The Ultimate Packing List for Your River Cruise

So you’ve booked an exciting and romantic adventure on a river cruise line, but now comes the daunting task: packing for your trip. 

River cruises aren’t like your average ocean cruise. You’ll be aboard a much smaller ship and get to explore multiple cities and towns throughout your journey. This more intimate and immersive experience is what makes river cruises so special, but it also requires a bit more planning and preparation in terms of packing.

For something as unique as a river cruise, what on earth do you pack?

This was the question we asked ourselves before we went on our own river cruise. But alas, that trip is behind us now… which means we can now share everything you need (and don’t need!) to have a relaxing, stress-free trip. You’re welcome!

Jump to:

If you’re wondering what to pack for a river cruise, we’ve created a river cruise packing guide that will help you make the most of your romantic getaway on the water. So grab your suitcase, and let’s get ready to set sail!

View off the bow of MS Infante Don Henrique.
Photo Credit:

Setting Sail? Pack Right for Your River Cruise

A river cruise packing list should look relatively different from one you’d make for a vacation exclusively on land or an ocean cruise that’s primarily on the sea. Think of it like a delicious surf and turf dish… but as a vacation! 

With ample time on the land and the water, a river cruise lets you experience the best of both worlds. This means that you and your partner will need to consider various factors when packing for your river cruise adventure. From the type of clothing items to bring for specific excursions to the essentials for a comfortable and enjoyable time on board, keeping these things in mind will ensure you have a hassle-free river cruise experience.

On my trip through the Douro River via CroisiCruise, for instance, I found myself needing everything from hiking boots to my nicest formal wear. There were elegant dinners, casual lunches on the deck, and hiking tours through historic vineyards. Depending on the weather in the area, where your river cruise takes you, and the type of activities you plan on doing, your packing list may vary. But we’ll make sure we cover all the bases here so you can be prepared for any adventure.

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Essential Packing List for Any River Cruise

Whether you and your partner are first-time river cruisers or seasoned travelers, there are a few essential items that should always make it onto your river cruise packing list. These essentials will help you better embrace the unexpected and ensure you two have an absolute blast.


With river cruise clothing, the more versatile, the better. Consider packing pieces that can be mixed and matched, dressed up or down, and worn in different weather conditions. Some must-have clothing items include:

  • Tops: Short and long-sleeved shirts for cloudy or sunny days with various temperatures. Bring a dress shirt or sports coat for formal nights.
  • Bottoms: Almost anything will go with a pair of jeans! Pack a comfortable pair of pants and shorts, too, if the forecast seems right for it. 
  • Jacket: Bring a light rain jacket or basic light jacket for chilly nights or if you’re cruising during the colder months. Adding an extra layer with a cozy sweater could be a lifesaver, too!
  • Shoes: Comfortable walking shoes are a must, along with dress shoes or heels if you’re about it. Most river cruise lines will have formal events with a “smart casual” dress code, so prepare accordingly.
  • Other: Having a casual dress handy will save you a lot of trouble with putting together an outfit in the morning. And don’t forget a bathing suit if you’re planning on going swimming!

Note that some river cruise lines come with complimentary laundry service. So make sure you find this out before you pack clothes for every day of your trip. That way, you can pack lighter and save some space for souvenirs!


While most river cruise lines provide essential toiletries like soap, shampoo, and body wash, you might want to bring your own travel-sized versions of your favorite products. This is especially true if you have sensitive skin or prefer specific brands. Other toiletries to consider packing include:

  • Sunscreen: Protect your skin from the sun’s rays when you’re on deck or exploring ashore.
  • Insect repellent: Depending on where you’ll be cruising, this may come in handy for outdoor activities and excursions. 
  • Medications: Make sure you have enough prescription medication for the duration of your trip, along with any over-the-counter medicines you may need. It’s also a good idea to pack a small travel first aid kit with essentials like band-aids and pain relievers just in case.
  • Personal hygiene items: Don’t forget items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and any other personal care products you may need.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos


The travel documents required for your trip will ultimately depend on where you’re going and your nationality. Still, some essential documentation to bring on any river cruise includes:

  • Passport and visas: Make sure you have a valid passport and any necessary visas for the countries you’ll be visiting.
  • Credit cards: Many countries don’t accept American Express, so it’s always a good idea to have a Visa or Mastercard as an alternative. 
  • Cash: Exchange fees tend to be highest at airports, so it’s generally a good idea to withdraw only a little money for emergencies and taxis upon arrival. You can then exchange for local currency at banks in the cities for better rates.
Terraces of the Douro river speckled with houses.
Photo Credit:

International Considerations

If you’re planning on traveling internationally for your river cruise, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind:

  • Adapters: If you plan on bringing any electronic devices, make sure you have the correct adapters for the countries you’ll be visiting. Different regions may use different plug types and voltages. 
  • Currency: Familiarize yourself with the currency exchange rates and have a general idea of what your home currency is worth in the countries you’ll be visiting. Your best bet is to bring some cash in local currency for small purchases or emergencies. 
  • Language barriers: While many locals in popular tourist destinations may speak English, it’s always helpful to learn a few basic phrases in the local language. Not only is it polite, but it can also help you navigate and communicate with ease. 

Our top-rated river cruise lines: Out of the various river cruises available, our top picks are CroisiCruise, Viking River Cruises, and Avalon Waterways. We found that each of these cruise lines offers unique experiences, world-class service, and a variety of fun excursions.

