Europe is home to many of the cleanest countries in the world. When reports rank countries by various environmental and sustainability factors, European countries generally take the top spots. In fact, in one report, you have to get to number 12 before you find the first non-European country.
But why is Europe so clean? Well, it’s home to some of the wealthiest countries in the world. They have citizens that care about climate change and governments with the wealth and resources to implement green systems and sustainable initiatives. Plus, it’s home to Scandinavia whose countries are world leaders when it comes to environmental initiatives.
We’ve put together a list of the cleanest countries in Europe, so you can start planning your next trip to a clean, green, environmentally-aware country. Scandinavian countries do feature heavily but one or two others might surprise you.
Yale University regularly publishes a report on the cleanest countries in Europe and the world. They put together an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which ranks 180 countries according to 32 categories relating to cleanliness and green initiatives. Those countries are then given a score out of 100. In the most recent study, Denmark scored 82.5 on that scale to become the cleanest country in the world.
Denmark climbed to this impressive feat from a third-place position in the last rankings. Its success is due to its government’s waste and wastewater management systems, restrictions on harmful gas emissions, and commitment to protecting native species and biodiversity.
But it’s not all the government’s doing. The Danes have long been known as environmentally conscious people. A strong ethos of respect for their country and the natural world runs throughout the population. This can be seen in the cleanliness of the cities where littering is almost unknown, in a population that chooses to walk and cycle instead of drive, and in the huge percentage of household recycling that occurs.
Congratulations, Denmark, the cleanest country in Europe!
In second place is Luxembourg, a small landlocked country in northern Europe. It has less than 600,000 people, no large cities, and a landscape mostly made up of rural areas, forests, and mountains. These factors arguably help it score highly on the cleanliness scale. However, it’s impossible to come second in the world without also putting the effort in.
Luxembourg has worked hard to increase its EPI score over the last ten years and has put several environmental initiatives into place to combat the effects of its growing population. Almost half of Luxembourg’s population has moved there from the surrounding European countries. And with its beautiful buildings, abundant wineries, and status as the second cleanest country in Europe, who can blame them for wanting to live there?
Bad news for Switzerland. Back in 2018, this country was number one globally, but it has now slipped to number three. Which, let’s face it, is still not bad.
Switzerland calls out to nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts with its dramatic landscapes, towering alps, and abundance of lakes. It’s a land of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and watersports, and it’s not hard to picture it as full of clean air, fresh water, and ruggedly healthy citizens.
But that’s only half the story. Switzerland is also home to ultra-cool cities, contemporary art hubs, medieval old towns, student enclaves, and celebrity-filled resorts. It’s a global economic power with some of the lowest corruption and crime rates in the world and an ethos of innovation and progression.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And it’s getting better all the time; despite its slip in the global rankings, Switzerland is still dedicated to improving its cleanliness and reducing its environmental impact.
You might not expect to see the UK ranking number four on this list. In fact, you’d probably expect London, one of the largest and most densely populated cities in Europe, to drag the UK’s cleanliness score down out of the top ten altogether.
The capital city is home to just under 9 million people and attracts millions more visitors every year. And it isn’t easy to provide homes, power, transportation, and entertainment to that many people while controlling pollution and waste. But the UK is working to reduce London’s environmental impact and is trying to get the city carbon neutral by 2030. They have implemented systems such as the Low Emissions Zone, tree-planting and wastewater programs, clean public transport, and cycle paths all to clean up their capital’s act.
But, while we can’t pretend London is one of the cleanest cities in Europe (yet), let’s not forget that there is a whole other country there (four countries, in fact). So if you want to experience clean air and pristine nature, we suggest heading to the Northern Irish coast, environmentally-conscious Anglesey in Wales, underpopulated Northumberland, or Scotland’s remote and beautiful highlands.
Like Switzerland, France is home to many beautiful landscapes and stunning areas. The rolling hills of the winery regions, the towering ski resort-filled Alps, and the Mediterranean coastline of the Cote d’Azur are spectacular, and it’s no wonder that France wants to protect them.
They’ve implemented clean air and low emission initiatives in the cities, including Paris, a notoriously dirty city. They’ve also moved away from industrialization, reducing their pollution and wastewater issues. But the main thing that helped France reach number five on our cleanest countries in Europe list is that almost 80% of its energy is from nuclear power, which substantially reduces its carbon emissions.
