What To Pack For Europe In Winter?

We strolled through Christmas markets weekly every December, hiked in the snowy Tatras in Slovakia in January, went for long weekend sightseeing trips to Copenhagen or Berlin in freezing temperatures in March, or enjoyed Rome without the crowds in February. You ask what to pack for Europe in the winter. We ask which part of Europe you plan to visit. Because all the experiences we mentioned above were a bit different.

Weather conditions in Europe, especially in winter, vary a lot depending on which region you visit. Northern Europe is a frozen tundra and the home of Santa Claus and his reindeers, while Southern Europe – Spain, Greece, Southern France or Southern Italy – has milder winters, mostly with rain and chilly winds. But as you move northwards – Central and Eastern Europe, Switzerland, Germany or the Baltics -, you find real winters, winds become icy, and the extreme cold weather requires proper winter coats and footwear. Winter travel is fun though if you’re prepared!

But European winters are unpredictable. Weather in Europe is often unpredictable throughout the year, anyway. But winter? Snowstorm, torrential downpour, drizzly-foggy days and blue skies are all possible. And what do we mean by winter? The time from late November until about March. This is the coldest, darkest part of the year, and you better pack proper winter clothes if you visit during this time. 

And good for you, we’re here to help you pack a single carry-on for your trip (because packing light for Europe in winter is possible!), making sure you’re prepared for any kind of weather. This packing list is a general one, focusing mostly on exploring cities, strolling through Christmas markets or snowy villages. If you plan to do a lot of hiking or skiing during your trip, you’ll probably need extra gear that’s not covered in this post.

Which are the best destinations for European winter travel?

Kossuth Square, Budapest, Hungary

There’s an incredible number of places from the Nordic cities to the powdery landscapes of the Alps, but here are some of our favorite places:

  • to stroll through Christmas Markets: Nuremberg, Dresden, Colmar, Vienna, Prague or Budapest
  • to see a fairy tale winter village in the Alps: Hallstatt, Austria
  • to visit epic cities without the crowds: Rome, Vienna, Barcelona, Prague, Budapest
  • to find charming historical towns covered in snow: Český Krumlov (Czech Republic), Krakow and Warsaw (Poland), Salzburg (Austria)

If you specifically want to visit the European Christmas markets, you better go well before Christmas. Christmas market season starts around mid-November and usually ends on Christmas Eve. You might be able to visit the markets between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in certain cities, but make sure to check how many of the Christmas markets will still be open after Christmas. Also, the last two weeks before Christmas are the most crowded, it’s another reason to choose late November or early December.

But how cold is Europe in the winter?

High Tatras, Slovakia

If you haven’t spent most of your life here like us, we understand the need for exact facts and not just “well, the north is very cold, while the south is just a bit chilly”. What to wear in Europe definitely depends on the temperatures of that country (or those countries) you visit, so we created this neat little table for you that contains several cities and their average winter temperatures.

We intentionally focused on cities rather than countries, and that’s what we recommend you to do, as well. Temperatures differ even within a certain country, especially in the case of larger countries like France or Germany, or “longer countries” that involve quite some latitude difference (like Portugal, Italy, Norway or Sweden).

CityAverage temperature in DecemberAverage temperature in  March
Stockholm-1°C / 30°F5°C / 41°F
Saint Petersburg-4°C / 25°F-1°C / 30°F
Copenhagen2°C / 36°F3°C / 37°F
Paris5°C / 41°F9°C / 47°F
Amsterdam4°C / 39°F5°C / 41°F
Munich1°C / 33°F5°C / 40°F
Berlin1°C / 34°F4°C / 39°F
London7°C / 45°F9°C / 48°F
Budapest1°C / 34°F6°C / 43°F
Prague0°C / 32°F4°C / 39°F
Rome10°C / 49°F12°C / 53°F
Barcelona11°C / 51°F12°C / 53°F
Athens12°C / 53°F13°C / 55°F

The key for dressing up in winter: layering!

Now let’s talk about how to dress up so that you can enjoy your visit to these places. The key is, of course, layers. Dressing in layers gives you the opportunity to adjust your outfit to the weather and to have a more versatile wardrobe – that still fits into a carry-on luggage. It’s absolutely possible, and we’ll show you how, just read on. 🙂

First of all, the point is not to have as many layers as possible. They’ll only make you feel like a snowball, and you’ll still be cold. In general, you need three layers that are well-chosen and made of the right fabric. They’ll keep you warm in the freezing temperatures outside, but you can easily take one or two layers off when you step indoors to a store, bar or restaurant.

