What to Wear on a River Cruise in Europe

Packing for a river cruise can be difficult, especially if it’s your first time. For my first European river cruise I found it particularly tricky to decipher the dress code, so I’ve created this guide to help you decide what to wear on a river cruise in Europe.

River Cruise Dress Code

The key thing to know is that the dress code for river cruises is far more relaxed than ocean cruises. This is the main difference and I found it quite refreshing.

As an example, let’s take a look at the official dress code guidance from AmaWaterways:

Comfortable “Country Club Casual” is the recommended attire for daytime, and to pack something a little dressier for the Captain’s night/Farewell Dinner – similar to how one would dress to dine at a 5-star restaurant. Comfortable shoes are recommended for excursions and workout clothing if you plan to take part in any wellness activities, active tours or use the onboard gym. Depending on the time of year, clothing that can be layered is highly recommended.

What is Country Club Casual?

Country Club Casual is lightweight clothing – think cotton and linen. Men can wear casual open collared shirts, polo shirts and smart t-shirts. Women can wear casual tops, blouses and summer dresses. Colours are more likely to be lighter although this also depends on the weather.

Other river cruise company dress codes:

In general, I found that the dress code for a river cruise in Europe suited the laid back atmosphere. There is no need to pack dinner jackets and evening gowns for a river cruise, which also helps with your luggage allowance.

What to Wear on a River Cruise in Europe – Day Time

During the day, you can wear comfortable clothing. You are likely to see people wearing denim but more likely chinos.

what people wear on a river cruise in europe
A river cruise event on the quay, late afternoon

Activewear such as sports leggings, t-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps are also acceptable for day wear, especially if you are planning to take part in any activities or use the onboard fitness centre.

During the day, smart shorts are acceptable, especially in warm weather during the summer months.

Casual shoes such as loafers, boat shoes or sandals are popular but you will probably see very few people wearing flip flops (unless they are visiting the pool or hot tubs).

footwear on a river cruise
Comfortable sandals are a good idea during the summer months

Layers are sometimes a good option, especially because Europe is known for its changeable weather. You can remove layers if you get too warm but can easily pop them back on if it becomes chilly.

A lightweight sweater or cardigan will come in handy and for a winter river cruise during colder months, layers and thicker jumpers are essential.

If you’re planning a Christmas Markets river cruise, the conditions may be snowy so hats, gloves, scarves and a warm coat are needed. The last thing you want to do is suffer from the cold during day trips or day excursions.

What to Wear on a River Cruise in Europe – Shore Excursions

River cruising has a heavy focus on the destinations and your cruise itinerary will not have any ‘sea days’ as such. You may even visit two destination in one day so you will be on and off the ship a lot.

Your river cruise will likely offer day excursions included in the cruise fare and you can choose to do an array of things, the most common being walking tours.

There is an element of walking involved in most river cruise excursions and therefore comfortable walking shoes are necessary. Try to avoid wearing new shoes you haven’t worn in. High heels are definitely not recommended, especially in small towns that have cobblestone streets. Ballet flats would also be a good option.

This video will give you an idea of what people wear on a river cruise excursion

On my Danube river cruise, I wore trainers or comfortable sandals for walking tours, which meant I could walk around and keep cool. I took a small cross-over bag to put the essentials in e.g. phone, purse, sun cream, credit cards and extra memory cards.

Some excursions may visit religious sites or places of worship so it’s important to be mindful of what you wear. You may need to cover your shoulders and knees. A scarf or pashmina for women could be a good option to ensure you are respectful in these circumstances.

For more serious walking excursions, you may want to pack some walking shoes or boots. Some river cruise lines offers active excursions and many river cruise ships have a fleet of bikes. Trainers/tennis shoes are most appropriate for these excursions.

active excursions

A small backpack is useful for excursions to carry small items such as: a water bottle, insect repellent, sun hat, camera and personal items. You may also wish to pack a lightweight, waterproof coat in case of wet weather.

Most river ships will provide umbrellas so this isn’t something you’ll need to pack.

