So you've booked that dream river cruise to Europe. You've chosen your state room, purchased flights, and have already bought a guidebook (or two). Now comes perhaps the hardest part about getting ready for a river cruise: figuring out what to pack!
Most people go on European river cruises in the spring and summer months, with a handful cruising in the winter to visit Europe's famous Christmas markets.
What you pack will of course depend on which season you're traveling in. But here are my tips for what to pack for a river cruise in Europe after going on 3 such cruises myself.
What to pack for a river cruise in Europe
The list below represents what I packed for a river cruise in Eastern Europe in April (which is springtime there). This list would work for trips in spring, autumn, and parts of summer in most parts of Europe. (And check the end of the post for tips on what to add if you're going on a winter river cruise!)
I went with my Osprey rolling bag for this trip. It’s a 60-liter bag with sturdy wheels and removable backpack straps (though I always leave the backpack straps at home). Osprey makes amazing soft-sided bags – this particular one has been traveling around the world with me for four years and is still in fantastic shape.
If a hard-sided suitcase is more your speed, I'm a fan of spinner luggage from Samsonite.
RELATED: The Best Luggage and Bags for Travel
River cruise clothing
(Remember, this specific river cruise packing list is based on a spring/summer river cruise.)
- 2 pairs of stretchy jeans
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 pair of long leggings
- 6 short-sleeved tops
- 1 long-sleeved t-shirt
- 1 long-sleeved sweater
- 1 cropped sweater
- 4 dresses (I really like this maxi dress for travel)
- 1 maxi skirt
- 1 set of pajamas
- 4 pairs of socks (including compression socks for the plane)
- 10 underwear (including my favorite ExOfficio bikini briefs)
- 3 bras
- 1 swim suit (since the ship had a small heated pool)
- 1 long casual coat
- 1 raincoat (I love this Columbia one)
- 1 scarf (check out my favorite hidden pocket scarf!)
- A dual-voltage hair dryer (because even though river cruise ships will supply one, I like to have my own!)
Why so many dresses, you ask? Well, I knew we would have at least one night where we would have to get dressed up for dinner on the ship, and, knowing myself, I knew I would probably want to look nice for dinner most nights. So I would more or less wear one thing during the day, and then change for dinner in the evenings.
(Note, though, that you don't HAVE to dress up for dinner on a river cruise! Most river cruise lines don't have a formal night.)
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 pair of Crocs flats
- 1 pair of nicer sandals
Whatever you decide to pack, just be sure you have at least one pair of shoes that you'll be comfortable walking in. River cruises offer a lot of free walking tours, and you don't want to have to skip them because of poor shoe choice!
(If you're going in the winter – like on a Christmas market cruise – I would swap out the sandals for a warm pair of boots like these Omni-Heat boots by Columbia.)
My carry-on backpack
The STM Haven is one of my favorite carry-on bags. I love the “floating” pockets inside the STM Haven, along with the copious amount of other outer and inner pockets. I usually stuff my purse in here when I'm carrying all my luggage, and then take it out once I get through security at the airport.
Inside this bag:
- My laptop
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Electronics chargers, extra batteries/SD cards, etc.
- Belkin power strip/surge protector*
- Outlet adapter by Skross*
- My glasses and extra contacts
- A travel umbrella (this rainbow one is super cute!)
*I recommend these for any trip anywhere! They make it easy to charge any type of device that you've brought along, from cameras to iPads to Kindles.
I'm still in love with my Donner bag by Overland Equipment, but unfortunately this exact bag isn't sold any longer. If you want something similarly roomy and useful for traveling, though, check out the Travelon Anti-Theft Bucket Bag. If you prefer using a small backpack as your handbag, I love this Pacsafe Citysafe convertible backpack.
In my purse (on travel days):
- My Olympus mirrorless camera with 12-40mm Pro lens
- Extra camera battery and lens cleaner (my LensPen is great!)
- A small power bank so my phone never runs out of juice
- Small zippered pouch with Dramamine, chapstick, Advil, etc.
- Tiny hair brush with attached mirror
- Business cards (because you never know who you’ll meet!)
What was I glad to have?
On this trip, there were a few things I was super glad to have. Namely:
Compression socks — I don't know why, but I've never traveled with compression socks before. I finally got a pair before this trip, and they are AMAZING. They help with circulation on long flights, and my ankles and feet for once didn't swell while flying across the Atlantic!
Raincoat — Europe in the spring can be wet at times, so having a good raincoat is a must! I love my Columbia Arcadia because it keeps me 100% dry, AND comes in a bunch of cute colors. (They make this same coat for men, too!)
New SegSac — I've been traveling with a SecSac for years now. And don't let the name fool you – it's basically a tube-like bag divided into five sections that helps make packing things like socks and underwear a breeze. For the little stuff that packing cubes don't really work for, I highly recommend the SegSac!
Crocs flats — I was pretty anti-Crocs for a really long time, but I can't deny that my Crocs flats are both cute AND comfy. The design helps your feet breathe, and the rubbery material means you never have to worry about them getting wet and taking forever to dry (important for springtime in Europe!).
Outlet adapter — Some river cruise lines (like Viking River Cruises) have both European-style and US-style outlets in their staterooms. But other cruise lines only offer the European-style outlets. In those cases, having a great outlet adapter is essential so you can still charge up all your electronics! In addition, a power strip never hurts, either, if you're bringing a couple different gadgets with you.
How did I do?
I thought I did pretty well with my river cruise attire. I didn't really need ALL those dresses for just one week, but after my cruise I traveled through Spain for nearly 3 weeks, so they definitely came in handy there. I could have gotten away with less tops, too, but what can I say? I'm a girl who likes to have options.
Everything fit into my bag with plenty of room to spare, and I probably wouldn't pack much differently if I did a cruise like this again!
The only thing I'd bring next time is a heavier outer layer — maybe a fleece like this one for some of those chilly spring evenings. This part of Europe gets really hot during the summer months, but in April the temperatures were quite mild.
What if I'm going on a winter river cruise?
If you're doing a Christmas market cruise, I would do the following to amend this list:
- Nix a couple of the dresses and/or add another pair of pants or leggings
- Leave the shorts at home
- Pack a couple more sweaters
- Bring boots instead of sandals
- Pack a medium-weight winter jacket (it doesn't get *that* cold in most parts of Europe in December – when I went on a Christmas market cruise, it was in the 40s/50s (F) most of the time); a down (or down alternative) jacket would be perfect.
- Pack a hat and gloves, just in case
Do I need anything else?
It’s not a tangible item, but I also always recommend packing a good travel insurance policy when you travel! That way everything from lost luggage to a bad accident is covered – because you just never know what might happen. I recommend Allianz for travel insurance for this sort of trip. Get a free quote here.
READ NEXT: Christmas Markets with Viking River Cruises
Have you ever been on a river cruise? What kind of things did YOU pack?
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