What to Pack for a Europe River Cruise in Any Season

You’ve planned your Europe river cruise, but you’re not sure of how and what to pack. Maybe you’re wondering about the weather for a Christmas Markets river cruise, formal nights or simply the best way to pack. What electronics and accessories should you pack?

Here are some tips that have helped me to prepare and pack for river cruises in Europe. I hope my packing advice will help you prepare for your Europe river cruise, too. 

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How to Pack for a Europe River Cruise

Whether you’re going for 10 days or one month, pack as though you’ll only be gone for a week. There’s always someplace to do laundry, even if it means paying $25 for a bag of laundry and have the ship do it.

After all, you’ve spent at least $4,000 per person for this cruise…what’s another $25 when you consider the advantages.

A lot of frequent travelers (me, too!) swear by packing cubes. I like a light color and a mesh top so I don’t have to unzip it to see what’s inside.
Packing cubes are terrific, especially if you’ll stay at several hotels during your trip. Cubes make it so much easier to find little items like socks and underwear. Just like a toiletry kit, they help to keep everything organized and together. Again, be sure that the top of the cubes are mesh. It’s nearly pointless if you have to unzip each one to see what’s inside.

Should you pack an umbrella? All river ships have umbrellas for their guests to use in port. Keep in mind, these are not tiny umbrellas and can be cumbersome. Perhaps pack your own collapsible umbrella just in case you’re staying in Europe before or after your cruise.

Depending upon your river ship, cabins may be a bit smaller than a typical ocean cruise ship stateroom. There’ll be ample room under the beds to stash your unpacked bags, but countertop and closet space as well as bathroom vanity space can be limited. Consider an over-the-door hanging shoe rack. Great for stowing bits of loose items in each shoe compartment and folds flat when it’s time to re-pack.

What Luggage Should I Use? 

If you’re still dragging a two-wheeled suitcase behind you, it’s time to upgrade your luggage to a four-wheeled spinner suitcase. It’s like a suitcase with power steering.

You don’t have to spend a fortune for an American-made Tumi or German-engineered Rimowa set of luggage. Inexpensive French-made Delsey has some of the most lightweight luggage anywhere, is exceptionally roomy and offered in a variety of colors and models.

Luggage that weighs around 10lbs. or less, like Delsey, is ideal. If the bag or online description doesn’t state the weight, you can always find it online at the luggage brand’s website.

I always travel with my 19″ small carry-on with easy front access to my laptop. 

For overhead airline bins or if you decide to travel around Europe by train, this lightweight 19” suitcase will be easy to hoist overhead, toss quickly onto luggage racks or stash behind back-to-back seating on trains. 

This is the other suitcase that I use; a 25” larger carry-on.  I can roll this down the aisle on trains, through train stations, over cobblestone streets with no problem.I’ve also turned these two cases back to back, matched up the handles and wheeled both together with only one hand. These two cases have been with me for eight years, on and off trains, ships and buses around the world. 

Now that you know the type of luggage and packing cubes to get, focus to keep the contents as lightweight as possible. Airline requirements aside, it’s never any fun to begin your vacation with a wrenched shoulder or stiff neck.

What Type of Clothes Will I Need? 

It all depends on the time of year for your river cruise. That sounds obvious, but there can be challenges, especially if you plan to travel a bit before or after your cruise. If you’re taking a Tulip Time river cruise from Amsterdam, it can be chilly in early spring. A summer departure from Budapest can be very warm.

A Grand European river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam (or reverse) takes you through several countries, all of which could have their own weather-related issues.


The weather on a spring or fall Europe river cruise can be unpredictable. Early spring can bring chilly winds that rush down the river or bright blue cloudless skies to make a walk on the sun deck totally enjoyable. Fall cruises can be chilly and drizzly or totally gorgeous autumn days. You just never know. So it’s important be able to dress in layers no matter what the season.


These cruises deserve their own how-to dress information. River cruises on the Rhine from late November and onward can be quite chilly if not altogether cold. Gray days can prevail, but sunny days are not out of the question.

Be prepared with hats, warm scarves, gloves and a lightweight coat made for colder weather. To use my iPhone and still keep my hands frost-free, I have these exact Isotoner gloves. They’re designed for use with touchscreens.

