It’s official: this city has the worst air pollution in Europe

And the results from the study might surprise you

Liv Kelly
Written by
Liv Kelly
Contributing Writer
Congestion in Milan, Italy
Photograph: Shutterstock

How far away is the airport? What are the hotel options? How much will a drink set you back? All things you might consider when we’re booking our next getaway. But here’s one factor that you might not think about: air pollution.

Sure, for a quick trip your destination’s air quality might seem a bit irrelevant – you’re only going for a few days, right? Well, research shows that exposure to high levels of pollution, even just for short periods of time, can have a detrimental effect on our health, particularly our lungs and hearts.

A new study has done some research into air pollution levels across popular cities in Europe, and the results might surprise you.

Drawing on the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines, analysis was done to discover the levels of fine particulate matter: the pollutant which poses the highest risk to our health. The maximum level considered safe is a long-term average of no more than 5 μg/m3 (that’s micrograms per cubic metre).

With levels almost four times the safe amount, at 19.7 μg/m3, it’s Milan that is the most polluted city in Europe. In fact, the top five cities all have a long-term average which is at least double the WHO’s recommendation.

Athens ranks as the second most polluted, with 13.6 μg/m3, closely followed by Prague, Barcelona and Berlin, which all have levels around 12 μg/m3. 

It might surprise you that Amsterdam, the city associated with a good cycle or stroll, ranks at number 10, while London – aka the Big Smoke – is nowhere to be seen. The UK capital is expanding its ultra-low emissions zone to include the whole city at the end of August, in a conscious effort to reduce pollution. 

So, if you’re keen to ensure your next trip is easy-going, and healthy, pollution levels might be another factor to consider. 

These are the major cities in Europe with the most polluted air…

  1. Milan, Italy
  2. Athens, Greece
  3. Prague, Czech Republic
  4. Barcelona, Spain
  5. Berlin, Germany
  6. Rome, Italy
  7. Paris, France
  8. Brussels, Belgium
  9. Hamburg, Germany
  10. Amsterdam, Netherlands

The study was conducted by – which is kind of ironic, given that vehicle traffic is the major source of air pollution in European cities. Maybe hop on public transport instead, eh?

Did you see that these are the safest countries in the world for expats?

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