When it comes to packing for a European city break, I’ve got my spring/autumn uniform sorted – a combination of skinny jeans, long boots, light jumpers and a jacket have taken me all across the continent. But for some reason, packing for a summer trip’s a bit more difficult. In theory it should be easy to throw in a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts like you would do for a beach break. But city breaks usually need a mixture of smart and casual, practical and stylish clothing. And even in summer Europe’s weather can be unpredictable – I’ve sweltered in 40-degree Spain and shivered in showery Slovenia in the same month.
Even if you know it’s going to be sunny, you still need to be prepared for cooler evenings and the odd summer storm. So packing for a summer city break needs a bit of thought – especially as space is at a premium if you’re travelling with carry on luggage only (and let’s face it, unless I’m going somewhere for a couple of weeks, I’m not going to fork out on baggage fees). So if you’re puzzled about what to pack, here’s my tried and tested packing list for a three-night summer city trip – with a PDF version to save for later.
The key to any carry on packing list is picking one colour palette so everything goes with everything else. Mine is usually navy blue – so I have navy staples and add in some coloured or patterned tops and jewellery to brighten it up. My general rule of thumb for any three-night trip would be to pack two bottoms, three tops and a dress. So for a summer trip that would be one lightweight pair of trousers (for travel days, cool evenings or to deter the mozzies), one pair of shorts, a maxi dress (which you can wear during the day or dress up with jewellery at night) and three lightweight, loose tops or shirts to keep me cool and cover my shoulders from the sun. I also always pack a cardigan to wear on the plane or in the evenings.
Shoes are my packing weakness – it’s too easy to shove an extra pair of sparkly sandals into my bag ‘just in case’. But for a summer city break I’ve found you only really need two pairs of shoes: trainers and sandals. Comfort is definitely key though. I always end up walking miles on city breaks so flip flops and ballet pumps aren’t going to cut it. You need something that gives your feet enough support and doesn’t rub or give you blisters even after a full day’s sightseeing. Plus they need to be smart enough for nights out.
I usually go for a Converse-style trainers, but I’ve been caught out in them in the rain a couple of times before and ended up having to walk around with damp feet for the rest of the day. So for my trip to Munich I tried out the Brooke shoes from UK brand Hotter. They’ve got leather rather than canvas uppers so they can cope with any showers, but they’re also designed to be light and breathable so your feet won’t overheat on a hot day. Plus they look smarter than normal trainers so you can wear them out in the evenings.
The first time I wore them was on a travel day when I walked 15,000 steps – not usually a good idea with a new pair of shoes, but I didn’t get any rubbing or blisters. Plus the cushioning inside means that you don’t get aching feet even after a long day. The shoes are available in four different colours – I ended up getting both the salmon pink and duck egg versions (though duck egg is a bit more a khaki green than bluey green), but there are also blue and ivory available. Hotter also do a range of sandals which would be good for city trips – the Flare (pictured below) looks smart enough to dress up but is really good for walking.
If you’re out in the sun all day, sunglasses and a hat are essential. I’ve got a tendency to lose both so just buy cheap ones (though make sure that cheap sunglasses have decent UV protection) – my current sunglasses are from Boots and my hat’s a crushable one from Primark so you can stuff in your bag without ruining it. I also bring a sunglasses case as I’m usually taking them on and off all day – a soft case takes up less space if you’re not likely to throw stuff on top of them, otherwise a hard case gives more protection.
For sightseeing, I bring a small cross-body bag as they’re a bit more secure in case of bag-snatchers – and you can see if someone’s trying to get into it unlike with a rucksack. And because you never know what the weather’s going to be like in Europe, I always bring a lightweight scarf and an umbrella with me. The scarf comes in useful as an extra layer if the air con’s a bit overactive on a plane or train. Or you can use it to cover your neck or shoulders from the sun – and the umbrella can double up as a sunshade too.
Decent sun protection is a must in summer – it’s so easy to get burnt if you’re going in and out of places and don’t realise how much sun you’re getting. Look for a 5-star UVA rating as well as the SPF level – I’ve got the classic pasty English skin so I don’t go below a factor 30. You can usually find 100ml size bottles of sunscreen so you can take them in your carry on, which should be enough for a long weekend. Otherwise if there’s a group of us I pick up a bottle at the airport after going through security and share it.
It’s also a good idea to bring a refillable water bottle with you so you don’t need to buy plastic bottles of water. You can bring it through airport security empty then fill it up before getting on the plane, and a lot of cities have public water fountains where you can fill them up when you’re out and about.
What are your summer city break essentials?
Packing list for a European summer city break
This post is brought to you in association with Hotter Shoes and contains affiliate links, where I get a small commission at no extra cost to you – thanks.