Our 8 tips for winter packing

Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark

Before we get to the concrete European winter packing lists, let us share some general winter packing tips.

  1. Aim for a single carry-on per person so that you can take advantage of the budget airlines within Europe. If you plan to fly to visit different cities and regions in Europe, you can easily find dirt cheap tickets with some vigilance and flexibility, especially in the winter. But this is only true as long as you don’t add extra luggage. Adding luggage often costs more than your original ticket.
  2. But how to fit all your bulky winter clothes into a carry-on? Wear your bulkiest ones when traveling – your winter coat, chunky sweater, thick scarf and sturdy boots -, so they don’t use space in your luggage. (You’ll see in the packing lists below that you don’t need more than one from any of these bulky items.)
  3. Use packing cubes. They don’t only help you stay organized, but also compress all your clothes neatly so that they fit into that carry-on.
  4. Double-check whether you really need it. Another sweater? You’re totally fine with just one for a week or even two, just have enough tops that you can take on under the sweater. Fancy shoes? Uhm… Honestly, if you want to feel comfortable, you’ll probably choose the winter boots over anything else every day. Necklaces? If you usually wear scarves, they won’t matter, anyway. And the list goes on…
  5. Cover whatever you can. Wear a warm hat, scarf, gloves or mittens and warm wool socks. On that note, don’t pack extra from any of these items, because they’re lovely and cheap souvenirs that you find anywhere (not only in the Christmas markets, but an incredible variety of them there, too).
  6. Materials matter. Merino wool is one of the “smartest” materials and a favorite of many people in cold weather. They keep you really warm, but they’re also breathable and odor-resistant. Yes, they won’t smell! A merino wool sweater is perfect for weeks. Merino wool socks keep your feet warm but not sweaty. Yes, we love merino wool.
  7. Pack neutral colored clothes so that your pieces will be easy to mix and match. If you like wearing bright colors, choose a colored scarf or hat.
  8. Don’t forget to take care of your skin: moisturize! The cold, dry air of European winters is not the friend of your skin. Use moisturizer and a chapstick regularly.

The most important pieces: coat and boots

Now let’s see the most important pieces of your winter travel wardrobe: winter coat and winter boots. Choose them carefully as you’ll wear them every single day. They have to keep you warm but not sweaty, and they’ll be in all of your photos.

Winter coats for women & men

The ideal coat is comfy, warm and doesn’t feel restrictive or heavy. Well, and it looks good, too, because of the pictures. 😀

But which materials are the warmest? (Because material matters the most, I say it again.) Many consider wool as the best fabric for cold weather. It’s incredibly warm and breathable at the same time, so you won’t get overheated and sweaty – which is quite important, because your sweat can chill you to the bone once you stop sweating. Wool is also water-resistant (though not waterproof) which makes it a good option for light rain or snow. But have an umbrella in case it gets heavier.

Faux fur is made from various materials and imitates the appearance and warmth of real fur. Also, it’s cheaper, more eco-friendly and much easier to maintain than real fur.

Made from synthetic materials, nylon can also be a good choice for a winter coat. It’s flexible, durable, water-resistant and super easy to maintain.

It might surprise you, but hemp is another great option. It’s an eco-friendly choice, and its fibers are great insulators. Even more, it’s odor-resistant, just like wool, but it’s more gentle to sensitive skins than the latter.

This coat is a simple, classic design that’s available in a huge variety of colors and is made of wool and faux fur. This thick, fleece lined parka on the other hand is a longer model and comes with a hood. Another longer model is this knee-length down puffer coat from Marmot. Canada Goose parkas are made for extreme cold weather, -30°C & below.

And what about men? Here’s an elegant fleece lined wool blend coat, or a thick puffer jacket with a removable hood. Columbia’s winter down jacket is lightweight and water-resistant.

In any case, pick your coat according to the coldest destination on your trip. You can also pack a lightweight, easily packable down jacket – for standalone wear on milder days, or as an additional layer under your winter coat on extreme cold days.

Winter boots for women & men

The ideal winter boots are the only pair of shoes you need on the trip. They’re comfortable to walk in them all day, and they are waterproof! Forget the fashion boots, you don’t want your feet wet. Snow often melts quickly in the cities, and you’ll walk in mud and melting snow. Or you’ll walk when it’s snowing if I imagine a more romantic scenery. Either way, your winter boots should be insulated and waterproof.

I like the higher, sturdy ones like these Sorel boots (which would be suitable for a few short winter hikes, as well) or these waterproof leather boots from Columbia. But if you’re looking for ankle-high boots, this one looks warm enough (though it’s water-resistant, not waterproof).

