Travel Destinations

Sustainable tourism: the best eco-friendly destinations in Europe

Satisfy your wanderlust while making the world a better place by visiting these award-winning destinations dedicated to sustainable tourism.

Sustainable tourism

By Sophie Pettit

Updated 9-1-2024

Today’s consumers are more concerned than ever about the impact their travels have on the environment. Indeed, the 2019 Sustainable Travel Report by reveals that 71% of global travelers think that travel companies should offer more sustainable travel options. Furthermore, when it comes to in-destination experiences, 52% claim they now alter their behavior to be more sustainable wherever possible. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to satisfy our wanderlust while ensuring that our hard-earned euros help make the world a better place. Just take a look at these destinations around Europe that have won awards in recognition of their commitment to sustainable tourism.

Go bear watching in Wild Taiga, Finland

Animal cruelty remains a contentious issue when it comes to tourism throughout Europe and the rest of the world. And while there is still a long way to go before many governments implement strict laws to protect wildlife, there are some organizations that are doing things right. You can find some of these in Wild Taiga, one of the few areas in Europe where it is possible to see endangered brown bears in their natural environment. Located in the northeast of Finland, the spectacular terrain is teeming with wildlife from May to September. A guided expedition along the wilderness trails will bring you close to brown bears that have emerged from winter hibernation. Along the way, you might also be lucky enough to spot wolves, moose, reindeer, foxes, and beavers. Needless to say, the photo opportunities are second to none.

Sustainable tourism: bears in Wild Taiga, Finland

Around 60 privately-owned companies belong to the Wild Taiga travel trade association. This aims to provide sustainable tourism while preserving the native skills and knowledge of the region. This includes several tour operators that offer bear-watching expeditions in the region. One such organization is Responsible Travel, which offers four-day group tours to witness brown bears without creating any impact. All accommodation and transport used during the trip are locally owned and tour leaders are trained in responsible and sustainable tourism. The company is also a member of UK travel industry bodies Tourism Concern and AITO. Furthermore, it supports Cool Earth which empowers indigenous communities to conserve their forest and keep CO2 locked in.

Relax at the Lefay Resort and Spa, Lake Garda, Italy

Fortunately, being a sustainable traveler doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice luxury. On the contrary, there are countless wellness retreats throughout Europe that do a great job of balancing sustainability with indulgence. One such retreat is the award-winning Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda in Italy. Perched on the side of a mountain in Gargnano, the 11-hectare eco-resort remains one of the most beautiful in Europe. The luxury retreat was the first in Italy to be certified organic and ecological by Ecocert, one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world. Furthermore, the company was the first in the Italian tourism sector to work extensively to neutralize CO2 emissions. Its Green Book of measures allows it to take a holistic approach to sustainable tourism.

Lefay Resort and Spa, Lago di Garda

These focus on everything from saving water and energy to recycling and using resources responsibly. From its design to its daily operations, every aspect of the complex is eco-friendly. The resort is also built entirely from locally sourced biocompatible materials and is designed to merge seamlessly into the terraced hillsides. As well as creating minimal visual impact, its clever bioarchitecture also enables it to reduce energy consumption while maintaining a high level of thermal insulation. The resort also produces its own electricity on-site using state-of-the-art renewable energy systems. Meanwhile, rainwater is collected and recycled for use within the grounds; this includes six types of sauna, five relaxation areas, and an infinity pool. All these measures combine to offer you a guilt-free spa break of a lifetime in an eco-friendly paradise.

Bathe in the healing thermal waters of Laško, Slovenia

The Slovenian town of Laško is famous for its thermal springs, which are known for their healing powers. After the Romans discovered them in 39 BCE, people came from all over to bathe in their legendary waters in hopes of healing their various ailments. Today, Laško is hailed as one of the most beautiful green tourist destinations in Slovenia, owing to its commitment to promoting sustainable tourism. In 2013, the town was certified as a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) by the European Commission which promotes sustainable tourism. In 2019, it also received the Slovenia Green Gold Label by the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism (GSST).

Thermana Laško, Slovenia

You can still benefit from the therapeutic effects of the thermal waters today at the Thermana Laško and Rimske Terme health resorts. Characterized by its magnificent glass dome, the former is one of the most modern thermal centers in Slovenia. It houses three whirlpools, a pool with waves, a children’s play pool, a water slide, and a massage pool. Visitors can spend up to a whole day relaxing in the soothing thermal water while detoxifying their bodies. But if they really want to indulge, they can stay at the Hotel Thermana Park Laško and make use of the wide range of fitness and wellness facilities on offer.

