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You're setting sail down the scenic Danube.

It's a beautiful, cool night and your stomach starts to growl. Not to worry, you have a myriad of choices for dinner. But, what should you wear? Better yet, what are the packing essentials for a river cruise in Europe or beyond?

Taking a river cruise is one of the best ways to see a place. It’s relaxing, beautiful, and makes your travel all the easier. But the tough part is packing. What do you need to wear for dinner? Do river cruises require formal wear? What about for the excursions? And what about adapters?! I know many might have questions on what to pack on a river cruise so I’m making a detailed list to ensure you have everything you need.

See my full review of my Budapest and Austria Cruise on the Danube right here.

Why take a river cruise?

I find river cruises to be a wonderful way to see and really experience a destination. I recently traveled with Avalon Waterways on their Active and Discovery cruise starting in Budapest, Hungary and traveling through Hungary through Austria. I not only got to see beautiful places along the way, I felt I had sufficient time at each place to really engulf myself in each city. Because Avalon Cruises offer so many excursions for so many skill levels, there are a range of ages and interests on the ship, making this an exceptional cruise. I also made friends along the way, had delicious food, and had the luxury of visiting multiple cities and countries while I spent the night in the same comfortable room each night. 

If you’re still on the fence, check out this quiz to see if river cruise travel is right for you

What to pack on a river cruise

Remember, you're not going anywhere internationally without a passport! Pack that first!

Packing for a river cruise first depends on the length of time you’ll be there. I often tell people to pack as minimally as possible, but because you have the luxury of just one place to put all your stuff, you can often pack a bit more. I still wholeheartedly believe in a carry on bag (even if you are taking a three week trip). 

The bag is totally essential! I recommend the Osprey Porter 46 Liter backpack. I carry on nearly all of my trips. The Osprey bag allows for extra room and space and is an effortless bag to manage and carry all your stuff! I also love the multiple pockets that make organizing your packing a breeze.

See how I pack this bag right here: How to Pack for a Long Trip in A Carry On

If you're interested in even more organization, I recommend packing cubes. This is also great for separating formal wear from athletic clothes.

Dressing for a River Cruise

The benefit of taking a river cruise is that they are usually a lot less formal than a typical cruise. You can wear jeans, pants, or a dress to dinner. Shorts are usually not permitted in the evening, but you can wear a blouse, nice jeans, or a skirt or slacks. Especially on the Avalon River Cruise I’d say the dinner time dressing was “business casual.” I felt comfortable with all the items I brought. I do suggest bringing at least one nicer outfit since most cruises offer a fancier evening. 

During the day, you can wear whatever you like: shorts, t-shirts, or athletic wear. Sometimes, for lunch in the dining room, you’ll want to wear something a bit more upscale than athleisure. I suggest jeans or pants with a short or long sleeve shirt, depending on the weather. 

For your excursions, you should dress depending on what your excursion calls for. If you’re biking, I recommend leggings or pants, hiking shoes if you’re trekking, or even a nice dress if you’re heading to a concert or dinner. Usually, your excursion is fairly self-explanatory for what to wear. 

Dress code

There does tend to be a dress code at night for a river cruise. This is usually fairly casual, but at night or for dinner you'll want to dress “smart casual.” This typically means a dress, jeans, trousers, skirt, or pants. Formal wear is not necessary. Although, I did bring a silk skirt for a formal evening at the opera. This wasn't necessary but nice to have!

The Essentials

Clothing

For your clothing on a river cruise, I suggest bringing neutrals. This will allow you to easily mix and match pieces and feel like you have a few different outfit options. I like to bring black, white, and beige whenever I travel. I also suggest adding a few pops of color: a dress, scarf, or skirt so that you have options no matter the weather.

Remember, the clothing you bring will depend on the season. But here's what I typically suggest:

Tops:

1 white top (great for layer and pairing with jeans). These basic tops are my favorites and I own them in every color.

1 black top

2 nice blouses to wear for dinner or formal events

A jacket or cardigan, it can get cool in the nights for Spring and Summer or bring a heavier one for Fall and Winter. Since weather can be unpredictable, I always recommend a rain jacket.

1 bra and 2 sports bras as well as a shirt to sleep in.

Bottoms:

Jeans

Leggings (these are my favorite for travel, and I've tested quite a few).

Depending on the weather you might want bringing a pair of shorts or an additional pair of pants.

Skirts (I recommend bringing 2 since you can mix and match them with your tops).

I also recommend to bring a casual dress and two more formal dresses for dinner.

Underwear and socks for the length of the trip as well as bottoms to sleep in.

Shoes

I swear by my white Adidas Superstars. As in, it's kind of my thing. I even made a gif about it and share them on my Instagram stories. To me, they go with nearly everything and can be dressed up and down.

I also recommend bringing a pair of more formal shoes, either sandals or closed-toe shoes depending on your weather. In the evenings you will want to dress up and you might have a formal night out, so these shoes are recommended.

