Skip to main content

If you want to travel responsibly, here are a list of 10 locales that are doing their best to lessen your impact on the planet

Open this photo in gallery:

iStockPhoto / Getty Images

If you truly care about saving the planet, you’ll make a New Year’s resolution to stop travelling and just stay home. At least, that’s what a climate-change expert will likely tell you.

Because the hard truth is that the transportation industry – particularly road and aviation – relies on fossil fuels more than any other sector. According to the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization based in Paris, in 2021, transport accounted for a whopping 37 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions from end-use sectors.

However, the world is still out there. And people want to see it.

But they want to do so mindfully. An April 2022 survey reported that 81 per cent of respondents indicated sustainable travel is important to them and 50 per cent said climate change has influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices.

The David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental non-profit organization, offers several valuable tips on how you can mitigate your impact on the planet with regards to air travel – beyond avoiding planes all together (although they do suggest that too). Stay longer in a destination, take direct and daytime flights, opt for economy, buy Gold Standard carbon offsets and choose airlines carefully ( has a ranking of emissions by airline).

Clearly, it’s about how you travel. But it can be about where you travel, too.

Enter the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism.

This United Nations World Tourism Organization initiative launched in November, 2021. The aim is to secure commitments from the tourism industry to support global goals of halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero before 2050. So far, there are more than 700 signatories, ranging ­from travel businesses such as Expedia and Contiki to tourism boards including those for Quebec City and Machu Picchu.

These brands and destinations are committing themselves to creating – and implementing – climate action plans within 12 months of signing, and then publicly reporting on progress annually. Plans can include moving to renewable energy sources; investing in restoring and protecting natural habitats; and providing education to tour operators and hotels on how to minimize their impact.

So if you’re going to travel, why not support the economy of a place that’s trying to make a difference?

At the time of writing, 69 destinations and tourism boards have signed the declaration. That list includes municipal, regional and federal locales, as well as a few national parks and heritage sites. The vast majority are based in Europe or North America, which likely speaks to the fact that they’re two of the biggest contributors to climate change. Notably, there are a few signatories in Africa and Australia/Oceania as well but the destinations are three or more stopovers to get to from Canada.

Luckily, there’s still plenty to choose from. Here are our top 10 picks that are capturing our imagination and inspiring our next adventure.

Skip to a regionEuropeAsiaNorth AmericaSouth America


Number of signatories: 51

Open this photo in gallery:

The main square of Helsinki, one of the Finnish cities that has signed the Glasgow Declaration.SAMI AUVINEN/iStockPhoto / Getty Images


If you’re looking for: road trip, family friendly, nature

This Nordic nation makes the list not only because it’s ranked the happiest country in the world, but because more than 20 per cent of the destinations that have signed the Glasgow Declaration are Finnish (from the country itself to individual cities including Helsinki, Vantaa and Lappeenranta).

It takes about 15 hours to drive from one side of Finland to the other – a small fraction of the 100-plus hours needed to journey across Canada – so you can cover a lot of ground if you rent a car. (Might we suggest an electric vehicle if you’re trying to minimize your carbon footprint?)

On your road trip, you can visit the home of Santa Claus in Rovaniemi (and cross the Arctic Circle), ski or snowboard at some top-notch resorts (Levi, Ruka and Yllas), spot the Northern Lights (fall and spring are the best times to see them), explore vast nature (there are more than 188,000 lakes) and relax in one of the country’s three million saunas – an activity added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2020.

Open this photo in gallery:

The view from an iron bridge in Porto, a city known for its world-famous port wine and neoclassical architecture.RossHelen/iStockPhoto / Getty Images


If you’re looking for: romance, beaches, gastronomy

There’s lots to love about Portugal. It’s one of the most affordable places to travel to in Western Europe, it’s filled with history – it’s had the same defined borders since 1139, making it one of the oldest countries on the continent – and the tourism board has a sustainability plan with more than 100 action items, such as delivering appropriate training to more than 50,000 industry professionals.

The greatest hits here are capital city Lisbon, for its pastel-coloured buildings, traditional fado music and hilly terrain (which makes for some breathtaking views), and Porto, for its world-famous port wine and neoclassical architecture.

But also consider Nazare (a seaside town known for having some of the world’s largest surfable waves), Madeira and the Azores (Portuguese islands in the Atlantic) and the region of Algarve (the warmest and southernmost spot in the country).

