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 4 such cruises myself.

Amanda at Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

Common questions about packing for a river cruise

Do I have to dress up?

The top question I get about river cruises is related to how “fancy” you need to get onboard. There are generally no formal nights on river cruise ships. There may be one Captain's Dinner night where you're advised that shorts and tank tops are not appropriate, but otherwise the cruise will be fairly casual.

Most people will dress up a little bit for dinner in the main dining room – but by “dress up” I mean put on a clean pair of pants and maybe swap out the sneakers for something slightly nicer.

For ladies, dinner attire can be anything from a nice pair of capris/pants and a top to a sundress. Cocktail dresses would be considered very fancy for a river cruise.

For men, most will wear pants or a nice pair of jeans and a polo shirt (or similar). You won't find many men wearing shorts at dinner, but there aren't generally any rules against them.

For the rest of the time on your cruise, dressing for comfort is key!

What kind of shoes are best?

What kind of shoes you want to bring will largely depend on your cruise itinerary. Obviously if you're doing a more active river cruise, then you'll probably want a pair of good sneakers, or at least some good walking sandals.

In fact, you probably want those things anyway, as walking tours are a common excursion on any river cruise.

Lately, my go-to casual shoes for both myself and my husband have been SUAVS Zilker knit shoes. These lightweight, flexible shoes are super packable, breathable, and basically feel like you're just wearing socks. They're also machine washable, too, which is a big bonus.

Biking in the Wachau Valley
Me biking in my SUAVS on an excursion in Austria

Can I do laundry?

If you're on a longer river cruise (or if your cruise is part of a longer trip around Europe), you might need to do laundry at some point. While there aren't any self-service laundry facilities on river cruise ships, there will always be an onboard laundry service.

Laundry prices on a river cruise are comparable to prices in higher-end hotels, with every clothing item costing a certain amount to be washed, dried, and pressed. I would personally only pay this much to have laundry done if it's absolutely necessary, but the service IS there.

And you can expect your laundry to be returned to you in 24 hours.

What's provided in the room?

Amenities will vary slightly based on which cruise line you're sailing with, but in general you can expect to find bath robes, slippers, a hair dryer, and toiletries like shampoo and conditioner in your room.

Avalon Impression state room
Me in my robe on the Avalon Impression

Do I need outlet/voltage adapters?

SOME river cruise lines will offer two types of outlets in every state room (usually a US plug and a European one). Others will just have the European ones, meaning traveling with an outlet adapter is never a bad idea. I like this one.

As for voltage, most electronics (like your phone charger, Kindle charger, camera charger, etc.) are built these days to handle any voltage between 110 and 250. So the ONLY instance where you might need a separate voltage adapter is if you're using a curling iron, straightener or hair dryer of your own that's single-voltage from the US, and your ship only has European plugs. (But you can easily avoid this issue by purchasing dual-voltage gadgets – here's a dual-voltage hair dryer, and here's a dual-voltage curling iron.)

What to pack for a river cruise in Europe

I've traveled on river cruises in spring, summer, and winter. The packing list below represents what I recommend packing for a river cruise in Europe in either spring, summer, or early autumn.

(If you're headed to Europe on a river cruise in winter, check out the bottom of this post for suggestions on how to tweak this list for winter!)

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

The suitcase

To be completely honest with you, your suitcase for a river cruise doesn't really matter. The beauty of a river cruise is that you only need to unpack once, and then you can shove that suitcase under your bed for the duration of your cruise (and yes, most river cruise lines design their beds so that full-size suitcases slide easily under them!).

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 five 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) for packing. As a bonus, these cubes can help you organize things in drawers when you unpack onboard, too.

River cruise clothing (for women)

(Remember, this specific river cruise packing list is based on a spring/summer river cruise. Your list might vary depending on what kind of excursions you're planning to do!)

My top tip for packing light is to stick to mostly neutral colors and one or two accent colors that you can mix and match. This way, you can create multiple outfits with fewer articles of clothing.

I generally pack this amount of clothing whether I'm traveling for 2 weeks or 2 months – but the river cruises I've been on in Europe have usually been 8-9 days.

Relaxing on the AmaPrima
Me aboard the AmaPrima

Shoes

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

My new favorite backpack that's both functional AND stylish for the streets of Europe is the Pacsafe Citysafe CX. This backpack has anti-theft features like slash-proof straps, lockable zippers, and RFID protection, but also looks really great.

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 camera
  • 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!)

NOTE: I don't ever recommend carrying your passport on you at all times. Unless you're told you need your passport when you're off the ship, just leave it in the safe in your room.

Me at Belogradchik Fortress in Bulgaria
Me at Belogradchik Fortress in Bulgaria

More river cruise posts


What about for men?

If you're a man planning to go on a river cruise (or, probably more likely, a wife wondering what to pack for your husband), here's what I would suggest:

  • 2 pairs of nice jeans
  • 1 pair of khakis or dress pants
  • 1-2 pairs of shorts or hiking pants
  • 4-5 t-shirts
  • 2 polo shirts
  • 1 dress shirt (optional)
  • 1 fleece or sweatshirt
  • Raincoat (especially if traveling in spring)
  • Pajamas
  • Underwear for 10 days
  • 5-6 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 pair of nicer shoes
  • 1 hat

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 usually recommend Wold Nomads for affordable basic travel insurance.

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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"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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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?
        Val

          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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