What to Wear While Traveling in Europe: A Style Guide

Megan Lee, Shawn Forno, Bennett Collins

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.

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.

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 prefer a high level of organization.

  • 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.

If you’ve tried dragging a suitcase with cheap plastic wheels over the cobblestone streets of Paris, you know why rolling luggage doesn’t work in a city.

The Setout travel backpack packs like a suitcase and carries like a backpack. It’s also a maximum sized carry on, so you’ll have plenty of room to bring everything you need.

  • Opens like a suitcase
  • Plenty of space for flexible packing
  • Padded removable hip belt
  • Space for a computer and tablet
  • Weather resistant

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

What to Wear in Spain

Dressing like a local in Spain can be… challenging. On the surface, Spanish style doesn’t seem that different from the rest of Europe, or even from the States. Jeans, sneakers, high waisted pants, and well matched basics are everywhere. But it’s all the little details, quirks, and style tweaks – like fit and fashion trends – that make Spanish style strangely hard to replicate for visiting tourists.

There’s also really no such things as “Spanish style,” at least not one cohesive style. If you really want to look like you belong on your trip to the Iberian peninsula, it’s all about embracing the local style of the city or region you’re visiting. People in Madrid wear different clothing and styles than people in Barcelona, Pamplona, Bilbao, or San Sebastián. Seasonal weather, cultural norms, the time of year, even the number of students in town and the size of the city can determine a lot about how people dress in Spain. Understanding the nuances of the region you’re visiting will go a long way towards making you look like you’ve been there once or twice.

Here are a few style tips and packing tips to help you dress like a local in (most of) Spain.

What Not to Wear in Spain:

Let’s start with what NOT to wear in Spain:

  • Hiking boots
  • Cargo shorts
  • Tank tops

Avoid anything that looks like it came from REI and you’ll be fine.

Spanish Style

Spanish style is as diverse as the many regions and dialects that make up this wonderful exciting country. If you want to look like a local, focus on what the locals wear in the places you’ll be visiting. Beach fashion dominates the coastal regions of the north and the Basque Country, as well as the scorching hot cities and playas down south. More trendy fitted urban styles can be found in places like Madrid and Seville. It’s all about honing in on a particular region.

  • Guys, embrace your inner athlete with sports themed shirts, and jogger style pants
  • Ladies, pack at least one pair of high-waisted flowy pants
  • Simple basic styles (t-shirts and fitted pants) are the way to go
  • Espadrilles were practically invented in Spain. Grab a pair and leave the socks at home

Read more on What to Wear in Spain.

What to Wear in Iceland

Iceland. This rugged island is home to stunning glaciers, epic waterfalls, and one of the best underground music scenes in Europe.

There’s a reason they call it “Iceland.” Hint: It’s because it gets really cold. Don’t fall for the edited pictures on Instagram or the charming pics of the Blue Lagoon. The weather in Iceland is mostly cold, wet, windy, overcast, and cold (yeah, I said it twice).

Icelandic Style

Icelanders are hip as hell. Maybe it’s because Bjork comes from here, but this whole country just oozes cool. Cutting edge fashion and outstanding local musicians fuel the bar and nightlife scene in Reykjavik, and it’s tough not to stand out like a sore thumb when you visit. 

Seriously, everyone in Iceland looks like they just stepped out of a modeling agency with a fresh haircut and a perfectly tailored shirt or effortlessly high waisted jeans. Plus, they’re all super tall. I’m 6’1” and I felt like a shrimp.

The bar scene in Reykjavik is definitely worth checking out, but you’ll definitely want to upgrade your standard “backpacker” look with a few trendy pieces so you don’t look like you’re wearing a scarlet “T” when you step through the door. The “T” is for tourist, gosh. Read a book.

For men, a crisp fitted short sleeve button up is always a safe option. A nice fitted merino shirt is fine, but even young guys in Iceland tend to favor button-ups and collars. And ditch the cargo shorts for a pair of slim fit travel pants. 

Ladies, it’s a little tougher to nail the fashion trends since they move so quickly, but the “half bun” was literally everywhere when I visited, as well as chunky jeans and oversized shirts. Again, it’s impossible to know what’s going to be stylish next year, but basically dress like you just stepped out of an art studio in Brooklyn and you’re all set.

However, the biggest “what to wear” tip for men and women is to bring a stylish pair of shoes. Please. Please, for the love of god, don’t wear your crappy hiking boots to the bar. I know you bought them for your glacier hike tomorrow (hiking boots suck all the time by the way), but you’ll stand out immediately if you rock a pair of hiking boots to the club. Unless that’s the thing next summer. I don’t know what anything means anymore.

When you’re planning what to wear in Iceland, remember:

  • Iceland is always cold. Pack multiple (good) merino layers
  • Iceland is super windy. Bring a windbreaker or thin outer shell coat, even in summer
  • Iceland is hip as hell. Make sure to pack at least a few “looks” for going out. It doesn’t have to be hyper fashionable, but a cool sweater, button up shirt, or even stylish hairdo goes a long way toward breaking the ice with the locals
  • Iceland is expensive. Bring everything you need, because it costs a lot to resupply in Iceland

Read more on What to Wear in Iceland.

What to Wear in Vienna

Recognize that Vienna is living in separate world from the rest of the country. Vienna is the biggest urban area in the country, by far, and was just recently ranked the best place to live in the world. What’s more, it’s a European culture capital that attracts gorgeous people and gorgeous fashion – maybe not in that order but you get the idea.

In other words, dress well, or perish.

Whether in Vienna or in the rest of the country, when in doubt, dress more conservatively. Austria is traditionally Catholic (though becoming less so), was the former home of the Habsburg royal family. The people have a sprinkle of that charming Northern European stoicism (read: cold) to them. On top of that, the population, overall, is aging, which means that conservative values reign. I’m not saying you should dress for you grandma, but rather for a nice date. 

Here are essentials for dressing well in Vienna:

Shoes

Comfortable, practical shoes are always in fashion. Try to avoid the sneakers and sandals look if you don’t want Austrians looking down at you (figuratively and literally) when passing.

When in Doubt: Dress Up

When attending a cultural event, like a show or orchestral performance, it’s better to dress up than dress down. 

Summer is Less Formal

Summer is the time to be informal, especially with tourist crowds in abundance. However, wearing shorts or showing too much skin can attract some glares as this is very un-Austrian.

Accessorize in Autumn

Autumn is a great season to use accessories to show off your personality and the country’s transition into its semi-formal culture as summer tourist crowds disappear. This is where brand logos and sweatpants will stick out.

Winter is About Stylish Layers

Winter still requires you to be on the ball, both in terms of what you wear outside and inside. It is the time to get cozy while still looking your best.

Be Prepared for Rain

Spring is a time of fashion renewal after a winter of covering everything up with a jacket. That being said, be prepared for rain or risk looking like you just arrived in the country.

Read more on What to Wear in Vienna.

What to Wear in Paris

When I think of traveling in Paris, my mind inevitably goes first to stereotypes – suave couples strolling along the Seine, Gauloises at their fingertips and sunglasses perched: a combination of either hipster avant-garde or Villanelle (sans serial killing). Whatever the stereotype, it’s fair to say that Paris continues to deserve its reputation as the style capital of the world. More than that, it’s leading the way in sustainable fashion, with Paris recently launching its plan to become the sustainable capital of fashion by 2024.

So, with a dash of sensible dressing for Paris’ weather, a little current fashion knowledge, and your own je ne sais quois you can easily blend into the style ranks (that also exhausts my knowledge of French words and phrases). Whatever your personal style, here are some general tips, and some specific seasonal advice too.

Paris Style

It really is true that style is a priority in Paris. Parisians are smart dressers, and even those that appear at first glance to be dressed more casually, on second glance can be seen to be sporting the studied relaxation of the seriously fashionable. Dark colors and neutrals remain a good idea.

Layers

A Parisian spring is pretty unpredictable weather-wise. Go for layers and waterproof outerwear, and of course, a sensible umbrella.

Winter can be brutal. Snow and rain alternate and being ill-prepared can make you look like you need more than a chocolat chaud to warm you up. Stay warm and dry with a sensible jacket and necessary winter accessories.

Summer Style

Summers can be blistering.  Go for the cool, calm, and collected look as a goal in the midst of the heat. Lighter dresses and shirts with a few accessories will help you get there.

Accessorize

Autumn is the time to get all your accessories out. Show off your creativity through your layers. Scarves will certainly be on show regardless of the temperature.

Read more on What to Wear in Paris.

What to Wear in London

You never know what you’re going to get with London. It is where the world meets, over a pint for a football match at the pub or a warm cuppa (cup of tea), inside while it rains. Sitting in Victoria Station is one of my favorite people watching places of all time, simply because you can lose count of how many uniquely dressed characters are running by, politely (read passively aggressively) trying to push past groups of tourists to run for a train or the Tube (London’s Underground).

London remains a mosaic city. So, while you can certainly dress your best, you won’t receive unwelcoming stares for not doing so. 

If there was something though that Londoners agreed on, it would be that the city dresses for the weather. I’m not going to fall into the false trap of claiming that London is the rainiest city on earth, because it just isn’t compared to other cities, even within the UK. However, it does rain quite a bit and when it is hot, it can be scorching – sometimes both on the same day.

There’s no uniform style that defines London, unlike Paris and Vienna which tend to be more formal.

Here are your London essentials:

Comfortable Shoes

Definitely wear comfortable and thick shoes and boots to get around business of London. Leave flip flops, heels, and sneakers at home unless you need them for something particular

I’d recommend wearing leather ankle boots with sturdy soles during the spring, summer, and autumn and leather shin-height boots during the winter when you’re trying to get from A to B quickly and comfortably.

Do not wear wellies (knee level rain boots) – these are reserved solely for the countryside, and there’s no reason to wear heels unless you’re going out or attending a formal function. Leave the flip flops and sneakers back home!

An Umbrella or Rain Jacket

Autumn is the start of the rainy season so you should definitely be carrying an umbrella or rain jacket with you until summer comes around again. It’s the best season to layer and feel comfortable outside.

Layers

Winter can be snowy and rainy. Again, it is best to always carry an umbrella with you. You definitely want to layer warmly for the winter months and make sure you have layers that will make you feel comfortable no matter the heating.

Spring can be tricky since the sun begins to come out and people tend to think that it is the sign to begin dressing like it’s summer. Rather, you should wear lighter layers and still make sure to have protection from the elements.

Dresses & Lighter Materials in Summer

Summer is the time to lose the layers and get that tan. Shorts, lighter dresses, and lighter-material shirts will help get you through London’s scorching summers. Be sure to wear sunscreen and shades as the sun tends to be quite intense in open.

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. 

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. 

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