Germany might have a reputation for meaty meals, fast cars and heavy industry but it has also become one of the greenest places to travel on the planet. Home to a nature-loving population, many of whom holiday domestically, it has cemented its reputation as a world leader in sustainable tourism over the past decade.
There’s no need to rush around on the Autobahn when you can hop aboard a train powered by renewable energy, or use the country’s excellent bus service. While you’re exploring the great outdoors, how about taking a leisurely, solar-powered boat on a river safari? More and more hotels are certified green, some even carbon neutral, and there are award-winning vegetarian and vegan restaurants galore so you needn’t worry about maintaining your commitment to plant-based eating on holiday either.
These days you can rent electric or hybrid vehicles from most major car hire companies, and there are almost 28,000 charging points around Germany for topping up on power so you don’t have to worry about running out.
There’s also an excellent public transport system with about 400 bus routes as well as more than 20,000 miles of rail, with many long-distance trains now powered by 100% renewable energy (operators Deutsche Bahn are committed to full green energy by 2038). In certain areas you can access these services free of charge with special passes such as the GästeCard to name but one, and you can even offset when booking tickets to ensure your journeys are completely carbon neutral.
Eat and drink
Germans lead the way in sustainable eating, with rates of vegetarianism and veganism at or near the highest in Europe. There’s a huge choice for veggies, vegans and flexitarians, from casual snack bars to the highest end dining. Indeed, a number of Europe’s top Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurants are to be found in Germany, such as Munich’s Tian and Berlin’s Cookies Cream.
If you still fancy sampling the country’s traditional meat dishes, stick to the regional specialities of the area you’re staying in: ensuring your products don’t have to travel far to reach your plate. In the Schlei river, up by the Baltic Sea, for instance, you can buy fish and even eels direct from fishermen’s boats – as fresh as seafood can get.
And there’s no need to buy water in plastic bottles, when you can fill up at countless locations – find your nearest spot by using the Refill Deutschland website.
You’re sure to sleep more soundly knowing the eco credentials of your chosen accommodation are impeccable, and Germany has green options to suit every pocket. Most cities, and many towns, are now home to eco-hotels; look for those with green certifications such as Green Key or LEED.
A couple of standouts: the Creativhotel Luise in Erlangen is Germany’s first climate-positive hotel, with several rooms made from 100% biodegradable materials, while Best Western Premier Hotel Victoria in Freiburg has its own solar power station.
At the more rustic end, the country’s national parks are full of smart sleeping options, whether that’s the cloefhänger, hanging bivouacs strung up in the tree canopy overlooking the dramatic Saarschleife river bend, or Green Tiny Houses, glass fronted smart cabins made from Danish wood, and suitably hygge, in the Lauenberg Lakes.
Germany’s cities are regularly counted among the greenest in Europe, with Hamburg and Essen both having been awarded the EU’s European Green Capital accolade in the past decade (in 2011 and 2017 respectively).
But it isn’t just these prize-winning metropolises that can flex their sustainability cred. The Hanseatic port city of Bremen is home not only to the Climate House, a museum dedicated to the history of the Earth’s climate and study of climate change, but has also been rated Germany’s most bike-friendly city.
Meanwhile, the quaint university city of Freiburg, with its exquisitely preserved medieval old town, has turned itself into a hub of green innovation – with a burgeoning solar industry, its own hydroelectric plant, and a slew of impressive sustainable construction projects, from eco-hotels to the green neighbourhood of Quartier Vauban.
And the capital can’t be left out of the mix either: a third of Berlin’s urban area is designated green space, and the city is widely known for its thriving vegan and vegetarian dining scene, as well as its deeply green social and political outlook.
Get out there
Germany has more than 1m hectares of designated national parkland, offering myriad opportunities for hiking, wild sleeping and swimming, as well as more unusual adventures such as donkey hiking.
Green technology has even had some unforeseen pluses for tourist activities. In the Peene valley in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for example, river safaris now use solar-powered boats, which are so quiet they enable guests to get right up close to wildlife, such as beavers, otters and water snakes.
Whether it’s a spa-filled city break with fine dining, greener rail travel or a wildlife-lover’s adventure, Germany is leading the way in eco travel, with the technology, vision and magnificent landscapes to make your next green holiday a great one.
For more about sustainable, feel good travel across Germany, head to Feel Good, which is packed with inspiring ideas and practical advice.