River Cruise Clothing: What to Pack for a Europe River Cruise

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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!)

What to pack for a river cruise in Europe | www.dangerous-business.com

My bag

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.

Osprey Sojourn rolling backpack

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

I utilized my favorite packing cubes (GREAT for keeping tops and bottoms organized) and and my new SegSac (perfect for socks and undies) and packed the following for my cruise:

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!)
Packing for a river cruise in Europe
To avoid overpacking, I stick to a fairly neutral color palette with one or two main accent colors.

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.)

Relaxing on the AmaPrima
Me aboard the AmaPrima


  • 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.)

Packing for a river cruise in Europe
The shoes I packed for a spring river cruise

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:

*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.

Packing for a river cruise in Europe

RELATED: How to Keep Your Money and Valuables Safe on Your Travels

My purse

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):

  • Wallet
  • Passport
  • 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
  • Sunglasses
  • Business cards (because you never know who you’ll meet!)
Me at Belogradchik Fortress in Bulgaria
Me at Belogradchik Fortress in Bulgaria

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.

Packing for a river cruise in Europe

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
Amanda in Sergiev Posad, Russia
Me in Russia in late October

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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61 Comments on “River Cruise Clothing: What to Pack for a Europe River Cruise

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  1. Did you pack any flip flops/shower shoes?

      Nope! Every room had an ensuite with a shower that was nicer than some showers I’ve seen in hotel rooms! I didn’t really feel a need for shower shoes.

    I always love seeing packing posts, mainly because it pretty much always reinforces that I usually pack way too many clothes and not enough practical stuff! Compression socks may just be the one travel item I’ve always needed but have never known about. I seriously can’t do a multi-continent flight without my feet and ankles becoming SUPER swollen. I hate it so much!

      You should definitely pick up a pair of compression socks, then! They really do help!

    Great article, Amanda. I could add only a medicine chest, in case of sea sickness or something similar and maybe travel guide to some of the ports that the cruise will visit.

      The good news is there’s not much of a need for seasickness tablets – the river is really calm. (I usually get motion sickness, but didn’t at all on this cruise!) And AmaWaterways actually gives you a little guidebook that includes all the ports you stop in, which is really handy!

    Thanks for the article, I always end up overpacking regardless of my mind set when I leave. I can’t help it! At least you were in one place and didn’t have to worry about constantly unpacking and re-packing.

      Yeah, I tend to still overpack a little bit – mostly for shorter trips, though, believe it or not!

    thanks for the info
    I’m traveling on the river cruise this August. And was fretting about what to pack. I’m packing a few dresses for the dinners too. I don’t want to look like a slob.

    Were most of the guests dressed for dinners and day trips?
    Did you enjoy the river cruise?

      People generally looked put-together for dinner, but hardly anyone wore suits except for at the captain’s dinner. And for day trips, everyone I saw was dressed pretty casually!

      And yes, I enjoyed it! You can read my whole review here: https://www.dangerous-business.com/2015/06/river-cruising-whats-it-really-like/

        We are doing Amawater Ways on August. I ALWAYS over pack too! Did most women wear dresses at dinner? Or can I get by with nice pants and pretty tops?

        Your review was great and very helpful!

        Thank you!

          Some women will change outfits for dinner, but on most of the river cruises I’ve been on, most people dress pretty casually for dinner! So you’d be absolutely fine with nice pants and tops!

    Yep love to hear what people pack I was concerned that it would be quite cold even during the day. Was told very wet during May.

      The weather across Europe can vary a lot, so it really depends where you’re traveling. May is spring, so it can be wet – but it can also be quite warm and sunny! My advice is always to pack layers so you’re prepared for anything. 🙂

    We are going on a Danube River cruise on March 19th. Any info on the weather we can expect? Coming from SoCa 50’s are cold to us.

      It will definitely still be chilly in March – if 50s are cold to you, I would definitely pack a jacket that will keep you warm! I went on a lower Danube cruise in April (which is what this list was written for), and there were mornings and evenings that were definitely on the cooler side.

    We are going May 28 to June 7 on AMA waterways with a 3 day Prague land trip. Any suggestions for travel wear.

      All my packing tips are in this post! You don’t need anything fancy, and it shouldn’t be *too* hot in central Europe that time of year yet. I would bring clothes that are breathable and that you’ll be comfortable in!

    Very helpful. Thank you.

