Go green: five forward-thinking cities across Europe

European cities are on the forefront of innovative, green-minded initiatives for the future. We pick five of the continent's leading lights.

Friday, 17 April 2020,
By Ben Lerwill
Walkers overlooking the city of Edinburgh
In 2019, research by First Mile found Edinburgh to be the greenest city in the UK, based on factors such as air quality, recycling efficiency and green space.
Photograph by Getty

Lyon
France’s gastronomic heart is no stranger to awards. In 2018, Lyon was recognised by the European Commission for its commitment to universal accessibility; in 2019, it was named European Capital of Smart Tourism. And what is smart tourism? It’s an approach that involves local communities in the development of tourism, with the aim of improving overall quality of life. One of Lyon’s greatest successes is the former industrial district of La Confluence, now home to a world-class science and anthropology museum, the Musée des Confluences.

Edinburgh
In 2019, research by First Mile found Edinburgh to be the greenest city in the UK, based on factors such as air quality, recycling efficiency and green space. It’s visible on the ground, too: the Scottish capital has 112 parks, an extensive network of cycle paths and more trees per capita than anywhere else in the UK. Edinburgh St James, a retail, leisure and hotel complex set to open in October, is taking a bold approach to sustainability: as much as 99% of its construction waste has been diverted from landfill, local students have been given on-site engineering work experience, and 80% of its workforce has been locally recruited.       

Budapest
The Hungarian capital recently saw the launch of the crowd-funded Green Guide Budapest map. Printed using soy-based ink, the free fold-out guide aims to steer visitors away from the usual attractions by highlighting parks, markets and eco-friendly stores around the city. Elsewhere in Budapest, Vegan Garden is a street food hub in the Jewish Quarter, with six food trucks selling 100% vegan dishes; set to reopen for its third year. 

Lahti 
In 2025, the Finnish city of Lahti — 60 miles north east of the capital, Helsinki — is due to become the first carbon-neutral city in the country. The move follows an announcement in mid-2019 that saw it introduce an app-based traffic emissions scheme for residents, in which participants pledge to live within a weekly target. The city has also long promoted a circular economy — reusing, recycling and renewing so that waste is ultimately removed from the system — and has also drawn praise for its water conservation efforts.

Lisbon
When Lisbon was given the European Green Capital Award for 2020, it was well-earned recognition for a city that began its drive towards sustainability during a period of economic crisis — no mean feat. The Portuguese capital has been serious about going green for a long time, halving its CO2 emissions between 2002 and 2014 and increasing the proportion of electric vehicles in its municipal fleet to 40%. Almost 95% of residents now live within 300 metres of public transport, while 75% live within the same distance of green spaces. 

Published in the European Cities Collection, distributed with the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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