What to Wear in Europe Without Looking Like a Tourist: a Capsule Wardrobe for Travelers

Megan Lee

Passport? Check. The ability to work remotely while you travel? Check. Visas, Lonely Planet guides, and Euro-Trip movie marathon pre-departure party? Check, check, check.

Allll the details of your much-anticipated trip abroad have been sorted out, and your empty pack is looking at you, longing to be filled. Now’s the time to figure out your travel clothes for Europe. Looking the part is important, right? Comfortable, sleek, stylish, and low-profile—we’re here to dish on who’s wearing what on the continent. Though you’ll probably blunder every now and then (jeans and flip flops are so danged comfy…), but from rainy days to city slickering, here’s everything you need to figure out what to wear in Europe.

About European Style

Unlike we yoga-pants-loving Americans, Europeans tend to avoid dressing casually in lieu of smarter, dressier, and more cohesive outfits. Don’t mistake this for business casual; there’s a difference between having an outfit and having on your power tie or skirt.

The European style will vary widely depending on the location of your travels. If you’re in London or Paris, expect ultra-chic and lots of dark colors. Beaching it up in Italy or Spain means more carefree styles and brighter colors. Scandinavia and Germany don a more vogue, classic look.

Euro-style is one of minimalism, layering, and mixing and matching. Which is why this is the perfect chance for you to try out the capsule wardrobe for travel in Europe.

Why You Should Consider a Capsule Wardrobe

We’ve all seen those tourists—the ones dragging their giant suitcase(s) along the cobblestone streets, up giant hills (“Who knew Lisbon wasn’t flat?!”), sweating, mumbling, grumbling. It’s a workout just to get to their accommodations, and even if they have 12 pairs of shoes to cover every possible activity on their vacation, it doesn’t make up for the stress of lugging all that crap around. Trust me.

That’s why we’re huge advocates for doing it right and traveling light—AKA modeling your packing strategies off of the capsule wardrobe. The capsule wardrobe is a perfect template for you to drill down what to wear in Europe. Allowing your wardrobe to be functional, stylish, mobile, and to fit in, all at the same time.

The three principles of a capsule wardrobe to plan your travel clothes for Europe are:

Make Updates

Plan to update your wardrobe every 3-4 months based on the season and how you plan on spending your time.

Pick a Palette

The key to capsule wardrobe success is the ability to mix and match. Choose colors and patterns that work well together so you don’t get stuck with the same ol’ stuff over and over.

Go Low Maintenance

Doing laundry while on the fly is part of traveling lighter—but if your clothing choices are high maintenance it can get expensive, both in time spent and physical cost. Opt for materials that don’t require dry cleaning or other extensive care.

Ta-da! You now have a comfortable and exciting framework to work within. Just be sure to adjust based on the types of fun you plan on having—whether you’re a night owl, a bookworm, a wild boar, or any other animal/enthusiast in between.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But, my travel clothes for Europe barely take up any space in my big suitcase; shouldn’t I just fill ‘er up?”

NO.

Why You Need a Travel Backpack

Savvy, modern travelers know that nimbly carrying your gear on your back is unmatched in its convenience and comfort. Packing light can save you money in the long run (especially if your pack is carry on sized) and will expedite getting from point A to point B at any given time. Backpacks are the new black. And suitcases have got. to. go.

Choose a backpack that is comfortable, durable, and suits your life and travel style. As with most things, there’s no one size fits all, and your backpack should reflect (and accommodate) with your unique needs while you travel.

The Homebase

This 32L pack goes the distance. If you’re traveling Europe but have an eye on sticking around and working as a digital nomad, this pack is for you.

Even budget airlines can’t disqualify this pack as a carry on! If that doesn’t seal the deal, know this about Homebase:

  • Has a clam shell opening
  • Made of waterproof fabric
  • Converts from travel bag to daypack in less than 30 seconds
  • Comes with a purpose built packing cube
  • Weighs only 2.3lbs.

The Outbreaker

Available in 35L or 45L, this is the pack that gives back. Both sizes fit under carry on regulations, have a special spot for your precious laptop, and are front-loading.

This bag is perfect for active, urban travelers who will be checking plenty of countries off their European bucketlist.

  • Opens like a suitcase
  • Made of waterproof sailcloth
  • Plenty of built in organization
  • A robust harness system for a comfortable carry experience
  • Adjustable height and waist straps.

