Packing for a River Cruise in Europe
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Ooh lucky you! Going on a river cruise in Europe! Whether you are navigating the Danube or the Rhine you might be wondering what to pack for a European river cruise.
Europe is currently the world’s most popular destination for river cruises. The Rhine, flowing through the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, and the Danube, which passes through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria are both common destinations for European river cruises. Other popular rivers for cruising include the Douro in Portugal and the Seine, Rhone and Volga. There are lots of rivers and cruises to choose from in Europe! And if you are still trying to decide whether a river cruise is right for you, check these 10 reasons to go!
Here are some helpful hints and tips to assist you in deciding what to bring with you on your river cruise and what you can leave at home.
What to Pack for a River Cruise in Europe
A Europe river cruise usually means many days packed with excursions interspersed with some relaxing times onboard the boat watching the shores pass by.
The excursions call for sturdy walking shoes, and comfortable clothing that can be layered. On your river cruise shore excursions you might be exploring a historic town, going for a bike ride, or wine tasting – even all three in one day! So comfortable clothes are a must.
What to wear on a river cruise in Europe in July will differ from what to wear on a Rhine river cruise in October. You are probably taking your cruise in the spring, summer or fall, as this is the season when most cruises are available. But some of the best deals are in winter for Europe’s Christmas markets so you may be planning that too! I’ll give you a few tips for every season. Click here to download a printable river cruise packing list for all seasons.
In the spring and fall weather can be variable. You might have rain and clouds one moment and perfect sunny skies a few hours later. The next day might bring thunderstorms and cold winds, or humidity and heat. Honestly, this is true in summer as well. The best advice is one you’ve heard before: bring layers.
The perfect clothing for shore excursions in spring and fall might be light and breathable layers next to your skin, topped by a sweater. Have a warm jacket handy for those cold and windy days, and for shore excursions to higher elevations and northern latitudes. In the summer you will want to wear light breathable layers but still have those warmer options available in case the temperature drops.
Coats & Jackets to Pack for a Europe River Cruise
A cute raincoat or waterproof shell might be wise to bring, although your cruise will likely provide umbrellas. The rain can blow sideways though! Here are some nice raincoats you might like:
- This awesome waterproof trench coat by La Selva from REI comes in two colors and is perfectly stylish while still being practical. The belt cinches you in at the waist and the coat hits a flattering mid thigh height. It comes with an added hood to keep your head dry in a sudden downpour. It comes in black and light grey for lots of styling options. Click here to find your size and for price information.
- A super flattering jacket by Columbia comes in several colors including this sunny yellow would come in handy on those grey rainy spring days. The belt makes it stylish and attractive and the hood protects your head from raindrops. It is available in plus size from 1x-3x, and regular XS-L here too.
- The Splash a Little rain jacket from Columbia is lightweight and flattering, and is available in several colors. You can cinch it at the waist or leave it straight. It also has a hood for those extra rainy days. Check it out here.
For cruises in cooler weather you might want to bring a warm down or insulated coat. Here are a few cute options for warm coats:
- North Face Thermoball: A lightweight but warm down jacket with full zip. It also comes in lots of colors.
- North Face Inlux: An insulated jacket with a layer of fleece to keep you warm in the wind.
- Columbia Flash Forward: This down jacket comes in a huge range of colors and has a hood.
In the early spring and late fall, a warm hat could also come in handy, as well as gloves and a scarf. You might not need them daily but it is nice to have them in your luggage just in case.
What to wear on a European river cruise? Don’t worry about bringing dressy clothes for most daytime excursions unless you plan on doing fancy meals or activities while on shore. Since many river cruises dock at night you can possibly leave the boat for a special dinner on land. You might like more formal attire for dinners onboard your river cruise, but typically river cruises are not as dressy as ocean going cruises. Check with your ship to find out the specific cruise dinner attire. Men may want to pack a suit or only a jacket. Women may want a fancy gown or cocktail dress for gala dinners. In general however, smart casual or business casual is about as dressy as you will ever need to be on a European river cruise.
You don’t want to worry about rumpled clothing on your cruise, so look for fabrics that are wrinkle resistant. The staff onboard will often press clothes for you if needed but irons are often not available for passenger use due to fire hazards.
Be sure to bring a small backpack or tote of some kind to carry extra clothing layers, camera, souvenirs, snacks and water with you on excursions. This one is ultra-lightweight and packs down into a small pouch when you are not using it.
Traveling in Europe, especially in larger cities like Paris and London, you may want to have a cross body purse to hold your belongings while keeping your hands free. Anti-theft bags are popular as they have features like cut-proof materials and locking zippers that prevent would-be-thieves from snatching your stuff. Click here to see some of the top anti-theft travel purses.
7 Day European River Cruise Packing List for Women
Let’s get packing for a European river cruise!
