Greece has been at the forefront of tourism in Europe for many years, so it comes as no surprise that the country has taken the lead on sustainable tourism.
Post-pandemic Greece has doubled down on green technology and better infrastructure to enable tourism to benefit the local community rather than hinder it.
Greece has taken major steps to preserve its environment, wildlife, and natural resources. While there are many environmental challenges of contemporary travel, there are many opportunities to stray away from the summer beach holidays that made Greece.
In many places it’s the local communities that are leading the way and travellers can often visit and experience these places first-hand. With protected areas that hold a diverse assortment of flora and fauna, rare sea life, and vehicle-free islands, Greece’s eco credentials make it a relatively guilt-free travel destination.
The Greek Islands have long been a summer beach destination, but there is a whole other side to the country that many visitors will never see. Travel in the off-season, and not only are you rewarded with fewer crowds and lower prices, but you will also find a host of new experiences to discover.
If you’re visiting in the busy summer months, where you visit will also have an impact. Perhaps skip the heat of Athens in favour of foodie Thessaloniki, head to the cave houses of green-energy loving Naxos instead of Santorini, or get truly off the beaten path by visiting a bear sanctuary in leafy Nymfaio.
Perhaps best known for its beaches, Kefalonia is an island that begs to be hiked. The UNESCO Geopark, Aenos National Park, has a network of well-maintained trails that make their way through rugged fir forests and towering mountains. Visitors can expect to spot hundreds of species of birds as well as semi-wild horses.
There are 10 conserved wetlands in Greece, 446 European Natura 2000 sites, and 800 nationally protected areas. Collectively they protect around 57 endangered species like bears and wolves, as well as birds and sea life. To say that Greece is a good place for nature lovers is perhaps underselling it slightly.
The butterfly-shaped Astypalaia Island has replaced over 1500 cars with 1000 electric vehicles, including police cars, ambulances and public transport. The ASTYBUS takes visitors all over the island by electric bus, or tourists can use the electric-vehicle sharing service astyGO to rent electric cars, e-scooters and e-bikes. Locals also share these electric vehicles, and there are plans to go fully renewable with a hybrid RES station.
Meanwhile, Tilos is the first island in the Mediterranean to be 100% energy self-sufficient. The island uses solar and wind for energy and recycles more than 80% of its waste. But that’s not the only reason to visit this small island of just 500 residents. The whole island is an ecological park with rare birdlife, beautiful beaches and a curious ghost town that was abandoned in the 1950s.
Paros is striving to become the first single-use plastic-free island in the Mediterranean with the Project ‘Clean Blue Paros with Common Seas’. Both Lipsi and Folegandros are also implementing similar initiatives to eradicate single-use plastic from the islands.
The popular island of Kos is now the place to go for cyclists. First introduced by Italians during the World Wars, Kos now has over 6,500 bikes earning it the title of Greece’s ‘Cycling Island’. Unlike many of its neighbours, it's fairly flat, making exploring its stunning beaches, Greek and Roman sites and harbourside old town possible with zero emissions.
It’s not hard to go green in Greece. It’s an idyllic place to go hiking, cycling, sailing or to simply rent a cottage and escape for a while. Experience local traditions by discovering how Mastiha is made in Chios, learn how silk weaving is keeping Soufli alive, or help to preserve the way of life for the fishermen of Amorgos by joining them on a sustainable fishing trip.
G Adventures offer a 15-day Best of Greece tour that hits Athens, Delphi, Samariá Gorge, and Santorini, while also visiting community run projects and supporting local businesses.
Intrepid Travel offers a 7 day carbon neutral tour of Crete. They have partnered with non-profit organisation MEET to hire local guides and support local communities through the trips.
Between May and September you can volunteer with ARCHELON in the National Marine Park of Zakynthos. You will be assisting the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece with the nesting Caretta Caretta loggerhead turtles who share Zakiynthos’ stunning beaches with holidaymakers.
You can also help out the highly endangered little monk seal that has found a stronghold off the island of Alonissos. Visit the ‘Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal’ to apply for one of the volunteer positions or take one of the daily cruises into the marine park to spot the seals and support their vital work. Natural Greece also arranges week-long volunteering tours to research and monitor the four species of dolphins that live in the area.
For birdwatchers, the Evros River Delta is a must-visit in spring when it’s filled with migratory birds. The LIFE Projects visitors’ centre at Loutra Traianoupolis offers minibus tours into the strictly protected area and welcomes volunteers.
Climate change has brought unwanted visitors to the Aegean and Ionian seas. Invasive species like lionfish, rabbitfish, cornet fish and Atlantic blue crab are threatening local species, but restaurants in places like Paxos offer a solution. Instead of ordering native red mullet, bream and octopus, try one of these delicious invaders instead, and you will be doing your bit to restore the balance.
While over-touristy islands like Mykonos and Santorini have to import nearly all of their food, Greece's second city Thessaloniki is a champion of local produce. Named by UNESCO as a Creative City of Gastronomy, the city draws its gastronomic influences from the surrounding mountains, the diverse backgrounds of its inhabitants, and its vegan-friendly Lent traditions.
Sustainable Greece is dedicated to showcasing the best green and sustainable practices and experiences in Greece. Created by the Greek National Tourism Organisation, the site is full of interesting facts and ideas on places to visit.
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Last Updated 29 July 2023