Are you wondering what to wear on a river cruise in Europe? In this guide we let you know about river cruise dress codes and put together the ultimate river cruise packing list to make sure you are prepared for everything a European River Cruise required.
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Tips on how to pack for a River Cruise in Europe
Pack a River Cruise Capsule Wardrobe
When you are thinking about packing for a river cruise in Europe there are a few things that you need to take into consideration.
Firstly the first thing I think it is important to mention is that river cruise cabins tend to be much smaller than their ocean going counterparts. And let’s be honest these aren’t big either!
Therefore it is really important to pack light and sensibly to make sure you don’t overpack and take over your stateroom with luggage and clothing.
We therefore recommend putting together a capsule wardrobe for river cruises. By only taking a capsule wardrobe you actually end up packing less but getting more outfits out of the items you take with you.
One of the ways I achieve a capsule wardrobe for cruises is by sticking to a colour palette so that all my items become interchangeable.
My go to color palette tends to be navy, white and beige but this is just personal preference and you could go with something brighter or darker depending on the season and your personal style preferences.
For tips on how to pack a capsule wardrobe generally without having to worry about laundry service check out the below posts:
What is the best luggage for a river cruise?
We also recommend taking the smallest luggage you can possibly get away with. For instance if you can do carry on only that is great but if not we recommend taking soft sided luggage like this as it is easier to store under your bed or in the wardrobe.
Overall I would say the smaller the luggage the better for a river cruise.
Use Packing Cubes and Space Savers
Now that you know what type of luggage to take on a river cruise we recommend using packing cubes in that luggage.
Packing cubes help save space as you are packing and also help you stay organised when you have limited space. We wouldn’t leave home without our Amazon Basic Packing Cubes.
We also use storage hangers in the wardrobe and hanging toiletry bags to save space on river cruises.
Leave the linen at home
Irons and clothes steamers are on the what not to pack for a cruise list as both are prohibited items. Be sure not to pack anything that gets too creased as it is difficult and expensive to get things pressed.
However if you do decide to pack linen be sure to check out our guide on how to pack linen to prevent wrinkles.
Pack breathable fabrics
River cruises in Europe in summer can be hot places. Be sure to take breathable fabrics with you as you don’t want to feel sweaty all day.
I really don’t think you can beat merino wool in both summer and Winter. This fabric repels smell, and can be both breathable and insulating making it a great pick no matter when you are taking your river cruise.
Pack some more modest clothing
Although Europe is a liberal place some of the sites you will be visiting on a European river cruise will be religious sights.
As such you will be expected to dress modestly and be respectful of the religion. Therefore having at least one outfit where your shoulders and knees are covered is an essential.
For more information on what to wear to religious sites in Europe check out these posts:
I always pack a pashmina when I am traveling in Europe as this is another great way of ensuring modesty in hot weather and will also double up with lots of evening outfits.
European River Cruise Dress Code considerations
So now you know some of our tips for how to pack for a river cruise, we will turn our attention to some of the river cruise dress codes you need to consider:
What are river cruise dress codes like?
Whenever we talk about cruises the first questions we get asked is what are cruise dress codes like. I think that is because people have visions of the 1920s ocean going liners and getting dressed for dinner.
And the truth is some ocean cruises still have strict dress code s – and some do not. However what about river cruise dress codes? What are they like?
Well the good news is that the river cruise dress codes tend to be a lot less formal than ocean going cruise ship dress codes. In fact I would say on some the dress code is actually quite casual which means you can leave the evening formal wear at home.
The main river cruise lines in Europe are:
- Viking River Cruise Dress Code
- Saga River Cruise Dress Code
- Emerald Waterways Cruise Dress Code
- Avalon Waterways
Each of these has slightly different river cruise dress code rules so check out our dedicated post.
What to wear on river cruise shore excursions?
River cruise excursions tend to be more city based such as markets especially if you are going on a river cruise in Europe in winter (check out the post for what to wear on a European river cruise in winter).
As such I would recommend wearing what you would do if you were on a city break in that place normally.
Check out some of our city posts for inspiration on what to wear in those cities:
But in essence I would say the key is comfort. There is lots of walking on river cruise excursions so having comfortable walking shoes is an absolute must.
I would also recommend packing clothes that are comfortable and breathable fabrics in case you are traveling during a heatwave in Europe.
What to wear on a river cruise formal night
This is a great question and actually the answer is that most river cruises don’t tend to have a formal night like ocean cruises.
Dress codes on river cruises even in the evening tend to be casual to smart casual and not everyone will change after a river cruise shore excursion.
Personally we always prefer to change for dinner but a sparkly top, or a blouse and smarter bottoms would be perfect – we will go into more detail in the next section.
Pack for the season
One of the things we love about a European River cruise is that they go at all times of year. But this does affect what you wear on a river cruise and it is really important to dress for the seasons. Some general guidance is
What to Wear on European River Cruise in Summer
If you are traveling on a European River Cruise in summer it is especially important to havre lightweight breathable fabrics. However you can still get rain and cold evenings in summer so pack some layers and also a packaway rain jackets
What to Wear on European River Cruise in Spring
If you are doing a river cruise in the spring in Europe be aware that the weather can be extremely changeable and you are likely to experience rain.
