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Greece has always been one of the world’s most popular destinations, and the gradual growth of tourism over the decades have made both the state and the industry conscious of its environmental impact. Now the country is at the forefront of the effort to tackle the environmental challenges of contemporary travel.

Over the last few years an intensive effort has sought to reinvent the tourism products of the country and cultivate a sustainable and environmentally friendly image. With new, green, and smart technology and infrastructure, Greece is looking to preserve the country’s natural beauty in times of extraordinary numbers of visitors and longer stays – and to achieve a fair distribution of the benefits to local communities.

For decades, the traditional summer vacation model was favored by the visitors and promoted by the country. That led to tourism geographically concentrated in relatively limited areas – places with easy access to airports, beaches, and accommodation capacity. Consequently, the biggest part of Greece has been untouched by mass tourism, and it is now being developed from scratch with an eye to sustainable and eco-friendly practices.

Greece boasts an impressive 446 sites protected under the Natura 2000, a European Ecological Network of sites that host natural habitats of species © Balate Dorin / Shutterstock

Protection of unique ecosystems

Greece boasts 10 outstanding wetlands protected under the international Ramsar treaty and an impressive 446 sites (more than a quarter of the country’s territory – one of the highest in Europe), protected under the Natura 2000, a European Ecological Network of sites that host natural habitats of species. A further 800 areas are protected under national law.

The flora and the fauna of the country are among the most diverse in Europe: 309 species, (61 exclusively Greek) are protected under E.U. law and 57 species, including bears, wolves, and many birds, are endangered. Rare and endangered aquatic species like the Mediterranean Monk Seal and the Loggerhead Turtle are strictly protected under law in their respective underwater parks.

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Usually vehicles are unnecessary on most small islands and there is a total or partial vehicle ban on some, including Spetses © stefanel / Shutterstock

Vehicle-free and self-sufficient islands

Most islands lack airports and can only be reached by relatively more energy-efficient ferryboats. Usually vehicles are unnecessary on most small islands and there is a total or partial vehicle ban on some, including Hydra and Spetses.

Some islands have achieved energy self-sufficiency using renewable sources (Tilos, Halki) and many are following suit. Others have set ambitious targets to become plastic-free (Paros, Donousa).

Finally, a revolutionary experiment – “Astypalea: smart & sustainable island” – is underway, which promises to transform the entire island into a zero-impact zone using state-of-the-art technology, exclusively electric vehicles and green energy.

Modiano market in Thessaloniki. Greek produce is tastier and reduces intensive farming © SoneNS / Shutterstock

Sustainable and delicious food

Greece topped Lonely Planet’s 2021 ‘Best in Travel’ list of sustainable food destinations – and for good reason. Greeks take the quality of their food seriously, and the local cuisine uses simple but nutritious and mostly fresh ingredients, produced locally.

Many Greeks, especially outside the big cities, grow their fruit and vegetables domestically. Organic production is among the highest in Europe, and consumption has largely remained seasonal, in contrast to many western countries. This makes Greek produce tastier and reduces intensive farming, resulting in less strain on the environment. Finally, the main meat product of the country, sheep, and goats, are largely free range.

Boating is the perfect way to enjoy Greece’s crystal-clear waters and reach places otherwise inaccessible © BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock

Recreation that is kind to the soul and the planet

Nature lovers have a panoply of pursuits and experiences which offer minimal environmental disruption, including birdwatching, horse-riding, freshwater canoeing, rafting and mountaineering.

Hiking in the unmatched natural beauty of the Greek mountains and the gorgeous national parks is an amazing and invigorating experience. Alpine forests, vast olive and citrus groves, vineyards, rugged gorges, meandering rivers, and tranquil lakes make up the diverse and stunning Greek landscape.

Sailing has a minimal ecological footprint and has become extremely popular during the last few years. It’s the perfect way to enjoy Greece’s crystal-clear waters and reach places otherwise inaccessible. It’s also a lot more affordable than most think. Adventurers and thrill-seekers have countless opportunities for an adrenaline rush with nearly zero impact, including running, water sports and aerial adventures like paragliding.

Finally, the rail network of the country has undergone a substantial modernization, offering the most eco-friendly and efficient means of transport on the mainland. It boasts several unknown, short, but stunning scenic routes, to boot – a real treat for train aficionados.

Archaeological Athens: Walking through the city’s history

Snorkeling and scuba diving in the depths of the Aegean and the Ionian sea is a major draw in Greece © Sven Hansche / Shutterstock

Underwater escapades

There are unlimited opportunities to responsibly explore the depths of the Aegean and the Ionian sea, as snorkeling and scuba diving lessons are offered everywhere. The emerald, azure, and cobalt blue waters of the Greek seas accommodate a wealth of marine life, a dramatic underwater landscape, and dozens of shipwrecks (and some aircraft) accessible by both experienced and novice divers.

Thus, the latest exciting additions to the country’s marine spectacle are the new underwater “museums.” Peristera near Alonissos, where visitors dive to admire an impressive ancient wreck, was the first of its kind when opened in 2020. Three more will be inaugurated in the summer of 2022.

Traveling off-season means smaller crowds, better services, and of course lower prices © Peteri / Shutterstock

Off-season is the new chic

With an average of more than 250 days of sunshine per year (up to 300 for some southern parts of the country), and exceptionally mild winters, there is no reason for an environmentally conscious traveler to visit Greece during peak season. Especially in August, most Greeks’ traditional holiday season, the country’s tourism infrastructure is under severe strain.

Traveling off-season, means smaller crowds, better services, and of course lower prices. And certainly Greece in April, October, or even during the winter months has an appeal, that more and more savvy and seasoned travelers find irresistible.

Sponsored by Greek National Tourism Organisation

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This story was crafted collaboratively between Greek National Tourism Organisation and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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