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
Playing princess in Budapest

Common questions about packing for a river cruise

Here are some of the most common questions you might have 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 putting on 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. (They don't have a ton of arch support, though, so keep that in mind.)

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

Whatever shoes you pack, just make sure that you're going to be comfortable in them even if you're wearing them for hours on end!

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 if you need it.

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, tablet 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 + straightener.)

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. Mine is 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 7+ 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) 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


  • 1 pair of sneakers or walking sandals (I love my Teva Verra sandals)
  • 1 pair of flats (the ones in the photo above are actually Crocs, but they sadly don't make this style any longer)
  • 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

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

You might also like these posts about river cruising in Europe:

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) – here's the one my husband has
  • 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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65 Comments on “River Cruise Clothing: What to Pack for a Europe River Cruise

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  1. Hi, Are there any laundry/ironing facilities on River Cruises. We going on our first Viking river cruise in November 2021.

      There are not facilities for you to do your own laundry, but you can pay to have it done on the ship. As for irons/ironing boards, I think those vary ship-to-ship, so it depends which one you’re on. You can check ship amenities online once you know which ship you’ll be on.

    Hi – I found this article to be helpful! I am wondering if vaccines are recommended/required though..

      Most river cruises in Europe visit countries like Germany, France, and the Netherlands, which are all well-developed. No vaccinations are required in this part of the world, though of course it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re up to date with things like booster shots.

    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!

    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.

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

    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!

    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 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!

    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.

    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.

    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!

    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

    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!

    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

    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!

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