- Jacket (warm jacket for spring and fall, lightweight shell for summer)
- 2-3 pairs of jeans or pants
- 5 tops, one of which is long sleeve and 1-2 that are dressier
- 2 dresses or skirts, plus tights in fall and spring
- 2-3 sweaters or sweatshirts depending on the season
- scarf (lightweight in summer, warm in early spring and late fall)
- 5-7 pairs of underwear
- 5 pairs of socks
- 1 or 2 bras
- workout clothing like leggings and sports bra for hikes or active excursions
- 2-3 pairs of shoes – check out these awesome walking shoes & boots for Europe
- cross-body purse or backpack – check out these 10 anti theft travel purses
- accessories like sunglasses, jewelry
Best Shoes for a Europe River Cruise
Whether you are on a relaxed river cruise or luxury cruise the best cruise excursions might have you walking a lot on cobblestone streets. Bring comfortable walking shoes. In the summer you might want sandals, check out these comfortable options. Spring calls for light but still comfortable footwear and fall might warrant walking boots.
I would recommend bringing at least 2 pairs of shoes on a river cruise. One comfortable pair for excursions and one for wearing onboard the boat. The shoes for excursions should be excellent for walking on all sorts of terrain from cobblestones to dirt paths. Something with a soft grippy sole is best. If you expect a lot of rainy weather you might want to look for something waterproof too. Check out these walking boots and shoes.
Onboard you can choose to be more fashionable with cute sandals, boots or flats. If you like wearing heels you can bring them, otherwise leave the stilettos at home. Again, the river cruise dress code is typically more casual than many ocean cruises.
In the summer you want want to bring one or two pairs of sandals. Check out these walking sandals for Europe in summer.
Packing Light for a River Cruise in Europe
You might think it’s crazy to only bring five pairs of underwear and socks for more than a week but I’ve done this on many trips.
If you want to pack light I would recommend bringing a few items as possible and planning to wash them. I always hand wash my clothing in the sink and hang it to dry overnight. As long as you have at least three pairs of underwear that’s fine. If you feel like bringing more, underwear is small so it shouldn’t take up too much space.
While generally river cruises do not have self serve laundry facilities onboard they usually provide laundry service, sometimes for a fee. Check with your particular cruise company for details. You can hand wash small items like underwear and socks in the room sink and hang them to dry in your shower area. There are often pull out drying lines in the cabin bathrooms.
If you really do not want to fuss with laundry and hand-washing on your cruise, bring a few extra pairs of underwear and socks for peace of mind.
As far as the amount of luggage you should bring on your river cruise, I urge you to pack as light as possible. It is smart to bring one regular sized suitcase per person. After you unpack, the suitcases can usually be stored under the bed. Compression packing cubes like these can help you fit more in your luggage and stay organized.
If you plan to travel in Europe by train before or after your cruise remember that you will need to lug your suitcases on and off the train as well as through the station and maybe over hilly cobblestone streets. I urge you to pack as lightly as possible, as dragging multiple heavy suitcases is not fun.
Packing for a River Cruise: Toiletries
Most river cruise cabins are small, without a lot of room for luggage. And the bathroom counter space is also limited. So bring only the essentials. Carry your toiletries and makeup in a handy tote like this one that clips onto a towel rack or door handle for easy access.
Days on the water might call for sunscreen and insect repellant in the summertime. Of course you should also pack other toiletries as well that you would need on a vacation like toothbrush and toothpaste, painkillers, bandaids, antibiotic ointment, hand sanitizer, tweezers, nail clippers, and glasses or contacts if you wear them.
I definitely recommend bringing any allergy medicines or cold medicines you might need. These are difficult to get in Europe without a prescription.
River cruises typically don’t cause motion sickness like ocean voyages do as the waters are flat with no waves. If you are prone to motion sickness it is a good idea to pack medicine just in case, you might want it for tour bus rides more than the river cruising. Many people recommend the motion sickness patch or the Sea-Bands bracelet.
River cruise ships usually have small hairdryers available, so you probably will not need to pack those. Check with your cruise line to be sure.
Things to Bring on a River Cruise: Photo Gear, Electronics & Gadgets
The shore excursions and river views will have you snapping photos like crazy. So be sure to pack your favorite camera gear. Of course you can also shoot photos with your smartphone. If you are looking for a new compact camera, these top options below might be worth considering. Click the images below for more info and reviews.
River cruise boats in Europe typically have the 110V USA style outlets as well as 220v two pronged EU plug onboard. If you don’t already have one, an adapter plug is a must if you are coming from abroad. It will be useful on the boat as well as if you are staying in a hotel before or after your cruise. Frequent travelers may want to invest in a universal travel adapter like this one that works in almost any country in the world.
If you travel with a lot of electronics like I do, you might want to consider an adapter with multi USB ports like this one to make the most of the outlets in your cabin.
A small backpack is ideal to carry your camera, clothing layers, snacks and water with you on shore excursions. This one is ultra-lightweight and packs down into a small pouch to fit in your luggage. Speaking of luggage, check out our article on what luggage to bring on a cruise.
Whether you were wondering what to pack for a Viking river cruise or the Scenic Tours river cruises dress code, I hope these river cruise packing tips help you get prepared for your wonderful vacation. All aboard and enjoy!
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