Columbia has these great, urban looking snow boots for men (suitable for a hike or two). These stylish UGG Emmett Duck Boots are ankle-high, waterproof and designed to keep your feet warm in freezing temperatures. Timberland’s premium waterproof boots are a bit pricey, but super sturdy and stylish.

Minimalist Europe winter packing list (for one week – and more)

Now that you’ve picked your coat and boots, and know which materials are the best in cold weather, the rest is easier, and I won’t write about them that much either.

So let’s see the lists with my occasional comments and sample products. It’s created for one week, but would be enough for two or more weeks long trips, too, just do laundry. It’s not worth packing clothes for several weeks.

Women’s packing list:

  • 7 pairs of underwear (or fewer if they’re quick-drying, like this nylon-spandex ExOfficio bikini brief) – wash them when you take a shower, and yes, you can totally use the same bar of soap you shower with
  • a few bras
  • 4-5 pairs of socks – including a few very warm, merino wool socks
  • 1 set of thermal base layer – opt for a quick-drying, moisture-wicking, elastic material that feels good to your skin
  • 1 pair of fleece-lined leggings
  • 3-4 long-sleeve tops
  • 1 cardigan – it’s easy to use as a layer and great for occasions when you want to look more elegant, like when sitting in a restaurant or cozy café

  • 1 fleece jacket or lightweight, travel-friendly down jacket
  • 2 pairs of jeans/trousers (one can be hiking pants if you plan to go hiking) – make sure they’re not too tight, because you need to layer leggings or thermal underwear underneath them
  • 1 wool dress (optional) – I mean I can imagine wearing dresses, but I can’t remember the last time I did it (and probably never in winter); if you normally wear them, pick a warm wool dress that you can pair with your fleece-lined leggings
  • 1 warm (and possibly waterproof) coat – make sure it’s loose enough so that you can comfortably dress under it; and the longer it is, the warmer it keeps you
  • 1 warm scarf and 1 thin scarf – you’ll likely wear one every day, so pick scarves that match most of the pieces in your luggage
  • 1 pair of gloves/mittens – if you’ll use your phone for directions/tickets/pictures, a pair of texting gloves or fingerless mittens like this might be the best
  • 1 warm hat
  • 1 pair of warm, comfortable boots
  • 1 set of long-sleeved pyjamas – no, you can’t heat every hotel room to the temperature you’d find comfortable; but if you want to save space, pack a thermal base layer that can also function as pyjamas
  • bathing suit (optional) – if you’re staying in a hotel with a spa, or plan to visit thermal spas

If you’re headed only to Southern Europe, you can leave the thermal base layers and the thickest wool socks at home.

Men’s packing list:

  • 1 fleece jacket or lightweight, travel-friendly down jacket
  • 2 pairs of jeans/trousers (one can be hiking pants if you plan to go hiking)
  • 1 warm (and possibly waterproof) coat – make sure it’s loose enough so that you can comfortably dress under it
  • 1 warm scarf – most likely, you have exactly one scarf, anyway, one of a darker color
  • 1 pair of gloves/mittens – if you’ll use your phone for directions/tickets/pictures, a pair of texting gloves or fingerless mittens like this might be the best
  • 1 warm hat
  • 1 pair of warm, comfortable boots – pick that one pair that’s the most versatile
  • 1 set of long-sleeved pyjamas
  • bathing suit (optional) – if you’re staying in a hotel with a spa, or plan to visit thermal spas

Accessories:

Wherever you travel in cold and wet weather, take these so that they can make your life easier – and your trip more enjoyable.

  • 1 day bag – a comfortable, not flashy bag; our usual choice is a backpack like this North Face Jester
  • 1 umbrella – in case your coat doesn’t have a hood, or it’s not waterproof; pick a compact, bright colored one to pop out in those rainy day pictures 😉
  • moisturizer & chapstick – of course, you pack your usual toiletries, but definitely don’t miss these, because your skin will be really dry, believe me, I don’t even leave my flat without a chapstick in winter
  • travel-size toiletry bottles – these reusable bottles are quite practical, because you don’t have to buy travel-size toiletries before each of your flights, while you can continue to use the same products that you use at home; the standard carry-on limit is 100 ml, and this 16 pieces set gives you plenty of choices to decide on the size and kind of toiletries you’d like to pack; or here’s a cute set of 90 ml bottles
  • travel towel – what makes a towel a good travel towel? it dries quickly and folds up to be tiny, like this one
  • European plug adapter – most of Europe uses the same plug (though different from the one in North America), but the UK has its own special one
  • (insulated) reusable water bottle – we don’t buy water in most European countries, because tap water is good quality, so a reusable water bottle is all you need; an insulated bottle is better if you want to carry tea or other hot drinks on your sightseeing trip

What to pack for Europe with kids?

If you travel with kids, then there’s some more work to do. You need to keep your kid warm (and dry!), as well. Packing for a kid is not as hard though as I imagined before actually doing it. They need the same layered clothing as you, only pack a few extra sets, because kids are experts in making their clothes wet and dirty anywhere, anytime.

For babies and toddlers, pick a (waterproof) baby snowsuit to keep them toasty from head to toe. This hooded, fleece pram bodysuit is for 0-24 months, and it opens with one long zipper. This super cute, warm and soft winter coat is the best for infants or babies who don’t walk yet. This winter romper with gloves and booties opens with two zippers which makes your job easier if your kid still uses nappies. Think of all the nappy changes or potty breaks, anyway, when choosing the clothes for a cold day.

If you carry your baby, a winter carrier cover might work better than a bulky winter suit. We loved our carrier cover in the first 6 months with Tomi, because we didn’t need to dress him up that much under it, and we carried him non-stop, anyway.

Budapest, Hungary

In the Budapest Christmas markets with 4 months old Tomi under the carrier cover

Also, pack a set of lighter and warmer rompers so that you have the layers you need for your little one. (And those soft, cute rompers are just so adorable, anyway, right?) This fleece bodysuit is quite a warm layer, while here are some lighter ones. Rompers are harder to find for older toddlers, but they exist (see this or this), and we like dressing Tomi in them, because tucking t-shirts and tops into the trouser is a non-existing problem then.

In addition to that, pack a basic nappy kit (nappies, nappy rash cream, baby wipes), but no need for huge amounts of nappies or wipes, you can buy them anywhere.

And we’ve already written a long article about toddler travel toys – see it here! (And no, you don’t need many of them, don’t worry.)

Finally, 6 general winter travel tips

Börzsöny Mountains, Hungary

If you rent a car, make sure it’s ready for winter conditions

Winter tyres are a must – for your safety and others, but they’re usually also mandatory requirements in European countries in the winter. Familiarize yourself with your car, especially the defroster and windshield wiper buttons. Get an ice scraper if there’s none in the car, it makes your job so much easier and faster every time you start driving. If you drive in the mountains, have a suitable snow chain in your trunk, just for peace of mind.

Double-check road conditions before you drive

Some of the mountain roads are closed during the winter, but temporary road closures might also occur due to bad weather or avalanches. Always check weather and road conditions the day before you drive, and double-check them the next morning. 

Drive slowly

Obvious, right? The recommendation is to reduce your speed by about 50% in snowy or icy conditions and to leave extra space between you and the car in front of you.

Choose direct flights whenever possible

Flight delays happen more often in bad weather. Don’t risk a delayed or cancelled connecting flight if you have the option to fly directly to your final destination.

Avoid peak travel dates

In other words, avoid Christmas. Okay, you might have planned a special Christmas holiday, and then you surely need to travel at Christmas time. But then be prepared for incredibly high prices if you fly, and incredibly congested roads if you drive. Otherwise, if you plan to take advantage of the off-season low prices, go before Christmas or after New Year’s Eve.

Rome, Italy

Visiting Rome in February

Consider the short winter days when planning

Daylight hours in winter are shorter, plan according to this. Temperatures might drop drastically once darkness falls, and you’ll likely drive a lot when it’s dark.

So… who’s up for a chilly adventure?

Are you planning to do winter hiking, too? Check out these posts then:

Read more European travel inspiration:

Disclosure: Please note that affiliate links are used in this post, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. This is how we pay our bills and keep our blog free for you to enjoy. 🙂


200+ Travel Tips For Hungary

Get our free e-book and join the community!

Want to find a place for travel in your life? Want to find your happy places – and happy trails? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter where we share insider tips, updates and more. Get our e-book with all the tips you need before visiting Hungary as a first gift.

 

Travel tips and resources
It takes effort and careful planning to get the most out of your vacation days each year. We help you with complete travel itineraries, based on our own experiences. See them here! Give travel experiences as a gift with Tinggly.
Traveling with kids?
We believe that travel is not only possible, but it’s fun with a kid, and helps strengthen our bonds through experiences and challenges that we get through together. Read our family travel tips and destination specific guides here!

By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.