    Did you need the hairdryer?

      I’m 95% sure there was one provided in the room, but I always like using my own when I travel.

        Thanks so much. I am going 8th May for a week , Nuremberg to Budapest. Wondering what sort of coat/jacket. A light fleece. I have a very lightweight plastic ‘pacamac’. Any ideas?

          It will be getting warmer in that part of Europe in May. A light fleece should be good, and maybe a sweater or two so you can layer in the mornings/evenings. And a rain coat wouldn’t be a bad idea either!

      On a Baltic cruise I couldn’t get the hairdryer to work in the bathroom. Turns out that it only worked when plugged into the outlet on the desk. I’m guessing this is a safety feature.

        That’s actually common in bathrooms all around the world – definitely a safety feature!

    We are travelling first week in October. Hints about to pack for this time of year would be appreciated. Thanks in advance!! Diane Richards. Diane.richards1@rogers.com

      To be honest, I wouldn’t change this list much! Temperatures will likely be about the same as when I went in the spring. Just make sure to bring a warmer layer, and perhaps a rain coat and umbrella depending on where you’re cruising!

    I am 75 and doing my first river cruise starting next week and flying to Saville. Was thinking of taking maxi dresses for day wear as not a pretty sight in shorts an t-shirts.
    Evenings I was going to wear white trousers and pretty glittery tops. Do you think I will be overdressed. Only going for 8 days but don’t really want to wear the same outfit twice.
    Any advice would be appreciated.

      No, trousers with a nice shirt won’t be overdressed! (And you can never really go wrong with maxi dresses!) You don’t have to dress fancy for dinner, but some people do change for dinner on river cruises.

        Thank you so much for putting my mind at rest.

    Going in August on the Rhine. Are capris acceptable for dinner and what about men. Do any wear shorts, polos, nice tees. We are doing 3 days outside of Frankfort then getting on the cruise. Just trying to figure out what size suitcases to use since we will be traveling by train a couple of times.

      Capris should be fine for dinner. And if it’s warm enough, I don’t see an issue for men to wear shorts and a polo/nice tee for dinner. (When I went on a cruise with my partner, he wore nice jeans and a sweater to dinner most nights.)

    Are there toilets on the tour bus?

      How much time you spend on tour buses will depend on the cruise itinerary you’re doing and the excursions you choose to participate in. I think the longest bus ride I had was an hour. Most buses I was on were equipped with toilets for emergencies, but I can’t speak for every tour bus in Europe!

    Glad I found your post. We are planning a Viking River cruise soon. About the shoes: I thought it was a “no no” to wear tennis/gym shoes in Europe; that they tag you as an American Tourist.

    Love to hear your thoughts on this.

      Well here’s the thing: You ARE a tourist! And you’re often going to be walking around in a large group with a tour guide, pegging you as a tourist anyway. 😉 I wouldn’t worry about it too much – it’s much more important that you’re comfortable in whatever shoes you bring!

    This is such a helpful post! We are cruising in France in November— one thing— I understand there are hair dryers in the bathrooms….. did you find one? Thanks for all the tips!

      Yes, there have been hair dryers on every river cruise ship that I’ve been on. I often travel with my own, though, because I just like to be extra prepared. I have one like this dual voltage one: http://amzn.to/2DYJjO7

    Thank you. That was very helpful. Are there vegan options on Amawaterways?

      I’m not sure about vegan options. There were always vegetarian options at all meals, though, so my guess is that they probably could accommodate you. But I would contact AmaWaterways to make sure!

    Hello Amanda… fantastic resource here in your blog. I am taking a European cruise leaving May 17. We stop in Cannes, Barcelona, Monaco (attend the Grand Prix car racing event) Italy, and the Amalfi Coast… do I need to consider anything special for this type of cruise? I am mostly a dress wearer and not sure what the weather will be like. Also footwear… what should I be considering? Thanks so much for your great tips!!! 🙂

      Hey Debby! That sounds like a really fun cruise! (My husband would be very jealous of you going to see the Grand Prix in Monaco!) My suggestions wouldn’t be a whole lot different than what I included in this post; it looks like average temps in those parts of Europe range from low 60s (F) to low 70s (in Barcelona) in May, so I think you would be just fine taking mostly dresses if that’s what you like to wear! As for footwear, I’d definitely recommend being as comfortable as possible. The Crocs flats mentioned in this post are a cute and comfy option, and I also travel a lot with Teva Verra sandals, which are very good for walking but also look okay with casual dresses: http://bit.ly/TevaVerra

    How do you deal with laundry cruise? I know that there is a service of the cruise itself but very pricey. Also, on the walking tours about how long do they last? I have a concerned with mobility issues and steps.

