Living in California makes us antsy for winter. We crave snow and Christmas weather and yearn for hot mulled cider. But other than watching cheesy Christmas movies and crying into our peppermint bark every night, the only way we can get our Christmas fix in is to travel! So for the past few years, we’ve been escaping to cold places in the winter seeking snow, cold, short days, and warm comfort food.
The one problem with our Christmas in Europe habit is that it’s … er, not exactly inexpensive. Europe in the winter isn’t high season, but it’s also not low season, so while tickets are affordable (especially in early December) they’re not exactly CHEAP. That means we definitely can’t afford to splurge on a nice place to stay.
So, we strap on our backpacks and head to one of the many excellent Europe hostels. We eat our meals at the Christmas Markets – always the cheapest place to get food, and also hello, SO GOOD – and take advantage of the cheap inter-European transit options available to hop from place to place. Backpacking Europe doesn’t have to be a rite of passage, or something you only do when you’re in college – we are living proof that full-grown, late 20’s/early 30’s people can, indeed, go backpacking in Europe! Like the youths!
Whether it’s your first or your fifth trip to Europe, if you’ve never visited in the winter you might be in for a surprise. Namely: it’s cold. Surprise! But hey, we’ve gotcha covered.
In this post we’re laying out all of our favorite, field-tested essentials for visiting Europe in the winter, from gear to clothing. If you’ve ever read any of our packing lists before, we’re REAL persnickety about stuff, so please excuse us if we nerd out and like, wax poetic about the scientific properties of merino wool or whatever. We live for that sh*t. Spoilers: you’re gonna learn a lot about merino wool in this post.
Looking for more inspiration for your winter trip to Europe? Here are some of our favorite destinations – or you can just read all of our posts about traveling Europe in the winter (you get bonus points for binge reading, y’all)!
- Two Super Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries
- 12 Charming Things to Do in Copenhagen in Winter
- 12 Delightful Things to Do in Prague in the Winter
- 10 Things to do in Vienna in the Winter
Hey, need a handy dandy checklist to help you pack? We’ve got a printable version of this post that includes EVERYTHING you’ll need for your trip. Sign up in the box below and we’ll deliver it right to your inbox. Just call us Amazon prime for packing lists!
Europe Winter Travel FAQ’S
How cold does Europe get in the winter?
Honestly, that completely depends on where you’re going. Some parts of Europe are actually not cold at all during the winter (like Spain or southern France, which are quite temperate) and some areas are frozen tundras (like the Nordics).
As a general rule, the further north you go, the colder it gets. Southern areas – particularly on the coast – will be warmer – think Los Angeles in the winter kind of weather, like you’ll need a light jacket but you’ll be comfortable.
As you head north, the temperature plummets and the days grow shorter and shorter, until you’re literally at the North Pole, sitting on Santa’s lap in the dark as the northern lights dance above you somewhere in Finnish Lapland. (That sounded … weirdly romantic, but what we meant is that Finland is the home of Santa Claus).
For a nice balance of daylight hours and snow, head to the mountains in central Europe! It won’t be CRAZY cold, but it will be nice and snowy and … well, mountainy.
Is there like … daylight?
Yes! Much like the temperature, daylight hours in Europe get shorter as you head north. In Paris, France you’ll get about 8 hours of daylight in the dead of winter – a perfectly reasonable amount. Stockholm, Sweden will give you 6. If you’re up in Helsinki, Finland night falls around 4pm. Plan for shorter hours the further north you go!
Which European destinations should I visit in the winter?
All of them! OK, not helpful. We’ve spent a few years exploring Europe in the winter, and we’ve got some suggestions from our travels:
- Best for Christmas Markets: Bremen, Germany
- Best for Romance (and Chocolate): Bruges, Belgium
- Best for Medieval Charm and History: Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
- Best for Real Life Christmas Village Scenery: Hallstatt, Austria
- Best for Coffee, Comfort Food & Culture: Vienna, Austria
- Best for Christmas After New Years … and Beer: Prague, Czech Republic
- Best for Actual Reindeer: Norway
- Best Overall: Copenhagen
One place we DON’T recommend visiting in the winter? Southern France. It’s not just that the lavender is all dead. It’s also that there are no people (just cats, oddly enough), everything is closed (including restaurants, aka the best part of visiting France) and you might get stuck in a castle. OK, that’s probably just us.
