Suðuroy: Escaping to the Southernmost Faroe Island

When my friend Megan and I began to plan our Faroe Islands itinerary, we knew we wanted to do things a bit differently. It was my first trip to the Faroes and Megan’s second, so of course, I wanted to see some of the islands’ most famous sights: the Gásaladur waterfall, the optical illusion of Lake Sørvágsvatn, the Kalsoy lighthouse, and a few others. But we also purposely decided to skip some of the Faroes’ most famous (and therefore most negatively impacted) sights – namely, Saksun and Mykines – in lieu of getting a bit off the beaten path and encouraging future travelers to the Faroes to spread out a bit for sustainability’s sake.

Unfortunately, the nature of people making their travel plans based on Instagram means that too often, people go to the same places over and over again. In a big city or a vast countryside, perhaps that wouldn’t matter so much. But when it happens in a place like Saksun – a village of 14 inhabitants – you notice.

This is part of the reason why we decided to give ourselves an overnight in Suðuroy. While Suðoroy is the third largest of the Faroes’ 18 islands, it is one of the least discovered by tourists. This is largely because people often skip Suðuroy due to its distance from the rest of the Faroes. From Tórshavn, it’s a two-hour ferry, which is a small hurdle in and of itself as most other ferry rides in the Faroes take only 20 minutes or so.

Views leaving Tórshavn

Another stumbling block to visiting Suðuroy is that since there are only two or three ferry departures daily, you definitely have to plan it in advance. Visiting Suðuroy not something you can tack on at the last minute, unlike many places in the Faroes which are connected by an impressive network of subsea tunnels.

However, those who do opt to discover Suðoroy will be pleasantly surprised to find a stunning island of sea cliffs and black sand beaches almost all to themselves. We spent one full day with an overnight in Suðuroy, and while we got a beautiful introduction to the island, it was definitely not enough time to see it properly. Suðuroy has several excellent hiking opportunities, so it would behoove you to spend at least two nights, perhaps three on this gem of an island, especially considering that you are at the whim of the ferry schedules.

Ferry leaving to return to the capital

Where to Go in Suðuroy

With just one full day in Suðuroy, we opted not to tackle the island’s best hikes, but rather to visit its villages to get a sense of the island as a whole. While we were happy we did it that way, we wished we gave ourselves more time to explore Suðuroy at leisure. It is the third-largest of the Faroe Islands and there are several great day hikes that make Suðuroy well-worth spending several days hiking and exploring. It’s also a great place to visit during high season (June-August) as it is less popular than other places in the Faroe Islands, giving you an off-peak feel even in the highest tourism season.

While I definitely have to return to Suðuroy to explore it more deeply, here is a quick guide to a few of the most important villages and sights on beautiful Suðoroy, Faroe Islands.

Tvøroyri

When you arrive in Suðoroy by ferry, you will arrive across the bay from Tvøroyri, one of the larger towns on the island, with a popular of 844. Tvøroyri is located on the edge of one of the most beautiful fjords in the Faroe Islands, Trongisvágsfjørður.

Moody light on my first view of Tvøroyri

 

Boathouses in the harbor of Tvøroyri

As a small village, Tvøroyri doesn’t have a huge number of activities to offer, but you will likely pass through it due to it being so close the ferry terminal and it is well-worth a visit. The area around the harbor looking over onto the other side of the fjord is beautiful.

One of the most common reasons why people visit Tvøroyri is to complete the beautiful hike to Hvannhagi, with its interesting geological formations and stunning circular lake called Hvannavatn. We didn’t have time to make the hike when we were in Suðoroy as we were prioritizing seeing the different villages, but it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the Faroe Islands.

Another great thing to do in Tvøroyri is to enjoy a heimablídni, which literally means ‘home hospitality’ and refers to a meal eaten in a local’s house. We enjoyed a meal with Elin and her family (and the world’s cutest smiling dog, Bella) while in Tvøroyri.

Bella is the only dog I’ve met who literally smiles to greet people. She alone is worth the ferry ride!

 

A delicious fresh fish soup at Elin’s

It was a great opportunity to actually get to know a few locals in the Faroes, something that is often a bit difficult to do in the Faroe Islands, as tourists tend to spend a lot of time in their cars driving from place to place or looking at the world from behind the camera. We got to speak to them about their thoughts on tourism in the Faroe Islands, sustainability, misconceptions about the Faroe Islands’ whaling practices, and what it’s like to live in one of the most isolated yet beautiful places in the world. To schedule a heimablídni dinner, you’ll have to book in advance (find information here).

We stayed overnight in Tvøroyri, at a B&B run by a lovely woman named Bindi. We had the entire furnished bottom floor of the house, which had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a cozy living room, and a large bathroom. I can’t speak highly enough about our B&B – especially with its stunning fjord views and a delicious breakfast. If you’d like to book, you can contact Visit Suðuroy or check out the B&B’s Facebook page.

Froðba

Not far from Tvøroyri, Froðba is thought to be the oldest settlement on Suðuroy and in the Faroe Islands in general. To be honest, I didn’t find it particularly interesting or charming compared to other parts of Suðuroy, but since it is so close to Tvøroyri it is not a bad idea to make a short detour.

Road to nowhere

 

Fishing traps in the bay near Froðba

There are some interesting basalt columns on the road between Tvøroyri and Froðba, as well as a bench with what just may be one of the better views in the Faroes.

Hvalba

Hvalba is in the north of Suðuroy and is one of the largest villages on the island, with 626 inhabitants.

The black sand beach at Hvalba

 

Views of Litla Dimun, the smallest of the 18 Faroe Islands and the only uninhabited island

Hvalba was one of my favorite places we visited in Suðuroy, largely because of the gorgeous black sand beach with a view of the tiny uninhabited island of Lítla Dímun. The beach is in the middle of town and we really enjoyed taking a cold summer afternoon’s walk along the edge. The old harbor area of Hvalba, called Fiskieiði, is very photogenic and worth visiting when in town.

