Winter Vacation in Europe? Here Are The Best Clothes To Pack

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I am the least likely person to enjoy a winter vacation. I was born and raised in California, and currently live in a part of Nor Cal that does not have weather. Like, any weather. Below 60 is a super cold day; anything above 80 is a massive heat wave. I’m nicely acclimated to room temperature.

And yet, for the past two years I’ve found myself on vacation in Europe in January. It makes a ton of sense, really. The crowds are smaller, the airfare and hotel rooms are cheaper, and medieval castles look amazing swathed in fog and mist. I’m kind of into it now. But, this type of cold weather trip taking requires a serious shift in wardrobe.

Let’s be clear about my idea of a European vacation. I don’t backpack. I’m not into adventure travel. I can’t stand pre-packaged tours. I strongly believe that any hotel below 3.5 stars qualifies as camping. I want to be warm while walking outdoors for hours on end, without sacrificing an ounce of personal style. I’ve done a lot of research, testing, and trial runs in NYC in December (including one delightful “snowmageddon”). If you are going on a winter vacation in Europe, I can attest that these are the best clothes to pack.

The most important bullet point on your cold-weather-vacation packing list will be your coat. Not just any coat will do. You need a serious coat. Mandatory features: insulation (natural or vegan are both workable), some degree of water resistance, mid-thigh to knee length. A hood is optional, but advisable.

I’ve been wearing a Searle mid-thigh insulated puffer (similar) that I purchased for a winter business trip to Minneapolis ten years ago. It’s perfect, but it’s about worn out. I’d love to have a Canada Goose insulated parka, but that price tag is insane for something I’d wear roughly two weeks out of the year. After much research, I’ve decided the perfect balance of performance, style, and price is this Fjallraven Nuuk Parka.

Fjallraven Nuuk Insulated Parka

→ Buy the Fjallraven Nuuk Insulated Parka, $499.95, at; free 2-day shipping.

Once you have a solid coat, the next most important consideration is the trio of head, hands, and feet. If your head, fingers, and toes are warm and dry, you’re going to be reasonably comfortable no matter how cold it is outside. I purchased this pair of Pajar boots during the last Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I’m sorry to report they are no longer on sale. But, knowing what I know now, they are 100% worth the full asking price.

I just wore these boots for a week straight in cold, wet Scotland and my feet were perfectly warm and dry the entire time. Even after four hours outside for New Year’s Eve festivities. Even after hiking uphill to Stirling Castle in the pouring rain. Even after stomping around in inch-deep mud in two different haunted graveyards for a literary scavenger hunt. I walked miles and miles up and down hills and I never slipped once and never got a single blister or foot pain. They wash up easily with just a wet rag, and have a cool Euro-ski-resort vibe that belies their functionality. They are perfect. I heart these Pajar boots.

Pajar Fusion Weatherproof Boot

→ Buy the Pajar Fusion Weatherproof Boot, $259.95, at; free shipping and returns.

I have a personal policy of never looking up gifts I receive online. Because, super tacky, right? But, I’m breaking my rule to share these amazing gloves with you. I received these UGG gloves as a Christmas gift specifically for the purpose of taking with me to Scotland, and I can’t imagine what I would have done without them. Major gold stars to the gift-giver.

I have owned a lot of gloves over the years and these are far and away the warmest. At one point during the aforementioned nighttime scavenger hunt through the streets and alleys of Edinburgh I actually thought to myself, “Hmm, my hands are kind of hot and sweaty from all of this walking.” Seriously. My fingers were so toasty and happy. They are also water-resistant and have conductive material at the fingers so that you can use your touch-screen phone without taking off your gloves, which worked like a charm.

UGG Water Resistant Touchscreen Quilted Gloves

→ Buy the UGG Water Resistant Touchscreen Quilted Gloves, $75.00, at; free shipping and returns.

Even if your coat has a hood, you’re going to need a hat that fits snugly and covers your ears in order to really keep your head warm. Cashmere beanies are super cute, and have that whole model-off-duty thing about them, I get it. I like them too…when it’s 60 degrees. When it’s freezing you need a hat made from synthetic material to keep the heat in. This Uniqlo Heatteach Knitted Cap is cheap, cute, and comfortable, works as designed, and comes in eight colors. I have more than one.

Uniqlo Heatteach Knitted Cap

→ Buy the Uniqlo Heatteach Knitted Cap, $9.90 $7.95, at; free shipping on $99+.

Speaking of Heattech. I’ve praised this wonderful fabric before. It’s the invention of Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo, and they now use it to make a huge range of cold weather underpinnings and accessories. Here’s a tip: pack lots and lots of Heattech for your trip.

I own a lot of Heattech items: long sleeve tees, short sleeve tees, turtlenecks, camisoles, tights, leggings, pants, sweats, a hoodie, socks, a scarf, gloves, and hats. I pack almost all of it when I go on a winter vacation. The beauty of Heattech underclothes is that they allow you to wear more of your everyday clothes, but stay much warmer. The long sleeve tees in particular are must-pack items. They fit snugly against your body, are long enough to stay tucked in, and are thin/ slippery enough to fit comfortably under anything – even another long sleeve tee. Another unbelievable fact: the leggings can be worn easily under these skinny jeans. I don’t know how it works, it just does.

Uniqlo Heattech Crew Neck T-Shirt

→ Buy the Uniqlo Heattech Crew Neck T-Shirt, $14.90, at; free shipping on $99+.

So, to recap, if you want to stay toasty warm while sightseeing for hours outdoors, without sacrificing style, here’s your must-pack list for a winter vacation in Europe:

  • A mid-thigh to knee length insulated coat
  • Waterproof, cold weather-rated boots
  • Gloves with conductive fingers
  • Beanie-style hat made from synthetic material
  • Heattech underclothes, especially long sleeve tees and leggings

I pair this list with mix-and-match skinny stretch jeans, slouchy layering tees (over the Heattech), and sweaters, all in a black/ grey/ white color palette. The look is chic and pulled-together, but so warm that even this thin-blooded California girl can’t complain.

Did I miss something that is a real must-pack for cold-weather Europe? Let me know in the comments.