The Best Sustainable Travel Destinations for 2021

Montenegro has put the environment at the top of its tourism agenda
Montenegro has put the environment at the top of its tourism agenda | ©  MStudioImages
Photo of Cassam Looch
Social Editor29 December 2020

Travel has taken a back seat in 2020 and may well take a while to fully recover. But when it does, sustainability should be at the forefront of our minds. There’s a growing trend to blend the fun of a trip abroad with the pressing need for ecofriendly travel that makes you feel good. Here are Culture Trip’s picks of dreamy destinations that will provide much-needed wanderlust in 2021, and help you limit your carbon footprint in the process.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Sweden’s second city has been crowned the world’s most sustainable destination for the past four years on the Global Destination Sustainable Index. The list features several other Nordic cities, demonstrating that this is more than just a passing fad in northern Europe. The majority of Gothenburg‘s public transport runs off renewable energy, and numerous hotels in the city have been awarded environmental diplomas following strict guidelines that must be followed. Gothia Towers is the largest hotel in Europe, but even this huge structure has an eco-first outlook that keep its carbon emissions to a minimum.

The bustling Haga Nygata in Gothenburg, Sweden’s most ecofriendly city | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Maldives

Having spent months stuck at home, we’re all dreaming of our next epic adventure – and the Maldives tops many a destination bucket list. Ecofriendliness is taken very seriously here, as the islands are so low-lying, they face continuous risk from the elements. The ecological and environmental situation is precarious, but tourism is financing much of the rescue efforts. A key focus is plastic, and many hotels in the Maldives have signed up to a number of initiatives to reduce its use and, where it cannot be replaced, to recycle it. So pick a place to stay that is actively doing something positive for the environment and you can enjoy this slice of paradise with a clear conscience.

Here’s our pick of the best resorts in the Maldives to help you find the perfect place to stay.

The Maldives face a massive threat from global warming, so they take ecofriendly measures very seriously | © Slick Shoots / Alamy Stock Photo

Hachinohe City, Japan

Sustainable living has been part of Japanese culture for centuries. The nation’s many prefectures are connected by the “shinkansen“, or bullet train, which, thanks to is lightweight design, consumes far less energy than regular trains, resulting in less track maintenance. However, most tourists tend to make a beeline for the same destinations: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, which results in further crowding to already very crowded cities.

For a more sustainable experience of Japan, try somewhere off the grid. Hachinohe City, in the flatlands of Aomori Prefecture, is our top tip for 2021. Social distancing will probably be around for a while, and with fewer visitors, Hachinohe will make this less problematic. Another reason to visit this lesser-known city is the health and wellness benefits on offer, from the relaxing onsens of the Eagle’s Spring to the antioxidant-boosting properties of dishes made using Aomori black garlic.

Just two hours’ drive away is the village of Owani Onsen. Renowned for its hot springs, it’s a wonderful spot for disconnecting and living a fleeting life of luxury. For somewhere to stay, we recommend Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru – an upscale ryokan in a wooded area near to the Owani Hot Spring Ski Area.

Benten island, near Hachinohe, is worth a visit to see its temple | © Frank Kletschkus / Alamy Stock Photo

Helsinki, Finland

Back to the Nordics we go, and this time it’s to Helsinki , where the approach to sustainable travel starts from the ground up, with countless initiatives across the city united in a mission to make the Finnish capital a leading example of sustainable innovation. Take Majamaja: an off-grid wooden village coming in 2021, promising a holistic approach that combines green energy, clean water recycling and functional space use. Alternatively, Klaus K Hotel and GLO Art Hotel both provide excellent ecofriendly options in the city centre.

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Helsinki | © Frank Kletschkus / Alamy Stock Photo

Valencia, Spain

Valencia recently claimed Spain’s first ever Green Michelin Star for the environmental efforts of award-winning Ricard Camarena Restaurant. in recognition of its reduced food miles and zero use of chemicals. The home of paella, Valencia takes pride in its food culture – don’t miss the maze-like aisles of the Central Market, one of the oldest food markets in Europe, completed in 1928 with a spectacular dome at its core. All the produce is locally – and sustainably – sourced, from fish, meats and cheeses to fruit and vegetables.