We ended up doing a short hike in Hvalba, past quiet Lake Norðbergsvatn and onwards to the sea cliffs of Norðbergseiði, where the water is far rougher and the scene more dramatic than the calm bay in Hvalba. You can park by the public restrooms and enjoy a short walk – about 30 minutes in each direction – to get to Norðbergseiði.

A small boathouse on the rough waters of Norðbergseiði

 

Hiking buddies in Hvalba

Back in the town of Hvalba, there are a few places to eat if you’re hungry – Grillbarrin (a fast food place where you can buy things such as hot dogs and burgers), Ruth’sa Café (which also works as the tourist center), and Bakkhús, where you can stop for groceries or baked goods. We just packed some sandwiches so we didn’t have a chance to try any of the places in Hvalba for lunch.

Sandvík

The northernmost town on the southernmost island, Sandvík is pretty quiet with only 161 residents, especially compared to the relatively “bustling” Hvalba and Tvøroyri. There is a lovely beach area between the town of Sandvík and the tunnel that connects it to Hvalba. There is also a small harbor area. There aren’t any shops or restaurants in the town, to my knowledge.

The photogenic but sleepy town of Sandvík

 

The harbor at Sandvík

If you have time to explore the area, the sea stacks in the area of Asmundarstakkur offer great views and birdwatching opportunities. Alas, with only one day in Suðuroy, we had limited time.

Vágur

By far the largest town in Suðuroy with a population of 1,356, Vágur is well worth a stop during your time in Suðuroy. It’s home to a beautiful church and some amazing sea cliffs just outside the city. Near the football field, you’ll find signs for Vágseiði, which you can follow for amazing views of Vágsvatn Lake and the Eggjarner cliffs, one of the most scenic places in Suðuroy.

The cliffs of Eggjarner in Vágur

Vágur has a few restaurant options. There’s a restaurant called Báran, a cute café called Hjá Jugga, a fast food restaurant called Skýlið, and finally Pizzakøkurin, a pizza restaurant. The restaurants are all along the main road that goes through Vágur, Vágsvegur, so they are hard to miss. You’ll also find a small maritime museum on this street.

A Wes Anderson-esque building in Vagur

Sumba

After crossing through the longest land tunnel in the Faroe Islands, you will reach Sumba, the southernmost town on the southernmost island in the Faroes (look at all those superlatives!).

Sumba is a cute town and well worth a visit. Just beyond Sumba, you can find Akraberg Lighthouse, which is the actual southernmost point in the Faroe Islands. This isn’t in Sumba per se, but in Akraberg about 5 kilometers outside of the town. We got a little lost looking for it as there wasn’t any clear signage – but clearly, we weren’t mad about it because we got some awesome panoramic views of the town.

Sumba, as adorable as the name sounds

 

The edge of the world (in the Faroes, at least)

Be very careful on the drive to Akraberg as the road is very narrow with ditches on either edge, and there are more cars making the drive than you’d expect. There are designated places to pull over to allow cars to pass, so it is definitely doable, but be cautious.

Getting to Suðuroy

Suðuroy is well-served by ferry, which has room for 200 cars and nearly 1,000 people on board. Unlike the ferry to, say, Kalsoy, you won’t have any issues getting a spot on board the ferry to Suðuroy so there is no need to show up that early. However, if you are in Tórshavn and planning on taking the ferry to Suðuroy later in the day, you may find it helpful to park your car in the waiting area for the ferry, as parking in Tórshavn can be a bit difficult to find.

As with all ferries in the Faroe Islands, you pay the return price on only one of the legs of the journey. On the trip to Suðuroy, you do not have to pay, but on your way back to Tórshavn you will have to pay. You can buy your ticket on board the ferry at a kiosk on Deck 5 on your way back to Tórshavn – don’t forget to hold onto your ticket as you will be asked for it when it is time to disembark the ferry.

The ferry to and from Suðuroy is very comfortable and modern, especially compared to the tiny ferry to Kalsoy, which brought out my claustrophobia hardcore. There’s a restaurant on board where you can buy drinks and snacks for the two-hour long journey. I can’t find the exact cost breakdown of the ferry, but I believe we paid roughly 300 DKK (about $45 USD) for our return ticket for two people and one car. The cost will be a lot cheaper if you are not bringing a car, but it would be quite hard to get around Suðuroy without one, so I don’t recommend it.

Where to Stay in Suðuroy

As I mentioned before, we stayed at Bindi’s B&B in the town of Tvøroyri. We absolutely loved our stay there, and it’d be perfect for a longer stay as you have access to a kitchen which is a great perk in the Faroe Islands, where eating meals out can get quite expensive. With two big bedrooms and a very spacious living room and kitchen area, it’s perfect for friends, couples, or families alike and the price is very reasonable. You have the option to rent one or both bedrooms.

To ask about availability, check out the B&B’s Facebook page.

Note: I was hosted by Visit Faroe Islands on my trip to Suðuroy. All opinions expressed are my own.

One Day in Copenhagen: An Alternative Copenhagen Itinerary

Canals lined with colorful houses, cafés oozing with hygge, and the beating heart of the happiest nation on Earth: Copenhagen just breathes with life.

Travelers from around the world flock to admire Copenhagen’s colorful architecture around the city center – and not just Nyhavn, its most famous row of candy-colored houses. We found beautiful houses nearly everywhere we turned – whether it was a random street in our friend’s neighborhood of Amagerbro, a used clothing store, or a random side street off the main drag. There’s no need to try to get the same Insta-famous shots as everyone else, so feel free to wander around Copenhagen and follow your eyes and see where it leads you.

