The most environmentally friendly countries to visit in 2017
Traveling can be tough on the environment. Whether by train, plane, bus or car, for a work commute or across the world, traveling takes its toll on the planet.
In recent years, there’s been a push for a more environmentally friendly approach to seeing the world and experiencing other cultures. While some companies offer carbon credits or recommend guests re-use towels and linens to save the earth, there's more that can be done.
The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report looked at which countries are doing the best job in maintaining and promoting environmental sustainability. The report considered nine indicators to determine where countries ranked, including how tough environmental regulations are, how much they’re enforced, and how many environmental treaties the country has ratified.
The report highlights the direct, positive link between how immaculate the condition of a country’s natural resources are and their tourism revenue. Working toward sustainable travel isn't just good for the Earth — it's also good for countries’ bottom lines. Scroll through for the 15 countries doing environmentally sustainable tourism best, and where to visit to get the most out of them.
It seems like everyone has Iceland on their bucket list lately, and with good reason. Luckily, it’s also on the list of the countries treating the environment right, so you can soak in the Blue Lagoon and snorkel between tectonic plates knowing that your vacation destination is supporting the environment.
It’s possible to walk or bike from the Czech Republic’s capital, Prague, to Vienna, Austria. For tourists looking to keep it local and a bit less intense, the “rocktowns” made of sandstone boulders standing shoulder to shoulder to create pathways between them are worth a visit. There are also several caves dripping in stalactites and stalagmites and Hranická Propast (or Hranic Abyss)—the world’s deepest underwater cave.
In Latvia, nature parks are kept well manicured by wild horses and horned cattle. Visitors can also hike through marshes and bogs, view cliffs and caves from the shores of Gauja River and bird watch at Lake Pape.
If you thought safaris were all about lions and elephants, Estonia will change your mind. The Toosikannu Safari Park offers bike tours where you might see black storks, a variety of deer, and moose. If bikes and moose aren’t adventurous enough, try taking a kick sledge tour across the ice of Lake Pühajärv or go bogshoe hiking across Rubina swamp and bog.
With forests, caves, lakes and mountains, tourists looking to spend a bit of time in the great outdoors in Bulgaria are spoiled for choice. Hiking the Seven Rila Lakes, which can be completed in a day, is a favorite amongst visitors.
Slovenia is home to Lake Cerknica, an intermittent lake—that is, a lake in the middle of a karst forest that disappears and reappears—where visitors can fish, row or bike, and each time see the lake take on a new shape. There’s also breathtaking Lake Bled. The glass-smooth surface of the lake surrounds an island with a gothic church planted in the middle, and mirrored in the water.
There are a handful of images that the Netherlands immediately brings to mind: fields of tulips, spinning windmills and the Dutch on bicycles. These aren’t just stereotypes. Tourists can take a pedal boat through the canals of Amsterdam or grab a bike and explore the city or countryside.
Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, is on track to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city. Already, 30% of the country’s power is by wind, and they’re a previous winner of the ‘European Green Capital’ title. Like the Netherlands, cycling is an easy way to see cities, and many hotels rent bikes to tourists.
Germany’s Black Forest was the setting for some of the Grimm Brother’s fairytales, and is known still for quaint villages tucked amongst lush forestry. There are plenty of other gorgeous places to see outside the Black Forest as well, and Germany has an extensive network of accommodations across the countryside, so tourists have the opportunity to get out of the main cities.
Sweden’s so good at being environmentally friendly that they actually have to get garbage from abroad in order to keep their recycling plants going, so their appearance on the list doesn’t come as a shock. They also have an eco label to mark environmentally sustainable tours, so visitors can rest assured they’re putting their money in the best places.
Finland also has an eco label so you can know whether their choices of hotels, tours and restaurants are certified to meet certain standards. Doing tourism in an environmentally friendly way won’t limit you, either—check out Nuuksio National Park, where you can take a guided tour through woods and past lakes before eating a dinner prepared over a campfire and a soaking in a Finnish spa.
Bicycling is very popular in Luxembourg, and not just in town (although there’s plenty there too). Mountain bike rentals are available, and there are over 400 miles of mountain bike tracks in the tiny country. There are plenty of gorgeous lakes and nature parks to explore as well.
As the home to the fjords, moose, and a prime spot for viewing Aurora Borealis, Norway has a stunning and unique array on offer as far as environmental tourism goes. It’s no wonder they’re trying to preserve it. Look for a Sustainable Destination seal as the stamp of environmental approval.
In second place is Austria, with several national parks packed with mountains, forests, gorges and waterfalls. Austria also has a collection of villages and towns that give guests the opportunity to leave their cars behind completely, and some bigger cities have made strides to lessen the environmental impact of travel by switching their buses to use clean fuel.
There’s a reason the Swiss children’s book, “Heidi,” plants its title character in the midst of rolling hills and meadows filled with flowers. Switzerland’s landscape is an idyllic mosaic of lakes, hills and sprawling fields, many of which are set in nature parks. There are also the alpine valleys of Graubünden and stunning St. Moritz and Lucerne Lake, tucked at the base of the Swiss Alps.