Still, save Provence for another season and visit Colmar instead, which we’ve heard has an AMAZING Christmas Market.
Is it actually possible to pack light for winter travel? … How?
Yes, it IS possible and you can absolutely pack winter clothes in a carry on! The trick is to wear all of your heaviest stuff on your travel days – like your bulky jacket, that scarf that’s as big as a blanket, and so on. Other than your bulky stuff, you want everything else to be soft, lightweight, and travel friendly – and you want your clothes to pull double duty so you don’t need as many of them.
We’ll talk more about this below, but in order to achieve the difficult goal of packing light for winter travel we get REAL nerdy about textiles. And no, it’s not just because Lia has a degree in fashion design. Well OK, that does help a lot, actually. Like, a merino wool sweater will keep you roughly 86252526x as warm as an acrylic sweater, meaning you have fewer layers overall that you need to bring.
The beauty of winter travel is that 99% of the time, all anyone is going to see is the very outer layer of your clothing. So as long as you’ve got clothes that can withstand being worn over and over again, you really don’t actually need to bring very many items. Our typical Europe in winter packing list looks something like this (we’ll get into specifics in the next section).
- Base Layer. This is the most important part of your outfit! On a cold day, you’ll want the layer closest to your body to be warm and insulting – think merino wool or silk, not cotton.
- Two pairs of pants. We both bring our favorite pair of travel jeans. I bring a pair of warm leggings, and Jeremy brings a pair of chinos to spice things up.
- 2-3 Sweaters. We look for a few neutral-colored sweaters that are made from at LEAST 20% merino wool and aren’t bulky.
- 2-3 Collared Shirts. These get layered under the sweaters for a variety of spiffy sweater/collared shirt looks. I dress mine up with statement necklaces and Jeremy dresses his up with scarves and a well-groomed ginger beard. You’d hardly even know we were backpackers! ... Except for the fact that we’re carrying backpacks. And sleeping in hostels. Still, though.
- 1-2 T-Shirts. These get layered underneath our other clothing as needed and worn to bed. I also bring a cardigan so that I can mix things up from the whole sweater/collared shirt situation on those warm, balmy 40 degree days.
- 1 Skirt: To switch things up from the ol’ sweater routine, I bring a cute skirt that I can wear with my t-shirts, button-down shirts, or sweaters. I wear leggings or tights underneath to keep my legs warm, and a little belt to dress it up. Bam: that’s like, TRIPLE the outfit options.
- 1-2 Scarves. You’ll be wearing these every day and they’ll be in every picture. So if there’s one accessory you’re really going to be extra about, make it your scarves! I have a scarf collection that spans every color, so I usually match her scarves to her sweaters when deciding which to bring. Jeremy … has one scarf. It is a good scarf. It is dark grey.
- 1-2 Hats. Jeremy brings a gray beanie that goes with everything, and I bring a couple of hats in different colors. You know, for accessorizing.
- 2 Jackets: We each wear our bulky outer jacket, and bring another jacket that squishes down really small and weighs almost nothing.
- 1 Pair of Shoes: Yep, really, just one. We’ve found the PERFECT pair of boots for cold weather and they’re all we need to bring. Plus we wear them every day so we don’t even have to bother packing them in our bags.
- Toiletries/Makeup/Gear/Yadda Yadda. We try to keep this bit as lightweight as possible – Lia has mastered the art of packing travel makeup and we’ve managed to get all of our gear to fit into one single packing cube.
- Underwear: Our rule of thumb is 1 pair of undies per day up to 7. After 7, we sink wash and hang-dry with this.
- Sleepwear: Our sleepwear doubles as lounge pants and even plane wear! Made from cozy antibacterial merino wool, so they don’t get stinky.
Whoop, there it is: one carry-on bag each.
Er, plus our camera bag. Annnnnnd a day bag. We wear those in front. So like … two carry-on bags each. STILL COUNTS, EUROPEAN BUDGET AIRLINES.
Europe Winter Travel Essentials
You’ll need to bring a few things with you on your Europe winter trip! Oh, and don’t forget to prepare for the long haul flight (when we flew back from Prague last year, it took a grueling 19 hours). We’ve got a whole post with recommendations for our favorite long-haul flight essentials, plus tips to make your flight easier (especially if you sprung for a cheap budget airline flight)!
