What to Wear on a River Cruise

Dress code on a river cruise means “Leave the tux and gown at home.”

Strictly nice casual. That’s the dress code aboard a river cruise. Unlike formal nights on ocean cruises, river cruises are more about the destinations than onboard dress-up events.

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.

If you go in Spring or Fall

Weather on a spring or fall Europe or Columbia (USA) 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.

Summer river cruising

Mississippi river cruises in summer can be extremely hot and humid, more so than on the Rhine. Because you’ll be wearing very lightweight clothes for the Mississippi in summer, be sure to bring a sweater or wrap for the dining room, if temperature changes affect you.

Christmas market cruises in Europe

This category deserves its 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 a hat, warm scarf, gloves and a roomy yet lightweight coat made for colder weather. You may even end up buying a winter coat in Europe. Everyone in Europe loves their leather boots, so feel free to bring yours or buy a pair in Germany.

Some cold weather 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 wrap around your neck and tuck inside your jacket. Bring (or buy!) a few dressier, thin scarves too, for a quick way to change an outfit.

Look like a local

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. No one will notice if you wear the same outfit twice.

Bring the right shoes

All river cruise require some amount of walking, much of which is on cobblestones or nature parks. 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 or four pairs of shoes works fine; one good pair of broken-in 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 in their cabin so you can leave yours at home. Wear the slippers to the pool and leave your flip-flops at home.

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  1. Hi Patty,
    Thank you for reading my river cruise article. I hope you’ve read my review of Viking’s Grand European cruise, too. What a fabulous trip.

    For packing for your river cruise, especially in March, it’s going to be a bit chilly (though maybe 60s and sunny!)by the time you get to Amsterdam. Yes, I would pack as though it was a week-long cruise, except maybe for some extra underwear or socks so you don’t have to keep doing sink washes every few days! For the couple of dressier nights, you can get good use from a nice pair of black pants and 2-3 different tops with a couple of scarves. You can even buy a new scarf in different cities. For shoes, one pair of dressy shoes (not a super high heel), good walking shoes and a nice casual low shoe should be fine.

    Did you mean that you don’t use a backpack…or should you not use a backpack. I always use one, either black or dark navy, with a water bottle holder net on the side. I criss-cross the backpack straps onto the suitcase handle and that frees up a lot of weight. I’m not sure if Viking is doing guest laundry and I’m thinking they don’t but it’s worth the money if they do. Europeans dress nice and it’s good to not look too “American” if possible.

    In Amsterdam, anything goes…it’s very casual and you’d be fine in a nice pair of jeans. I’ve been in Amsterdam several times in April for Kukenhof flowers show and have always needed a puffy jacket, even when sunny. Those are great to have on a river cruise, especially on the Rhine where the wind can get pretty brisk from the North Sea. And they’re great for layering too.

    I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you need any more advice or suggestions or just have questions about the itinerary. Here’s my review of your trip: https://cruisemaven.com/viking-grand-european-tour-river-cruise-review-budapest-to-amsterdam/

    Thank you again for reading my blog and taking the time to ask your questions. Have a wonderful trip!

  2. Lve reading your blog! we are going on Viking Grand European Cruise in March 2023 for 20 days (2 days in Prague then Budapest to Amersterdam -staying 2 extra days in Amsterdam.

    I am so confused on what to pack–I am hoping you can help me out!

    Should I only pack for one week? or more? Don’t use a backpack? Etc 🙂

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