What to Wear on a Europe River Cruise (+ Full River Cruise Packing List)

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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 wear on a river cruise in Europe after going on 4 such cruises myself. (Yes, four, with another planned this year!)

Amanda at Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest
Early mornings in Budapest

Common questions about packing for a river cruise

Here are some of the most common questions you might have about what to wear on a river cruise in Europe:

Do I have to dress up on a river cruise?

The top question I get about river cruises is related to how “fancy” you need to dress 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. A few gentlemen may opt for a suit jacket for dinner, but jackets and ties are not required on this kind of cruise.

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

Amanda in a sunflower dress in Austria
If you're comfortable in dresses though? Then go for it!

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, and you'll need comfortable shoes!

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 machine washable, too, which is a big bonus. (They don't have much arch support, though, so they aren't right for everyone.)

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!

PRO TIP: If you're buying brand new shoes to wear on a river cruise, be sure to break them in at home before your trip! There's nothing worse than getting blisters from brand new shoes while you should be enjoying your vacation.

Can I do laundry on a river cruise?

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 in 2019

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 for Europe.

As for voltage, most electronics (like your phone charger, tablet charger, camera charger, etc.) are built these days to handle any voltage between 110v and 250v. 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.)

Europe river cruise packing list

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, based entirely on my own experiences and what I did (and didn't) need.

(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!)

Amanda in a red skirt at a castle
The fanciest outfit I wore on my most recent river cruise

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 usually travel with my Osprey rolling bag in Europe. 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. (And I'll be purchasing the larger Shuttle bag next!)

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 always utilize my favorite compression packing cubes (GREAT for keeping tops and bottoms organized – I use the rolling method) for packing. As a bonus, these cubes can help you organize things in drawers when you unpack onboard, too.

(And if you're packing bulkier items like sweaters and are worried you might run out of room, I also like these vacuum compression bags that you can roll the air out of. I recommend using them sparingly so your luggage isn't too heavy, but they work great for things like sweaters and down jackets.)

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!

It's also assuming that you're going on a 7-8 day cruise (which is pretty average). If your cruise is longer, adjust accordingly.

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of long leggings
  • 1 pair of capris/shorter leggings (I like these active capris)
  • 1 pair of shorts (optional in summer)
  • 1 maxi skirt (this one is the red one you see in this post) OR 1 pair of dressier pants (I like these, as they don't wrinkle too much)
  • 2-3 dresses
  • 5 short-sleeved tops (I really like Unbound Merino tops these days, as they look good and are odor resistant!)
  • 1-2 dressier tops for evenings
  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 long-sleeved layering shirt
  • 1-2 cropped cardigans or sweaters
  • 1 set of pajamas
  • 4-5 pairs of socks (including compression socks for the plane) (I don't wear socks with all my shoes; if you do, then pack more!)
  • 10 underwear (including my favorite ExOfficio bikini briefs)
  • 3 bras
  • 1 pair of moisture-wicking shorts to wear under dresses
  • 1 swim suit (if your ship has a small pool)
  • 1 casual jacket
  • 1 raincoat (I love this Columbia one)
  • 1 scarf (check out my favorite hidden pocket scarf!)
  • 1 hat (either a baseball cap or packable sunhat)
  • A dual-voltage hair dryer (because even though river cruise ships will supply one, I like to use my own!)

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 I usually wear clothing items more than once as long as I don't get sweaty in them! (A small bottle of fabric refresher can help extend the wearability of clothes, too – I never travel without my tiny Febreze!)

Relaxing on the AmaPrima
Me aboard the AmaPrima in 2015

RELATED: DOs and DON’Ts for Your First Trip to Europe: 18 Helpful Europe Travel Tips

Toiletries

Also in my main suitcase goes my toiletry bag and small first aid kit.

