12 of the best sustainable tourism sights worldwide

More and more travelers are looking beyond the most affordable and comfortable way to travel and are putting more thought into how their choices might affect the destination they want to visit. 

As travel priorities shift, on top of having a great time travelers increasingly want to do the right thing by the places they visit. In this extract from Sustainable Escapes, Lonely Planet looks at how 12 worldwide tourist attractions have approached sustainability in an innovative way. 

Jewel at Changi, Singapore, is an indoor oasis

First came Gardens by the Bay with its solar-harvesting Supertrees, and in 2019 Singapore upped its urban garden game with an airport terminal you’ll never want to leave. Harnessing cutting-edge sustainable technology, Jewel at Changi is a green oasis, complete with a hedge maze, a canopy bridge, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

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New York’s Climate Museum aims to inspire action on the climate crisis

New York City’s Climate Museum has won a legion of fans for over 200 innovative public exhibitions and events it has hosted around the city since 2017. Examples include youth spoken-word programs dedicated to themes of climate change; Climate Signals, a city-wide public art installation by US artist Justin Brice Guariglia, which flashed climate change alerts in five languages; and Beyond Lies, a public art exhibition by British illustrator and journalist Mona Chalabi, that examines climate disinformation from the fossil fuel industry. 

View of Cape Town taken from within the cable car on approach to the top of Table Mountain. The cables of the carbon-neutral cableway are overhead.
The Table Mountain cableway has high standards when it comes to responsible tourism © Chiara Salvadori / Getty Images

Cape Town’s Table Mountain cableway has been carbon-neutral since 2016

Hiking Table Mountain is a quintessential Cape Town experience. But those who prefer to ride the cable car can still feel good about it. The cableway has been carbon-neutral since 2016, and maintains one of the most cohesive responsible tourism policies around, with careful water management and waste reduction practices in place.

Copenhill, Copenhagen’s ski slope, is on top of a power plant

Urban ski slopes typically take the form of emissions-emitting indoor centers. But not Copenhill. Opened in 2019, this artificial ski slope sits atop Amager Bakke, a waste-to-power plant central to Copenhagen’s goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral city. The complex also has a 280ft (85m) climbing wall (the world’s highest) and, like all good ski resorts, an après-ski bar.

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A red, two-carriage train stands outside a station. The roof of the train is covered in solar panels.
Byron Bay, Australia, is home to the world’s first solar-powered train © Byron Bay Railroad Company

Byron Bay, Australia, has the world’s first solar-powered train 

Connecting the center of surf town Byron Bay to a vibrant arts estate, the world’s first solar-powered train made its maiden journey on a scenic 1.9 mile (3km) stretch of disused rail line in 2017. In lieu of ticket machines, fares are collected by a conductor on the beautifully refurbished heritage train.

Sustainability is central at the Azurmendi restaurant near Bilbao, Spain

Proving it’s haute to be sustainable, Azurmendi, a three-Michelin-star restaurant near Bilbao, has twice won the sustainable restaurant award from World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The hilltop atrium building harnesses solar and geothermal energy, and guests can tour the on-site greenhouses and vegetable gardens that supply the inventive menus.

A family of two adults and two children stand on a rope bridge surrounded by jungle. A glass roof arches above them.
There are great rainforest views from the canopy walkway at the Eden Project © Eden Project

England’s Eden Project recreates major climate systems

Occupying the site of an excavated china clay pit, the Eden Project education charity and visitor’s center in Cornwall, England, features huge biomes housing exhibitions, gardens, and the largest indoor rainforest in the world. It’s also home to the UK’s longest and fastest zip line, and a play tower for kids designed to introduce little ones to the concept of pollination. 

Ocean Atlas in the Bahamas is an artwork and artificial reef

British sculptor and environmental activist Jason deCaires Taylor is famous for his surreal underwater sculptures that double as artificial reefs. Ocean Atlas – depicting a young girl supporting the ceiling of the water, much like the mythological Greek Titan shouldered the burden of the heavens – is a 60-plus-ton sculpture in Nassau, intended to symbolize the environmental burden we are asking future generations to carry.

An upwards shot taken within the huge cooling tower of an ex-power plant, with people on swings of a fairground ride at the top.
There’s now a fairground ride within the cooling tower at Wunderland Kalkar © Marco van den Arend / 500px

A former nuclear reactor is now a theme park at Wunderland Kalkar, Germany

Following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, German authorities decided not to put its new multi-billion-euro nuclear reactor near the Dutch border into operation. But it wasn’t a complete write-off. In the 1990s, the site was transformed into Wunderland Kalkar, an amusement park, complete with a swing ride inside the reactor’s cooling tower.

Vena Cava winery in Mexico is constructed from recycled materials

Vena Cava calls itself the hippest winery in Mexico, and when you lay eyes on this all-organic Baja winery – which was constructed from reclaimed fishing boats and other recycled materials – it’s difficult to disagree. Better yet, its cellar door is open for tastings every day of the week.

Minimize your impact when bird-watching from Tij Observatory, Netherlands

Taking its form from a tern’s egg, Tij Observatory is a stunning public birdwatching observatory in Scheelhoek Nature Reserve in Stellendam, the Netherlands, designed to rest as lightly on nature as possible. Built with sustainable wood and clad in thatched reeds, the observatory is reached via a tunnel built from recycled bulkheads to minimize disturbance to birds.

Jubileumsparken is a huge park project in Gothenburg, Sweden

The city of Lund might be getting a bicycle-powered museum in 2024, but there’s another great ecofriendly Swedish attraction you can visit now. Jubileumsparken is the ongoing redevelopment of a Gothenburg port area into an ultra-sustainable leisure hub to meet residents’ requests for better access to the river and more green areas in the city. Two baths and a sauna were constructed, with ongoing work to introduce new children’s play areas. Gothenburg has been ranked number one sustainable destination in the Global Destination Sustainability Index five times.

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