What to Pack (and What Not to) for a River Cruise in Europe


You might think that packing for a river cruise is no different from that of a regular cruise, but actually, what you bring with you when sailing Europe’s waters is something of a fine art.

In some ways, there’s more freedom – there are no formal nights on river cruises – but with changeable weather, smaller rooms, and shore excursions to prepare for, it’s more than a case of chucking some clothes in your bag and being done with it.

From daily dress codes and holiday essentials to seasonal wear and what to leave at home, we’ll run down what you need to pack for your next European river cruise.

Shot of an attractive young woman spending the day on her private yacht

Is there a dress code on river cruises?

The beauty of a river cruise is that, when it comes to dress codes, things are far more relaxed. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that there isn’t really a set dress code. Even higher-end lines like Scenic aren’t overly choosy in the way they’d like guests to dress. That means there’s no need for men to suit-up at dinner, and ladies can forego dresses and high heels in the evening.

Think of a river cruise as like a city break on water. It’s a good rule of thumb with which to guide what you wear during your holiday. It’s largely smart casual, but comfort is also a priority. In fact, many previous river cruisers say they often feel over-dressed on their first river cruise. Err on the side of smart casual and you’ll be fine.

Packed vintage suitcase for summer holidays, vacation, travel and trip. Retro toning.

Practical things to pack

Power strips/converters

River cruise staterooms tend to be smaller, and only have one outlet as a result, so bring along a power strip if you need to charge lots of electrical items. Additionally, it’s worth contacting the cruise company to ask about their outlet info – you might need to pack a converter if they have different outlets from what you’re used to.

A thermos or plastic bottle

Though some river cruises will deliver water to your stateroom each morning and offer bottled water on selected excursions, it’s well worth bringing a water bottle with you for when you’re in port, especially when the sun’s beating down on you.

Insect repellent

Fleets of mosquitoes, flies and midges love to surround themselves with cool water and verdant shrubbery. Avoid those pesky swarms and keep some insect repellent close to hand whether you’re in port or relaxing on the top deck.

Rain accessories

Even during the summer months, the weather in central Europe can be temperamental. The last thing you want is to have your wine-tasting on the Rhône diluted by a sudden spot of rain. Better to be on the safe side; pack a small umbrella, windbreaker or a rain poncho so you can enjoy yourself and stay dry when the heavens open.

Walking shoes

There are always a few people who forget to bring appropriate shoes with them on holiday. Don’t be caught out by this common footwear folly; you’ll more than likely be doing a lot of walking around old cobblestone streets, so you’ll need some hefty, thick-soled shoes to see you through some of the more hard-going jaunts.

Ear plugs

Since most river cruises have to travel at night, a pair or two of ear plugs are pretty much essential for light sleepers and those easily disturbed by noise.

 Cruise Ship, Cruise Liners On Hardanger fjorden, Norway

What to wear in which season?

The seasons are a big factor when it comes to deciding what to pack and then wear while you’re onboard, more so when you consider that the weather can change at a moment’s notice, especially during spring and autumn.

We’ve already mentioned bringing along things for wet weather so downfalls don’t put a dampener on your holiday, but it’s also a good idea to pack warm clothing if there’s a cold snap – toasty pullovers and fleeces are always a good idea. Layer up so you take certain items off if things warm up.

Generally, if the weather’s nice, men can make do with button-up shirts, polos, slacks and shorts, without the need to change into something smarter during evening meals. If you do feel under-dressed, bring along a blazer or sports coat. Ties can be kept at home. Dress shoes are a good idea, but through the day you’ll either be wearing walking shoes or something more casual like loafers or boat shoes.

Women should opt for floaty summer dresses, light tops, capris and cropped trousers, while a chic cocktail dress will work a charm when dining out in the evening. On the feet, a comfortable pair of flats (aside from your walking boots, of course) will work just fine

When cruising during the colder months, be sure to bring warm parkas, jumpers and thermal socks to keep the chill at bay. On your feet, weatherproof footwear and large boots are essential, especially if you’re wandering around Christmas markets. A tip if you’re buying new footwear whatever the season – be sure to break them in before you go on holiday; you don’t want blisters forming when you’re traipsing around the Rhine’s picturesque buildings, for example.

woman wearing a blanket because it is cold after sunset taking an image with her smartphone on a greek island

What to leave at home?


You’re on holiday! Leave the laptop at home and let go. If you’re in desperate need of updating your Facebook status to let your friends know you’re enjoying yourself, you can do that on a smartphone or use an onboard computer if you so wish. 

Overly formal clothing

As we’ve said, anything too stuffy is going to make you stand out, and not in a good way. Besides, the focus on a river cruise is exploring new cities and locations once you’re in port. Tuxes, heels and big dresses can stay at home – not only is there no need, but these chunky items can take up a fair bit of space in your luggage. That said, check with your line if they have a no-jeans, no-shorts policy at dinner. 

An outfit for every day of the trip

If you’re on a cruise that’s longer than a week, then there’s no need to pack an outfit for every day of that trip. Recycle your clothing as needed, and pack some travel detergent or use the onboard laundry service if you’re really worried about things getting messy after more than one wear.

Beach towels

Towels are usually provided in your stateroom, or you can grab some by the pool when you’re leaving the ship for excursions.

Hair dryer

For the most part, the major river cruise companies will supply you with a hair-dryer. If your stateroom doesn’t have one, see if you can borrow one from housekeeping.

For about Cruise1st’s range of river cruises, head over to our dedicated river cruise page.

What to Pack (and What Not to) for a River Cruise in Europe
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What to Pack (and What Not to) for a River Cruise in Europe
From daily dress codes and holiday essentials to seasonal wear and what to leave at home, we’ll run down what you need to pack for your next European river cruise.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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