- Carry-On Luggage: Zipping through Europe on budget airlines and buses for like, $10 a ticket is totally doable – if you have carry-on luggage, that is. If you’re looking to take advantage of the crazy-cheap deals offered by budget airlines, you’re gonna want to keep your luggage as lightweight as possible! We already covered our tips for packing light for winter travel above, but there’s one last thing you’ll need: a carry-on bag. If you’re partial to backpacks, this PacSafe bag is comfortable, roomy, and as deterrent as it gets – it’s our go-to backpack for carry-on travel. It’s also perfect for those tiny, windy European staircases that you have to climb up because your room is somehow always on the 6th floor and there’s never an elevator (UGH WHY). But if you prefer a rolling bag,the Away suitcase is as beautiful as it is high-tech, with a built-in portable charger, an incredibly durable exterior, tons of space, and a built-in dirty laundry compressor (whaaaaat, game-changing).
- Day Bag: You’ll want a bag with you to store things like extra layers, your camera, a phone charger, weird European snacks, and trinkets you pick up at the Christmas Markets – you know, the essentials. I carried super cute this day bag with me every single day packed with my packable down jacket, an extra pair of gloves, and anything else I needed for the day. We also have this theft-resistant camera bag specifically for our camera gear, because we’re
extra AFprofessional bloggers or whatever. If you don’t have like … camera gear, you probably don’t need it, but if you do, it’s REALLY nice.
- Umbrella: Yep, it does rain in Europe in the winter. Thanks, climate change! Bring a little travel umbrella with you just in case. As a bonus, it can double as a cool photo prop to add color to a dreary day – just like that picture up above!
- Filtered Water Bottle: The water in Europe is safe to drink almost everywhere, with the exception of Eastern Europe. If you’ll be traveling to the Balkans, bring along a water bottle with a built-in filter so you don’t have to worry about where you’ll find water – you can just drink from the tap like normal. You’ll also be saving money and environmental waste by not purchasing plastic disposable water bottles! I know it’s a little pricey for a water bottle, but we’ve tested several water purifying techniques and this is by far the easiest – you just fill it up and drink, and the filter lasts for AGES. You’ll be able to use this bottle for years in other countries without safe drinking water or even on hikes and other outdoor adventures! We think it’s a worthwhile investment.
- Chapstick & Moisturizer: The air in Europe is dry as a bone. You’d think like, snow might help, but no. Spend a few days in Europe in the winter and you’re gonna end up with chapped lips and thirsty, parched skin! So I highly recommend carrying some good quality chapstick with you during your trip. I love these handmade, all-natural lip balms from Etsy that come in compostable packaging! I also recommend using a heavy moisturizer like this one on your face every night. I also recommend taking alone something you can use for chapped skin elsewhere, like your elbows, feet, and hands. I’m obsessed with this Burt’s Bees salve; Jeremy and I slather it on ourselves religiously during the winter.
- Travel Insurance: At this point in our lives, we never travel anywhere without travel insurance. We’re way too accident-prone to risk it! We’ve filed several claims with World Nomads, so at this point, our insurance policies have all paid for themselves. Not sure if that’s like, a good thing, or just a sign that we should probably lock ourselves indoors and barricade the room with pillows… We also really like SafetyWing, which offers quarantine coverage, low rates, and long-term travel coverage for digital nomads. Not sure if you need travel insurance? Take a look at our guide to travel insurance to help you decide!
- Travel Credit Card: We book all of our international trips on our favorite travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card also offers fantastic travel perks, like no foreign transaction fees, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, all of which helps protect us on our travels. We’ve filed several claims and the card has saved our butt many times! Take a look at our full review of the card. (Psst: shopping for your upcoming trip? You can put your purchases on the card to help you meet the sign-up bonus minimum spend!)
Europe Travel Necessities
There are a few specific things you’ll need to bring if you’re traveling in Europe, especially if you’ll be staying in hostels or places with shared amenities. By the way, don’t be scared of hostels: the hostels in Europe tend to feel more like boutique hotels. They literally have “luxury hostels,” which is apparently NOT an oxymoron. We stayed in a hostel in Hamburg, Germany that was SO nice, we didn’t leave at all except to visit the Christmas Market. Seriously, check out how nice this hostel is! Can we live there?!
That said, you’ll want to take precautions to keep your belongings safe. The most common crime you’ll need to worry about in Europe is petty theft and opportunity theft, so if you make your stuff harder to steal than the average tourist’s, you’ll be good to go.
I got pickpocketed regularly on my first few trips to Europe, but since I grew up and became a seasoned, hardened traveler I haven’t been pickpocketed at ALL. Probably because they’d have to reach underneath 8 layers of scarves, jackets, sweaters, and shirts just to get to where I keep my cash, which both keeps them from stealing it and me from spending it.
For more theft prevention tips, head over and read our travel safety guide.
OK, enough gabbing. Here are all the backpacking essentials you’ll need to stay comfortable in the hostels in Europe!
- Lightweight Combination Locks: You’ll want to discourage opportunity theft by putting locks on all of your bags – that extra step makes you a harder mark which is often enough to make stealing your stuff not worth it! Important Note: TSA-friendly locks are OK for checked baggage, but for our day bags and non-checked luggage we actually prefer locks that AREN’T TSA friendly, like these, because it’s apparently super easy to manufacture keys that can open all TSA locks. Scary.
- Plug Adapters: Yep, these are very important. Don’t forget them! And don’t make the same mistake we did and buy a giant, clunky 5-in-1 adapter brick: you don’t need it. 99% of Europe uses just one plug: this one. If you don’t have a 3-prong laptop charger in your luggage, all you’ll need is this tiny little inexpensive adapter. And by the way, the outlets are all round, so our stupid brick-shaped adapter didn’t even work anyway. We binned it. Do make sure that you’re not in the 1% of Europe that inexplicably has a different plug, though: apparently, certain parts of Italy have their own version with 3 prongs that require this adapter, which I unpleasantly discovered after arriving in Italy. Fun.
- Outlet Splitters: Outlets are at a premium in Europe – they’re just never as common as you want them to be! Enter outlet splitters: now, you only need to find 1 functioning outlet, which means you can bring fewer plug adapters. Congratulations, you now possess the power to turn a single outlet into 3 outlets or even 3 outlets & 2 USB ports! You just might be your hostel dorm’s resident hero.
- Money Belt or Bra Pocket: So, confession: I can’t stand purses. It’s not just because they’re easily snatched and stolen. They’re also just a giant hassle. From leaving them behind to aching shoulders to getting tangled up in coat sleeves, purses and I just do not get along. So until everyone realizes that girls just want to have pockets in their clothing (and again I bless Aviator Jeans for their giant, roomy, zippered pockets) my solution is the Bra Pocket. It snaps onto my bra and hangs out inconspicuously between the girls, ready the moment I need to take out a card. Nothing got lost or stolen. I highly recommend one. I’ll never go back to purses & wallets! Jeremy, on the other hand, wears a silk money belt under his shirt. For the rest of our daily essentials, we bring along a day bag.
- Portable, Lockable Safe: This little tool totally verges on extra, but it’s so useful that I’m including it anyway. It’s a little lockable safe that can fit your passport, phone, money, and other small valuables. It even attach to the legs of your bed. This is an essential if you’re staying in a hostel – sometimes you’ll get lucky and your hostel will have trundle drawers close to the bed for easy access, but that’s not always the case – one particular hostel that we stayed at in Brussels only had full-sized lockers available IN THE LOBBY. (WHY!?) Heck, even if your locker is more than arm’s length away, this handy little guy makes it super convenient to stash everything right next to you while you sleep!
- Travel Slippers: I know this sounds super unnecessary, but these are one of those rare “luxury items” that are SO worth it. Here’s the thing about Europe in the winter: it’s cold. The floors are cold. And the bathroom is probably at LEAST several feet away on that stupid, cold floor. But you have to shower, because – ya know, germs. So you have a few choices: bring a whole extra pair of shoes just for walking to the shower, try to put socks on while your feet are still wet, put your giant winter boots on every time you have to leave your room, or run like the wind across the freezing cold floor, tracking water and misery everywhere. OR? Just bring slippers. They’re SO NICE to have. You can wear them to breakfast, to the lounge, to the shower – and you’ll raise your comfort level to infinity. There’s nothing more cozy and homey than plopping a little pair of slippers down next to your bed and sliding into them in the morning. We even wear our slippers on long plane rides … and at home, like, every day!