Dive with sharks in the Azores, Portugal

Few experiences will get your heart racing quite like coming face to face with Jaws. But if you love sharks, then a scuba diving trip to the Azores is the eco-trip of a lifetime. Nicknamed “the last hidden treasure of Europe”, the cluster of nine Portuguese islands is one of the few places in the world where you can swim with the blue shark. During the late summer months, this diver’s paradise is swarming with manta rays, mobulas, and squid. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a sperm whale or two. Needless to say, the archipelago is a hotspot for nature lovers and divers at this time of year.

Shark diving in the Azores

Fortunately, this green destination is famous worldwide for its commitment to sustainable tourism. In fact, it won the Sustainable Destination Award for the Best of Nature category in 2020. Unsurprisingly, there are numerous shark diving tour operators to choose from in the area, all of which practice sustainable tourism. Dive Azores, for instance, is a small, but high-quality eco-tourism operation run by marine biologists. They offer spectacular whale watching and diving experiences off Faial Island. CW Azores and Pico Sport are other reputable operators that put sustainable nature conservation at the heart of their tours. Their expert teams offer you the chance to observe sharks, dolphins, and whales in the heart of Europe’s green paradise.

Go eco-glamping at the foot of the Pyrenees in Ariège, France

Nothing brings you closer to nature than camping under the stars – or rather, glamping. If you want to break the mold and experience something totally different from your traditional hotel stay, then there are plenty of eco-glamping destinations to explore around Europe. These are designed to allow you to relax in nature while creating minimal impact on your surroundings. Many of the campsites follow innovative sustainable measures that go way beyond simply recycling. One such site is Camping La Serre which carries the international environmental Clef Verte label for sustainable tourism. Located at the foot of the Pyrenees in Ariège, France, the three-star eco-campsite boasts a whopping 66 accommodation spots.

These include seven luxury lodge tents, several charming chalets, mobile homes, and a wooden cabin on stilts. There are also 47 pitches for tents, caravans, and motorhomes. Each nestled within a tranquil setting, these offer a large private area and stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The campsite’s environmental approach includes using solar panels to produce electricity, sorting and recovering green waste, and reducing water consumption. It also works to preserve the local wildlife and flora and fauna. There are many hiking and mountain bike trails to explore in Ariège during your stay. You can also visit the archaeological caves of Niaux or Lombrives, or go canyoning, rafting, and canoeing.

Go hiking in the Bystřicko Region, Czechia

If you love to hike, then navigating the unspoiled landscapes of the Bystřicko region in the Czech-Moravian Highlands will feel like paradise. In fact, many adventurous travelers consider this to be one of the best sustainable hiking destinations in Europe. The region is certified as a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) by the European Commission. This is owing to its commitment to protecting the local environment. Located within the Svratka River Nature Park, Bystřicko boasts a Bison Country hiking trail and two of Moravia’s oldest castles; Zubštejn and Pernštejn. The latter dates back to the 13th century and is said to be haunted by the White Lady. As the legend goes, a local monk cursed her for her wanton lifestyle.

Bystřicko Region, Czechia

People say she wanders the corridors searching for her mirror which she constantly preened herself in front of. Moreover, it is believed that any woman who looks into this mirror will lose their beauty within a year – so be warned! Aside from castles, there are many other architectural gems and landmarks to explore in the region. A particular highlight is the Romanesque Church of St. Michael in the village of Rovečné. You will also discover the UNESCO-listed Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelená Hora, as well as the third-highest dam in Czechia, the Vír Dam. For breathtaking views over the reservoir and the Žďár Peaks, make sure to climb to the top of the Karasín lookout tower.

Sail on a solar-powered charter yacht in Ibiza, Spain

The beautiful weather, crystal-clear waters, and exciting array of things to do in Ibiza make it a tourist hotspot during the summer months. But sailing enthusiasts now have a totally unique way of exploring the island without damaging the local environment. As part of the Green Boating Movement to make sailing more sustainable, several tour operators in the region now offer trips onboard solar-powered charter yachts. The most famous of these is the award-winning La Bella Verde, Ibiza’s first zero-emissions boating operator. Since 2014, the company has been running a fleet of seven solar-powered catamarans which take tourists to some of the most beautiful and secluded spots in the Balearic sea.

La Belle Verde boat

Depending on your budget and the package you choose, you can bring up to 32 guests on board for the day. During the voyage, you can indulge in local organic food and wine, as well as freshly-made cocktails on the deck. Remarkably, the company recently created the first emission-free eco-catamaran to clean plastic from the ocean as it sails. A robust net structure is suspended beneath the boat, collecting and removing waste as it goes. Thanks to the generous crew, you can actually hop onboard the heroic catamaran and go dolphin spotting for free.