As such be sure to bring plenty of water proof and water resistance clothing as well as layers for the colder days and nights.
What to Wear on a Winter river cruise
River Cruising in Europe in Winter can be cold wet and requires a completely different packing list. Therefore please check out our what to wear on a river cruise in winter and out what to wear on a river cruise to Christmas markets posts for further information.
What to Wear on European River Cruise in Fall
Similar to cruising in Spring, doing a river cruise in Fall can have extremely changeable and wet weather. Therefore it is always a good idea to take water proof and water proof clothing, a good umbrella and plenty of lightweight layers with you. Also a pair of boots instead of sandals will be helpful.
What to wear on a Rhine River Cruise
There are two main types of river cruises in Europe. A Rhine River Cruise and a Danube River cruise. As these river cruises take in different locals, the packing list for a Rhine River cruise is slightly different to a Danube river cruise.
Rhine River Cruises usually start in Amsterdam and will take in cities along the Rhine such as Cologne in Germany, Strasbourg in France and Basel in Switzerland. These places are often more practical so you will want coats appropriate for the weather, t shirts, blouses and some sensible and comfortable walking shoes.
Also if you plan to do a bicycle tour in Amsterdam, be sure to have some shoes with a thick low heel.
What to wear on a Danube River Cruise
A Danube River Cruise on the other hand usually starts and end in cities such as Vienna and Budapest. And will usually take in some German cities such as Nuremberg.
In Vienna, some of the key attractions will see people opting for more smart casual dress codes however generally speaking a casual outfit is fine for daytimes on Danube River cruises.
And again, comfortable walking shoes are the most essential thing on your packing list no matter where you are traveling to.
What to Wear on a River Cruise in Europe
So now you know everything you need to consider, we will turn our attention to our river cruise packing list which will help you pack effectively whether you are a first-time river cruiser or a seasoned cruiser.
Note: This what to wear on a river cruise in Europe for women does not include a men’s packing list. Check out this what to wear on a river cruise in Europe for men post for more information.
In my opinion T shirts are the most versatile item you can take with you on a river cruise no matter the time of year you are cruising.
T shirts are a great breathable and comfy option for summer that pair with any type of bottom and for those traveling in winter they are a great base layer.
T shirts can also be dressed up with a bold piece or jewellery to transition a day time look into a night time one.
Although the dress codes on river cruises do not dictate that you have to change for dinner and on some of the more busy itinerary days you may find you don’t have time to change. ;
However when I can we always do change. A blouse is the perfect evening wear item for a river cruise as it provides a but more coverage which can protect from mosquitos and can take a casual look into the smart casual realm.
I would also add one sparkly or dressier top if you want to get dressed up one evening for dinner.
Trousers / Shorts / Skirt
I would pack at least one of each the above for a week long river cruise in Europe to give myself plenty of options for changeable weather.
I personally would only pack jeans for spring, Fall and winter river cruises as I find jeans in Europe in summer toon hot but this is a very personal choice. I would replace this with an extra pair of shorts or a skirt for a summer river cruise packing list.
Otherwise you can’t go wrong with a pair of black pants for Europe. Ee love the Athleta Brooklyn ankle pant for travel currently.
And skirt wise, I like to have a midi or maxi skirt. These can be worn even in churches in Europe which makes them most versatile. However for embarking / disembarking a river cruise I would try and avoid any skirts that drag on the floor.
Just remember if you are planning to visit a religious site that at least one of your bottoms covers your knees so you aren’t refused entry or have to buy something to get inside.
Pack Away Rain Jacket
Rain is possible at any time of year in Europe but particularly when traveling outside of summer. You won’t want to take up lots of room with bulky jackets so get a pack away rain jacket.
Note if you are cruising in winter check out our other posts for what types of coats and jackets to take.
Cardigan / layers
Evenings on a river cruise can get chilly and there can even be some cool days. Therefore we recommend having a couple of cardigans or sweaters with you including one that is slightly smarter for evenings.
If you are traveling outside of summer you will want to add some more sweaters and jumpers to your packing list.
Pashminas are my number one travel item wherever I go but especially for river cruises.
Pashminas are great to add an extra layer if you get cold or are somewhere air conditioned and can act to provide a bit modesty for when you are visiting cultural or religious sites where required.
If you are traveling to Europe in summer be sure to pack lightweight pjs especially if you stay includes days before or after your cruise. Many European hotels don’t have air conditioning so make sure you stay cool.
Pack enough for every day of your trip – obviously. We recommend packing nude or flesh coloured underwear as this is most versatile. There is nothing worse than realising you have only have black bras and want to wear a white top.
It may surprise you to find that many river cruise ships have pools. It is worth checking your specific ship amenities before you pack swimwear and travel to see if yours has one.
And remember if your ship does not have a pool it may have a hot tubs, jacuzzi or a spa that you wish to use. If they do you will want to pack your swimwear with you.
