Travelling in a sustainable way is more important than ever with the increasing impacts of climate change and over-tourism on local communities.
While an eco-retreat in some tropical destination might be the first thing that springs to mind when we think of sustainable travel, every trip we make counts. Even in somewhere as heavily populated as the UK we can make small adjustments to itineraries, support local communities, and have a more positive impact on the places we visit.
There is a wide range of UK businesses pushing sustainability to the forefront of their agendas, from small-scale start-ups to international B Corps. In this guide, we take a look at some of the best.
The UK received over 30 million overseas visitors a year pre-pandemic, and reached those levels again in 2022 (according to Statista).
London is one of the world's top five most visited cities, and while no trip to the UK is complete without a stop in the capital, avoiding over-saturated attractions can save you time queuing and help to spread the load more evenly. Spending less time in places like Oxford Street and more time in places like Brixton can reveal a completely different side to London too.
Getting out of the capital and exploring the rest of the UK opens up a whole range of travel activities. Bike-friendly cities like Liverpool, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff give London a run for its money, while the national parks in Northern England, Wales, and Scotland offer some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the UK.
The accommodation you choose to stay in can have one of the biggest impacts on how sustainable your trip is. In the UK there are a range of locally-owned pubs, B&B’s, farm-stays, campsites and cottages to choose from.
Using booking sites like Certified B Corp Canopy and Stars or Cool Stays is an easy way to choose greener accommodation and travel more responsibly.
When it comes to food and drink, cafes, pubs and restaurants all over the UK are taking a local and seasonal approach. By avoiding chains and seeking out green businesses, you can directly support these initiatives.
Though a nation of meat-lovers, there are plenty of options for veggie meals, too - in fact, the UK has the largest meat substitute market in Europe. For fine dining, the newly introduced Michelin Green Star is the mark of sustainability at the forefront of British cuisine.
While the UK has some pretty strict rules on getting too close to wildlife, like grey seals and puffins, there are other ways we might unintentionally be doing damage.
In the Lake District, blue-green algae is slowly spreading between the lakes. Though not harmful to humans, it can kill pet dogs and other mammals if ingested. Paddle boarders, kayakers, and swimmers, are asked to clean off their equipment between lake visits.
The UK is an internationally important nesting ground for many bird species. By sticking to the paths when exploring the countryside and coastal regions we can avoid disturbing the wildlife and limit damage to plant or insect life.
The UK’s seas are also under threat, with a 2021 report revealing that bottom trawling is taking place in 98% of the offshore Marine Protected Areas. By limiting the seafood that we eat, we can help to reduce the demand.
The Norfolk Broads are home to the biggest wetlands in the UK. Opt to explore them by sail-boat, canoe, or kayak to avoid diesel engines. Further north in England, the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is the largest protected Dark Sky in Europe. Visit the Kielder Observatory to see the glistening Milky Way and you might also catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.
Wilderness Scotland offers small group tours and self-guided trips to the wildest islands and remotest regions of Scotland. They have recently introduced carbon labelling and are ‘Green Tourism Gold’ approved.
The UK tour company Exodus offers self-guided walking and cycling tours, like the six day hike along Hadrian's Wall. Part of their Nature Net Positive commitment is rewilding 100 square metres for every passenger that travels with them.
B Corp-certified Sawday, who also run Canopy & Stars and Paws & Stay, are running an initiative that limits any new business operations in destinations experiencing over tourism. It has identified these at-risk areas in the UK as the Isle of Skye, Snowdonia, St Ives and the Lake District.
England's impressive gardens are at the forefront of environmental research and conservation. Kew Gardens in London holds over 2.4 billion seeds in the Millennium Seed Bank, the largest of its kind in the world acting as a vital conservation resource for wild plant species.
You can also visit the temperature-controlled biomes of the Eden Project in Cornwall to learn more about plant species from around the world. From London, you can jump on the Night Riviera Sleeper train from Paddington to Penzance in Cornwall, and make a stop in St Austell to visit the Eden Project.
There are other ways to travel sustainably in the UK too. While using things like a reusable shopping bag and water bottle are a no brainer, how about also avoiding fossil fuels?
You can use Skyscanner’s e-car hire filter when renting a car in the UK - there are nearly 15,000 charging locations in the UK. It’s often much cheaper than petrol, and some supermarket chains even offer free EV charging.
Using public transport is another way to cut emissions, B Corp-certified Byway offers tour itineraries to some of the UK’s best spots using trains, ferries and other modes of public transport.
Read Rough Guides list of top eco experiences in the UK, or head to Visit Britain for more useful information on sustainable ways to enjoy the UK.
The Wild Isles documentary features an overview of the current issues and threats facing UK wildlife as well as the projects that are changing the tide. To get more of an insight, watch the Save Our Wild Isles film narrated by Sir David Attenborough, in cooperation with the WWF, the RSPB and the National Trust.
Planning a trip to the UK? Read our UK travel guides
Last Updated 13 June 2023