Everyone in Europe loves their leather boots, so feel free to bring yours along or buy a special pair in Germany. I’ve also bought a winter coat in Amsterdam when I realized that my light coat from home just wouldn’t be warm enough.

Some devout spring and fall river cruisers bring silk undergarments and then layer with thin clothing like cotton tops for women and long-sleeve pullovers for men. A flannel-lined water-repellent windbreaker or lightweight parka (that you wear from home) plus hat and gloves are a good idea, too. Even for spring and fall, bring one warm scarf to tuck inside your jacket. Add a few dressier, thin scarves too, for a quick way to change an outfit.


Keep it simple. Unlike on an ocean cruise, there are no formal nights on a river cruise. The dressiest it gets is the Captain’s Farewell Dinner on the last night. Men sometimes wear a sport coat over a collared shirt or turtleneck T. Some women opt for a sparkly top and a nice pair of pants…but that’s about it. During the day, it’s all about comfort.

Blend in. Keep your white sneakers, USA-emblazoned baseball caps and neon clothing at home. While extremely stylish, Europeans dress mostly in dark colors year round. It’s quite common to see both men and women wearing a beautifully-colored scarf to add a bit of punch to a drab outfit.

Build your cruise wardrobe around one central color scheme, whether brown, black or charcoal. Pieces that you can mix and match will make your life so much easier. Seriously, no one will notice if you wear the same outfit twice.

Shoes to Pack for a River Cruise

All European river cruise require some amount of walking, much of which is on cobblestones. Ancient ruins aren’t equipped with elevators. Don’t bring your new pair of walking shoes unless you’ve spent time at home breaking them in for your trip.

Women can leave their high heels at home too. Generally, three pairs of shoes works fine. One pair of walking shoes – preferable not white, dressy low-heeled shoes in black, and a pair of black or dark colored flats.

Almost every river cruise line gives passengers slippers to wear so you can leave yours at home. 

Will My Valuables Be Safe?

Except for wedding rings or something that doesn’t scream “steal me”, leave the good stuff at home. ALWAYS keep your carry-on bag with you. If a crew member or someone at the pier offers to help you up the gangway, tag right along side of them. Don’t let your carry-on out of your sight.

After all, your carry-on bag has your meds, vitamins, travel documents, makeup etc. Your passport should either be on you in a hidden pouch or in a deep zippered compartment in your zippered cross-body bag that’s worn in front of you. 

Electronic Devices and Accessories

Newer river ships have multiple electric outlets in both 220 and 110 voltage. USB outlets can be found on the desk as well as bedside on the newest of river ships. 

If you’ll be cruising on a ship that’s more than four or five years old, a small lightweight travel adapter for Europe would be a good idea if you have a lot of devices to charge. 

It doesn’t convert your hair dryer to 110 voltage, but your river cruise line or hotel will provide hair dryers. 

A nice perk on all river cruises is free wifi. So yes, you can bring your iPhone, iPad and MacBook and it’ll almost feel like home.

I just ordered the new Kindle Oasis. It’s taken me awhile to get used to reading from a device rather than an actual book. For travel, though, this is the way to go. The new Kindle Oasis is the size of a paperback book but super-thin and you can even “turn” the pages like a real book.
If a new camera is on your river cruise shopping list, it’s a good idea to take it for a few test runs before leaving home. Plus, if there’s anything wrong with it, you can exchange it at home.

Be sure to buy an extra camera battery or regular batteries. Also, extra SD cards for your camera. Don’t take a chance of losing all your photos with a non-brand name SD card.

Recap of How and What to Pack

Now you should have a good idea of how and what to pack for a European river cruise. To recap:

  • Get lightweight, four-wheel spinner luggage.
  • Leave valuable jewelry at home.
  • Pack only enough clothes for one week.
  • Dress like a European – dark colors to mix and match with pretty scarves.
  • Bring already-broken-in walking shoes.
  • Electric adapters, devices and cameras
  • Know and practice how to use your new camera or Kindle
  • Keep your carry-on bag with you at all times during travel connections.

Back to River Cruise FAQs

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  1. Thank you for a very informative reading. We are doing our 1st river cruise ever after over 32 cruises on main line ships.
    This is a bucket list for me on Viking Christmas tours. Looking forward to December, 2022.

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