This is currently my favorite toiletry bag, as it hangs nicely in any bathroom. A few things I always pack in it include:

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
  • Solid soap and shampoo bars (and I'm in love with these tiny waterproof soap bags)
  • Makeup/skin care items
  • Contacts
  • Moisturizer
  • Good sunscreen

And a first aid kit with painkillers, meds for upset stomachs/heartburn, a few Band-Aids, nail clippers and tweezers, etc. is always good to have! I like this little pill case for travel. (Though note that any prescription medication should always go in your carry-on bag or purse! Never check it in your suitcase.)

Shoes for a river cruise

  • 1 pair of sneakers or walking sandals (I love my Teva Verra sandals for Europe; if you prefer sneakers, white tennis shoes are all the rage in Europe right now; I have a pair of these Reeboks)
  • 1 pair of flats (the ones in the photo above are actually Crocs, but they sadly don't make this style any longer; opt for whatever flats are comfy, or take a pair of SUAVS)
  • 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 stylish winter boots by Columbia.)

Amanda with the Eiffel Tower in Paris
Me in a summery dress and white kicks in Paris

My carry-on backpack

My new favorite backpack that's both functional AND stylish for the streets of Europe is this Pacsafe backpack. This backpack has anti-theft features like slash-proof straps, lockable zippers, and RFID protection, and will fit all your carry-on essentials.

Inside this bag:

*I recommend these for any trip to Europe! They make it easy to charge any type of device that you've brought along, from cameras to iPads to Kindles.

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

My travel purse

There are lots of purse options out there that are great for traveling. Currently, I like the Travelon Anti-Theft Bucket Bag if you need a larger purse, or this Pacsafe Citysafe cross-body bag as a smaller option.

If you prefer using a small backpack as your handbag, I love this Pacsafe Citysafe convertible backpack, which is both stylish and secure.

In my purse (on travel days):

  • Wallet (an RFID-safe one is always smart)
  • Passport
  • Extra camera battery and lens cleaner (my LensPen is great!)
  • A small power bank and charger cord so my phone never runs out of juice (or this power bank can plug right into your USB-C phone)
  • Small zippered pouch with Dramamine, chapstick, Advil, etc.
  • Tiny hair brush with attached mirror
  • Sunglasses

NOTE: I don't ever recommend carrying your passport on you at all times in Europe. 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 in 2015

More river cruise posts

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


What about river cruise packing 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
  • 1-2 pairs of khakis or dress pants
  • 1-2 pairs of shorts or hiking pants
  • 5-6 t-shirts (my husband Elliot is obsessed with merino shirts lately, as they are breathable but odor-resistant, so you can pack fewer)
  • 2-3 polo shirts
  • 1 dress shirt (optional)
  • 1 long-sleeved shirt (Elliot loves this merino henley, which can be dressed up or down)
  • 1 fleece or sweatshirt
  • Light casual coat
  • Raincoat (especially if traveling in spring) – here's the one my husband has
  • Pajamas
  • Underwear for 10 days
  • 7-8 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of sneakers (Elliot also loves his SUAVS knit shoes, but usually brings light hiking shoes for walking in Europe)
  • 1 pair of nicer shoes
  • 1 hat for sun

What if I'm going on a winter river cruise?

If you're doing a Christmas market cruise (read about the one I did here), I would do the following to amend this list:

  • Nix a couple of the dresses and/or add another pair of pants or leggings (these fleece leggings look great under dresses and are warm enough for much of Europe in winter).
  • Leave the shorts at home.
  • Swap a couple t-shirts for long-sleeved tops.
  • 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, but being able to layer is key; a down (or down alternative) jacket might be all you need if you have warmer layers for underneath), though of course you'll want to check the weather forecast before you go. If you need a heavier winter coat, I wore this one to Europe last winter.
  • Pack a hat and gloves, just in case!
Amanda in a white winter coat with a Christmas market mug in Rudesheim, Germany
Me at a Christmas market in 2023

READ NEXT: Christmas Markets with Viking River Cruises


What other questions do you have about packing for a river cruise in Europe?

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What to wear on a river cruise in Europe | River cruise packing list

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73 Comments on “What to Wear on a Europe River Cruise (+ Full River Cruise Packing List)

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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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