6 Europe Capital Cities Have the Cleanest Air in the World!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist and Europe River Cruise Expert

According to a recently released report on air pollution by the World Health Organization, 6 of the 10 cleanest capital cities in the world are in Europe.  The basis for this report is the amount of PM 2.5 (particle matter measured in micro millimeters) that was measured at various locations in the world.  The tiny particles of PM 2.5 have shown in a 2013 study to increase lung cancer by 36%, because the particles can penetrate deeper into the lungs.  The good news is that 6 of the 10 least air polluted capital cities in the world are in Europe.

Each of the cities is a place either I or Anne have visited and really enjoyed.  They also have great sites to see and things to do.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you already know all of these cities have been covered by our 49 Europe City guides.  The purpose of these guides is to see the best sights in the most efficient manner.  Although there are some great guide books available, who wants to tear a book apart or lug an entire guide book around for 3 weeks for a one day trip?  Our solution—49 Europe City guides that are 2-4 typewritten pages anyone can easily slip in a pocket or a purse.  These are a great way to not miss the important sights and provide practical tips to enhance your trip.  But the best thing is—they are FREE—just send us an e-mail and we will send you a PDF copy of as many guides as you desire.  To learn about our guides, please visit our European Destinations pages (there are 5 regional sections).  Here is the link LEARN MORE

Here is the list and ranking of the least polluted European capital cities, listed in their rank order of all capital cities in the world:

#10 Madrid, Spain

A great public transportation system, combined with numerous parks and green spaces, help Madrid win the tenth spot on the least polluted list.  The public transportation system includes a large metro (about 183 miles), light rail and buses and half the population use public transportation.  Madrid has the most trees and green spaces per inhabitant of any European city.  I visited Madrid in 1971 on my first trip to Spain and had a wonderful time.  This is the political, cultural and commercial center of Spain.  It is the third largest city of the European Union (London and Paris are larger), so it is quite an achievement to make the top ten list as a clean air city.  Among the top sites are, the Prado (famous art gallery), the Royal Palace (largest in Western Europe), the Plaza Mayor & Puerta del Sol (2 great public squares) and El Retiro Park.  It is also home to Real Madrid, the most valuable soccer team in the word.  With all this going for it, I need to go back with Anne!  Here is our guide to Madrid

#9 Monaco, Monaco

With only 37,000 residents and no industry, this tiny city state makes the list.  I also visited Monaco in 1971 and went to the elegant casino.  It was fun.  Monaco is an old principality—it is about 2 square miles.  It has the highest population density of any country in the world.  This country is known for being a tax haven and is home to the most famous casino in the world—Monte Carlo.  In 1860, Monaco built the casino after losing 2/3 of its previous territory, France connected it with a rail line and the tourists came flocking.  It has one of the best formula one races in the world—the Monaco Grand Prix.  In Monaco, they speak French and use the Euro for currency.  Best sites are the Princes Palace (can be toured) with its changing of the guard at 1155 daily, the Cathedral of Monaco, the Cousteau Aquarium, the Jardin Exotique (desert garden) with best views of the surrounding area and, of course, the casino.  Here is the guide for Monaco

#8 Helsinki, Finland

A huge emphasis on public transportation, may be one reason, Helsinki makes the list.  This city wants to make cars obsolete by developing an on-demand-public transportation system.  The current diverse public transportation system consists of trams, commuter rail, bus lines, 2 ferry lines, and some on-demand minibuses.  There is also a big emphasis on bikes and developing bike paths.  One third of the city is green spaces.  Helsinki grew up around its harbor.  Helsinki and Finland has one of the world’s highest standards of living.  Key sites are the market square harbor, the Esplanade (a great pedestrian walkway and boulevard), and the Senate Square.  We have visited twice and really like Helsinki—our favorites are the market square area and the Esplanade.  Our Guide Helsinki

Market Square, Helsinki, Finland
Esplanade, Helsinki, Finland

#7 Tallinn, Estonia

The well preserved old town area, surrounded by medieval walls, has limited car traffic and all contribute to the clean air in this Baltic Republic capital city.  Tallinn with its population around 400,000, sees itself more influenced by Nordic tastes and traditions—Scandinavia with a twist.  Visiting Tallinn is like going back to the middle ages, because some of the buildings date back to the 1500s.  There are 26 watch towers on the almost intact city walls.  It was an old trading partner of the Hanseatic League and the old town is really two towns separated by a wall.  The upper town (called Toompea) was the governmental center of Estonia.  The lower town was for the merchants, usually German, Danish and Swedish.  We just love roaming the old town—great sites, reasonably priced food and drinks and good shops.  Here is our Guide to  Tallinn  See if these pictures make you agree:

Tallinn, Estonia
Town Walls, Tallinn, Estonia


Market Square, Tallinn, Estonia

#5 Edinburgh, Scotland

By far the most surprising city on the top ten list, Edinburg at one time was a dirty city covered with smoke from the industrial revolution.  It now emphasizes bikes, walking and has the cleanest bus fleet in Scotland, but some heavily trafficked streets are still a concern.  Located in the lowlands region of Scotland, Edinburgh is the historical capital of Scotland and a really cool place to visit.  The compact old town, especially the Royal Mile street with Edinburgh Castle high on the hill (awesome fort and crown jewels) and Holyroadhouse Palace at the bottom of the mile, may be the best mile walk in all Europe.  Since Anne is related to Calvinist John Knox, visiting his house on the Royal Mile was a true highlight.  She also loves her whisky, so the several whisky houses were great places to visit.  And who could not love a man in a kilt!  While all this was great, it gets better in the nightlife section of Rose Street—great pubs and Wildfire, an over the top eating establishment.  We could visit several more times.  Here is our guide for Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
Anne in Edinburgh, Scotland
Wildfire Bistro, Edinburgh, Scotland

#1 Stockholm, Sweden

The 2010 Green Capital of the World, Stockholm wants to be fossil fuel free by 2050.  During the 1990s, Stockholm was able to reduce carbon emissions by 25%, so you can see they are serious about cleaning up the air they breathe.  Development is strictly monitored—even cars must pay a tax to enter the city.  It also has an extensive public transportation system.  85% of the population work in service industries and there are hardly any heavy industrial factories, so this is one reason Stockholm has such clean air.  30% of Stockholm’s area is green spaces; and it has over 1,000 parks.  Stockholm is built on a series of 14 islands connected by bridges.  This is a town of great old sites and really new modern places.  The old town is really good and one of my favorite sites.  The Gamla Stan (old city) was a part of the Hanseatic League and the resulting trade helped the city grow and prosper.  You will enjoy wandering in the old town.  In the more modern part of town, we even went to an ice bar for a drink—pretty cool to say the least!  Here is our guide to Stockholm

Old Town Stockholm, Sweden
Old Town Square, Stockholm, Sweden

Hank & Anne, in an ice bar, Stockholm, Sweden

Our Final Thoughts

No matter how you examine Europe, its diversity, history and ever evolving story, makes this a place we will continue to visit.  Who would have thought so many European cities could have clean air?  We have quickly learned that one visit to a place is just not enough—there is so much to see, learn and enjoy!  We hope this will inspire you to visit Europe—a Baltic Cruise for example, would let you visit 3 of these wonderful cities with your floating hotel—a great option for sure!  Please contact Hank by email hschrader@dreamdestinations.com or call 713-397-0188 to get started on your travel dream to Dream Destinations.  Until then, we stand by to help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!


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