If you have to make the most of Copenhagen in one day, you have two choices: tick off all the touristy “musts” and spend half your day in line… or follow this alternative Copenhagen itinerary. This one-day Copenhagen guide will show you the city through a slightly off the beaten path lens, while being sure to take you to a few can’t-miss popular Copenhagen musts. This is my favorite way to travel: a blend of a few of the tourist top 10, with a heavy dash of the offbeat to see how the locals live in their city.

Here’s what you won’t find on this Copenhagen itinerary: The Little Mermaid sculpture (it’s tiny and completely overrated), Tivoli Gardens (if you have one day in Copenhagen, you probably shouldn’t spend it in a theme park), and the Copenhagen Zoo (zoos are nearly always unethical and the same basically everywhere).

Instead, this alternative Copenhagen itinerary will bring you to some cool street art, delicious food halls, bottle shops of renegade Danish brewers, authentic ethnic restaurants, colorful houses in scenic harbors, cool canals to hang out by in the summer, and fun pubs where you can rub elbows with local Danes — who are really quite chatty once they’ve got a drink in them.

So, buckle up if you’ve got one day in Copenhagen: you’re in for a busy, boozy 24 hours.

Your One Day Copenhagen Itinerary

Explore the anarchist Freetown Christiania

Founded in 1971, by people squatting in former military barracks in the borough of Christianshavn, Freetown Christiania is no stranger to controversy. 

Some 1,000 residents – some temporary, some permanent – have formed a community in the heart of Copenhagen with its own self-governing set of rules, separate from Danish law. Freetown Christiania views itself as a separate entity from Copenhagen, Denmark, or even the EU, for that matter.

This quirky neighborhood reminded me of Vilnius’ utopian Užupis, but with a bit more edginess to it.

There is quite a bit of clutter, dilapidated houses, DIY skate parks, and street art lining the walls of this former military area.

Christiania has a reputation for drug use – which is a bit overstated, in my opinion. While there is some sale of soft drugs such as marijuana, there is a hard prohibition against the use or sale of any hard drugs. I spent about an hour walking around taking photos and exploring, and I didn’t get harassed or asked to buy anything.

The reality is that Christiania is the fourth-most visited site in Copenhagen, and it’s hardly ‘off the beaten path’. Still, it’s well worth a visit, despite being firmly on the tourist trail. Be respectful of the people who live there, and enjoy your exploration of a social experiment that has thrived and survived for some nearly five decades.

If you prefer some context and guidance, you can take a 90-minute guided walking tour of Christiania. Click to read reviews and see prices.

Enjoy the colorful houses in Nyhavn, then go for a canal tour

Touristy, yes – but Copenhagen is famous for its beautiful canals with their colorful houses lining the harbor, and there are some things you just shouldn’t miss, even if you’re aiming for a more alternative Copenhagen itinerary. Nyhavn is just one of those places.

After taking some photos of gorgeous Nyhavn, embrace your inner tourist (you do have only one day in Copenhagen, after all) by taking a quick canal boat ride through its neighborhoods. Canal boat tours take about one hour and leave frequently from Nyhavn. Purchase a ticket online to skip the line and save time.

If you’re a victim of the frequently finicky Danish weather, a canal boat tour is also a great way to pass time if the weather is not on your side. Most of the canal boats have a glass roof, which keeps rain, cold, and other unpleasantness away while still allowing you a good view and to snap some photos.

Stop for a coffee

The Nordic countries love their coffee and Denmark is no exception. In fact, Denmark is the 4th largest consumer of coffee in the world, trailing Finland, Norway, and Iceland. Hey – you’d drink a lot of coffee too if your winter days were that short and cold!

Like everything in Denmark, you’ll find coffee to be a bit more expensive than you’re used to, whether you’re stopping at a touristy café, a trendy coffee shop that specializes in single-origin beans, or at a boring chain like Espresso House. Since you’ll be paying a premium on your coffee anyway, you might as well enjoy one of Denmark’s finest cups of coffee.

Some of Copenhagen’s best coffee – and best Danish design – can be had at Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Amagerbro, but there are plenty of places you can find a good cup of coffee around the city if that’s out of the way.

Enjoy a smørrebrød for lunch

The Danish open-faced sandwich is a classic must-eat when in Copenhagen. As you’d expect with the Nordics, the sandwiches are as aesthetically pleasing as they are delicious. Danes don’t mess around when it comes to design.

Hilariously, you’ll find signs advertising smørrebrød to go – I can’t think of a less pedestrian-friendly lunch than an open-faced sandwich piled high with gravity-defying toppings. But hey, what do I know?

A smørrebrød is typically a piece of dense rye bread with your choice of toppings. Usual toppings include some variation of fish or seafood- herring, mackerel, smoked salmon, and tiny shrimp being the most common choices. For those who don’t like fish, pâté, roast beef, and roast pork are also popular options, and Denmark is getting better at also including vegetarian options as well.

Alternately, you could opt for a 2.5-hour food walking tour that covers five tastes of Danish cuisine plus a beer tasting. These tours run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:30 PM, and prices are reasonable for Copenhagen! Check reviews and availability here.

Wander past the city center

This is where you’ll find tourists swarming to see the most popular sights, such as the Round Tower (Rundetaarn) and Helligaandskirken church. Wander through it at leisure, but don’t get distracted by all the souvenir shops and long queues for the popular central attractions.

There’s some deliciousness on the other side of the tourist-packed madness for you, so keep your eyes on the prize and make your way over to Torvehallerne!

