There is perhaps no continent in the world that has more mass appeal than Europe. It is rich with history, with great cities and museums. The landscape range from the heights of the Alps to the windswept coast. It makes sense, then, that traveling Europe is a favorite activity of many.
An essential part of any travel wardrobe as the all-important shoe. Given how much you tend to walk in Europe, the wrong shoe choice can have dire consequences. Bringing too many shoes will impact your luggage mass and weight much more than packing too many shorts or shirts.
If you could only have one shoe in Europe, which would it be?
As regular European travelers, we have tried many shoes, and have settled on three. These are all time-tested, from brands we know and trust, and we have used them ourselves.
How we Tested
Our shoe tests were done using typical European vacation conditions. Travel focused on England, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Amsterdam. We have tested shoes in good mixes of cities and rugged, rural landscapes. We have had mid-August heat as well as March chills.
We used the shoes to go to the theater, walk long distances over sidewalks and cobblestone, walk through snow, and climb small mountains.
We always used shoes that had been broken in back at home, which is a must. They can be just broken in, or well-worn, but we would never suggest bringing new shoes to Europe. If for some reason you must, be sure to bring moleskin and bandaids too.
Here are the 3 we recommend for Europe.
Best All-Around, All-Purpose
We all agreed that if we could only bring one shoe to Europe, and the main objective was a balance of city, country, and some rugged walking, we would go for the Keen Austin. The Austin is a great all-around shoe that can handle some rough terrain, but also looks good with khakis if you are going out to a nice restaurant.
The Austin is a brown leather shoe, lace-up style. The outer sole is rugged and can handle a little wear and tear. The inner is soft, adjustable, and comfortable.
If you have used Keens in the past, you know that they are built a bit wider. The toe box feels like it provides a significant amount of space and air, which for most people is recommended by podiatrists. For someone with wide feet, this is a huge plus. For someone with normal feet, it should still feel pretty comfortable unless you prefer a snug fit. For someone with narrow feet, the wide fit might feel like a little much.
The Austins have better water resistance than we expected. They aren’t meant to be submerged or ford a stream, but are excellent if you find yourself walking through the streets of London when the rain decides to begin.
Long-term durability has been much better than we originally anticipated. With a little lite cleaning, they look like brand new although they have many miles on them.
The Keen Austins come in four colors: Two shades of brown, black, and gray. Find the Keen Austin here.
Best for Those Spending Time in Museums, Theaters, Churches
Eccos fit in exceedingly well in Europe… because they are European shoes! Based in Denmark, Ecco makes many of the shoes that you might notice the locals wearing as you make your way around Europe.
We have grown to like the Ecco Soft for our European travels. They tend to be best for situations where you will be in cities and towns — walking around old village streets, on sidewalks, and through museums. As the name suggests, they are soft. You will get plenty of cushion on those hard marble floors of Westminster Abbey or The Louvre.
Style-wise, this is a contemporary leather sneaker. Although it is a sneaker, it has a sleek look that is often paired with somewhat dressier clothes. This makes the Ecco Soft appropriate for settings like midscale to upscale restaurants, touring churches, and spending time in fine museums.
Because the Ecco Soft is a sneaker, it is comfortable enough for spending the day on your feet. The shoe is actually quite comfortable, just doesn’t really have the right sole for rugged hikes or going off-path in the countryside. The shoe is not designed to provide heavy waterproofing, in our opinion. However, being leather, it can provide some basic water resistance.
The Ecco Soft comes in a whopping 13 color combinations, meaning that you can find the look that will blend well with the wardrobe you are traveling with. Find the Ecco Soft Here.
Merrill MQM Gore-Tex
Best for those likely to hike rugged terrain or travel in wet weather
While the first two shoes we profiled can be great all-purpose shoes for people who might see a bit of everything, sometimes you just know you need something a bit more athletic. Maybe you are headed to the Swiss Alps for a week of hiking, or perhaps you plan to explore some of the rugged country of Southern France. Either way, you want a shoe that will perform under rugged conditions.
Enter the Merrill MQM Gore-Tex. Note, there is also an MQM plain version — you need to be sure to get the MQM Gore-Tex version. If not, you won’t have the waterproof shoe. That won’t be the end of the world, but we wanted to make that note since we are recommending this for rugged and wet conditions.
The MQM will wear like a sturdy tennis shoe. It is really a hiker when it comes down to it, meant for off-road walks and hiking trails. What you get with the addition of Gore-Tex is a waterproof membrane, one that can take on a little water without becoming soaked. Keep in mind, however, that it is a low shoe, so if you step in water up to your shin, the shoe will get wet from above.
For people who will be spending most of their time in cities, at museums or exploring neighborhoods, these shoes will do just fine, but won’t look the part. They are more of an outdoorsy shoe, so if having the right fashion ensemble is important to you, you may want to go with the others.
However, we really like this shoe for people who know that the main purpose of this trip involves the outdoors and dirt or gravel underfoot.
The shoe comes in four different color combinations, but we like the gray on gray best — it will be the most versatile and could double just fine if you need to wear the shoe to a nice restaurant or into a show. Find the MQM Gore Tex here.
What we Looked For, Our Criteria
So after touring Europe a few times, what are we looking for in our shoes? Here is the list.
Comfort. This is far and away the #1. You need a shoe that will be comfortable, because you will just have them on a lot more than you do at home. All of your walking, your public transit, your activities will probably involve wearing shoes. If the shoes aren’t comfortable, you will know it.
Compatibility with your trip. If you plan to spend 80% of your trip hiking, and 20% in cities, that is an important factor in your shoes. Likewise, if you plan to spend your entire trip in Paris and London, seeing shows and touring museums, that is equally important to know. Think about the trip you are taking, and match the shoe to the trip.
Style. Important because the Europeans tend to not wear many running shoes or typical “tennis shoes” as those in the U.S. tend to. Much more common is a leather sneaker, or another type of shoe that has the potential to be a bit dressier and less athletic.
Minimal pairs. We suggest bringing one pair of shoes if you can pull it off, and our favorite travel guru agrees. Two if you really need to, or feel that you will want to rotate. More than that, and you will find yourself lugging around lots of heavy luggage. The typical pair of shoes weighs 2-4 lbs, which means that it is perhaps the single heaviest thing in your bag. Compare with a pair of jeans that will weigh in at 12 ounces, or maybe a pound on the heavy side.
Notice we don’t mention cost, because we don’t want you to skimp. Budget $100 to $150 for your Europe traveling shoes. It will be worth it.