What to Pack on a River Cruise
If there’s one piece of travel advice I can impart on you today, it’s this: Do not forget to pack a raincoat. No matter where you’re going, be it river cruising in France or lounging on the beach in Jamaica, you will never regret packing rain gear. How do I know? Several soggy shore excursions later on my own river cruise, I vowed never to travel without one again. Here’s what you’ll want to pack on your next river cruise, rain jacket included.
Going on a River Cruise? Here’s What to Pack.
1. Carry-On and Daypack
Most river cruise lines offer laundry facilities on board. If that’s the case for your ship, there’s no need to overpack and you’d do well to bring a carry-on instead of a larger suitcase. It can be difficult to lug larger bags through European railway stations - your carry-on will easily fit in a river cruise ship’s cabin.
Reminder: If you’re river cruising overseas, choose the “international,” not “domestic” carry-on, the former of which is a tad shorter and will be allowed on European carriers. Skip the spinning wheels, which detract from the bag’s interior capacity.
That being said, bring along a daypack for activities and excursions. You won’t want to be headed off on walking tours or wine tastings lugging your carry-on with you because you neglected to bring a lighter daypack. Choose one that can be zippered or worn across your body to deter pickpockets.
2. Clothing and Accessories
European river cruises call for comfortable, casual clothing. Bring layers, as the temperatures and weather conditions can vary widely (and don’t forget that raincoat!). A packable down jacket in the shoulder months will go far in keeping you comfy. Leave the formalwear and fancy jewelry at home and instead bring a casual dress, or a collared shirt and slacks for men, for evenings on board or out to dinner in town.
Check to see if your river cruise ship has a swimming pool or hot tub and, if so, pack a bathing suit (include one, too, if you’re stopping somewhere like Budapest that has enticing thermal baths you might like to visit). Ask, too, about an onboard fitness center and bring exercise clothing as needed.
As for extras, if you have room, throw in a few scarves for dressing up an evening outfit or keeping warm, a light hat, fingerless gloves and a sun hat.
Like to check off items? Here’s a starter clothing list:
You’ll be doing a fair amount of walking and moving about when you disembark from your ship. Many of the village and historic city centers you’ll visit have uneven cobblestone streets and alleyways, so sturdy, comfortable, somewhat padded footwear is advised. Break your shoes in before you leave town to avoid blisters. Leave the fancy dress shoes and heels at home. In the spring or fall, or the Christmas market season, consider warm, weatherproof footwear or comfortable walking boots.
Pack the right tech so you’re never left without charge or the ability to take photos when you want to. Check with your river cruise company about whether or not US outlets and USB ports are on the ships. Some ships have only European plugs, so it’s a safe bet to pack an adaptor. Also ask about WiFi and check with your cell phone provider about adding international data to your plan, especially if you want to be FaceTiming with folks back home during your travels.
5. Some Essentials
A few more items to consider adding to your river cruising packing list:
Need more guidance? Let’s chat. You know I’ll recommend the raincoat first!
You’ve settled on a luxury river cruise in Europe. And with good reason - the innovative itineraries, the award-winning dining, the highly inclusive, no-worries pricing and the world-class service. The opportunity to move smoothly along Europe’s most storied rivers, visiting new cities and riverside villages, and having immersive experiences along the way - it’s priceless, really. Now that you’ve decided to go, the next big question is, “When?” Let’s take a look at the best time to take a Europe river cruise.
Where are you planning to take your Europe river cruise? Is the northern region of the continent calling, with its tulip fields and windmills and cities rich in art and architecture? Perhaps you’re drawn to the ancient villages and sun-splashed landscapes of culturally rich Portugal and Spain. Where you’d like to cruise will determine when you go. Generally speaking, the Europe river-cruising season runs from March through December, but within that span, the most optimal time is late spring (April-May) or early fall (September-October).
Europe river cruises run along the Rhine in central and northern Europe, the Danube between central and eastern Europe, the Douro, the Seine, the Rhone and the Bordeaux region of western Europe. These winding, often interconnected waterways crisscross thousands of miles and while one might expect them to run through a variety of climates, the rivers are actually around the same latitudes. That’s good news for the traveler trying to make a decision about when to travel because the temperature and climate are fairly similar for all of these river regions.
If it’s consistently sunny, warm weather you’re seeking, when blue skies promise long days of pleasant excursions and sightseeing, aim for a Europe cruise between June and August. You’ll be all but guaranteed a long list of outings, including walking, hiking and cycling, thanks to the ideal weather. On the other hand, the sunny days attract the most guests, so you’ll find bigger crowds … and often hot weather can be oppressive if you’re not used to or prepared for it.
If you’d like to avoid the larger crowds and still have nice, but not the hottest, weather, aim for the spring or fall. There are more discounts offered during these periods (shoulder seasons) and often you can find specialized river cruises, like springtime tulip sailings or fall foliage voyages.
Have you considered a wintertime river cruise? If you love the festive holiday season, you’ll want to look twice at the December cruises on the Danube and Rhine rivers. These voyages land you at the traditional European Christmas markets of central Europe that have been going on for centuries. It’s an opportunity to enjoy local traditions and food and get an immersive cultural experience as the continent prepares for the holiday. Who can resist warm mulled wine and roasted chestnuts while shopping for one-of-a-kind, handcrafted gifts from local vendors, all to the tune of live Christmas music?
River cruising takes a pause after December when the backcountry goes into a much colder season. As soon as the snow and ice in the mountains starts to thaw and the rivers flow heavier in early spring, the cruising season starts back up once again.
Have a better idea of where and when you’d like to go on your Europe river cruise? Let’s chat and start planning together.