Capsule Wardrobe for Europe: Essentials

No matter the time of year you hop over the Atlantic, this will form the spine of your capsule wardrobe:

Clothes

  • 2 comfy, casual tops
  • 2 dress-up-or-down tops
  • 4 bottoms of your choice (pants, skirts, etc.)
  • 1 “nicer” outfit
  • 2 warm layers (preferably lightweight)
  • 1-2 exercise outfits
  • Sleepwear
  • 5-7 pairs of quick dry underwear
  • 2-3 bras (sports bra & everyday)
  • 5-7 pairs of socks
  • Swimwear and cover up

Outerwear

  • 1 jacket (ideally waterproof)
  • 1 sweater or fleece
  • 1 scarf
  • Hat—for cold or warm weather
  • Sunglasses

Footwear

A maximum of three pair of shoes belong in your capsule wardrobe. Bonus points if you can pare it down to two.

  • 1 pair of multi-use shoes for walking and casual everyday use
  • 1 pair of “nice” shoes (flats, booties, fancy sandals, etc.)
  • 1 pair of exercise shoes

 

Summer Travel Clothes for Europe

There is nothing better than summer travel to Europe. Lazing along the Mediterranean amongst cerulean waves, hiking around Interlaken and Grindelwald (with subsequent dips in alpine lakes), not feeling guilty for having a second glass of chilled kalimotxo? YUP. Here are adjustments to make to your capsule wardrobe for Europe.

  • Add 1-2 pairs of shorts or 1-2 skirts instead of pants
  • Swap 1 pair of nice sandals for one of your other pairs of shoes
  • Remove the scarf, and winter hat
  • Add 2-3 tank tops if you will be traveling in major cities (conservative dress is recommended in more rural, traditional parts of Europe)
  • Remove one warm layer

Fall Travel Clothes for Europe

Tourist season will be winding down, leaving you ample space to take your time visiting the sights without feeling overwhelmed by selfie sticks. Take your pick—Paris, Dubrovnik, Budapest, Prague? It definitely bodes well that Czech has a word for “Indian Summer.” Charge your camera, then pack your bags. Make these changes to the basic list for fall travel to Europe.

  • Remove shorts and light tank tops; swap for warmer items
  • Swap one pair of shoes for rain-friendly boots, ankle or otherwise
  • Make sure your scarf is casual and stylish, yet warm enough for cool temps
  • If you’re packing skirts and dresses, consider adding tights
  • Thermals might be excessive, but if you’re heading north, you’ll love having long johns

Winter Travel Clothes for Europe

Chicago’s Christkindlmarkt just isn’t doing it for you anymore, huh? It’s time to explore winter travel to Europe and see the real deal for yourself. Between sipping on glühwein in Austria or skipping the season completely in Tenerife, there’s snow way you won’t have a blast here this season. Here are the recommended adjustments for packing winter travel clothes for Europe:

  • Add one more warm layer
  • Add gloves
  • Add one pair of thermals/long underwear
  • Swap a pair of shoes for more winter-friendly boots
  • Remove swimsuit (unless you’ll be at a resort or in hotsprings!)
  • Swap 1-2 pairs of lighter socks for a thick, wool variety
  • You might want your sleepwear to be warmer than shorts and a tank/your underroos
  • Choose a thick scarf

Spring Travel Clothes for Europe

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the giant tulips sprouting in Turkey (or the Netherlands—take your pick!). Adjust your basic list for spring travel to Europe, then get ready to ring in the longer days and warmer temps with the help of the locals’ fresh faces.

  • Add a light spring trench coat to nail style+utility
  • Add 1 pair of classy and durable shoes, like ankle boots
  • Choose a light scarf
  • Remove the winter hat, gloves, and scarf
  • Make doubly sure your jacket is waterproof

TL;DR

The secret to adventuring like a pro in Europe is to pack the things necessary to complement your travels—and ONLY the things necessary to complement your travels. Europe’s style is a step (okay, leap) up from the casual American vibe; consider utilizing a capsule wardrobe to capture the style and make it your own.

Choose a carry on backpack and fill it wisely. Whether you’re packing travel clothes for Europe for fall, spring, winter, or summer, save some space for sneaky souvenir chocolates and biscuits—they’re especially handy for when you’re back home and have the post-Eurotravel blues.