Packing Tips for a River Cruise: What to Bring and What to Leave Behind

Packing for a River Cruise: You’ve taken the plunge and reserved your river cruise, whether it be on the Rhine, the Danube, or one of the less well-known rivers on the continent. The important question now is: What should you carry for a river cruise?

Packing for a river trip is, in some ways, much simpler than packing for an ocean cruise. For example, there’s no formal evening, so there’s no need to haul around designer gowns and stilettos, or for the guys, suits and ties. On a river cruise, you’ll also be walking a lot, so if you can only buy one new item, make it the most comfortable shoes you can find and allow them some time to break in.

Packing for a River Cruise

Facts About Europe River Cruise
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First of all, you need to know that what you carry will depend on where you cruise. You’ll need different clothes and equipment for the Nile River in July than for the Rhine in November because of these differences.

Nonetheless, river cruises frequently take place in locations that don’t experience much ice or snow during the warmer months of the year. Heavy outerwear is usually not necessary. (Or at least not much of it; one day in early November, I was on a Tennessee River cruise and it snowed for many hours!)

Here’s what to bring so you can use the least amount of luggage possible

Lightweight stuffs

Layering is the secret to packing for a river cruise.

Certain rivers in Asia and Africa, like the Nile River in Egypt, have incredibly hot days (think 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above) and chilly nights.

In Europe, the weather in the late summer can sometimes be very variable. There were scorching days and rainy, chilly days during an early September river tour in the Netherlands. You’ll want to be able to remove and reapply layers for each of these locations.

If you must cover your shoulders and legs to enter places of worship like cathedrals, monasteries, and temples, layers are also practical.

Light scarves can be used to cover your head and face in hot or dusty conditions, as well as to cover your shoulders in places of worship. Vibrant scarves can also make a statement element for an evening ensemble while travelling.

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Packing many lightweight long- and short-sleeved T-shirts and a jacket, like an outdoor zip-up jacket or vest from Patagonia, will allow for the ideal layering. I usually pack a dark denim jacket so I can layer clothes. It looks fashionable and warm when paired with scarves and worn over T-shirts.

Daytime and nighttime attire that is casual

6 Best Cruise For Girls Trip, Cruise For Girls Trip
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Since river cruises include full days of on-land exploration, comfortable, loose clothes are essential.

On a river cruise, cargo trousers or shorts are a terrific idea, especially for well-liked walking and cycling excursions. The roomy pockets let you to store your phone, a slim wallet, sunscreen, and bug repellent, freeing up your hands for using a walking stick or a bicycle.

It may seem paradoxical, but even in the warmest summer months, it’s preferable to wear long sleeves while travelling to extremely hot locations in Southeast Asia, India, Egypt, the Amazon region, and Europe in August. This will save you from becoming sunburned.

Be ready for a range of temperatures by bringing breathable, light clothing. My spouse enjoys moisture-wicking shirts from Arcteryx and other similar brands, but I want lightweight cotton tops. Both types dry rapidly after hand washing and take up little room in luggage.

Bring a swimsuit if you want to take a dip on some of the more recent riverboats from companies like AmaWaterways and Scenic, as they often have tiny pools on deck.

Restaurants on river cruises are usually informal. Within limits, you can even wear your outfit from the afternoon’s excursions to supper. Jeans would be my choice for dinner attire instead of cargo shorts.

That being said, most people like to dress more elegantly for dinner, especially while taking river cruises around Europe, and pair it with a small, easily foldable jacket, scarf, or top. More often than not, travellers on more budget-conscious river cruise lines in Europe—like Uniworld and AmaWaterways—dress more formally in the evenings.

No river cruise service will ask you to pack flashy garments or suit jackets. But on river cruises in Europe and the Mississippi, I’ve seen guys in sport coats and ladies in cocktail dresses.


For trips that can involve long treks through cities in Europe and the United States or hiking on rocky pathways or dirt roads in more rural areas of India, Laos, Cambodia, and the Amazon, pack a pair of sturdy sneakers or light trekking shoes. Hiking boots with an alpine feel are not required.

You will need to take off your shoes before entering temples, so for river cruises in Southeast Asia and India, bring easy-to-offer slip-on shoes, such as Crocs. You can wear socks most of the time, so pack extra pairs of thin ankle or no-show socks that you can simply wash in your cabin sink when your feet get dusty from walking on dirt roads.

Bring a third pair of shoes, preferably sandals, boat shoes, flats, or any other light-coloured casual footwear you choose, to wear inside your cabin and throughout the boat’s interior.