What to Wear on a River Cruise – Evening

Evenings on a river cruise are spent in the dining room and the ship’s bars and lounges. As a rule, fellow passengers will wear smart casual attire.

For Men

At dinner, men generally wear an open collared shirt with perhaps a blazer/sports coat. Ties and bow ties aren’t necessary and there is definitely no need to pack a suit. The type of formal wear you may be familiar with on a ocean cruise is definitely not required.

what to wear on a river cruise in Europe for men in the evening
Men can wear any type of collared shirt in the evenings

Formal nights are generally known as gala nights or captain’s dinner nights. During these evenings (typically only once a cruise) men can still wear open-neck shirts. Business casual wear, such as trousers and a shirt, is as formal as it will be.

For Women

Women don’t need to wear an evening gown on a river cruise. On most evenings, a casual dress, skirt, top, blouse and trousers are perfectly acceptable evening wear.

On the gala night or farewell dinner, you may chose to wear a cocktail dress but it’s certainly not necessary. Smart trousers with dress shoes are also an option.

gala dinner dress
I felt more than smart enough on Gala Dinner night in this dress

Costume jewellery can be subtle, I think above all a ‘less is more’ approach should be taken.

Outfits shouldn’t be too revealing. You can be comfortable in loose-fitting or relaxed fitting clothes. This is also good news for taking full advantage of the delicious food on river cruises, as your clothes will still fit at the end of your cruise!

Common Questions about What to Wear on a River Cruise in Europe

Is there a laundry on river cruise ships?

Most river cruise ships have an onboard laundry service or small self-service laundries. These can be used at an extra cost. Washing powder/detergent is usually provided.

river cruise laundry
There was a small laundry on our AmaWaterways river cruise

Do river cruises have hair dryers?

Yes, there’s no need to pack your own hair dryer as river cruise staterooms will have a hair dryer that you can use.

Depending on the cruise line, you may want to pack powers strips as plug sockets may be limited. Not all river ships, especially the older ones, will have USB ports for electrical devices so pack a USB charging plug too.

What size luggage should you take on a river cruise?

You will most likely need to fly to join your river cruise in Europe and so you should check your luggage allowance for the flight.

Typically you will have a large suitcase and a carry-on bag. You should pack important things like medicine and travel documents in your carry-on bag in case your main luggage is lost or delayed at the airport.

River cruise cabins generally have limited storage space and therefore, keep this in mind when packing.

Can you wear jeans on a river cruise?

You can wear jeans on a river cruise but it’s best to avoid wearing any with holes or rips. Smart denim is even fine to wear for the dining room during the evenings.

In the colder months, you will see most people wearing jeans during the day for excursions and around the ship.

What should I pack for a summer river cruise in Europe?

  • T-shirts
  • Casual tops
  • Lightweight jumper/cardigan
  • Polo shirts for men
  • Shorts/capri pants/cropped trousers
  • Summer dresses
  • Jeans/chinos
  • Lightweight jacket
  • Waterproof jacket
  • knee length skirts or culottes
  • Activewear for exercising
  • Smart tops
  • One dress for gala/farewell dinner
  • Smart collared shirt for men
  • Trainers
  • Sandals
  • Loafers/boat shoes for men
  • Walking shoes/boots (if required)
  • Swimsuit
  • Smart trousers
  • Light scarf/pashmina
  • Sunglasses
  • Cross-over bag
  • Summer hat

What should I pack for a winter river cruise in Europe?

  • T-shirts
  • Casual tops
  • Warm jumpers/cardigans/fleeces
  • Polo shirts for men
  • Jeans/chinos
  • Warm jacket
  • Waterproof jacket
  • knee length skirts or culottes
  • Activewear for exercising
  • Smart tops
  • One dress for gala/farewell dinner
  • Smart collared shirt for men
  • Trainers
  • Boots
  • Loafers/boat shoes for men
  • Walking shoes/boots (if required)
  • Swimsuit (if there is an indoor spa)
  • Smart trousers
  • Warm scarf
  • Cross-over bag
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Thermals
  • Thick socks
  • Poncho
  • Muff for neck/face
  • Warm headband to cover ears


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