- Travel Towel: Yes, most hotels in Europe will provide you with towels free of charge. BUT, there is no guarantee that those towels will actually fit around your body. And as a tall, curvy woman, they never do. So use the hotel’s towel for your hair and bring a full-sized travel towel instead. As a bonus, if you’re staying in a budget-friendly place with “shared bathrooms” and taking your leisurely post-shower stroll down the hall in your warm, cozy slippers, you won’t be accidentally flashing everyone too.
- Travel Laundry Supplies: Look, nobody wants to do laundry on vacation. But also, we pack light! So we rely on our anti-microbial clothing to do most of the work, and then we do a little bit of handwashing in the sink or shower, mostly so we can pack fewer pairs of undies! All you’ll need is a tiny bottle of concentrated soap like this laundry wash (a little bottle of plain castile soap like this works just fine too – and you can use it in the shower, too) and a little travel clothesline to hang your clothes up to dry. The heater and super-dry air will do the job just fine, and we find that our merino wool travel undies typically dry completely in under 24 hours. (Optional: some folks also bring a sink stopper, too – but we typically just bring our dirty clothes into the shower with us. Saves water, way easier, we’re lazy, bla bla.)
What to Wear in Europe in Winter
Here are our recommendations for clothing that’s both functional AND super cute to wear in Europe in the winter!
How to Keep Your Feet Warm
We here at Practical Wanderlust would like to personally help you avoid getting cold feet – especially if you’re getting married in Europe in the winter. GET IT? GET IT!? We’ll see ourselves out. Anyway, keep those toes toasty warm! Nothing will cut a day of exploration short like freezing cold toes.
- Weatherproof Boots: When it comes to what shoes to wear in Europe in winter, we honestly only have one answer: the VivoBarefoot Gobi boots are hands down the best boots for European winter. Chances are that you’ll be walking everywhere, and half of it will be on uneven cobblestones, and the other half might be ice or snow – and these boots are up for the challenge. They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather and lined with shearling to keep your toes toasty warm, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. Oh, and they have thin and flexible soles that let your feet function as if you were walking around completely barefoot! Note: you might find yourself in need of some calf strengthening if you’re not used to barefoot-style soles. We can’t recommend these boots enough. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent – we wore them for 2 months straight in frigid wintry Europe and never suffered a cold or sore foot! Plus, they’re cute AF! Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our guide to the best travel shoes for women and travel shoes for men.
- Warm Wool Socks: Warm boots aren’t the only thing you’ll need to keep your feet toasty warm. Don’t forget to bring warm socks! Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks – they won’t keep your feet warm while you’re exploring Europe in the winter. Make sure you get socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these.
Underneath Your Clothes
THERE’S AN ENDLESS STORY … THERE’S THE MAN I CHOSE, THERE’S MY TERRITORY! Sorry, that’s going to be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. But Shakira is a queen, so.
ANYWAY, back to things that are actually useful: what to wear underneath your clothes (see, you just sang that, didn’t you) to help regulate your body temperature. The goal isn’t just to keep heat in, but also to prevent you from overheating when you walk inside a 70-degree building after running around in 30-degree weather outside. You know that feeling – the “oh god I’m so hot is this what hypothermia feels like because I need all these layers off of me RIGHT NOW” feeling. It’s usually followed shortly thereafter with the “how am I so sweaty it’s 30 degrees outside” feeling. Ick. No thank you.
We cannot stress enough how amazing merino wool is at preventing you from having to use the word moist to describe yourself. Ugh, did anyone else just audibly shudder? Merino wool is a travel miracle fabric. It keeps you warm when it’s cold out, but it keeps you cool when it’s hot out – and it wicks and regulates moisture too, so that even if you do get a lil’ sweaty inside, you’ll dry quickly and still be nice and warm when you step back outside into the cold.
Merino wool is also naturally antibacterial, meaning even if you wear it for 2 weeks straight every single day, it won’t smell. Er, yes, we’ve tested that… for science, you know. Also, fun fact: it’s flame retardant, too, so ya know. Handy. I guess now we know why sheep are so dumb: all of their intelligence is in their extremely high tech, super engineered fluffy coats.
By the way, if you’re allergic to wool, or adverse to wearing it, hemp is another fabric that is temperature regulating as well as sustainable.
We recommend stocking up on a full merino wool base layer, so you’ve got wool from head to toe. Depending on which country you’re in or how cold it is that day, you can layer up underneath any of your other outfits to instantly add extra insulating warmth to any outfit. We also wear our merino base layers to sleep at night, because they are cozy and warm and wonderful and never smell and they’re just magical.
- Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: These super comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. Except they’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool instead of cheap polyester, and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. I wore a pair of these under my pants on extra-cold days and they kept me toasty warm (without being too hot)! Jeremy has this pair. Bonus: they also double as the world’s coziest lounge leggings or even sleepwear!
- Merino Wool Undies: You gotta keep those buns warm! I wear these undies (psst: buy a size up) and this travel-friendly bra, and Jeremy wears these.
- Merino Wool Undershirt: Laying is crucial when it’s this cold. My favorite way to make sure I stay warm all day is to put a warm layer of wool on before everything else. This is the wool cami I wear, and this is the wool undershirt Jeremy wears.
From the Waist Down
- Travel Jeans: Unlike regular jeans, travel jeans are designed specifically to solve travel-related woes. One of my personal woes is the lack of pockets on women’s jeans. My favorite travel jeans have 7 POCKETS. 7!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection – crucial in any European country. Jeremy and I each have a pair of Aviator USA black jeans. They’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly in the rain or when wet, and keep our legs warm when it’s cold out. They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s jeans in black or indigo on the Aviator USA website.
- Lined Leggings: On very cold days, I add an extra layer of insulating warmth by throwing a pair of lined leggings on over my base layer and under my jeans (I’ve also worn them without extra pants on top of my base layer because leggings are real pants, fight me). I have two pairs of warm lined winter leggings, one lined with merino wool and one lined with fleece.
- Warm Leggings (with pockets!): Although Jeremy and I both bring our wool leggings to layer under our pants, I also bring a pair of regular leggings – you know, for when it’s a balmy 40 degrees in the sun. I love these pants because they actually look like pants, not leggings – and they have ZIPPERED POCKETS!!!! Not those stupid pockets that can fit like, a chapstick and 3 dimes – you can actually zip a phone in there. BLESS.
- Cute Skirt: Just to add variety to my very minimal clothing options, I bring a cute skirt (this one) that I can wear with my t-shirts, button-down shirts, or sweaters. I wear leggings or lined tights underneath to keep my legs warm, and a little belt to dress it up.
- Sleep/Lounge Pants: These merino wool lounge pants double as sleepwear, plane wear, and hanging-around-the-hotel wear! And they can wait to be washed until we get home thanks to the antibacterial properties of merino wool.
From the Waist Up
- Flannel Shirt: I’m in LOVE with the MerinoLux flannel button-downs from Royal Robbins. They’re stretchy, they’re cozy, they’re blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, they’re warm AF. But not so warm that you’ll get all sweaty running around Europe and exploring because they’re also super breathable. They’re also wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking, and have a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, one that didn’t give me button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
- Sweaters: We wear a LOT of sweaters when we visit Europe in the winter. We dress them up by layering them over our collared shirts or adding scarves. But we wear them just about every day! Again, your best bet is a merino wool sweater for maximum warmth and minimal smell. You can actually find some REALLY cute ones at Banana Republic (like this one – this one is even machine washable!) or Men’s Wearhouse for dudes. You’ll definitely find plenty of them at outdoor companies too, but I find that the ones they sell at regular old clothing stores are cheaper and just as good quality.
- Warm Coat: Your jacket is arguably the most important thing you’ll bring to Europe other than your shoes. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you explore for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Plus, it’s gonna be in almost all of your photos. I recommend splurging on a coat made with real wool – no synthetic material comes close to the warmth of real wool! As you can see in 99% of my photos, I brought a beautiful camel-colored A-line wool coat like this one that kept me incredibly warm and looks amazing in all of my pictures. Jeremy wears a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
- Packable Down Jacket: We each bring two jackets each to Europe: our heavy wool one for extra-cold days, and a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket. It’s perfect for those days when I just want the freedom of not wearing a big coat, but it’s also a fantastic added layer. We keep our jackets stuffed in our daypacks in case we need an extra layer of warmth on super cold days. Here’s my jacket and Jeremy’s jacket.
