What to Pack for a River Cruise in Europe

Just a few weeks or months from now, you might be lucky enough to find yourself cruising along the Danube for a well-earned vacation, relaxing on the deck between cities and maybe even enjoying an onboard massage or two.

But, before you board, we know you may have a few questions about how to prepare for your cruising experience in Europe. To take the stress out of packing, we’ve checked in with our in-house cruising experts to ensure you know exactly what to pack. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know before you set sail.

What to Pack for a River Cruise in Europe

What will the weather be like?

Of course, the weather is one of the first things you should consider when assessing what to pack for your cruise. Like most countries, the weather in Europe during spring and fall can vary greatly, and winter is often chilly. Summer, on the other hand, will be quite warm. No matter the season, temperatures in Europe can fluctuate, so it is best to pack a few light layers. Aim to pack clothes that are versatile and can be mixed or matched around with other pieces in your suitcase to create new outfits. And for the mornings, stepping out on the deck to catch the sunrise will usually call for a jacket to keep the wind away. 

If you’ve booked a river cruise to explore the magical Christmas markets during the European winter, warm clothes are a must, as is a good jacket, sturdy shoes, a warm hat, a scarf and gloves.

river cruise in europe
Image supplied by CroisiEurope

What will the dress code be on the ship?

Generally, river cruises have a more relaxed dress code than ocean liners. In fact, on most river cruises, no formal wear is required at all.

Men are advised to pack a nice pair of slacks that can be worn casually during the day, or with a nice shirt or jacket in the evening. Although not required, some men might feel more comfortable wearing a jacket while travelling with a luxury cruise operator. To change it up, you can accompany your slacks with a couple of comfortable dress shirts and some t-shirts or long-sleeve shirts for daywear. Most importantly, don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes such as leather walking shoes that can be dressed up with a button-down shirt.

Ladies should take a smart casual approach for footwear and pack at least one pair of shoes that are appropriate for dinner. Packing black pants is a great tip, so you can dress them up with a few evening pieces, or you can wear them casually during the day. Light summer items such as long pants, shorts and skirts are easy enough to pack and are versatile options to have on hand.

To keep away the cold, a light sweater or jacket will be perfect for the evenings. Keep your wardrobe limited to just two or three colours so that you can easily swap around outfits. Or, if you’re a colourful dresser, then go for it and pack a suitcase full of rainbow outfits! If you’re a savvy packer, you should be able to squeeze all of the above items into a carry-on bag.

Another essential tip for the ladies is to pack a light scarf to cover shoulders when visiting some religious sites. At many Catholic and Orthodox churches in Europe, it’s considered as a sign of respect to cover your shoulders upon entering.

One thing to keep in mind: some cruise lines have a no-jeans, no-shorts policy for dinner, so check before you sail.

What to Pack for a River Cruise in Europe

What activities will I need to prepare for?

While cruising used to have a stereotype as being an option for travellers who don’t like to do much at all, many ships these days cater for all kinds of guests and even carry bicycles on board for guests to use! Active programs are growing in popularity for most cruises, and a gym may even be available, so activewear is a must if you’re planning on working out on vacation.

Having said this, what is absolutely essential, are comfortable walking shoes. Many European cities have historical centres riddled with romantic, winding, cobblestoned streets which are a highlight of any European trip. Each day you’ll be stopping to explore new cities or small towns, and you’d hate to have to skip that because of a poor shoe choice, so pack wisely!

Also, many ships have a swimming pool or jacuzzi onboard, so if the season is right, don’t forget your swimsuit and slip-on shoes, plus any other poolside essentials such as a hat and sunscreen.

What to pack for a river cruise in Europe

Will I need a day bag?

While on board, you won’t need to carry much more than your cruise card and perhaps your phone if you wish. A small clutch or an over the shoulder bag is perfect for most day-to-day activities. While a backpack might seem like the logical choice for when you’re out and about, these can easily become a target for pickpockets. A tote bag is a great alternative, which will fold away when you’re not using it.

river cruise - inside
Image supplied by CroisiEurope

What other essentials should I pack besides clothing?

Make sure you pack an adaptor or power converter to charge your electronics. Most ships have both 110v & 220v outlets onboard, but it would be best to check before leaving to make sure you’re prepared. Don’t forget to pack some reading material or a kindle if you intend to lounge on the sundeck while sailing to your next destination.

Of course, you need to ensure you’ve packed your travel documents including your passport, flight itinerary and confirmation of any additional hotel booking information. Don’t forget to also have emergency numbers of all family members home and travel insurance information with you also.

How much luggage can I pack?

Less is more. Accommodation is tight on most river cruise ships, so keep that in mind when packing your luggage. Stateroom storage space is minimal and your suitcase will have to fit under the bed, so a medium size piece is a much better choice than a larger suitcase. Most closets are quite small and drawer space is limited, but if you’ve packed smart, you should find the storage space to be just right.

What to pack for a river cruise in Europe

Will there be washing facilities on my river cruise?

There are usually laundry services available onboard which, while usually pricey, are well worth budgeting for halfway through your trip. Some cruises even offer a complimentary service!

What to leave at home

  • Do not pack your computer if you can help it. Unless you’re expecting to work on the trip, your smartphone should be sufficient for the occasional Facebook status update or Instagram post. Satellite internet onboard is much slower than on land, and streaming videos on Youtube can be difficult. Try to limit your use of technology and enjoy the sailing experience one day at a time!
  • Forget about packing a fancy wardrobe. Yes, river cruises try to maintain a classy atmosphere, but everyone understands that the priority is to explore the ports of call. Leave your high heels and dress shoes behind and take flats instead. Just remember; comfort is everything.
  • Don’t worry about packing an outfit for every day of your trip. If you really need to, you can always hand-wash single items in your stateroom, or pay for laundry service onboard. Remember, pack a few accessories and you can create a brand new outfit daily by wearing virtually the same clothes!
  • Leave your hairdryer at home. Many of the major river cruise lines supply this for you. 

Did you find this artilce helpful? Share in the comments below any packing tips or tricks to other travellers can read and enjoy!

Finally settled down in Vienna after 9 years of leading tours in Europe, Leona first joined TourRadar in 2016. She speaks four languages and enjoys cooking authentic traditional recipes, walking in the hills around Vienna and arranging beer coasters so they're all facing the same way.

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