe cycle paths, the city offers beautiful parks considered among the best on the continent, as well as lakes, rivers and river beaches. As such, it’s also friendly to kayakers and paddle boarders.
Visitors can dive into the waters of Wannsee, Schlachtensee or Müggelsee and visit oases of greenery like the "Island of Youth," a small island close to Kreuzberg.
The star of the show in Budapest is undoubtedly its magnificent river, the Danube.
Some 75% of its population walks, bikes or takes public transportation to work — a fact that helped make Budapest one of the Best Green Capitals in Europe.
National Geographic has selected Budapest as one of the five most forward-thinking green cities.
Margaret Island serves as the capital's largest park. In summer, the city’s Margaret Island hosts one of the best Summer Festivals, the Margaret Island Open-Air Stage.
Vienna and Bratislava are located less than two hours away by train.
Ranked among the safest cities in Europe, Vienna has also earned the title of European Best Green Capital.
The city appears on many of Europe’s Top 10 Greenest cities lists.
It also has first position for the quality of its water and is among the top three European cities for ecological travel, with more than 80% of its population commuting to work by public transport, on foot or by bike.
Consider visiting Bratislava and Budapest as well during the same trip. The three capitals are only 2 hours from each other by train.MORE FROM FORBESThe World's Most And Least Powerful Passports For 2021By Cecilia Rodriguez
Because, among other reasons, 80% of its population commutes to work by public transport, bicycle or on foot, Madrid is now in the list of Best Green Capitals in Europe.
The Spanish capital is home to one of the most beautiful city parks in Europe: El Retiro, the city’s ‘green lung’ and a meeting place for lovers and families who enjoy a boat trip on the lake and a slow stroll through its green paths.
Atocha train station, considered one of the most beautiful stations in Europe and appearing more like a botanical garden than a train station, is a must-see.
Madrid is also ranked among the Best Erasmus destinations in Europe and Best sunny Christmas destinations in Europe
Prague is also among the Greenest cities in Europe by many rankings - a laudable effort by the city since the dark days of its historical past.
With an economy highly dependant on tourism, the Czech capital is rebounding from the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions with new strategies to control the over-tourism excesses that beset it and with programs to attract tourists for its history, architecture and culture more than for partying.
The air in Prague now is three times cleaner than in Brussels or Madrid and 75% of its population commutes to work by bicycle, on foot or by public transport.
Prague is also often ranked high among European cities with the best quality of life.
Its most beautiful parks and gardens including Riegrovy Sady Park, Stromovka Park and the Botanicka Zahrada are highly praised by visitors.
Prague Christmas market is ranked among the most beautiful in Europe.
In addition to fame for its Atomium, Manneken Pis, Grand-Place, chocolate, waffles and fries, Brussels is one of the greenest European capitals.
Dozens of parks and gardens take up more than 40% of the territory. Royal Park, Parc du Cinquantenaire, Leopold Park, the Etangs d'Ixelles, the Sonian forest, Astrid Park and the Meise botanical garden are frequently mentioned.
From Brussels, it’s an easy hop to Namur, Ghent, Bruges and Dinant.
With restaurants that use local produce, organic food markets, responsible shops, green spaces, bike paths and pedestrian zones, Paris is constantly coming up with new ways to improve the environment and make the city a green tourism destination
For nearly two decades, Paris has been committed to becoming green with less energy-consuming housing for its most disadvantaged populations, traffic control, and many new green spaces such as the famous "Coulée Verte" which runs through part of the 12th arrondissement and enables walks through green spaces on an old disused railway line.
France’s capital features legendary gardens that have seen queens and kings, courtiers and courtesans, rebellious students, lovers and broken hearts. The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Monceau and the "Coulée Verte René-Dumont" are on the must-see list.
The #1 shopping destination in the world, London for some is a pure city break destination and a destination for business trips, exhibitions and fairs.
Although the British capital might not be the first to come to mind when thinking of green cities, it’s credited as one of the greenest due, among other reasons, to its drastic measures to fight pollution and its plans to become carbon-free within the next decade.
The city features many green spaces in the form of parks, nature reserves and wildlife habitats.
The English, along with the French and the Japanese, invented their own style of gardens. English gardens developed in the 18th-century originated as a revolt against the architectural garden, which relied on rectilinear patterns, sculpture and the unnatural shaping of trees (unlike French gardens) and favors a countryside-like nature that represents an extension of the landscapes.
Richmond Park, created in the 17th century to accommodate still-numerous wild deer, is a favorite destination. It is the largest of London's Royal Parks and plays a vital role in the protection and conservation of wildlife.
Consider consulting the best nature wonders in England.
Often represented by its Red Square or its Orthodox churches that seem to emerge from a fairy tale, Moscow is ranked among the Best Green Capitals.
Almost two-thirds of its population goes to work on foot, by bicycle or by public transport and the Russian capital offers more than double the green space per inhabitant than Athens, for example, and 20 square meters per inhabitant of trees and shrubs.
Moscow was originally built among the forests of northeastern Russia and for that reason, according to World Atlas, 54% of Moscow’s territory is still covered by public parks and gardens.
Moscow regularly creates new natural spaces such as Zaryadye Park, established a few years ago and with its incredible views of St. Basil’s Cathedral, is perfectly integrated into the old historic center.