Winter is a stunning—and affordable—time to visit Europe. Unfortunately, packing for winter weather is notoriously tricky, especially if you’re planning to visit multiple destinations. While your seasonal wardrobe for Reykjavík is going to look significantly different than what you’d pack for Athens, there are a few steadfast tips you can adjust to your situation to stay toasty when facing the cold.
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Packing for Europe in Winter
I recently visited Paris in the heart of December, where the average temperature (in Fahrenheit) usually hovers in the 30s and 40s. While there, evening temperatures dipped as low as 25 degrees and my wardrobe still held up to the chill. Here’s what I packed.
The Base Layer
My first line of defense against the cold is my thermal base layer. If you’re going somewhere truly freezing or plan on being outside for long stretches of time, spring for something made for winter athletes. For my purposes, I opted for a pair of black HEATTECH leggings and two long sleeve HEATTECH shirts. HEATTECH fabric is designed to direct the body’s heat back at you and repel moisture. It’s so thin and lightweight, I can hardly tell when I’m wearing it underneath an outfit.
- An undershirt with a scoop neckline won’t poke out from beneath the neckline of the sweater or shirt you choose to layer on top.
Winter tops are going to take up a lot of luggage space, so fabrics that are warm yet thin like merino wool are a lifesaver. Button ups layered with a thermal base shirt and light sweater or blazer will also do the trick. The largest item I packed was this bulky colorblock knit sweater—it’s super warm and the four neutral colors match with anything.
- Pack one or two outer layers (blazer or sweater) that can be reworn with multiple outfits
- Shirts with looser silhouettes fit better over warm base layers.
- Since shirts tend to be the least re-wearable item in a travel wardrobe, this is the best place to add a pop of color or pattern.
To accommodate the luggage space taken up by bulkier tops, I made sure the few pants I packed were as versatile as possible. These black Levis were the hero piece of my wardrobe—they’re flattering, can be reworn without wrinkling, and have the style of slacks with the comfort of stretch jeans.
The “no jeans in Europe” rule is outdated and varies widely from destination to destination, but there are a few rules to follow if you want to blend in like a local. Go with a dark wash straight-leg cut and avoid light wash denim and anything with rips. Dress up the look by adding a fashionable belt.
- Dark, neutral colors are key—they’re stylish and hide wrinkles from packing.
- If you plan to wear a dress or skirt, try a pair of fleece-lined leggings.
Check the forecast before you leave. If snow is in your future, make sure your shoes can still stand up to hours of sightseeing in less-than-ideal conditions. I wore my Kamik Ariel Lo winter boots. Their low profile and slight wedge heel made me feel much more put together than a typical snow boot. For indoor events or drier days, I suggest a comfortable pair of chelsea boots with a low heel. For the eight hours on the plane, I packed a pair of house slippers to swap into after boarding. These were also great for walking around the chilly hotel room in the evening.
- Look for shoes made with water-resistant materials or use a waterproof shoe spray.
- Layer an ankle sock over a crew sock on colder days to keep your toes warm and dry.
Outerwear is the trickiest item to pack for any trip. It either eats up space in your suitcase or leaves you sweating and cramped on the plane. A super lightweight synthetic jacket is your best bet (check out our recommendations here). If you’re like me and not sure whether your winter coat is stylish enough to take abroad, rest assured. There were peacoats and puffer jackets out in equal measure on the streets of Paris. Go with whatever will keep you the most comfortable.
- Look for a jacket that packs down into its own pocket for easy transportation.
- Winter hat and gloves: I packed a hat and glove set in navy blue, a pseudo-neutral that goes with most outfits while still adding a pop of color.
- Scarf: A lightweight scarf will not only keep you warm, but is very on trend.
- Jewelry: Pack a few basic pieces that can be worn in any combination. These nap earrings are great for someone who wants to wear their jewelry instead of packing it—their flat backs mean you can wear them and still sleep comfortably on a transatlantic flight.
- Belt: Unify the pieces from your mix-and-match wardrobe with a belt.
- Chapstick: It may seem like a small detail, but the dry airplane cabin combined with the winter weather will make you glad you remembered to bring some along.
- Winter Snow and Sport Gear: If you’re planning an active vacation, make sure you have all the gear you need, including heavy duty jackets, ski gloves, and any personal safety gear that can’t be rented at your destination.
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