Also it is worth noting that you will see all types of swimwear on cruises so pack a one piece of two piece, depending on what you feel most comfortable in.
Best Shoes for a River Cruise in Europe
Most river cruise excursions are walking tours and you can really rack up your step count in river cruise excursions in Europe. Also the terrains you will be walking over are often uneven i.e. cobblestone streets and uneven bridges. Therefore you need a shoe that can cope with these surfaces.
You also can’t go wrong with a plain white sneaker as they go with everything. One of my favorite pairs of white sneakers is the Adidas Cloud Foam shoes. However I would avoid wearing white sneakers on a river cruise in Winter as the terrain can be quite muddy and can spoil your shoes.
Just be sure that if you buy a new set of sneakers for a river cruise that you bed them in before you go as there is nothing worse than getting sore feet and blisters when you are traveling.
If you are traveling in summer and are worried sneakers will be too hot then a sandal is a great alternative. But as you will be doing so much walking you will want to ensure that whatever you pick has great arch support so you don’t hurt your back or feet.
Boots are great for if you are going on a river cruise in Fall, Spring or Winter. I would pack a pair of water resistance boots as a must for a river cruise during these seasons but make sure you do not pack thin heeled boots.
Many of the places you will be visiting on a river cruise will be very old cities that have lots of cobbled streets where thin heels can be a hazard for instance I always put thin heeled boots on my what not to wear in Amsterdam and what not to wear in Paris lists for this reason.
Instead chose thick heel boots, flatter boots or wedges.
For tips on how to pack boots in a suitcase check out this post.
What to pack for a river cruise (non Clothing)
Cross Body Anti Theft bag
Pickpockets are found anywhere that there are tourists but I find this is even more true in cities in Europe. Therefore you will want to protect yourself from pickpockets while on a river cruise and the sites you are visiting.
Out favourite pick pocket deterrent is to wear a cross body anti theft bag like this. I prefer these to a fanny pack as these can often mark you out as a tourist in Europe.
A Passport and/or identification is always required. On top of that remember also your travel insurance, vaccination certificates and visas as well as any other line or country specific documentation.
Mosquitos on river cruises are notorious. Mosquitos love water and they are attracted all around the rivers of Europe. Make sure you aren’t chewed alive by taking a good mosquito spray with feet with you.
Compact Travel Umbrella
Rain can happen even if you are traveling to Europe in the summer.
Pack any meds you need in your carry on and be sure to have prescriptions with you.
The contrast between the nice weather on a warm weather cruise with the cruise ship air conditioning is the perfect recipe for getting dry lips.
We always recommend packing lip balm that has an SPF so your lips are protected when on beach excursions etc. Again my favorite brand is Sun Bum. Click here to shop lip balm for cruise ships.
Although most ships provide toiletries I will always pack some on my own as I think they are better quality than those you get on board most cruise ships.
For more information on the best toiletries to bring on a cruise check out this post.
It is important to be sun safe whereever in the world you are cruising.
Many people find a lanyard is the best way to keep their cabin key safe and on them at all times on a cruise. You should keep your cruise card with you at all time as this acts as identification on board the ship and also as your payment method.
When looking for a cruise lanyard we think that the best ones are waterproof so can be used on shore excursions where you will be spending a lot of time in the water and can also be used to keep small amounts of cash and a government issued id.
Reusable Water bottle
You will be doing a lot of walking on river cruise excursions and it is good to stay hydrated. To stay healthy and save the environment we recommend always cruising with a travel water bottle.
And there are lots of great cruise themed water bottles out there too! Click here to shop reusable water bottles for travel.
Most new ships will have USB charging ports next to the bed however this is by no means on all ships. Don’t get caught out and take a charger with you and a spare cable.
Depending on where you are from, who you are sailing with and where you may need to take a travel adaptor with you to ensure that all your electronics will work.
I personally never travel anywhere without my trusty Universal travel adaptor that works in pretty much all locations.
What not to pack for a river cruise
So now you know what to pack for a river cruise, we thought it would be worthwhile pointing out the things that you should not pack for a river cruise.
You can bring these from home but if you want to save on luggage space and potentially do your trip with carry on only I recommend buying your toiletries on arrival if you will have time. Europe has great supermarkets and pharmacies where there are always decent selections of toiletries in the cities.
For a full list of what toiletries to pack for a cruise check out this post.
AS you don’t have any formal nights on a river cruise and given the pickpockets at tourist destinations expensive jewellery is better left at home.
Instead bring bold costume jewellery that can transition outfits from day to night.
But whatever jewelry you plan on packing, be sure to check out our guide on how to pack jewelry for travel without tangling.
Next Reads: Looking for more cruise related wardrobe and packing advice? Be sure to check out our cruise packing list guides:
- Cruise carryon packing list
- River Cruise Capsule wardrobe
- Can I take a corkscrew on a cruise
- Can I take a hairdryer on a cruise
- Can I take a straighteners on a cruise
- What are the best toiletries for cruises
Have you been on a European River Cruise? Where did you go and what did you wear? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments below.