And be prepared to nosh. Fresh seafood – grilled sardines, salted cod and more – is abundant here, but also try flaky pastel de natas (egg custard tarts), garlicky bifanas (Portuguese pork sandwiches) and juicy chicken piri-piri.

Open this photo in gallery:

Victoria Street in Edinburgh, Scotland.ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images


If you’re looking for: road trip, history, nature

Scotland is a must since it’s where the declaration launched – and it was part of the committee that drafted it. But it also has other sustainability bonfides: The country’s Destination Net Zero program, for instance, launched as Glasgow prepared to host the COP26 climate conference in 2021, provides advice and funding to Scottish tourism businesses and destinations.

The country’s size – about the same as New Brunswick – and striking landscape make it another destination primed for a road trip. Start in one of the two biggest cities: Edinburgh (for Harry Potter walking tours and historic attractions), or Glasgow (for a vibrant arts scene as well as welcoming locals, it was voted the friendliest city in the world) before checking out the other: They’re only 75 kilometres apart. Then head to Inverness, a small city on the northeastern coast that is the capital of the picturesque Scottish Highlands and the closest hub to Loch Ness. To enjoy of wee dram of Scotland’s finest, visit the northeastern region of Speyside, where more than half of the country’s malt whisky distilleries are located.


Number of signatories: 2

Open this photo in gallery:

A Buddhist monk prays during a Vesak Day ceremony at the Borobudur temple in Magelang, Central Java province, Indonesia.ANTARA FOTO/Reuters


If you’re looking for: nature, family friendly, beaches

More than 17,500 islands make up Indonesia, one of two locations in Asia to sign the declaration. That whopping figure allows it to lay claim as the largest archipelago in the world. The most popular is Bali, of course, for its white-sand beaches, luxury resorts, ancient temples (more than 20,000) and Ubud Monkey Forest, a nature reserve where you can observe long-tailed macaques in their natural habitat.

But that still leaves 17,499 other islands. Venture to Java, and you can visit the Borobudur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 72 Buddha sculptures, and hike Mount Bromo, an active volcano. Or head to Komodo Island, where the national park has a striking pink beach and a large population of – you guessed it – Komodo dragons.

If you want to see more animals, Tanjung Puting National Park in the Indonesian-owned part of Borneo is home to one of the largest orangutan populations in the world. Prefer elephants, tigers and rhinos? Sumatra’s for you.

Open this photo in gallery:

Japanese skateboarder and snowboarder Rita Ishizuka wades through Niseko's famous deep powder snow.Niseko Tourism

Niseko, Japan

If you’re looking for: adventure, gastronomy, nature

Located on Japan’s northern island, a two-hour drive from Sapporo, Niseko is an adventurers’ paradise. It’s considered the Aspen of Asia for its ski and snowboard resorts – blessed with non-stop powder in the winter – as well as its summer hiking and river rafting. And it was named one of the top 100 sustainable tourist destinations in the world by the International Organization for Sustainable Tourism.

If you’re here for the Japow, the nickname given to the average 15 metres of snowfall that arrives each year, one $80 pass will give you access to all four resorts: Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, Hanazono and Annupuri. You can also hike five hours up Mount Yotei and then ski or snowboard down the volcano’s crater – but it’s only recomended for those with intermediate to advanced skills and you’ll need a guide.

Whichever slope you choose, the après-ski ritual here is to head to the onsens (hot springs) – possibly the best part of it all. Unwind with a local whisky, beer or sake (made with water from the exceptionally clean rivers) and indulge in Niseko’s culinary scene (rendered world-class thanks to the area’s rich agriculture.

North America

Number of signatories: 9

Open this photo in gallery:

The city of Guanajuato, Mexico is known for its colourful architecture and commitment to reaching net zero.traveler1116/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Guanajuato City, Mexico

If you’re looking for: history, gastronomy, romance

Located approximately 350 kilometres northwest of the country’s capital, Guanajuato City is where the nation’s fight for freedom all began, with the first battle of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. These days, its known for its colourful architecture and commitment to reaching net zero (they’re the only place in the country to sign the declaration).