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

River Cruise-Specific Items You’ll Want to Bring

Going on a river cruise is a unique, one-of-a-kind experience. Therefore, it’s essential to pack some items that are specific to this type of trip. From our own experience, we recommend:

  • Lightweight binoculars: Seeing wildlife and scenic views is a huge part of the river cruise experience. Bring a pair of binoculars to get the best view out on the water with your love.
  • Guidebooks and maps: Help navigate your way through cities and learn about local history and culture with guidebooks and maps. You can also find online resources before your trip for recommendations on the must-see attractions.
  • Specialized footwear: Depending on your itinerary, you may be doing a lot of walking and hiking during excursions. Bring comfortable and durable shoes that can withstand various terrains and conditions. Some cruises even offer complimentary walking tours, so be sure to pack comfortable shoes for those as well! 

Now that you know what to pack for your river cruise, what about what you shouldn’t bring? Avoid overpacking and wasting space by leaving behind these items:

  • Bulky electronics: While it’s nice to have a camera to capture memories, leave behind large devices like laptops and tablets. You’ll likely have limited Wi-Fi access and can use your phone to get on the web.
  • Extra toiletries: As mentioned before, most river cruise lines provide essential toiletries. Don’t waste space bringing full-sized bottles of shampoo or body wash when you can use what they provide on board. 
  • Hairdryer: Most river cruise lines provide hairdryers in staterooms, so leave yours at home. You’ll save so much space!

Pro Tips for a Smooth Packing Experience

We’ve been on our fair share of river cruises and have picked up some helpful tips along the way. Here are our top suggestions for a stress-free packing experience:

  • Roll, don’t fold: Rolling your clothes instead of folding them can save space and minimize wrinkles.
  • Pack versatile items: Choose clothing pieces that you can mix and match to create different outfits, rather than packing a separate outfit for each day. This will save space in your luggage. 
  • Use packing cubes: These handy organizers can help you maximize space and stay organized. You can even use them to separate clean and dirty clothes!
  • Pack a small day bag: Bring a lightweight backpack or tote bag for daily shore excursions. This way, you won’t have to carry around your larger checked luggage all day. Your carry-on bag can include things like your phone, wallet, water bottle, and any other essentials you may need while exploring.  

Optional Yet Helpful Extras

Sometimes a little something extra can make your river cruise experience even better! These are some optional items that you may want to consider bringing:

  • Quality camera: While you can take photos with your phone, a quality camera can capture stunning shots of the stunning landscapes and wildlife along the river. 
  • Journal: Keep track of your wonderful adventures and memories together in a journal. You can also use it to jot down any recommendations or travel tips you receive while on your cruise.
  • Specialty snacks: While most river cruises will provide meals and snacks, you may want to bring some of your favorite treats from home. Who doesn’t love a taste of home while traveling? Plus, they can be a great conversation starter with fellow passengers!  
  • Romantic extras: Take the romance even further by packing some extras like candles, rose petals, or a small gift for your partner. These small gestures can make your trip even more unforgettable.

The #1 must-have item not commonly found on packing lists:

A portable charger! When you’re on a river cruise, chances are you won’t have easy access to charging outlets. Portable chargers allow you to charge your devices on the go without having to worry about finding an outlet or draining your cruise’s limited Wi-Fi. Plus, with all the beautiful sights and activities on a river cruise, you’ll definitely want to capture them all with your phone or camera.

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Prepped and Ready to Embark

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out what to pack for your romantic river cruise. None of us want a scenario where we forget something essential or can’t find the right outfit for the day. But by following this packing guide, you can ensure that you have everything you need for a smooth and enjoyable trip. 

However, we’re always eager to hear from our readers too! Do you have any helpful packing tips or tricks for a romantic river cruise? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’d like more insider tips and helpful info on other romantic getaways, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter! Now get packing — you’re romantic river cruise awaits! 

Terraces along the Douro river
Photo Credit:


How much luggage can I bring on a river cruise?

When it comes to river cruises, a good rule of thumb is to pack light. Unlike ocean cruises, where you have more space and can bring multiple suitcases, river cruises are typically smaller in size and have limited storage space.

In general, we highly recommend bringing just one suitcase per person on a river cruise. Not only will this make it easier for you to move around the ship and your cabin, but it will also help you avoid any potential luggage restrictions that some river cruise lines may have.

Is there usually a dress code for dinner or special events?

Most river cruises are pretty lax when it comes to dress codes, but there are a few that may require you to dress up for dinner or special events. It’s always best to check with the cruise line beforehand just so you know what to pack. 

Are there onboard stores to purchase forgotten items?

Most river cruises do not have an onboard store, so it’s important to pack everything you may need for your trip. If they have anything, the store will have a limited selection of items like merchandise, shirts, jackets, a few trinkets, or tourist guidebooks. 

If you do happen to forget something, don’t worry! Every small port you stop in will have a local pharmacy and market where you can find almost anything you need. 

What kind of power outlets can I expect? 

River cruises are most popular in Europe, where the power outlets are typically Type C, E, and F. These outlets have two round prongs and operate on 220-240 volts at 50Hz. However, some ships may also have Type G outlets commonly found in the UK. It is important to note that these outlets have a higher voltage than what is used in North America (110-120V). 

If you’re from outside of Europe, it is recommended to bring a universal adapter that works with these types of outlets. However, be mindful of the amperage differences. Many personal items like curling irons and blow dryers from the US may not withstand the higher voltage. In this case, we suggest using the blow dryers provided by the ship.

More Helpful Tips for Planning a Romantic River Cruise

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *