These Are the World’s Most Sustainable Travel Destinations

If you would prefer to travel to places that are taking climate action seriously, Euromonitor International recently ranked the world’s countries based on their approach to sustainable travel and tourism. Here’s which destinations topped the list.

A beach with grass and homes in the distance in Sweden

Almost all of the most sustainable travel destinations are in Europe, including the top spot—Sweden.

Steven Erixon/Unsplash

Travel, as enjoyable and transformative as it can be, often comes with a heavy environmental footprint. From carbon emissions associated with flights to the overdevelopment of natural habitats, the consequences of mass tourism are often disheartening. But, a growing number of countries are paving a path to more sustainable tourism, recognizing that travel can be as much as part of the solution as it is part of the problem.

Euromonitor International, a global market research company, recently released its 2023 Sustainable Travel Index, which identifies the top 20 most sustainable countries for travel in the world. According to Caroline Bremner, head of travel at Euromonitor International, the index utilizes 56 ranking indicators to determine the performance of sustainable travel in the various countries. Of those, she said, there are three main types of indicators:

  • General indicators that relate to the health of a destination in terms of happiness, equality, and social justice
  • Indicators that quantify the specific impacts of tourism on the local environment such as hotel energy use
  • The general state of tourism such as quality of infrastructure or dependency on international demand

Notably, all but one are in Europe (the outlier being in South America).

The World’s Most Sustainable Travel Destination

Sweden is the world’s most sustainable travel destination, according to Euromonitor International’s 2023 Sustainable Travel Index. This may not come as a huge surprise to many, considering Visit Sweden has a goal of making itself “the world’s most sustainable and attractive destination based on innovation” by 2030 and has made huge investments in time and money into that mission. Some of Sweden’s sustainable travel programs include having all the public transit in Stockholm run on 100 percent renewable energy (a feat accomplished in 2017), pushing for more than 250 hotels and accommodations to meet the strict requirements of the Nordic Ecolabel, a rigorous environmental certification program, and introducing an ecotourism charter called Nature’s Best (which certifies tour operators that focus on sustainable travel).

lake with a small row boat surrounded by forest in Finland

Finland came in right behind Sweden in the global ranking of sustainable destinations.

Saikrishna Saketh/Unsplash

The World’s Most Sustainable Travel Destinations in 2023

  1. Sweden
  2. Finland
  3. Austria
  4. Estonia
  5. Norway
  6. Slovakia
  7. Slovenia
  8. Iceland
  9. Latvia
  10. Switzerland
  11. France
  12. Lithuania
  13. Denmark
  14. Czech Republic
  15. Germany
  16. Portugal
  17. Croatia
  18. Uruguay
  19. Romania
  20. Poland

Sweden, Bremner said, has been in the top spot for over the past few years. One of the reasons she credited is Sweden’s flight-shaming movement.

“It continues to have a positive impact with a major drop in the number of domestic flights taken, dropping from 6.6 percent of trips to 2.7 percent,“ Bremner said.

She also pointed to the fact that Sweden and Finland share some similarities that put them at the top of the list regarding cultural heritage, including that they have no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in danger, which significantly helped to boost their rankings.

For Austria, Bremner noted that the country ranked first on the social sustainability standpoint, which includes a focus on equality, decent jobs, fair distribution of income, access to basic needs, health, and inclusion. Overall, that helped Austria earn the third spot on the list.

View of Melbourne with skyscrapers on the left, alongside trains and train tracks and the waterfront on the right

Melbourne in Australia topped the list of most sustainable cities for initiatives like retrofitting buildings to lower their carbon footprint and transitioning to renewable energy.

Dmitry Osipenko/Unsplash

The Sustainable Travel Index 2023 also spotlighted the ten most sustainable city destinations, which were more spread out, with one in Australia, seven in Europe, and two in North America.

The World’s Most Sustainable Cities in 2023

  1. Melbourne
  2. Madrid
  3. Seville
  4. Stockholm
  5. Tallinn
  6. Toronto
  7. Palma de Mallorca
  8. Las Vegas
  9. Lisbon
  10. Munich

According to a Euromonitor International press release, Melbourne because of wide-ranging sustainability successes.

Bremner said what stood out about the Australian city “includes its retrofitting of buildings to reduce carbon footprint and transition to renewables, greening streets, along with hosting carbon neutral events for several years.“

She added that to achieve net zero by 2040, Melbourne has declared a climate and biodiversity emergency, and set out eight key priority areas and 76 action points, as part of its Emissions Reduction Plan to 2026. In its previous plan, it succeeded in reducing emissions by an impressive 76 percent, compared to the baseline. The key to decarbonization is the shift to electrification and adoption of renewables such as solar panels, which is expected to reduce not just carbon but also costs.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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