Cold Weather Accessories
- Warm Hat: A warm hat is an absolute necessity for chilly Europe in the winter. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! You want a hat that will stay on your head even in blustery gusts of wind and keep your ears nice and warm, so stay away from those brimmed ~travel girl types of hats and stick with reliable beanies instead. Personally, I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist and likes to wear beanies like this one, which is made from earth-friendly recycled wool and nylon. To keep your head AND your face warm (and also ensure that nobody will ever talk to you) get this Cthulu Hat. And then send me pictures of you wearing it, please.
- Scarves: I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! And you will absolutely need a good scarf in Europe. I love this super soft scarf from Royal Robbins, which is blended with wool and turns into a cute shawl or infinity scarf with a few well-placed buttons. I’m also a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
- Gloves: Don’t go outside in Europe without gloves on! You will regret it. I love these merino wool gloves that work with touchscreens because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves.
Toiletries to Pack for Europe in Winter
Moisture is the name of the game when packing for a winter trip! You’ll want extra strength face moisturizer, conditioner, hand salve, chapstick, and so on. You’ll also want to take care to protect any exposed skin (so, your face) from the sun – winter sun can be surprisingly strong!
I’ve also found some winter-proof basic makeup essentials that stay put even on freezing cold, snotty, eyes-streaming days. Here’s what to throw in your bag:
- Sunscreen: Even on a gray winter day, you’re still at risk of sun damage, ESPECIALLY if you’re around snow! Snow acts like a giant mirror, bouncing UV rays directly into your face. Thanks, snow.I love this lightweight facial sunscreen in 50 SPF – it goes on smoothly and doesn’t break me out. I also love this tinted moisturizer with SPF to multi-task – it’s like a lightweight foundation that protects my face and moisturizes my skin.
- Moisturizer: Your skin will be dry as a bone during your trip, so you’ll need to make sure you’re moisturizing daily – maybe even twice a day! This is my favorite go-to everyday moisturizer.
- Winter-Proof Makeup: My travel makeup routine is incredibly low maintenance and consists of just these 4 products: tinted moisturizer, cream blush, smudge-proof mascara, and bright red lipstick. The lipstick makes me look way more put together than I actually am, and it looks super cute in winter photos.
- Chapstick: Whether your skip the red lipstick or not, you need to wear chapstick to keep your lips moisturized. There’s nothing worse than hurts-to-smile chapped lips, and I seem to get them every time I’m in super cold weather! If you’re doing snow sports, opt for a chapstick with SPF.
- Hand Salve: My hands are one of the first casualties of cold, dry weather. If I don’t moisturize them daily, they dry out and start to snag on my gloves, which is both gross and irritating. Pack a tin of Burt’s Bees hand salve to rub into your cuticles, knuckles, elbows, and anywhere else that needs some extra moisture!
For more low-maintenance travel beauty tips, head over to my travel makeup & beauty guide.
Whew! I’m craving a cup of gluhwein after all this. Hey, what questions do you have about packing for Europe in the winter? Drop us a comment below!
Looking for more inspiration for your winter trip to Europe? Here are some of our favorite destinations – or you can just read all of our posts about traveling Europe in the winter (you get bonus points for binge reading, y’all)!
- Two Super-Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries
- 35 Photos of Norway in the Winter to Inspire your Wanderlust
- 12 Delightful Things to Do in Prague in the Winter
Hey, need a handy dandy checklist to help you pack? We’ve got a printable version of this post that includes EVERYTHING you’ll need for your trip. Scroll down to sign up and we’ll deliver the list right to your inbox. Just call us Amazon prime for packing lists.
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Our Top Travel Tips & Resources
- Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Google Flights or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
- Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO because they've got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we're not fans of Airbnb's unethical track record. You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We also use TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
- Travel Insurance: We always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY recommend it - visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: We book all of our trips on our favorite travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card offers fantastic travel perks like no foreign transaction fees, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, which helps protect us on our travels. Read our complete review.
- Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor's office or a walk-in pharmacy.
- Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local's perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
- Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit, and book local transportation online using Bookaway wherever we can. For rental cars, we use DiscoverCars to compare rental companies and find the best deal. To save money, we also book with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which includes primary rental car insurance coverage.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever we're checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we're running around. Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
- What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!
So … sleepwear? What do you pack for sleeping? Do you bring two base layers and rotate? It seems … wrong … to wear the same base layer all day and all night.
Lia Garcia says
Oh wow, good call – can’t believe we forgot to include that! We wear these merino wool sweatpants at night: https://practicalwanderlust.com/recommends/merino-wool-sweatpants/
My son is 18 and will be taking his first solo backpacking trip to Europe in after Christmas. Do many young people travel/stay in hostels in the winter?
Lia Garcia says
Oh yes! Tons! It’s probably not as packed as it would be during the warmer weather, but he’ll certainly be in good company and make plenty of friends with fellow travelers. I hope he has an amazing trip!
Ahhh! Thank you for this post! I’m traveling to Germany with my family (5 kids!) this winter for Christmas. I’m from Puerto Rico, grew up in Miami and now live in Georgia so….I don’t even understand cold. The first time I saw snow I put my kids in rain boots because I thought those were just like snow boots-it’s not! Anyways this post is super helpful so I can pack right and enjoy the winter, a real winter!
Lia Garcia says
Germany during the Christmas season is WONDERFUL, you’re going to have an amazing time! (We’re so jealous!) Happy we could help 🙂
Alex Hudson says
Hi Lia 🙂
Just wondering in regards to jackets – I was going to avoid wool in place of a waterproof and windproof heavy jacket – what is your reasoning for not doing this? The wool option is definitely cuter 🙂
Lia Garcia says
Well, wool is WAY warmer that just about anything except for down (which I recommend also bringing!) and wind definitely won’t be a concern in a real wool coat. On days when it’s not raining, wool is the warmest (and cutest!) choice. But on days when it is raining outside, having a waterproof jacket is definitely important! As for snow, wool does just fine on a city exploration day with a light dusting of snow (although it’s definitely not the best choice for outdoor adventure).
Hi Lia my partner and I are heading for a big 6 week European trip in December, coming from an Australian summer temperatures will be our big challenge.. We will be in Finland for a few days and that will be our coldest temperatures obviously. The jeans you are talking about ( Aviator) are they the ones with 2 inside pockets?? How did those shoes hold up in snow etc.
Lia Garcia says
Aviators have 2 hidden pockets and 6 total pockets (7 on men’s), and they’re amazing. The shoes hold up fantastically in the snow and cold, although we did have a couple of days during a trip to Canada where we were walking around in melted puddles of . slush and rain, and at the end of the day, our socks and shoes were a little damp. Luckily, we were each wearing 2 pairs of wool socks so we barely even noticed. Essentially, snow + ice are fine (and the boots will keep your feet warm and dry), but if there will be slush/puddles, we’d recommend waterproof rainboots or bringing along a pair of waterproof socks to wear over your wool socks to keep any wetness from creeping in.
Thank you for all of the great information, you two! We are headed to Copenhagen in February and this is tremendously helpful!
Erin Hayter says
Headed to Copenhagen solo next week and for a girl living in Nevada, I can use all the help I can get ! Thanks and looking forward to all my travels and all of your blogging.
Lia Garcia says
Have a great time!!
I purchased the Royal Robbins Merinolux top after reading this. I immediately ordered one for my MIL and one for my mom for xmas gifts. These shirts are the BEST! It is so cozy and cute too. We are heading to Europe for a Rhine cruise in two days.
Lia Garcia says
YAY, so glad you like them as much as I do! Hope you had a blast in Europe!
Your blog is awesome! Thank you for all of the information
Hey loved your post thank you for the good advice!
I’m flying with a friend to Madrid in March do you have any extra tips on what to bring? (we’re from Israel so real winter is not something we actually know now to handle….)
Lia Garcia says
Honestly Madrid doesn’t have “real” winter either 😛 Spain’s winter is chilly but very mild. You should be just fine with long pants, scarves, and a couple of jackets – don’t worry about being freezing cold unless you’re spending a lot of time walking around late at night, when it’s colder!
Perfect timing on this post! My boyfriend and I are visiting friends in Sweden in December.
Love this post! Leggings are a must when travelling! Especially for long flights. Where we live in China it reaches -15 so the thermal undies are a must in the winter! Love your pictures as always too – thanks for sharing!
Harmony, Momma To Go says
What a great list! I went to Milan once the week before xmas and it was cold, but do-able. Not too bad for walking around. I dont remember how much day light we had. I guess further north that is a consideration for sure! I like the idea of layering. And good shoes are a must!