Germany has it all: Bewitching mountains and beautiful coasts, charming villages and vibrant cities, fascinating landmarks and a unique cultural scene. Connecting visitors to all of these is an eco-friendly and affordable public transit system, which is part of what makes this European country among the most sustainable industrial nations in the world. Even so, it has a goal of slashing its greenhouse gas emissions by more than half by 2030.
As a visitor, reducing your environmental impact in Germany is easier than ever. You can get to attractions conveniently by taking advantage of miles of pedestrian walkways and bike lanes in cities small and large; you can climb the hills of the Black Forest with ease by renting an electric bike (e-bike); and you can move around the country efficiently on electric trains. Even before arriving, you can minimize your carbon emissions by flying to Germany with Lufthansa, which gives passengers the option to offset the CO₂ emissions of their flight and has more non-stop routes between U.S. and German cities than ever.
Miles of pedestrian streets and bike lanes make exploring cities effortless and eco-friendly
The cleanest forms of transportation are walking and biking. German metropolises like Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich make it simple to reach top attractions this way thanks to miles of pedestrian streets and bike lanes. The capital city of Berlin is even known as one of the greenest cities in Europe, boasting 2,500 parks, more than a million trees, and ample opportunities to walk and bike to any destination.
“I have absolutely zero need for a car in Berlin. And that comes down to both good transportation infrastructure and the fact that the city is designed on a very human scale,” says Corrina Allen-Kiersons, a Berlin-based travel writer. “Residential areas have huge parks and lots of bike lanes and sidewalks. There’s no need to drive to a pharmacy or grocery store — every neighborhood has several that you can walk or bike to.”
During the pandemic, pop-up bike lanes — marked by yellow tape — made an appearance in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district of Berlin to avoid crowding public transportation. These lanes helped reduce vehicular traffic and encouraged walking and cycling so much that the city decided to make them permanent. Currently, there are 1,500 miles of cycling network, with more than 250 paths expected to be added in the next few years. Visitors interested in learning about Berlin’s eco-friendly side can book a Green Bike Tour to see sustainable architecture, green roofs, solar installations, parks, and gardens.
Fussgängerzonen, or pedestrian areas, have been a fixture in Germany for over 50 years, starting in Munich for the 1972 Summer Olympic Games. Prime examples are the Bavarian capital city’s Neuhauser Strasse and Kaufingerstrasse in Old Town, which include boutiques, department stores, and myriad restaurants and bars. These streets are most popular during the annual Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market), where upwards of 200,000 individuals stream through its colonnades daily.
Long-distance cycle routes make the entire country — and beyond — super accessible
With more than 250 long-distance cycle routes throughout the country, those seeking a cycling vacation have plenty of choices. In Southwest Germany — the birthplace of the bicycle — long-distance cycle routes link Alpine villages and medieval towns with lakes and forests and feature bike-friendly hotels, inns, restaurants, and cafés along the way.
For example, bikers can follow the River Danube on the Danube Cycle Path from Donaueschingen in Baden-Württemberg to Passau in Lower Bavaria (though the entire route extends 746 miles all the way to Budapest in Hungary). There's also the Elbe Cycle Route, which runs for 790 miles through several states and major cities.
Regular bikes as well as e-bikes, which will give riders an extra boost to climb mountains, are available in rental shops everywhere.
Ample public transportation keeps your carbon footprint low while you get around with ease
Those visiting Germany’s urban centers can rely entirely on public transportation, including ferries, trams, buses, and trains to get around — but even rural areas are incredibly well-connected, further reducing Germany’s carbon footprint. “The trains take you almost everywhere in the country. I recently went to a remote lake and walked to the shore within 20 minutes,” shares Allen-Kiersons.
A city train ticket for the commuter rail S-Bahn — a subsidiary of the national railway, Deutsche Bahn (DB) — can also be used for a bus or streetcar (and ferries, as is the case in Hamburg, where ferry boats are part of the public transit system). In larger cities, the S-Bahn is part of the underground U-Bahn lines. Allen-Kiersons says the transit system is supplemented with a network of rental scooters, bikes, and e-bikes that can get passengers from door to door.
Germany also offers a subscription-based monthly flat-rate ticket to encourage sustainable transportation. Called the Deutschlandticket (D-Ticket for short) and available for €49 ($52), it allows passengers to travel via bus, subway, and tram (the only exception being high-speed trains) in all municipalities in the country. The monthly ticket is available to visitors and residents alike.
Green Rail Journeys let you get to the rest of Europe comfortably and sustainably
The long-distance Deutsche Bahn (DB) trains are fast, reliable, and powered entirely by green electricity — and DB aims to be carbon neutral by 2040. These trains take passengers all around Germany, even to smaller towns and remote scenic villages, as well as to 14 other European countries. Passengers planning a round-trip with several stops can purchase the Interrail Pass. Bonus: Trains offer organic and seasonal dishes, including vegan and vegetarian options.
Furthermore, Frankfurt introduced hydrogen-powered public transportation earlier this year.
Carbon-offset Lufthansa flights make traveling to Germany extra green
At this point in time, flying still causes carbon emissions. But to reduce this environmental impact, German carrier Lufthansa began offering Green Fares for flights within Europe and to North Africa that include the cost of mitigating flight-related carbon emissions. The additional amount in the fare goes towards long-term climate protection projects and sustainable aviation fuels.
The Lufthansa Group has an ambitious goal of cutting their net carbon emissions in half by 2030, compared to 2019, and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. The plan is to deliver 200 new short and long-haul aircraft to the Group’s airlines to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, making this the largest fleet modernization in the history of the corporation.
The airline is further investing money in advancing key Sustainable Aviation Fuel technologies to make flying more sustainable. The Sun-to-Liquid procedure is among the newer technologies being pursued, where concentrated sunlight is used to produce carbon-neutral kerosene. Lufthansa Group is also investing in fuel based on biogenic waste materials and developing Power-to-Liquid technology, where sustainable aviation fuel is created from renewable power sources.
The in-flight experience is also greener thanks to the use of sustainable packaging and cutlery made from bamboo. And in 2024, Lufthansa will introduce Lufthansa Allegris, which will overhaul 27,000 seats on 80 aircraft, much of which will be made from recyclable materials, including cushions, covers, and blankets.
Ready for a green getaway in Germany that combines sightseeing and sustainability? Book your Lufthansa flights here.
Lavanya Sunkara is an award-winning writer who primarily covers travel, conservation, and sustainability.