Remember to bring the right shoes for your activities: hiking boots for hikes, running shoes if you plan to workout or run, boots if it's winter. Flip flops are also a good option if swimming.

Bottom line for shoes: make sure you're comfortable! You'll be doing quite a bit of walking so it's best to be comfy.

Accessories 

Other than my backpack, I prefer a crossbody bag for my purse. I like one that has a flap or zipper to hold my valuables. This helps to avoid pickpockets and leaves your hands free. I like this purse from Fossil, it's a beautiful but durable leather that holds up for years.

Other things to bring:

Scarf (make this a colorful one to add a pop of color to your wardrobe)

Hat (opt for one that can be easily packed, like this one)

Sunglasses

Toiletries

While you'll find that many cruises come standard with things like shampoo and soap, there are some times you'll want to pack. I never leave home without a brush and leave-in conditioner to tame my mane.

I like the Wet Brush and feel it's easy to pack and get out tangles. I also like this leave-in conditioner (it smells great too!).

If you bring a curling iron or straightener you will need to bring an converter. In Europe the voltage is 220 so your converter will need to be equipped with this.

You'll also want to bring your makeup as well as a make up bag. I have an extremely detailed post on how to pack your makeup bag as well as the best travel makeup.

Other things to bring are: medication, sunscreen, and other toiletries.

Electronics

In this modern age, it seems like we never leave home without our electronics. Especially with how great digital cameras and smartphones are for capturing the moment. Make sure to bring:

Camera and charging cord, I recommend this DSLR camera.

Phone and charging cord. I also bring a portable charger to ensure I always have power.

Adapters for your plugs.

I personally wear a Fitbit and sometimes to forget the charging cord, which is why having a packing list so important!

You might want to bring on your laptop or iPad. There is WiFi on board the Avalon river cruise. There are also some computers for you to use if you don't want to lug an additional device.

I also recommend that you bring headphones since you will most likely go on walking tours that include a live guide and you'll carry an audio guide for the tour.

Storage On Board A River Cruise

I think you might be pleasantly surprised by the amount of room for storage on board your cruise. In particular, on the Avalon river cruise, because of the revolutionary “Open-Air Balcony” you'll not only have ample space in the closet, the room is quite large.

Plan Ahead

The great thing about a river cruise is that you'll pick many of your activities ahead of time, this was you can be prepared when packing. Make sure to review your itinerary and check to see what you might need. For example, you might go for a swim, hiking, or a formal night out. It's nice to be prepared.

Take a look at how long your cruise will be, the season, and typical weather conditions for where you'll be heading.

Things you don't need to pack

On your cruise you will usually find some handy essentials. I found this to be the case on the Avalon Waterways River Cruise. My room came complete with a robe, slippers, nail file, cotton pads, soap, conditioner, and a hairdryer- this is so handy!

Tips for Packing

I always recommend that you lay everything out so you're able to see what you need and how well it will mix and match together. The key to success when packing is to use neutrals that can go together so that you can create multiple outfits out of what you've brought.

Can I do laundry on board?

Yes! On the Avalon River Cruises laundry service is available for a fee.

Money in Europe/Beyond

The great thing about booking a cruise is that most of your activities are pre-paid, or attached to your credit card. That means you won't have to worry too much with cash. But I do recommend having some of the place's local currency on hand for small purchases.

Make sure to call your bank ahead of time to let them know you'll be making international purchases. Then you can use local ATMs to get out cash.

Here's the full packing list for a river cruise:

  • Passport
  • Suitcase/backpack (I recommend the Osprey Porter Bag)
  • Packing Cubes
  • Basic Tees
  • Blouse(s)
  • T-shirt to sleep in
  • Jacket or Cardigan (coat if it's cold)
  • Rain Jacket
  • Bra
  • Sports Bras
  • Jeans
  • Leggings
  • Pants/shorts (depending on weather)
  • Skirts
  • PJ pants/shorts
  • Dresses
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Walking shoes – I like these
  • Sandals/Closed-toe shoe
  • Flip Flops
  • Swimsuit
  • Crossbody purse
  • Scarf
  • Hat (I like a felt hat because it's easy to pack)
  • Sunglasses
  • Makeup & Makeup bag
  • Straightener or Curling Iron
  • Converter, if bringing a hot tool like a straightener
  • Headphones
  • Adapter
  • Wet Brush
  • Sunscreen
  • Medication
  • Toiletries
  • Razor
  • Leave in Conditioner
  • Body Spray
  • Phone and charger
  • Camera and charger
  • Portable charger
  • Other electronics and cords (for example I bring a FitBit and charger)

Other posts to read:

Transatlantic Crossing on Cunard's Queen Mary 2

QUIZ: Should You Take a River Cruise?

My Guide to Foolproof Travel Beauty

How to Plan a Stress Free Trip to Europe

This trip is a project managed by iambassador in partnership with Avalon Waterways. Helene in Between maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.

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