You’re in a museum with parquet floors that seem to disappear beyond the curvature of the earth. You’re in Christmas market paved with cobblestones slathered in newly formed ice. You’re standing in line to get into a white tablecloth restaurant. In short, when traveling you’re on your feet. All the time. So when you travel to Europe in the winter, put something on them that’s comfortable, warm and versatile.
The quickest way to hate whatever you are doing on your trip is be hungry, the second quickest is way is to have aching feet. Jane and I walked half way across Rome in “dress shoes” after Christmas at the Basilica, and we both paid dearly for it. Don’t make that rookie mistake, wear comfortable shoes.
If you want something comfortable, go for something over-engineered for your daily life. Wear running shoes, hiking shoes or work shoes. Those types of shoes are designed to support your feet through a much more strenuous activity than a normal day of travel. After your fourth hour of standing in line for the Eiffel Tower, you’ll be happy to have the extra support.
Running and hiking shoes are good choices, and you may already have a favorite brand. If you do, just stick with what you know works for your feet. If not, I love Asics for running, as the are normally a little wider than competing brands, and Keen or Merrell for hiking. You really can’t go wrong with those brands.
Let me be clear on what I mean by “work shoe.” Its not something you wear in the office. Think of professionals that are on their feet all day, nurses and construction workers. The shoes they wear need to support them through constant walking and standing. Two brands that fit that bill are Dansko and Red Wing. But really any all leather boot with a rubber sole is going provide the cushion you need for a day on your feet.
You are going to be hard pressed to enjoy walking through a sparkling Christmas market in the shadow of Köln’s 600-year-old cathedral if your toes are falling off one by one. You’ve heard me say that Europe is warmer than you might think, and that is true! But the weather variance between northern and southern Europe is wide enough that you will want different types of shoes depending on where your trip leads.
Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Balkans, Greece)
Running shoes are going to get you through the day. The temperature may drop below 50°F at night, but for your daytime activities, you will not need special warm weather shoes. If you are concerned about being cold, pack a thick pair of socks as a precaution.
Hiking shoes would also serve you well, especially on the cobbled streets of many Italian cities. Full on winter boots are going to be overkill, but a light leather boot would be fine.
Northern Europe (France, England, Germany)
If you plan on spending extended time outside, like at Versailles or Stonehenge, you are going to want a leather boot or even a padded winter boot. Packing thick socks will also help keep your feet at the right temperature. I recommend merino wool Smartwool socks. I wore them all over Germany and they are extremely durable and smell resistant.
Even Farther North (Scotland, the Nordics, Russia)
Padded winter boots are critical for any extended outside use. Trust me. 40 degrees with warm feet feels totally different than 40 degrees with cold feet.
I have a style of Cushy boots that is no longer made, but Wolverine makes a similar style boot. What you are searching for is a very warm boot that also retains flexibility. You don’t want to be warm but unable to walk more than a mile.
Because your luggage space is finite, but shoe possibilities are infinite, you are going to want to bring shoes that can serve more than one purpose. Don’t bring running shoes that are so specialized you couldn’t also wear them to a museum (I’m looking at you, toe shoes). Instead try to find a way to limit the shoes you pack down to one or two pairs.
Leather boots do an excellent job of this. You can wear them to nice restaurant and they are warm enough for most outdoor activities when paired with thick socks. Running shoes can let you squeeze a little exercise into your trip and they are great for standing in a museum. Hiking shoes will let you navigate the cobblestone streets of Pompeii or trek through the Tuscan hills.
The key is to have a rough idea of what kind of activities you are going to do, and then match up your shoes. If you are considering bringing shoes for just one type of activity, don’t. You’ll hate lugging them around for 1-2 weeks and I bet you can find a different pair that will do that job and another as well.
What We Bring
Running shoes almost always make the cut. They are light, comfortable and we can use them in the museum and on warmer days we can go for jog, like we did in Dresden. If you have space in your luggage, also consider a nice pair of leather boots. They are going to cover the colder days and nicer restaurants. Here are some shoes we’ve brought in the past:
With just two pairs of shoes you can be sure that your toes are comfortable, warm and fashionable in every situation. Are there any shoes that you always pack on your trips?
Lets get traveling!