      Hi Cindy! Most of these cruises are less than two weeks, so my strategy is to bring enough clean underwear for the whole trip, and then bring enough outfit pieces that I can mix and match and wear more than once. No one will care if you wear the same top or pair of jeans twice. I’ve never done laundry on a river cruise.

      As for walking tours, the length really depends on the tour. Some are short, or include bus transport; others last a couple hours.

        I had a friend who saved her “about to be discarded underwear” throughout the year and packed it and discarded it as she went filling the new space with acquisitions. No laundry issues for those items anyway.

          Haha, not a bad idea! My father-in-law used to travel to China and Hong Kong a lot for business back in the 70s and 80s. Buying underwear and socks was so cheap there, he’d often just throw out what he wore and buy new ones rather than paying to have laundry done! (I wouldn’t necessarily suggest doing this now when we have such a huge trash problem, but it’s still funny.) Another option is to pack a packet of laundry detergent and just wash underwear in the sink if that’s all that needs to be cleaned!

    What an amazing and complete list of items to pack! Thanks a lot for this, we will definetly use it in our next trip we are planning.

    Amanda, I’m going on an AMA Waterways trip in the middle of summer yet it will be cooler there than where I’m from. How cool does it get in the evening? How breezy is it on board as the ship is moving? I see from one pic that you have a bolero, a dress and leggings on as you sit on the deck. Can you give me a clue if I’ll be freezing? BTW currently on June 12 its nearly 100 where I live.

      I think your best bet is to check the weather forecast for the places you’re going about a week before your trip – I can’t really answer the question about how cool it will get in the evening, because it totally depends on your route! It is cooler/breezy up on deck when the ship is moving, so having a sweater or jacket for sitting outside is a good idea.

    We went on an Emerald Waterways cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam in 2016. There were hair dryers and robes and slippers in each cabin. Laundry service was quick – in by morning back by evening. Tours were split in small groups one of which was slower paced. Loved the cruise so much that we are doing another this year.

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much!

    We are on a cruise right now…… great advice. Comfortable shoes that can be worn with socks are advised—- I did not bring and I’m envious of those that did. Shorts, athletic pants, t shirts, golf skirts; these are the things people are wearing. It’s been super warm this week and the knit pants and tops I’ve brought are almost too warm. Bring a variety but remember to be comfortable. There is more walking than you ever thought you would do!

      Yes, being comfortable (especially in your shoes!) is definitely key.

    We are taking our first river cruise on the Viking European Grand Tour in August this year and I booked one of the standard rooms on the lower deck due to cost, preferring to spend extra money on shore excursions. I’m now concerned that this might have been a mistake as we won’t have the option to hang out in our room and watch the scenery go by. Do you have any experience with or have you talked to people to had a standard room? How did you/they like it?

      I’ve not had the experience of staying in a standard room myself. But remember that there will be a lounge and sun deck on your boat, too, so you can always hang out there to watch the scenery when you’re onboard!

    To Pams comment: Half of the fun of a cruise is meeting other people, which you don’t do when locked in your room!

    I will be taking a Rhine river cruise this summer (my first cruise of any sort) and find your information very helpful! I do have a question. My mom and sister, who are both seasoned travelers, told me that I should not wear shorts on excursions and should probably make sure that tops and dresses are not sleeveless since some areas (like churches) may have dress codes. Is this true? I hate the thought of feeling even hotter on a summer day.

      Some of the bigger Catholic churches do want you to have your shoulders and knees covered (Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome will turn you away if you’re not dressed properly!), but this is an exception and generally not the norm throughout most of Europe. If you know you’ll be visiting a lot of churches, just throw a light scarf into your bag or purse and drape that around your shoulders for any visits to religious sites.

    I could be wrong, but I didn’t see for how many weeks you are packing for. My river cruise is 3 weeks.

      I went on a 8-day cruise, and then continued on to travel around Spain for an additional 3 weeks using this packing list. 🙂 In most cases, you can *always* find a way to get some laundry done! I never pack more than this, whether I’m packing for 2 weeks or 2 months!

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