Stephen Bailey
The World's Most Sustainable City Destinations
The World's Most Sustainable City Destinations
Stephen Bailey

With the COP26 climate summit taking place next month, destinations around the world have been clambering to celebrate their green, eco status. 

A whole host of surveys and awards have categorised the greenest and most sustainable cities in the world. 

Here are some of the big winners. Do you agree? Are these destinations in your travel plans? We’re not so sure that these are the most sustainable cities in the world, although we’re definitely supportive of how awards like this help us think about our choices as travellers. 

1. Copenhagen

The Time Out Index is formed by surveying 27,000 city dwellers around the world. They asked respondents to rate how eco-conscious and forward-looking their city really is. 

Copenhagen came top, with 57% of respondents describing their city as sustainable, more than any other city. The city made a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2025 and is on track to achieve this target. 

2. Vienna

Real estate and consultancy group Resonance used nine green criteria to determine the ten greenest cities in the world (although they only actually examined the 50 most visited cities in the world, defined by the number of Tripadvisor reviews). 

Vienna took the top prize, thanks to its green space and excellent public transportation. Also in top ten are Munich, Berlin, Madrid, Sao Paulo and Manchester. See, these lists of most sustainable are starting to get a little confusing and controversial.

3.  Curitiba, Brazil

Siemens sponsors the Green City Index, using indicators like energy, water, land use and environmental governance to rank 120 world cities. Copenhagen is also their number one in Europe. 

Singapore came top in Asia and San Francisco in the US. Curitiba in Brazil tops the Green City Index for South America, a city six hours south of Sao Paulo and a gateway to the attractions of southern Brazil

4. Charlotte, United States 

The Husqvarna Urban Green Space Index (HUGSI) has the most scientific method for choosing a green city. By using satellite images and computer learning, it evaluates the proportion and health of green space in urban areas. 

Number one in their ranking is the city of Charlotte in North Carolina, followed by Durban, South America and the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Krakow comes fifth and its residents came out to question the poll, saying that the city is synonymous with Poland’s air pollution problem and most of the green space is privately owned by the church. 


Yes, Dubai, that city of skyscrapers created from oil money where the air conditioning units every minute of the year. According to a study by Uswitch, it’s the most sustainable city in the world. 

Controversially, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia is named as the least sustainable, because the economy is funded by fossil fuels, so essentially Dubai’s position only 20 years ago. Do you think Dubai is the world’s most sustainable city? Or is this a serious case of greenwashing?

6. Zurich

The Sustainable Cities Index, developed by ARCADIS in partnership with the United Nations, uses three pillars to judge sustainability – social, environmental and economic. 

The top three are Zurich, Singapore and Stockholm. London comes fourth, which is probably a surprise to anybody who has ever visited London. Surely with all the city’s pollution it’s not a city more sustainable than say Cape Town, or number one of our list, Copenhagen.

All the studies and reports merely show that the definition of green and sustainable is as subjective as ever. So instead of following the marketers to the most awarded cities, it’s better to follow our own intuition and explore cities that excite a sustainable desire within us as travellers. 

For some that could be a remote African town. For others it can be a big metropolis introducing programs to turn greener. And the beauty of travel is that we can all make up our own minds about the cities most sustainable to us.

Similar articles

This is what ecotourism really looks like