Six European cities going green for 2021

Across the continent, from Finland to France, we shine a light on some of the European cities making gloriously green strides towards a sustainable future.

By Carolyn Boyd
Published 21 Feb 2021, 06:07 GMT
Ljubljana is one of the European cities putting the environment at the top of its agenda ...

Ljubljana is one of the European cities putting the environment at the top of its agenda for 2021. 

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Lahti

You may not have heard of the European Green Capital 2021, 60 miles north of Helsinki, but it’s been busy carving out an environmentally conscious new identity. Aiming to become Finland’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025 (with the whole country doing the same 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. In the summer, meanwhile, visitors can soak up the 24-hour sunlight on the harbour, which has been transformed from an industrial port to a thriving hub of restaurants and cafes. Just on the city’s doorstep is Päijänne National Park — ripe for exploring with its pristine waters, islands and birdlife. 

2. Vienna

The Austrian capital has long had public water fountains, but its 21st-century revamp sees 1,000 of them supplied with spring water that generates hydroelectric power en route from the mountains. Meanwhile, its newest eco-boutique hotel The Wood, constructed using only sustainable wood, opened in the trendy Mariahilf district in December 2020. There’s no greener way for travellers to get around than by Citybike Wien bikes, with half the metropolitan area of Austria’s capital made up of green spaces, threaded with 870 miles of cycle paths. There’s also a fleet of eco-friendly taxis for those in a hurry.   

3. Paris

In summer 2020, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm was unveiled on a striking new exhibition hall in the outskirts of the French capital. As the latest in Paris’s many green initiatives, the Nature Urbaine site is the size of two football pitches and supplies local residents and the onsite Le Perchoir restaurant, whose terrace overlooks the growing plots. Elsewhere, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has committed to planting 170,000 trees across the city, while also ensuring every resident lives within 15 minutes of 200m2 of green space. She’s also set an ambitious goal of making all Paris’s streets cycle-friendly by 2024. 

4. Oslo

Pledging to cut carbon emissions by 95% by 2030, the Norwegian capital is aiming high with its green goals — hardly surprising in a country already supplied almost entirely by renewable energy. The city has the world’s highest proportion of electric cars, 250 of which are part of the Din Bybil car-sharing scheme, and runs the successful Oslo Bysykkel bike-sharing scheme. For travellers looking to explore urban parks and the surrounding forests, there are also racks of Voi E-Scooters dotted about. But all eyes are on one of the city’s newest developments: the eco-friendly neighbourhood of Vulkan Oslo, where travellers can check in to the Scandic Vulkan hotel. Powered by solar cells and geothermal energy, it was the first Norwegian hotel to gain an official class A energy rating.     

5. Ljubljana

In October 2020, Slovenia’s bijou capital was included on the 2020 Sustainable Destination Top 100 list — the only city to be included for a sixth time. Ljubljana has always been a leading light when it comes to smart, eco-conscious ideas; in 2008, the city centre went car-free, allowing locals and visitors free access to the BicikeLJ bike-share scheme for up to an hour at a time. Alternatively, take a stroll around the Bee Trail, which takes in 4,500 hives placed around the city. Ljubljana also won plaudits for giving free access to its cultural institutions during the Covid-19 lockdown period via its Culture on the Web project. 

6. Hamburg

Germany’s second city was named European Green Capital back in 2011, and its continuing green efforts mean it’s on track to cut its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. It has a wealth of eco-friendly transport options, but the launch of its Green Card (€19/£17 for two days) is the first of its kind in Germany, giving visitors unlimited travel on the harbour ferries, buses and trains, as well as discounts at environmentally conscious restaurants, cafes, shops and on city tours. Check into one of the many eco-friendly hotels, such as the Raphael Hotel Wälderhaus, part of a science-focused exhibition venue focusing on forests and sustainability. 

Published in the March 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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