Travel gear and accessories

You should take more than just clothes for your river tour. A lightweight backpack, fanny pack, or sling bag that is comfortable to carry on walking or bicycling excursions or on more strenuous journeys should be your go-to item.

Although the selection might not always suit your preferences, riverboats that allow guests to use bicycles should provide helmets. Think about packing your own if you intend to ride a lot—on a recent AmaWaterways Netherlands and Belgium river cruise, we rode our bikes every day, sometimes even twice a day. If you’re particular about what you wear on your head, the helmet is a must-have, even though it may take up important space in your luggage.

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I prefer to put on a thin baseball cap underneath the cruise liner helmets that I take out. The cap’s visor shields your eyes from the sun and rain. A ballcap can also act as a barrier to prevent you from touching the hat directly if you find it difficult to wear a helmet that you have already worn. Another option is to cover your head with a handkerchief before donning the borrowed helmet.

Find out if your cruise line provides reusable aluminium-style water bottles for guests to use during shore excursions and to fill up on board. If yours doesn’t, reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste by bringing your own lightweight, reusable water bottle.

Bring a small bag of your favourite medications if you’re river travelling in Southeast Asia, India, South America, or Africa, as you might not find the names or brands you’re familiar with in port. Bring along your preferred pain reliever and some antidiarrhea medication in case you need them.

Additionally, when on a cruise in a tropical location where mosquitoes and other insects are common, bring a small container of insect repellant for excursions and your accommodations.

Consider bringing your nighttime entertainment since river cruises usually offer very little in the way of entertainment after supper, just a little music or nothing at all.

Take along books, an e-reader, or a tablet, but before you go, download some movies and books to your device. Anywhere in the world, riverboats sometimes have spotty Wi-Fi, so you might not be able to stream the most recent episode of your favourite show or read the newspaper in real-time.

Advice and Tips for Packing for a River Cruise

Crystal River Cruises
(Credit: Luxury travel advisor)

Don’t overpack because river cruise boat accommodations are typically smaller than those on large cruise ships.

Additionally, cabins aboard riverboats are not as standard as those on ocean-going ships. European fleets may have more uniformity, but North American and Asian lines may have unique, eccentric ships. You shouldn’t count on having the same amount of space on one line as you did on another.

Small suitcases or soft duffels are perfect because riverboats may not have much (or any) space under the beds for large suitcases, and the closets, if any, are small.

There are several outliers, such the upscale riverboats in Europe operated by companies like Uniworld and AmaWaterways; the larger riverboats on the Mississippi River, such as the 417-passenger American Queen; and the opulent luxury lines like Aqua Expeditions that cruise the Amazon and Asia. Larger cabins on these ships often have greater storage capacity.

Additionally, a lot of riverboats lack self-service laundry facilities (although some luxurious riverboats in Europe do). Some also don’t offer laundry services. Bring quick-drying layered tops and undergarments so you can wash them in the bathroom sink and hang them to dry if you want to carry light.

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Packing list for a River Cruise

Europe River Cruise, River Cruise, best Europe River Cruise
(Credit: Cntraveler)

Keeping everything in mind, the following packing list is recommended for your river cruise vacation:

  • Several airy tops and T-shirts, with long sleeves for protection from the sun.
  • Bottoms, including slacks, skirts, jeans, khakis, leggings, and light cargo pants.
  • Evening attire, such as pants, elegant shirts, and casual dresses.
  • Many pairs of socks and light-weight undergarments.
  • Cotton sarong or scarf.
  • For chilly mornings or evenings, consider wearing a thin fleece, cardigan, or lightweight but warm jacket.
  • Quick footwear, like sneakers or basic hiking boots.
  • A cozy slip-on sneaker for evenings aboard or for visiting places of worship.
  • For travel, a small fanny pack or backpack works well.
  • A little bag or water-resistant zip-top for your phone and camera to safeguard them in the rain and on small launches that you use for trips.
  • Small amounts of local and US money can be used to pay for refreshments, snacks, souvenirs, and to tip local guides.
  • A tablet and/or reading materials (books and e-readers).
  • Apply sunscreen and repellent.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Cap.
  • A compact, lightweight umbrella that protects against the sun and rain.
  • Basic medications and prescriptions.
  • Electronics chargers and a portable charger guarantee your phone stays fully charged during extended travels.
  • Multi-prong adapters that allow you to utilize the river cruise boat’s outlets that are 220- to 240-volt in Europe and 100- to 120-volt in North America. (The bedside table lamps on the newest luxury riverboats might include standard USB charging ports.)

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