Capitals across Europe have proven popular with tourists from around the world but new research highlights the associated health risks with visiting the increasingly polluted cities, with a long weekend stay equivalent to smoking between one and four cigarettes

Air pollution

Spending a long weekend in one of Europe’s major cities might be enjoyable – but they can come with the same health impact as smoking one to four cigarettes.

European environmental campaigner Transport and Environment (T&E) has issued the warning about the continent’s ten most popular but polluted cities.

It has compiled data from various sources concerning the amount of PM2.5 – the most commonly used measure of air pollution levels – in Europe’s tourist hotspots.

Of the ten most popular destinations, Istanbul and Prague are the most harmful to holidaymakers’ health, with Milan and London coming in third and fourth, respectively.

T&E air quality and diesel coordinator Jens Müller said: “When air pollution is bad, we are told to avoid eating or exercising outside.

“But walking around cities and eating on restaurant terraces is what city breaks are all about.

“Right now, tourists, including kids, are more or less forced to smoke, in terms of the health impacts.

polluted cities
Credit: T&E


The numbers behind Europe’s most polluted cities

Even small amounts of air pollution can prove damaging to public health, but the effects might be much worse than is officially recognised by authorities.

Rigging monitoring stations has become something of a trend in recent years, done to hide bad results by placing them in parks, calm streets or switching them off altogether.

The European Commission is taking the Romanian and Belgian governments to court for such behaviour while citizen groups have launched their own monitoring projects in a public display of recrimination.

Their findings reveal that air quality in Italy, Germany, Bulgaria and Belgium are much worse than is stated by officials.

Meanwhile, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Romania face billions in fines for breaching EU air pollution standards.

Cars are the main contributor to air pollution levels during the tourist-intensive summer period.

And although modern diesels are ostensibly clean, checks reveal this is false, with most emitting up to 18 times the legal limit of NO2 pollution – the primary contributor to urban smog.

Mr Müller added: “City bosses need to get a grip on air pollution or risk a tourist backlash. Cars are the worst cause of air pollution in cities during the summer.

“Cheating carmakers should be given a deadline to truly clean up the mess they created. If they fail, polluting cars should quickly be banned from cities to protect residents.”