Spring until late Fall is ideal for a European vacation, and the best way to see most Old World cities is on foot. Touring museums, churches and galleries; poking around in craft shops, taking photos in a cobblestone alley, hunting for a café or trattoria off the beaten path. Are your feet aching yet?
Walking Shoes vs. Running Shoes
If you are traveling to Europe, the most important thing you can pack is a good pair of walking shoes. European cities are old, which means you will be doing a lot of walking up and down narrow, uneven and sometimes slippery, ancient stone streets. While you may be tempted to pack a pair of running shoes for walking, keep in mind the difference between walking and running.
When you walk you land on your heels first, with your weight rolling forward through the ball of your foot and finally onto your toes. When you run, you typically land on your outer heels with your weight moving forward in more of an S-pattern. There’s more impact from running than walking so for walking you need a specific type of shoe.
How to Choose the Most Comfortable Walking Shoes
Focus on Fit
A good walking shoe should be comfortable from the get-go. It needs to be snug enough so that your foot doesn’t slip out but not so tight that it rubs. Don’t go with a too snug fit, hoping that it will stretch out with wear. Chances are, it won’t, and no one wants to ruin their European vacation trying to break in a pair of too-tight shoes!
Many over 40 women must also address bunions, neuromas, prior injuries and other foot and ankle issues. These can make finding a comfortable walking shoe more challenging but not impossible!
Length and Width: When considering fit, think about the width of the walking shoes just as much as the length. If you don’t have enough room at the sides of your feet, you’re opening yourself up to calluses, bruised toenails, heel blisters, and bunions. And when it comes to length, make sure you have roughly a half-inch between the end of your longest toe and the shoe. You should be able to wiggle your toes in your shoes.
Toe and Heel Room: If you try on a lot of shoes and still aren’t sure about the fit, try these two tests. Walk down an incline and purposely try and push your toes into the very front of your shoes. Your toes should stay snug. Overtime as the shoes loosen and widen, your toes will move down, but if they do now, don’t buy them. Try the opposite test too. Walk up some stairs two at a time. If your heel lifts off the bottom of the shoe more than 1/8″ then don’t buy the shoe unless you want blisters.
Look for Lightweight, Flexible Walking Shoes
Since you don’t hit the ground with the same amount of impact when you’re walking compared to when you’re running, walking shoes should be more flexible and lightweight than running shoes. This lets you walk across most surfaces with ease, something that you’ll appreciate when you’re walking along cobblestone streets or amongst archeological ruins.
To test how flexible a walking shoe is, hold the shoe up by the heel and toe and bend the toe up. The shoe should bend right under the ball of the foot. Next, twist the sole of the shoe from side to side. You should feel some light to moderate resistance. Too floppy means no support.
Arch Support is Key
Arch support is important to reduce muscle strain, maintain balance and prevent conditions like Plantar Fasciitis which is a common cause of heel pain. Look for walking shoes designed to provide support particular to the type of arch you have, whether it be a high, neutral, or low arch. Since arch support is specific to the individual, it’s best to work with a knowledgeable salesperson to make sure your new walking shoe is right for you. One idea is to bring in an old pair of shoes you currently own so the person helping you can look at wear patterns and show you walking best suited to how you wear your shoes.
It gets very hot pounding the pavement shopping and sightseeing, so make sure you take a shoe that breathes. Your feet are going to be in those walking shoes from early morning to night which means things can get pretty sweaty. Think about the material the shoe is made of (natural fibers breathe better than synthetic). Does it have vents? Mesh can help, as well as an open vamp. The right fit also makes them more breathable. If shoes are too tight, your feet will tend to sweat more.
Padding is Important
Padding and cushioning keeps your feet comfortable and can prevent bruised toenails and blisters. That said, you’ll want to balance padding with flexibility and you may have to try on plenty of shoes before you find one that strikes a good balance. Don’t be afraid to try aftermarket insoles if needed.
You never know what kind of weather you are going to run into when you travel, so a waterproof shoe that has sturdy soles and waterproof uppers is a winning shoe hands down.
Best time to Buy Walking Shoes
- Since our feet tend to swell during the day, do your trying on towards the end of the day when your feet are the widest to get the most accurate picture of how a walking shoe will fit.
- Be sure to have both feet measured and if they are different, go with the bigger size.
- If you plan to wear your walking shoes with socks, make sure you try them on with socks or sock liners.
As the search for a perfect pair of jeans takes time, getting a walking shoe with a great fit make take a few tries too. You need to test a variety of shoes. March yourself into a store or if you prefer to order online, be ready to return selections that don’t run true to size or don’t fit your particular foot well.
Most Popular Walking Shoes for Europe – Mary Janes
Mary Jane styles are hugely popular for travel especially afte4 40 when balance and reaction times aren’t as good as it used to be. The strap across the top of the foot gives a secure fit on cobblestones and uneven ground meaning there’s less chance of slipping out of our shoes and falling or twisting ankles. Let’s take a look at some of the bestselling Mary Janes.
