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10 Essential Travel Items to Take on a River Cruise

  • Get the best from a European river cruise with our guide to the essential travel items you should pack
  • From a practical backpack to ensure you get the most out of excursions to binoculars so you don’t miss any memorable sights
  • Insider travel tips and essential packing advice means you won’t waste a moment on a European river cruise

River cruises are an excellent way to travel without the stress of planning details. While the dress code on European river cruises is relaxed and informal, it pays to know what other travel essentials to pack for a river cruise. Essential travel items – from sun cream and swimwear to binoculars and a day bag – will help you get the best from a memorable river cruise.

Whether you’re on a Rhine river cruise, sampling some excellent port in Porto on a Douro River cruise or simply sailing through Germany and Austria on a Danube river cruise, having the right travel essentials means you’re free to relax and enjoy yourself.

Essential travel items – clothing and footwear

Comfortable shoes

Comfortable, practical shoes are one of the most essential travel items to bring on a European river cruise. For onboard wear, loafers or boat shoes with rubber soles are one of the travel essentials for men. Women typically opt for a comfy pair of sandals or flat shoes. While guided excursions onshore are at a leisurely pace, they may include uphill climbs or walks along cobblestoned streets, so pack sturdy, supportive shoes so you don’t miss out on exploring because your feet hurt! Be sure to break in new shoes before the cruise to avoid blisters. Pack appropriately; in the winter months, Europe can be cold and rainy, making weatherproof shoes a sensible addition.

essential travel items comfortable shoes

A scarf or pashmina

A travel essential for women is a scarf or a pashmina. While there’s no dress code for river cruises or need for formal wear, pashminas are a great way to dress up an outfit at night. Evenings on deck can be much cooler than during the day and a scarf or pashmina can protect against the wind, providing an extra layer handle any changeable weather.

A scarf or pashmina also serves as a handy cover up. When visiting religious sites or places of worship on excursions, you are typically required to dress modestly. In this instance, a scarf or pashmina also comes in particularly handy to cover your shoulders and is light-weight so you can carry it in your bag while on excursions.


Be sure to pack a swimming costume if your river cruise ship has a swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room or sauna – or if travelling on a Danube cruise and paying a visit to the famous thermal baths in Budapest. It’s one of the more overlooked things to bring on a cruise. You may also wish to bring a cover-up and flip-flops for walking around the pool area. Some ships also have a small gym or fitness room, so sportswear or gym clothes may come in handy.

Essential travel items – health

Sun cream and weather protection

Sun protection is vital in the summer months to avoid sunburn. Pack sun cream with a high sun protection factor that protects against UVA and UVB rays. A travel-sized bottle of sunscreen that fits into your daypack is a handy way to keep protected when out on full-day excursions. Don’t forget sunglasses and a hat. For women, a wide-brimmed hat will help protect face, ears, shoulders and neck from the sun.

Regardless of the season, European weather can be unpredictable so it’s best to pack clothes for all eventualities. A waterproof jacket, plenty of layers and a small umbrella will keep you dry and warm on rainy day excursions.

essential travel items sunscreen


Remember to bring all the medication you need for the length of your cruise. Carry it in your hand luggage when travelling to your embarkation point to ensure it’s to hand at all times. Don’t forget to bring your GP’s details such as their name and the address of their medical practice for insurance purposes, as well as your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to prove your entitlement to free or reduced-cost emergency medical care.

It’s also a good idea to pack a few first aid items such as plasters, painkillers and antihistamines if necessary. If you forget, don’t panic. You’ll typically be able to buy common medications from your cruise ship’s onboard shop, or when docked at a destination city.


For light sleepers, earplugs are useful travel items to bring along on a river cruise. While river cruises are generally tranquil, lighter sleepers may be disturbed by other passengers or the sounds of the ship manoeuvring through locks. Earplugs can be useful for the first few nights until you’re used to onboard ship noises.

essential travel items ear plugs

Essential travel items – luggage and gadgets

Suitable luggage

One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is being able to unpack once and then relax for the rest of your cruise. Your river cabin cruise will have plenty of drawer and wardrobe space for your clothes, shoes and personal items, but they may not be as spacious as a hotel room so you don’t want to clutter it with empty suitcases. Be sure to bring luggage that’s easy to stow under the bed once you’ve unpacked. Opt for lightweight luggage that’s easy to carry when travelling to your cruise departure point.

essential travel items soft luggage

Day bag

A large, heavy rucksack may prove uncomfortable to carry when walking around on onshore excursions, especially in the heat of summer. Opt instead for a small backpack for carrying essentials such as cameras and a water bottle on excursions. Alternatively, a light, crossover bag is a good idea to help keep your belongings secure and your hands-free. A waterproof version will ensure your belongings stay dry on rainy day trips ashore.

Once onboard, you need only carry your key card and personal items such as your phone, so pockets or a small bag will suffice.

Extension cords and adaptors

Virtually all of Europe is served with 220 volts, which is almost the same as the UK at 240 volts. This means that UK appliances will work perfectly well albeit, slightly slower. You may, however, need a plug adaptor. Some cruise ships include both European-style and UK-style outlets for charging your devices. However, it’s best to check with your cruise company before you travel if you wish to use or charge your electronics in your cabin.

Cruise cabins may have limited electrical outlets for use, so an extension cord or small power strip can be life-saving travel essential for those passengers who need to charge or use several electronic devices at once.

essential travel items travel adaptors

Binoculars and reading material

One of the best things about a river cruise is the opportunity to view amazing scenery as you travel between destinations. A small pair of binoculars will allow you to hone in on a fairy tale castle perched high above the river banks or spot local wildlife.

However, if you want to take a break from sightseeing, consider other forms of entertainment. A book or a Kindle is a great way to fill your time while sailing to your next destination and is ideal for lounging on a sunbed on the deck. Some cruise ships even have a library on board.

Explore European river cruises

Life onboard a European river cruise means you’ll be sailing in comfort and surrounded by luxury. Explore all the river cruises on offer, such as the Medieval Germany river cruise or discovering the flavours of the Rhône with Prue Leith.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.