The top 5 countries leading the way in sustainable development & why you should visit them

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There are many reasons to look after our planet and, of course, the freedom to keep exploring wonderful places is a reason high on many backpackers’ lists. The United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015 to work on social, economic and environmental issues. It may be no surprise to hear that Northern Europe is top of the charts in SDGs with Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Austria as the top sustainable countries leading the way in creating a more sustainable world.

So, what’s so great about these sustainable countries? Are they worth a visit on your next trip?

We say absolutely! Here’s why…




The low population density here allows for smaller cities filled with green spaces and little air pollution. So if you’re looking for a more peaceful city escape, Finland may be the spot for your next weekend break.

Visit the striking wooden Oodi Library and the renewable-powered Espoo Museum of Modern Art in Helsinki. You could even grab a bite to eat at Nolla Restaurant – an establishment that serves seasonal food and creates its menus based on daily ingredient availability.

Turku, Finland’s oldest city, is easily explored by electric bike and is famed for being the gateway to the Archipelago National Park. Here, there is a wide range of cruises and water buses to choose from when exploring the surrounding islands.

And that’s not the only national park! Finland is packed with untouched nature. For those of you seeking unique activities when you travel, why not try mushroom foraging in Nuuksio National Park? Or, grab a canoe and keep your eyes peeled for the Saimaa ringed seal at Linnansaari National Park.




As if being the birthplace of Lego isn’t exciting enough, Denmark is set to have the first carbon neutral capital city by 2025. Copenhagen has plenty to do, from sampling craft beers to exploring castles, and it’s easy to be eco-friendly on your travels there. Amager Bakke is a sustainable waste-processing power plant. Not your average tourist attraction. But with the roof converted into an artificial ski slope and the side of this giant building hosting the tallest climbing wall in the world, it’s well worth a visit.

Samsø is a self-sufficient Danish island, powered by its 11 wind turbines. If you enjoy walks in the country, Viking history and potatoes (I mean who doesn’t like potatoes?), this place is a proper gem. Looking for your fix of Vitamin D? Maybe visit Denmark’s sunniest island, Bornholm. Here you can find beaches, harbours and an abundance of organic produce served in excellent eateries.




Smörgåsbord is just one of the words that springs to mind when we think of Sweden and, fittingly, my first two recommendations fall within the food and drink category.

Fika. The Swedish word for ‘coffee and cake break’. This daily ritual is a state of mind for Swedes, and is deeply ingrained in their culture. I’m not sure why this concept hasn’t spread further afield, but here’s your reminder to eat cake in Sweden. Drop Coffee in Stockholm focuses on sustainably produced beans and welcomes everyone for Fika fun.

If you’d like a nice drink on your travels, you might fancy a stop in Åhus to take a tour of Absolut Home. Learn about the history of Absolut Vodka and, presumably, nab some samples while you’re at it.

Then there’s Växjö, a town that’s been ahead of the game in sustainability for a long time having cleaned up its polluted lakes in the 1970s. It’s great for a summer visit with a multitude of hiking trails and wild swimming spots. Sweden also features on our eco-friendly hostel list so make sure you check that out when planning your trip!




Famous for its fjords and the northern lights, there’s no doubt that Norway is a wonderful example of earth’s natural beauty.

It’s easily reached by train (via Copenhagen) and it’s also possible to go by ferry. For those looking for a flight-free holiday, this could be a good shout. Within the country, there are also good rail connections and you’ll find some of the most scenic train rides out there. Consider visiting off-season in winter to see the landscape transformed by snow. I visited Bergen years ago in January and took the Flåm railway near Aurlandsfjord which was truly magical.

There’s also a Sustainable Destination scheme where you can find locations that are working towards sustainable tourism development. One of these is Femund Engerdal where you can canoe, hike or cycle whilst watching wild moose and reindeer!

I think it’s fair to say most of us have the aurora borealis on our bucket list. And for good reason! Norway is one of the best places in the world to see them. My advice? Visit the northern town of Tromsø to experience the northern lights AND a sociable backpacker scene.




Over two thirds of Austria consists of mountain ranges, so you’re never far from a backdrop of snow-capped peaks and rolling green hills.

Lech is a quaint alpine village, famous for its skiing, saunas and hiking. Enjoy the views from the cable car in all seasons and relax in the evening with a traditional Austrian fondue.

For unique natural wonders, check out Green Lake in Styria and the heart-shaped mountain lake of Gaislachkogl. How are these places real?!

While hiking trails are always nearby, there is plenty to do in the cities too. Salzburg – the city of Mozart – can be toured via boat on the River Salzach, a centrepiece of the Old City. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the unique Rock Theatre, an outdoor stage surrounded by stone chiselled for perfect acoustics.

Finally, there’s a reason the Danube is one of the most well-known cycle routes in Europe. There’s no doubt that cycling in the summer months is both a peaceful and environmentally conscious travel choice.


So there we have it, the five most sustainable countries. Let us know in the comments which is going on your 2023 travel list first!


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About The Author

Sophie Fern

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