Want Something Tried and True?
Experts at the Mayo Clinic agree that a pair of comfortable well-fitting walking shoes is the secret to successful walking and suggest a fairly lightweight shoe with good shock absorption. The Ecco BIOM lite Mary Jane weighing in at a mere 7 ounces it is known as one of the best shoes for walking around Europe.
One user reported walking in this shoe for three weeks in Italy, often without socks, with no blisters or other discomforts. Tiny airholes by the toes keep things cool. As for the look, it’s very modern in this pewter color but also comes in black which of course never gets dirty!
Sweat A lot?
One step up from the shoe we just looked at is the Ecco Bluma Mary Jane . It’s nice because it has mesh inserts on the top of the shoe which allows for more breathability on those long site-seeing days. I like the look of the mixed materials too.
Need a Refined Mary Jane?
Here’s a similar style to the first two, only more refined and formal. This is the Dansko Edith Mary Jane. It’s less sporty and more refined than the first two, so it is better for after five events where you would wear dressier pants and casual dresses.
Want Something More Fashion Forward?
Another offering from Ecco along the same lines as all of the above but with a zig-zag strap is the Ecco Lynx Mary Jane . It comes in black and a very new and a warm gray metallic. The light sole on this black one is nice for summer- not so heavy looking on your foot. I like this shoe because it looks soft like a glove, and the zig-zag strap makes it a little fashion-forward and modern. This is a very sporty shoe.
Don’t Like Straps – How about these?
Many report a strap makes a walking shoe very solid, but if you prefer no strap try the Ecco Biom Lite Ballerina Flat – a sporty ballerina flat that is very comfy and attractive. Many tourists report they love these type of open top shoes, as the traditional runner top styles are hot and not as flexible on the foot when you are walking. If you like a dark shoe, they come in black too.
More Walking Shoes
Besides Mary Janes, hundreds of walking stylish shoes are available, but is there one you would consider wearing into Versace on the Via Venetto or Fabregé on the Rue Saint Honoré? Let’s look at some more options:
ECCO Angel Bow Ballerina Flat
Casual /Dressy works Anywhere Ballerina Flat
A personal favorite and one that actual users rate highly is Ecco’s Angel Bow Ballerina flat. Women who reviewed these lightweight shoes said they bought them because they wanted cute walking shoes for Europe they could wear both day and night. They wore them to walk extensively in Paris, Nice, Madrid and rural Spain.
This cute walking shoe for Europe works well with pants, skirts, and jeans. This cognac color is lovely, but it also comes in green, black gray and dark coral.
Comfy Dance-Like Walking Shoes
If you’re ready to go really out of the box, barefoot running and walking have been researched extensively and been shown to naturally improve your gait and carriage, develop strength in the muscles and ligaments of your feet, legs, and hips. If walking ancient sidewalks and streets barefoot don’t entice you, minimalist footwear is available.
Check out Vivobarefoot’s soft dance-like shoes. They also one of the best walking shoes for Europe women rave about. Wearers call them “a tetanus-free and socially acceptable way of appearing barefoot in public.”
Sneaker Walking Shoe
If you really just want a good old-fashioned sneaker then here’s a suggestion for a modern version. It’s the Biom Lite Slip-on Sneaker. ( above)
Perforated Sneakers – My New Favorite Walking Shoes with Great Arch Support
I bought these Cobb Hill shoes, and I LOVE them. I never knew shoes could be so comfy. I’ve worn them everywhere because they are just so darn cushiony and comfy. The style is sporty- chic and right on trend with the perforated suede, which also keeps my feet cool. Highly recommend! They also come in a beautiful coral, black this pretty blue, and taupe, which is the color I have.
Classic Preppy Walking Shoe with Modern Appeal
Finally, a more traditional option is this cute and very lightweight Skechers GOwalk shoe is very popular. I own a pair of GOwalks and what I like most is that they are so light you feel like you are not even wearing shoes. I guess that is why they are also called Barefoot shoes.The preppy styling works well with a skirt, polo shirt or blouse with a sweater tied around the neck, as well as jeans and casual cotton pants. These also come in a lovely charcoal shade.
So the verdict in our fashion vs. function question is in: Your shoes won’t be statement pieces if you’re well-dressed and well-groomed. And you will feel perfectly comfortable crossing the threshold of the most chichi establishment during your travels. What have you found are the most stylish and comfortable walking shoes for Europe? I’d love to know.
Here are a few more brands that make stylish, comfortable walking shoes for travel.
*This article from guest contributor: Alice Ann Toole.
More interested in sandals? Then check out my post on comfy walking sandals.
Or, if you a creative type looking for a travel shoe that is a little more creative, check out this post on funky travel shoes.
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