The port city is also the first in the world to measure carbon emissions from tourist activity, adding to its green reputation from vast parks and miles of Blue Flag status beaches. For a green yet uncompromisingly comfy stay in the city, we recommend The Westin Valencia and Hotel ILUNION Aqua 4, which participates in Travelife, a programme that measures the property’s impact on the local environment.

The Central Market, in Valencia, built in 1928, purveys all sorts of local produce | © Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo

Emilia Romagna, Italy

Acres of pristine countryside, historic cities such as Genoa, Turin and Venice – the draws of northern Italy are numerous, and Emilia Romagna is arguably the gastronomic capital of Italy. Bologna and Parma, for example, are both foodie hotspots, while the latter has been designated Italian Capital of Culture 2021.

It’s a year that also marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante, and to commemorate, there will be an epic 245-mile guided walk through stunning landscapes following in the poet and writer’s footsteps. The Roads of Dante (Le Vie di Dante) is a cross-country hike starting in Ravenna, the birthplace of Dante, where celebrations of his life will take centre stage. If you’d like to get involved, you’ll need a base to get plenty of rest before hitting the road – check out our pick of the best hotels in Ravenna.

The Strada Farini in the historic city centre of Parma, in Emilia Romagna | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

This group of six small islands, off the west coast of Thailand, has been the focus of environmental efforts for several years. Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Le, shot to world fame after it featured in the hit movie The Beach (1999), but suffered terrible damage in the following years due to unsustainable, restriction-free tourism. Eventually, the Thai government took the controversial step of closing the beach to tourists, and the decision seems to be paying off, with marine life returning to the area.

You can now enjoy a luxury stay at Phi Phi Island Village, on Koh Phi Phi Don. A recent winner at the Responsible Thailand Awards, this carbon-neutral beach resort actively encourages guests to take part in efforts to rejuvenate the local environment. If there’s no availability on the dates you want to visit, there are lots of other great options around the archipelago.

The archipelago of Koh Phi Phi, in Thailand, offers sustainable accommodation options – with unbeatable views | © Marina Pissarova / Alamy Stock Photo

Cornwall, UK

Brits don’t have to stray too far from home to travel sustainably. In fact, these eco-hotels in Cornwall prove that you don’t have to travel overseas at all. This southwest county sets the standard for ecofriendliness, highlighting how popular tourist destinations can utilise green resources despite drawing the crowds. While international travel remains a tricky prospect for anyone living in the UK, Cornwall will be a tempting option for a fast getaway – especially if you want to reset your approach to travel in 2021 and be more green.

Cornwall’s pretty fishing villages are well worth a visit, and there are plenty of hotels that can help you keep your carbon footprint to a minimum | © Carolyn Eaton / Alamy Stock Photo

Nova Scotia, Canada

We’re slightly obsessed with Nova Scotia here at Culture Trip. It’s conveniently located on the east coast of Canada, making it a relatively short flight from Europe, and it offers the chance to explore one of the world’s most beautiful countries without breaking the bank. Halifax, the regional capital, is the first place you’ll want to visit when you arrive. The revamped waterfront at Queen’s Marque has some excellent five-star facilities with sustainability at the forefront. The power of seawater will be harnessed to provide energy throughout the harbour – a fitting tribute to the region’s seafaring heritage.

You can also explore the Cliffs of Fundy Global Geopark, home to some of the highest tides in the world as well as some remarkable dinosaur fossils. Spend the night at the popular Trout Point Lodge where a fantastic Starlight Culinary Experience is on offer, or choose from the very best waterfront resorts in Nova Scotia to ensure you always wake up to a sea view.

Lighthouse and granite rock formations at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia | © Allan Coutts / Alamy Stock Photo

Montenegro

Earlier this year, the Nature and Me initiative put Montenegro back on the travel radar for many of us. The campaign encourages travellers to take a break from the stuck-at-home virtual world we’ve been forced to endure for the majority of 2020, and discover areas of natural beauty in Montenegro that are often overlooked. No matter where you travel in 2021, an off-the-grid escape with outdoor activities and farm-to-table food will likely be top of the hit list. And this campaign does a great job of convincing us Montenegro is the place to find exactly that.

If you’re feeling inspired, let us inspire you further with our ultimate guide to backpacking in Montenegro.

The historic Church of Our Lady of Remedy, overlooking the old town of Kotor | © Scott Wilson / Alamy Stock Photo