Drool over Copenhagen’s best food hall

Food halls are quite popular in Scandinavia – probably because the weather is not kind enough to permit open-air markets, but the people still love their fresh foods. Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne food hall is a great place to stop, whether you need to shop for “obscure” ingredients at the Asian food stall (we were ecstatic to pick up some much-needed packs of kimchi ramen) or just grab something to eat on the go for an affordable (but still Danish) price.

While a typical meal in Denmark is quite expensive, you’ll find that food halls are a great deal. For example, a Vietnamese banh mi at the food hall will run you about 80 DKK, about $12 – a far cry from what you’d pay at a sit-down restaurant.

Stop to shop beer (or just gawk at the labels) at Mikkeller

If you’re a fan of craft beer, you probably already have heard of Mikkeller. If not – here’s a little crash course. Mikkeller is one of the foremost microbreweries in the world, a so-called “phantom brewery” as the company has no official brewery and instead works collaboratively with other brewers or does experimental beers. Founded by two Danish home brewers, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller, the name ‘Mikkeller’ is a blend of the two men’s first and last names, respectively.

Mikkeller specializes in creative beers inspired by homebrewing traditions and you can find a Mikkeller bottle shop in Torvehallerne. Even if you are not a big fan of beer, it’s worth checking out this little bottle shop while you’re in the market – I always love Mikkeller’s bottle designs, which are just as creative as the brews inside them. Pick up some beers to enjoy on the canal later, or take it outside to enjoy now.

Wander around Nørrebro

Just across the canal from Torvehallerne, you’ll find the hip and trendy neighborhood of Nørrebro, one of Copenhagen’s most densely diverse and interesting places.

Photo Credit: Martin Heiberg, used with permission from Copenhagen Media Center

Be sure to check out Superkilen, a self-described ‘diversity park’ featuring fixtures from around the world, whether it be Japanese sculptures or Moroccan fountains. It’s a common place for locals to hang out during the summer as well as a popular photo spot. The Assistens cemetery is also a calm green oasis and it’s not uncommon to see bicyclists passing through the cemetery: a peaceful place of life as well as death.

While I loved exploring Norrebro independently, if you want to dive deeper into the neighborhood with a local guide, you can do so! Urban Adventures, one of my favorite walking tour companies in Europe, runs tours at 12:30 PM Tuesday through Saturday (which means you may want to shuffle around the activities on this itinerary if you do the tour). Check reviews and availability here.

Grab international food in Nørrebro

Copenhagen has become an increasingly diverse city over the years and it reflects in the cuisine. While I love a smørrebrød or two, there’s only so much pickled herring a girl can take. So, thank god for immigration.

Nørrebro is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in all of Copenhagen and it’s where you can find delicious international cuisine from all over the globe. But with only one day in Copenhagen planned on this trip before heading off to the Faroe Islands, I could only fit so much in my stomach.

My friend Megan and I are total ramen fiends, and so we opted for Ramen to Bíiru, the best-rated ramen restaurant in town where you can actually get Mikkeller beer specially crafted to be paired with your ramen. And the extra fun part: you get to order your ramen with a vending machine just like you do in Japan!

Our ramens were both excellent. Megan went for the spicy miso ramen and I went for the classic shoyu ramen as my stomach is no longer to take spicy food the way it used to! Prices are reasonable for Copenhagen, around 120 DKK ($18) for a huge bowl of ramen.

If you’re not a fan of ramen or you want to try something a little more unusual, you could go for Ethiopian at Ma’ed, Eritrean at Asmara, or Michelin-starred Thai at Kiin Kiin.

Watch the sunset (or take a dip) at Islands Brygge

How many cities have water clean enough that you can swim right in the city center? Coming from New York, I wouldn’t take a dip in the East River if you paid me (well, maybe if you paid me the equivalent of six months’ rent).

The Islands Brygge are close to the Langebro bridge, which connects central Copenhagen to its eastern neighborhood, Amagerbro.

Copenhagen rarely gets truly “hot,” but if you happen to be there on a rare warm day in the summer as we did, you may want to cool off in the canal like the locals do!

If the weather is too cold for you to get in, or you’re just a baby like me who hates cold water no matter how hot it is outside, it’s also common to sit with a beer, cider, or wine and enjoy the sunset over the canal.

End the night at one of Copenhagen’s craft beer bars

Denmark is on the cutting edge of craft beer and WarPigs is one of the best-loved bars for beer lovers in town, as certified by my Copenhagen travel buddy and craft beer expert Megan Starr (check out her awesome beer guides here).

Yes, going out for a few beers in Copenhagen will be pricy – expect to pay around 60-90 DKK for a beer, with the most common price being around 80 DKK ($12) for a beer. But you’ll be getting to sample of Denmark’s most creative brewers and support local entrepreneurs. Megan particularly enjoyed the New England IPA by WarPigs called ‘Opposite Optimist’ – it was delicious.

If none of the 22 taps at WarPigs suit your fancy, you’ll be in the heart of Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District (Kødbyen) so there’s plenty of other bars to hop around afterward! Alternately, you could take an organized pub crawl if you prefer to find some new drinking buddies.

Where to Stay in Copenhagen

Copenhagen hotels are pricy, that’s for sure. I’ve been lucky enough to get to stay with friends the last two times I’ve visited Copenhagen – the perks of having friends all over the world!

While I don’t have any firsthand recommendations, here’s what I’ve culled from my research.

Budget: Hostels in Copenhagen are not cheap by any means and a simple bed in a dorm will likely set you back $30 USD a night at a minimum. The cheapest, best hostels book up quickly so you want to book in advance if you are traveling on a budget. The best-reviewed value hostel in Copenhagen is Steel House, which is located in central Copenhagen near the trendy Kødbyen neighborhood. With a perfect location, excellent Danish design, and nearly 6,000 positive reviews, it’s an easy choice. Check reviews, prices, and availability here.

Mid-range: If you prefer a little more privacy than a hostel offers, but don’t have much of a budget to spend on accommodations, I recommend SleepCPH.  It’s a bit outside the center but still walking distance (40 minutes, or faster with the metro) from Nyhavn, the heart of central Copenhagen. It’s located close to the airport so it’s extra convenient if you have an early or late flight. While it’s not the most exciting neighborhood, the price is great and it is very convenient! Check reviews, prices, and availability here.

Luxury: Big money to spend in Copenhagen? You’ve got plenty of choices. For a quirky but quietly upscale choice, Babette Guldsmeden has gorgeous design, is super eco-friendly, and has a rooftop terrace and sauna to enjoy. The price is quite reasonable for expensive Copenhagen as well, especially if you are traveling outside of peak season. Check reviews, prices, and availability here.

Getting to Copenhagen

Copenhagen is well-connected by a variety of airlines. However, when I was trying to get to Copenhagen, I was coming from Kiev, Ukraine, where there are not a lot of flights between the two cities. I partnered with airBaltic, one of my preferred European airlines, in order to get to Copenhagen, as they offered the best prices and schedules between Kiev and Copenhagen during peak summer season.

airBaltic has several flights between Kiev and Copenhagen daily, each with a connection in Riga. I’ve flown with airBaltic a few times and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how easy and quick the connection in Riga is, even for non-Schengen flights. Still, I was initially a little worried about my short layover time – a little over an hour – because I have massive flight anxiety and am always convinced something will go wrong. I’m the kind of person who usually arrives at the airport more than two hours before my flight and book myself longer layovers rather than rush between flights. I know, I’m lots of fun.

However, airBaltic is rated the #1 most punctual airline in the world, so I chanced the short layover. Sure enough, my flight from Kiev to Riga arrived on time (early, in fact). I whizzed through Schengen passport control (as I was coming from outside the EU) and passed through a small security checkpoint in just 20 minutes, giving myself enough time to get a sandwich and a coffee before my Riga to Copenhagen flight. It was a super seamless flying experience, so I’d recommend connecting via Riga with airBaltic if you’re on the way to Copenhagen and airBaltic is an option!

* Note: Thank you to airBaltic for sponsoring my flight between Kiev and Copenhagen in exchange for an honest review. All other expenses in Copenhagen were my own. All opinions are my own.

What to Wear in Winter in Europe: Packing List

I remember my first time spending the winter in Europe. The year was 2009, and my semester living in Prague was coming to a close. The Christmas markets were in full swing, the snow coating the houses of the Old Town was straight out of a fairy-tale — and I was freezing my ass off, mostly because my California-addled brain had never learned to dress properly for the winter.

If it weren’t for the many cups of piping hot cups of svařák (Czech mulled wine) I was drinking at inappropriately early hours, I likely never would have survived.

Fast forward nearly a decade and several winter trips to Europe later, and I’ve finally mastered the art of packing for Europe in winter without wanting to die.

It’s a combination of not giving a crap if you look like a fat, fluffy dumpling and layering with actual winter-specific layers rather than what I was doing… which was piling some summery clothes on top of a pair of leggings and cute pea coat and wondering why I was still cold. California, guys. Growing up there does things to you.

After all that trial and error, here’s my full winter inn Europe packing list, detailing exactly what I recommend you wear for winter in Europe.

What to Pack for Europe in Winter

What to Pack Everything In

If you’re visiting Europe in winter, my number one recommendation is to travel with a backpack rather than a suitcase. While it is definitely possible to travel with a suitcase, and there are times when it is more convenient – I can also assure you that there will be times when you regret it hard, such as when you’re trying to lug your bag across snowy cobblestones and cursing your life. Take it from an idiot who brought a rolling suitcase to Finland in November.

I prefer to travel light with a backpack that fits carry-on restrictions because I hate paying for baggage fees and waiting at the airport. Even traveling Europe in winter, I’ve found that having a 44L backpack is perfectly fine, and there’s no need for a massive backpacker-style backpack unless you truly love clothes and want a jillion options. I’ve used and sworn by Tortuga Backpacks for the last three years – this is the one I’m carrying now. I’ve traveled around Europe in winter for the last few years and never truly needed a larger bag.

One thing that makes packing for winter in Europe so much easier is using packing cubes – having an organized system, especially with all the layers you need for winter travel – makes your life a lot easier, especially if you are traveling to more than one city or country. This packing list for Europe in winter includes a few of the things that I swear by all year round, not just winter, for helping me organize my clothes and belongings when I travel.

Abisko train station
How I packed vs. how my friend packed for winter in Europe. Trust  me – leave the rolling suitcase behind. She ended it dragging it more than rolling it!

Travel backpack (carry on size or check-in size)

While rolling suitcases can be great for in summer and fall weather, they aren’t a great idea for winter travel. For one, there will likely be snow or ice on the ground – meaning that you will have to drag, not roll, your suitcase… which kind of defeats the purpose of having a rolling suitcase.

Trust me, you’re way better off with a travel backpack that you can easily carry across snow, cobblestones, and other various obstacles that are the hallmarks of traveling Europe in winter. I am a light packer, so the Tortuga Backpack is the main backpack I need. I’ve spent two 5 month trips through Europe with it, including winter months, plus I take it on all my short term travels.

Why do I recommend Tortuga so much? Here’s why: this bag is 45L and has got three main compartments: one for a laptop and other flat objects, one giant rectangular compartment perfect for packing cubes stuffed with clothing, and one smaller compartment with pockets for passports, pens, odds and ends, etc. that I stash all my extras in – plus one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to.

It also has a water bottle holder on the outside as well as buckles so that you can strap something like a yoga mat to the outside. Plus, it’s quite comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute weight perfectly across your body in the event that you need to wear your backpack for longer than usual. Check out more specs and details here.

Does it pass European budget airline requirements? I’ve never once had to check it in on a budget airline flight, and I’ve taken probably 50+ Ryanair and Wizzair flights at this point. I just buy priority boarding so that I have a guaranteed spot on board for my bag (plus a second personal item bag), which adds about $5 onto my total flight cost instead of the $20-40 or so that a heavy checked suitcase or backpack would. This adds up massively over time – with a bigger bag, I would have paid $1,000+ extra in baggage fees over the past few years. That’s massive savings.

Need a bigger backpack? Despite these long term trips, I haven’t personally used a bigger backpack (mostly because I have the back of a 90 year old woman). That said, I’ve heard great things about the Osprey system. If I ever were to upgrade my backpack capacity, that’s what I would choose. But I’m cheap and hate paying baggage fees, even at the expense of having less clothing options, which is why I prefer Tortuga. When flying budget airlines, I never check the bag, but I just purchase priority boarding for a few dollars (usually around $5) so I can have this bag on board with me, plus another personal item.

Packing cubes

Packing cubes will save your travel sanity. These easily zippable bags are wonderful when it comes time to pack and organize your clothing.  It keeps everything contained when you open your backpack, so if luggage clothing explosions drive you half as crazy as they drive me, investing in packing cubes will save you some serious therapy costs down the line.

I use these packing cubes and love them more than a logical person should love a simple zippable bag. Especially when packing for Europe in winter, when you have tons of accessories and layers to organize, this becomes extra essential.

Laundry bag

If you are traveling Europe in winter, your clothing will take a beating. Wet, dirty, covered in snow – basically, prepare to change your clothes at least once a day. I love having a laundry bag with me in addition to my packing cubes so I can keep dirty stuff separate and ready to go on laundry day.

You don’t need anything fancy – any bag will do – but I like having a cute one like this one from Kikkerland though, because I’m impractical and easily won over by a cute design. In a pinch, some plastic grocery bags will do as well.

Hanging toiletry bag

Packing for Europe in winter means you’ll need a few special toiletries (hint: bring ALL the moisturizer). After struggling to find a good way to organize my toiletries, I stumbled across this  hanging toiletry bag and purchased it on a whim to give it a try… and I promptly became a product evangelist.

It’s perfect for organizing your travel toiletries like shampoo, moisturizer, make-up, hairbrushes, tweezers, etc. It has a lot of organizers and seperators so you can really maximize your organization without taking up much excess space. It fits quite a bit – it’s like the Mary Poppins bag you always needed but never knew existed. It’s wonderful for girly girl travelers like myself who have a hard time leaving make-up behind when they travel.

It comes in a large size – I do just fine with the regular size, but those with lots of toiletries and odds and ends to organize will probably want to size up.

Cute travel daypack

I always use a daypack rather than a purse when I travel because it’s so much more comfortable, especially because I often carry lots of camera equipment with me. That said, I don’t want to look like an American bum (though I often do anyway) so I splurged on this adorable PacSafe Citysafe backpack

This bag is so amazing that I basically wrote a love letter to it here. My favorite feature about this travel backpack is that it has tons of awesome security features (locking zippers, slash-proof mesh on the inside of the bag, RFID blockers, etc.) but it looks adorable and not at all horrendous.

I use it pretty much every single day whether I am traveling or not. It’s one of the crucial things I bring with me on every trip, and it’s key when packing for a trip to Europe in winter because it’s the perfect size for squeezing in layer upon layer of cozy winter clothing.

5 Most Essential Things to Pack for Europe in Winter

When it comes to what to pack for winter in Europe, it’s best to bring all your essentials from home and try to minimize what you need to buy abroad. Most of the time, you won’t save any money by shopping in Europe. Prices tend to be a little higher than in, say, North America because 20% VAT is often rolled into the prices.

Also, depending on where you travel, in many countries the currency is currently quite strong compared to the US/Canada/Aussie dollar, so you won’t be at an advantage when it comes to shopping. For that reason, I recommend planning your winter in Europe packing list beforehand, and buying all your winter travel necessities before arriving in Europe.

A good, waterproof parka

While Europe’s weather can vary dramatically in the winter, it’s best to prepare for the worst and risk being overdressed than the alternative. I am a huge fan of The North Face because they guarantee all their products for life and will fix or replace literally anything you send to them — which I’ve tested by sending in a much used-and-abused down jacket that was returned looking like new.

Their jackets aren’t exactly budget-friendly, but they’re a great investment if you’re looking for a winter coat that will last a lifetime. This is the parka I own and I’ll use it for life (unless North Face cuts me off for how badly I abuse my clothing). If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a new jacket but still want to ensure warmth in the winter, try buying a down jacket liner like this one and layer it between your warmest coat and winter layers.

Thermal layers

A good winter parka goes a long way, but unless you’re matching that down jacket with proper layers underneath, you won’t be maximizing your potential warmth. Everyone raves about wool’s warmth-retaining properties but I can’t tolerate it – it makes me so itchy that I want to tear off all my skin. If you can stand wool, something like these merino wool leggings paired with a cashmere sweater layer will serve you very well. Personally, I constantly wear these 32 Degrees thermal layers during European winters — I have about 5 tops that I rotate during the winter between laundry days. On bottom, I wear these fleece-lined leggings. I bring about 2-3 pairs of fleece-lined leggings on a winter trip since I can wear them several times before they start to feel gross. You’ll definitely want at least 2 pairs so you can change them out if they get wet from snow or bad weather. With thermal layers and a parka, you’re nearly set for any kind of weather in Europe.

Waterproof boots and warm socks

I’ve never really felt like snow boots are entirely necessary unless you really are planning on spending a lot of time in deep snow, like if you’re staying in a cabin in the woods or spending a significant amount of time in Lapland or ski resorts around Europe.

When it comes to packing for winter in Europe, if your trip is mostly in the cities, you just need two things in your boots: they need to be waterproof and have good traction. I first bought a pair of Blondo waterproof leather boots in 2008…  making this my longest-term relationship ever, eek, and one of my favorite travel shoes ever.

Despite many years of abuse and New York winters, I only had to get them resoled once in the last nearly 10 years. I’ve worn these in every European winter and they’ve always held up great – even in the Arctic Circle of Sweden.

If you plan on doing a lot of hiking in the snow, you may want a proper snow boot. The Elsa snow boot by KEEN is waterproof, insulated, and looks super cozy, and comes highly recommended as one of my friend’s favorite hiking boot brands.

Finally, no matter how insulated your boots are, you need proper socks to match –  sad, thin cotton socks won’t do the trick. I bought these excellent Smartwool socks after hesitating because of the price, but I’m glad I did. Although I generally hate wool, the skin on my feet is thick enough that I don’t mind wearing wool socks at all and can get all the lovely warm wool benefits without the itchiness. You don’t need that many pairs – two or three will do – because wool is really odor-absorbent and dry really fast, you can stretch out a few pairs whereas you’d need a fresh pair of cotton socks for each day.

Reusable water bottle

 The tap water in Europe is drinkable almost everywhere so make sure you bring a reusable water bottle. I’ve been to nearly every country in Europe and it’s super rare that I can’t drink the water, even in the Balkans. The only major city I can think of where I wasn’t able to drink the tap water was Kiev, Ukraine.

If you don’t already have one, try one from Klean Kanteen. If you drink a lot of hot beverages like tea or coffee, I recommend bringing a Thermos that will keep your drinks (and hands!) warm during the cold.

Moisturizer with SPF

If there’s one thing you don’t forget to pack for Europe in winter, let it be this. The cold in Europe is brutal on your skin, especially when combined with super-drying heating systems. Make sure you fight back with a heavy duty moisturizer. For the daytime, I use Aveeno moisturizer as I have sensitive skin but also want SPF protection.

Remember you need to use SPF even – if not especially – only cloudy days as UV rays are always lurking, even in the winter, ready to prematurely age your skin. (I’m super melanin-challenged, so perhaps I’m a bit paranoid). I don’t want to wear SPF at night, so I have a thick Olay night cream that I use while I sleep to put some moisture back into my dry skin.

Finally, travel insurance

Yes, I know this isn’t something that you physically pack for Europe – but it is just as essential to consider during the packing process.

Personally, I think it’s extra important to have travel insurance in winter. European winter weather is hard to predict, so it is best to be prepared and protected in case of trip cancellation/delays, lost luggage, illnesses, or accidents. I recommend buying travel insurance as far in advance as you can, as I’ve found it’s always cheaper that way than booking shortly before departure.

I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for years and use them to cover me when I travel. The contract is very clear as to what it covers, the prices are affordable, the excess/deductible is very low, and if you find yourself extending your trip it’s very easy to modify your insurance on the go.

What to Wear in Europe in Winter (Quick Checklist)

In a word (well, three): Layer, layer, layer!

I went into more detail above, but basically, here’s how I dress for winter in Europe. I start with a base layer – for me, that’s my fleece-lined leggings and thermal top, but many people prefer wool base layers. On top of my thermal layers, I usually wear just a simple acrylic sweater and jeans.

To seal in all the warmth, I add wool socks, waterproof leather boots, a scarf, a hat that covers my ears, gloves, and of course – my ridiculously warm parka. That will usually keep me warm enough for just about any winter situation in Europe.

Here’s a quick packing list plus a few product recommendations for what to wear for winter in Europe:

2-3 thermal tops

I use these 32 Degrees thermal layers  – I recommend having a few to swap between as they tend to get kind of sweaty during the day.

3 warm sweaters to layer on top

I love H&M for their non-itchy acrylic sweaters, but wool/wool blends also work great

2 pairs fleece-lined leggings

I am obsessed with my favorite fleece leggings – they are insanely warm!

2 pairs jeans

I wear these as an extra layer over my leggings. You can skip the leggings if it’s not that cold.

1 heavy jacket

Above, I recommended my North Face parka. While that’s my favorite, any warm jacket will do. What to look for: down or synthetic down lining, hood, waterproof, and windproof.

2 bras

 Or however many you want, you do you.

7+ pairs of underwear

This depends on how long your trip is, but I prefer to have a week’s worth of underwear and do laundry on the road.

Bathing suit

 If you plan to go to any thermal baths or saunas or the like while in Europe. If not, skip.

Flip flops

For walking around in your hotel/hostel when you don’t want to put on your boots.

1 or 2 knit hats

Since I’m addicted to fleece in the winter, this fleece-lined knit hats is a favorite

1 pair of gloves

I recommend a pair of touchscreen-friendly gloves so you don’t have to constantly take off your gloves to use your phone.

1 super-warm infinity scarf

I love infinity scarves like this one that you can wrap super close to your face and not have to worry about the wind with.

What to Pack for Backpacking Europe in Winter

There are a few special things you should bring if you are staying in a hostel or dorm in Europe in winter, which you can find below.

1 pair flip flops

I mentioned it above, but it goes double if you staying in a hostel!

1 travel towel

Most hostels in Europe don’t provide towels to guests and charge you to rent one. This can add up quickly if you are staying in multiple cities throughout Europe, so I recommend just bringing your own. Make sure you get the largest size or risk flashing everyone!

1 eye mask

I lived in hostels for the better part of a year and I swear by this contoured eye mask- it completely blocks out light, without putting annoying pressure on your eyes.

Some earplugs or good noise-canceling headphones

I love Hearos — they’re the gold standard for ear plugs. Alternately, if you listen to music to help you sleep, noise-canceling headphones can work wonders at drowning out inconsiderate roommates

Travel-sized toiletries

Most hostels don’t provide shampoo, body wash, etc. so make sure you bring your own. Instead of buying travel-sized toiletries, I recommend buying reusable GoToobs so you can pack your favorites from home.

Combination locks

I always check reviews of hostels to ensure that they have lockers available, as the risk of theft from fellow travelers is not something to take lightly. It’s really easy to just travel with a combination lock in case your hostel doesn’t offer their own locks so you can keep your valuables safe at all times.

Toiletries to Pack for Europe in Winter

Even though it is generally pretty easy for me to find all of my preferred brands in Europe, I do recommend bringing them from home if you can. For one, it’ll likely be cheaper. For another, it’s good to continue using the same products as back home as I find that travel and cold weather really stresses my skin and it’s nice to have continuity in the products that I use.

Here is a basic list of toiletries I typically pack:

When not seeing the Northern lights, dogsledding is a fun way to pass the time
Don’t forget the moisturizer!

ALL THE MOISTURIZER

 Again, winter in Europe will destroy your skin. Even if you think you have oily skin, you will want moisturizer – the cold plus the overzealous heating in many cities means dryness, dryness, dryness. For daytime, I use Aveeno with SPF on my sensitive skin and Olay night cream for replenishing moisture overnight.

Kleenex packets

 I seem to always get a cold when doing winter travel so it’s nice to have these on hand

LUSH solid shampoo

Great at reducing your liquid load when you travel and makes my hair feel amazing – just trust me. Buy online or in store from LUSH and you’ll save serious money over Amazon. As a bonus, it’s totally packaging free, so you reduce your plastic waste.

Menstrual cup or your favorite tampon/pad brand, if applicable

If you have a specific brand allegiance, you may not find it. I switched to a Diva Cup for travel and now I never have to think about stocking up on tampons, which is awesome.

Deodorant

I am not a huge fan of European deodorant. The options have gotten slightly better in the last decade, but I love Secret Clinical Strength and stash up on it every time I’m home… but then again, I am sweatier than most people are. Even in winter.

Basic medicine

You will be able to find all this in Europe, but trust me — you want to have the basics on hand in case you need them on the road.

I carry Pepto-Bismol for standard stomach troubles, Imodium as a nuclear option (i.e. riding the bus when I am sick), some sort of painkiller like ibuprofen for headaches and minor pains, and some sort of motion sickness tablets.

Cold medicine

If you’re prone to getting sick in the winter. be sure to buy some cough or cold medicine – especially if you are traveling to Scandinavia or Germany. I’ve found out firsthand that they are really stingy with some of the ingredients over the counter in Northern Europe. You’ll want to have some as backup if you are used to being able to take cold medicine, as that is not necessarily the case in, say, Germany.

Electronics to Pack for Europe in Winter

The most important thing to remember about traveling in winter is that batteries drain extra quickly. You will want to bring extra batteries for everything — especially your camera — and a portable battery charger for your phone and other electronics. Trust me on this!

If you are serious about your photography, I recommend bringing a tripod as well. Since there are fewer daylight hours in Europe in winter, you’ll likely want to do a bit of night photography (especially if you are visiting around Christmas-time and are around a lot of photogenic Christmas markets!). I travel with a cheap tripod and find it works well enough for most situations.

sweden in winter

Where it not for my tripod, I wouldn’t have been able to capture this!

Laptop, if necessary

I bring my 13″ MacBook Air everywhere but other people may prefer a tablet or an inexpensive netbook. I work on the road so a user-friendly, lightweight laptop is a must.

Kindle Paperwhite

In general, I’ve found that it’s not too hard to find English-langage bookstores in Europe (or at least an English-langauge section), but still – I love having a Kindle so that I can buy any book there is just via WiFi.

Travel camera

For all my photos when I travel, I use a Sony A6000 because it’s lightweight for a professional caliber camera, inexpensive, and a HUGE step up from a smartphone. I’m hoping to upgrade to the Sony A7 III soon, but it’s outrageously expensive so I am struggling with making the plunge. But a few of my friends have this camera and their photos are nothing short of magical!

Travel tripod

There are a few reasons why you might need a tripod for traveling in Europe in winter – if you are going somewhere where you may see the Northern lights or want to do night photography, such as lit-up Christmas decorations. I use a simple, cheap 50″ Amazon tripod and it works just fine and fits in my carry-on sized bag. If you plan to just take daytime photos, there’s no need for a travel tripod.

Portable charger

Your camera and phone lose battery like crazy when in the cold, so be sure you don’t forget a portable charger when you travel in winter.  Anker is a reliable brand and what I personally use. I make sure I buy something that can hold multiple charges, so that if I forget to charge it one night it won’t be a big deal.

Adaptor, if necessary

 The UK, Ireland, and Malta use a different plug than the rest of continental Europe, and Switzerland’s plug is slightly different than the standard European plug. So do a bit of research about where you are going before you get there. I recommend buying it in advance because while adaptors are easy to find everywhere, it can be annoying to try to find one on your first day.

Headphones

I use simple iPhone headphones typically but you may want noise-canceling headphones if you are noise-sensitive.

***

While this sounds like a lot of things on your winter in Europe packing list – and it is – I am typically able to fit it all in a carry-on sized bag by choosing thinner but warmer materials, wearing my heaviest stuff on the plane, and picking my daypack and backpack for travel carefully!

Is there anything I’ve forgotten to pack for Europe in winter? Is there anything else you’re wondering if you should bring? Let me know in the comments!