Guanajuato City is jam-packed with attention-grabbing sights. For starters, owing to its location in a narrow valley, most of the central streets are so narrow that cars can’t fit through. The best example of this is Callejon del Beso (Alley of the Kiss), named as such because two balconies on either side of the street are so close to one another that two people could reach across and smooch. There’s also the Mummy Museum, filled with more than 100 mummified bodies, and La Valenciana, a former silver mine, which alongside the city’s historic centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Fairmont Empress Hotel and causeway in Victoria's Inner Harbour.The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Island, Canada

If you’re looking for: road trip, family friendly, beaches

While we love the other Canadian destinations who have signed the declaration – Quebec City, Vancouver and the Okanagan – Vancouver Island stands out for its mild climate and leadership in the sustainable tourism space. In April, the tourism board announced it would transition from a traditional destination management organization to a social enterprise – directing all revenue toward local communities.

Start in Victoria, the island’s biggest city. Stroll through Butchart Gardens (a National Historic Site), go whale watching (best time: May to October) or sip an afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress (a historic hotel overlooking the Inner Harbour). From there, the best way to see the rest of the island is by car. An hour away is Duncan, home to one of the world’s largest outdoor collections of totem poles. From there it’s another 60 minutes to the Cowichan Valley, filled with wineries, restaurants and farmers’ stands. If you have time, drive the winding road to Tofino for beaches, as well as surfing and winter storm watching.

Open this photo in gallery:

Crane Beach in Barbados.Barbados Tourism/Barbados Tourism


If you’re looking for: beaches, romance, gastronomy

What this sunny Caribbean Island lacks in size – it’s only 430 square kilometres – it makes up for in coastline, culture and commitment to climate. Visit Barbados, the only Caribbean destination that has signed the declaration, is developing a customized calculator that will help assess the carbon footprint of visitors and businesses.

The choices of what to do here are endless – but first, a drink (if that’s your thing). Tour Mount Gay, the world’s oldest rum distillery, or at least order a rum punch anywhere you can find a bar. From there, do you want to dance to island music? Golf? Hike? Explore a limestone cave 55 metres underground? Obviously no trip to Barbados is complete without logging some serious beach time. Where to go depends on what you want. East coast beaches have amazing views but strong currents. On the west coast you’ll find small and narrow spots with calm waters. The south coast has big white-sand beaches great for swimming. No matter your pick, don’t forget to stop and refuel: Cou-cou (cornmeal and okra) and fried flying fish (also delicious in a sandwich) is the country’s national dish.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Oregon Coast trail, with its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, is perfect for biking and hiking.Dylan Van Weelden/Supplied

Oregon Coast, U.S.

If you’re looking for: adventure, road trip, family friendly

The views alone along the 600-kilometre stretch of rugged coastline between California and B.C. are reason enough to take the trip. Another: The tourism board is committed to preserving that classic West Coast scenery. In addition to signing the declaration, it has the Oregon Code of the Coast, a social contract that asks everyone to minimize their impact on the environment.

Outdoor adventure is not in short supply here, be it from biking and hiking the Oregon Coast Trail, kayaking the South Coast’s rivers or sandboarding in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. For something more relaxed, you can stroll the beach at Fort Stevens State Park to find the 1906 Peter Iredale shipwreck, or explore an old ghost town on the Tillamook Bay Heritage Route. For a bit of guidance, follow the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail (with more than 800 exhibits including sculptures, murals and totem poles), the Oregon Film Trail (calling all fans of The Goonies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Free Willy) or two food trails that have suggested stops at restaurants, farms, craft breweries, bakeries and markets.

South America

Number of signatories: 2

Open this photo in gallery:

Inside the grotto of Lagoa Azul, a famous touristic attraction of the city of Bonito, Brazil.vbacarin/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

If you’re looking for: nature, adventure, history

The state of Mato Grosso do Sul, located in the midwestern part of the country bordering Paraguay and Bolivia, is full of nature’s riches and cowboy culture (as a result of the large agriculture and cattle-raising economy). And it’s also one of only two destinations in South America to sign the declaration (the other is Machu Picchu).

West of Campo Grande, the state’s capital, you’ll find Corumba, the gateway to one of the largest wetlands in the world. To the north there’s Coxim, a good place for fishing (get ready to catch a piranha) and chasing waterfalls. Further south, Bonito is home to crystal-clear rivers and prehistoric caves. There you can snorkel in Rio da Prata or hike into Gruta do Lago Azul Natural Monument (Blue Lake Cave), one of the biggest flooded caves in the world. And let’s not forget the cowboys: The major event in most towns is their annual rodeo. If there isn’t one happening when you’re visiting, country bars and shops selling cowboy hats will give you a feel for the culture.

Keep up to date with the weekly Sightseer newsletter. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe