Here’s a few tips for what to pack for a winter city break. Winter is a tricky one to pack for because big thick clothing takes up SO much room in your suitcase. You can’t afford to make any mistakes with your packing list or you’ll end up going over the old baggage allowance. Outfit choices are also a pain because you don’t want your holiday ruined by feeling cold all the time when you’re out and about in the day. I find I end up wrapping up way more than I do when I’m at home in winter, because usually at home I’m just going from the house to the train to the office. I’m not wandering round loads outside so not feeling the cold as much. On holiday, especially a city break, you’re outside pretty much all day so you feel it a lot more.
Like I’ve said in my other seasonal packing guides, if this packing guide helps even one other woman staring at her ‘floordrobe’ and wanting to burn it all the night before going away, I’ll feel I’ve done some kind of heroic good deed.
Anyway, settle down with a hot chocolate or other winter-themed drink of choice, because here are my winter packing tips…
1. A full-length coat that you won’t get sick of
In winter, you’re going to end up with your coat on nearly all of the time. That means it’ll be on you every single day and featuring heavily in all your holiday photos. So you’re going to have to be fond of it and feel right in it. Or else.
I usually go for a bold green/mustard/blue coat and match it with checked/plain fairly muted scarves/hats, or I’ll find a more neutral-coloured coat and then match it with loads of bright accessories.
I also like a long coat with a nipped in waist, which is a rare thing so I always buy them if I see one. This’ll cover you up fully without you feeling dead bulky and has the added bonus of covering midi-length skirts/dresses that would look weird poking out the bottom of a normal coat (I always feel like a Victorian child when this happens). The long coat I’m wearing below is from Dorothy Perkins and did a decent job for two weeks in Japan in January. #Japanuary.
2. 100-denier tights by the bucketload
Ah, winter. The season of tights. Summer’s endless cycle of shaving and/or fake tanning legs is long forgotten and everyone is glad. I don’t know about you but I love having my legs permanently encased in the dark comfort of a pair of thick tights.
You can’t beat Primark for cheap black tights and they even have those ones that are meant to keep you warm/cool depending on temperature, but there’s no denying that M&S and Accessorize ones last longer. I always find Primark tights end up going very shiny for some reason. Wherever they’re from, always pack a few more pairs than you really need in case of ladder-based disasters or in case it’s so cold that you have to double up.
3. A statement scarf or two… or three… and all the hats and gloves
I’ve already touched on this, but bringing a few different scarves/hats/gloves with you can transform your external outfit (i.e. basically your coat). I find this makes it feel like my look is more varied than it really is, and stops me getting bored with wearing the same coat every single day, especially on a longer holiday.
Scarves/hats/gloves don’t take up much room in your baggage, but they’re dead useful and much-needed for warmth. My favourite places for them are Accessorize (naturally) and New Look (they do the best beréts, which are my hat breed of choice).
4. A light padded jacket to go UNDER your coat, if it’s really cold
This sounds weird but bear with me.
I’ve done some cold winter city breaks and I’ve done some unbearably cold winter city breaks. The latter is when I’ve resorted to adding a padded jacket under my existing coat.
My advice is to find a padded jacket that is both dead light (ideally under 500g) and easy to roll up teeny weeny in your suitcase. Some even come with their own bag, which is good for stuffing in your luggage and can double up as a pillow on flights.
Having one of these jackets means you don’t have to buy some kind of super-warm ugly outdoor coat and can just wear your normal one but without the added hypothermia. No one will know you have an extra thing hidden under it, apart from you, because you’ll be reaping the toasty benefits. Ha.
The warm padding of said jacket is where the difficulties come in.
- If you care about animals and ethics (and if you don’t, you can do one), make sure the jacket hasn’t got real ‘down‘ inside it. Down is the soft feathers that are under a bird’s hard outer feathers. It’s usually pulled off birds while they’re alive, causing terrible pain and distress. Down is frequently from force-fed geese in the already cruel foie gras industry too, just to add to the horror. Cruelty-free down is, however, available (albeit rarely). Patagonia and the ever-amazing Fjällräven both use cruelty-free down that’s sourced very carefully, as you might expect from already ethical brands. Unfortunately, these lovely brands both cost an absolute bomb.
- If you want a cheaper option, you can get synthetic down alternatives. Jackets with this in will be <£100. Okay, it’s still not cheap cheap, but if you get a plain black one it’ll be innocuous and last forever so it’s an investment.
Make sure you try your jacket on under a normal coat before you buy it. It has to be thin enough to be discreet and not make you feel puffed up like the Michelin Man. I’m wearing one in the below picture, as well as two jumpers and a heat-tech underlayer. I do look fat, but that’s more to do with eating too much in Copenhagen rather than the jacket underneath.
5. Jumper dresses
Dresses are my year-round friends and in winter, I’m all about the jumper dresses. Just add black tights, ankle boots, a coat and scarf… outfit sorted.
I tend to go for bold prints with a bit of black in them if possible (to tie in with the aforementioned black tights) or plain solid colours that will tone with all my other wintery stuff. If it’s proper cold, you can also layer a thin long-sleeved t-shirt under or one of those heat-tech underlayer tops (more on those in #8 of this list).
6. A bag that fastens securely
This is a year-round must have to be honest, but in winter you’ll want to make sure it’ll fit any extra layers you’re lugging round with you all day and into the evening. It also needs to be watertight in case of rain, so tote bags and open ‘shoppers’ are off the cards.
If you’re going for a backpack, remember to swing it round onto your front when you’re on a crowded train or in a busy square. The same goes for cross-body bags, which are a bit easier to keep an eye on. I find a plain, neutral coloured bag is best, so that it goes with whatever coats and outfits you have. Boring as it is, black is always a winter winner and it’ll go with black tights/black ankle boots.
I always test out a new bag before I buy it so that I know for sure that all the rubbish I want to haul round with me on a city break actually fits in it. I have a big heavy camera for blogging photography, so that has to fit in or I’d end up with it round my neck, looking like a right tourist and getting tangled with my scarf. First-world nightmares.
7. Waterproof boots that you can walk all day in
Bring on the boots – my favourite winter footwear. My boots of choice are usually three-fold…
- Black ankle boots. THE DREAM. I’ve got so many of these. They go with everything and are usually very comfy, so they’re the perfect shoe for city breaks, especially short weekend getaways when you only have room for one piece of footwear in your hand luggage. I go for a high-cut Western style, which I find hides my cankles pretty well and looks nice with tights/skirts/dresses as well as jeans. I recently splashed out (by my standards) on a new pair from Office, which are so far proving to be the best boots I’ve ever owned.
- Patterned/colourful ankle boots. For a longer city break, when you might be able to cram a few pairs of boots in, I often pack a statement boot, making sure it goes with more than one outfit so that I get my money’s/space’s worth out of it. I love leopard print or metallic ones – the latter go with pretty much anything too.
- Grippy-soled ankle boots that could almost pass as hiking boots but definitely aren’t. I am yet to find a pair of hiking-type boots that don’t make me immediately vomit in my own mouth, so if I need some extra grip because of snow/ice about, I go for chunky boots with a good grip. They’re basically fashion hiking boots and show up in the shops most winters. My current pair are these from New Look.
8. Heat-tech underlayers
Much like the lightweight jacket for under your coat, heat-tech t-shirts are a revelation for winter holidays.
They’re basically long-sleeved plain t-shirts that are really thin so go nicely under a jumper or a dress, but they add an alarming layer of extra warmth to any outfit (without ruining it with bulk).
The best place to get them from is undoubtedly Uniqlo. I have a few of the long-sleeved ones but they do short ones too and even leggings. TBH I’m not sure how leggings would work with normal skinny jeans – it sounds like a nightmare and you’d feel like a right sausage. They definitely wouldn’t work under tights either. So I stick to the top-half options, which tends to be where the cold gets in anyway.
9. A few pairs of jeans
Jeans aren’t the most exciting garment, but they’re a life saver on days when you don’t know what the weather is going to do. They tend to go well with all the chunkier jumpers in the shops at this time of year, which don’t tuck into skirts very well. Topshop’s high-waisted Jamie jeans are the only jeans I buy these days.
My favourite jean colour for winter is probably black or darker blue, but you can still get away with greys.
Here I am in said jeans, pointing at a cat in Japan. Good times.
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- and finally what to pack for an autumn city break.
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