It’s no coincidence that this is the third country on our list to be located amongst the Alps mountain range. Maybe when people grow up in such a beautiful natural wonderland, they learn to respect and protect it.
Austria is a country of towering mountains, deeply carved glacial valleys, and river gorges, and only around 30% of the country lies below 500m altitude. It’s a land of ski resorts, mountain bike parks, rock climbers, hikers, and white water rafters.
Austria scores highly in clean agriculture categories, thanks to their strict rules on pesticide use and farming practices. Interestingly, this coincides with the country moving towards a cleaner food regime in its restaurants too. While Austria has always been proud of its locally sourced produce, today, it’s also leaning toward slow food, farm-to-table restaurants, organic meals, and vegan menus.
It’s nearly impossible to think of Finland without picturing a wild expanse of ancient forest and untouched wilderness. Areas where bears, wolves, and elk still roam unplagued by urban populations. This is a country that is over 75% forest and home to 180,000 lakes. A land of long winters, permafrost, and northern lights.
With all that natural splendor, perhaps it’s not surprising that this country makes our list, nor that it scored highly in air and water quality.
But it’s not all due to natural advantages. Finland has a lot of big ideas when it comes to living clean and green. They are currently focusing on re-educating their population, encouraging creative upcycling, and committing to creating a circular economy. All while imposing restrictions on the use of natural resources.
Sweden might not be impressed at being number eight on our list because they’ve been leading the charge on environmental issues for decades. The country is home to several leading environmental research centers, has been at the forefront of global climate protection acts, and was the only European founding member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.
But, despite not being in the number one spot just yet, they intend to keep trying. Sweden has many environmental goals left to hit, including lowering its agricultural emissions – already impressively reduced. And pledging to be free of fossil fuels by 2045, a goal that seems within reach since over half the country’s energy already comes from renewable sources.
So keep an eye on Sweden because we wouldn’t be surprised to see them shooting up a place or two in the next rankings of the cleanest countries in Europe.
And to finish up, it’s the last of the Scandinavians. Norway comes in ninth place with its pure air, clean drinking water, and over 95% of its energy from renewable sources.
The capital, Oslo, often ranks amongst the cleanest cities in the world thanks to its many green initiatives. Protected green spaces make up about 30% of the city, and there are plans to convert the city’s buses to run on biofuel. The center is pedestrianized, and cycle paths, restaurant squares, and city beaches have replaced what were once roads and parking areas.
And a ‘bee highway’ of rooftop gardens, flower boxes, urban meadows, and beehives stretches across the city, allowing the nation’s bees to thrive! Amazing.
How do you know which countries are the cleanest in Europe?
There are several different scales and reports available that judge countries’ cleanliness. For this article, we mainly used the respected Yale University Report, which produces an Environment Performance Index (EPI) judged across 32 different categories.
These categories include:
- Carbon dioxide emissions.
- Amounts of harmful particles in the air in urban areas.
- Water quality.
- Waste management.
- Biodiversity and species protection.
Which is the cleanest country in Europe?
Denmark is the cleanest country in Europe and the world, according to the 2020 report by Yale University. In addition, its capital Copenhagen regularly ranks as one of the cleanest cities globally, thanks to its pure air, clean tap water, and green public transport.
Which city in Europe is the cleanest?
Tallinn, Estonia, is the cleanest city in Europe and has been crowned the European Green Capital for 2023. Although Estonia ranks as the 27th cleanest country in Europe (and 30th in the world), its capital Tallinn is streets ahead regarding cleanliness, green initiatives, sustainability, and carbon neutrality.
Which city in Europe is the most polluted?
Plovdiv, Bulgaria, has been named the most polluted city in Europe. It has the worst air quality and leads European nations for the most deaths per capita due to air pollution. Milan came in at number three while London was fourth and is the most polluted city in the UK.
Which country in Europe is the dirtiest?
According to the Yale EPI scale, Turkey is by far the dirtiest country in Europe. It scores 42.6 and ranks number 99 in the world. The closest European country to it is Bosnia which scores 45.4 and shares the 78th spot with Thailand and Lebanon.