This post will cover some specific cruise essentials: What to pack and what to wear on a European barge cruise or a river cruise in Europe. We’ll particularly look at what to pack for a 7 day cruise on a luxury hotel barge, and include a practical capsule wardrobe for a cruise on a small boat, also suitable as a packing list for a vacation on one of the bigger European river cruise ships.
What to wear on a river cruise in Europe
I love cruising, and I particularly enjoy the very laid back vacations you can enjoy on luxury barges and on river cruises in Europe.
Recently I was lucky enough to be a guest on a luxury hotel barge in Italy, called La Bella Vita with European Waterways. Although I knew the dress code would be fairly casual, I spent a fair amount of time planning my wardrobe and I wore every piece I’d packed, and all the garments I chose I believe worked really well together.
Canal barges are smaller than the long river boats and river cruise ships which ply the waterways of Europe, and offer a more exclusive experience, with fewer guests (passengers often only equal the number of crew members!) However, the clothes you pack would be very similar for each type of cruise.
You’re assured of a great time if you love slow travel on a small boat, and the dress code, particularly on European Waterways cruises, is almost always casual – even for the captain’s dinner which at it’s most dressy runs to smart casual or cocktail attire if you wish. So you don’t have to pack anything too formal or fancy.
What to wear on a European barge vacation
You’ll have plenty of time to spend reading a book, or lounging on the sun deck, so do pack clothes you feel comfortable in. While I wouldn’t suggest ‘onesies’ or baggy tracksuits, you can definitely pack jeggings, treggings, leggings, shorts or active-wear.
Tank tops and shorts are fine if you’re travelling in the summer months – If you’re visiting churches on shore excursions you might want to think about covering up in a respectful manner. Light, long sleeved blouses, and longer wide-bottomed or active wear pants as base items for layering are great in the shoulder seasons.
Take one handbag and make it a good one! I prefer a cross-body bag when I’m travelling so that my hands and arms are always free, and it feels nice and secure against me. I like one with a zipped main compartment, because it just feels safer. For this cruise I chose a show-stopping cherry red luxury leather crossbody bag from Travel and Living Collection Bags and Accessories.
How to Dress for a Barge Cruise – Useful Tips and Must-Haves!
I travelled in the shoulder season, which is a great time to visit Italy.
So I’m focussing on what to pack for a European river cruise in October. You can adapt the garments for warmer weather, but most barge cruises end at the end of October so you won’t need really warm clothes or overcoats.
First of all you need to dress for comfort. I wanted clothes that would take me from breakfast to dinner if necessary, and also be flexible enough to move in should there be a shore excursion that involved walking or climbing steps.
Barge cruise attire must include comfortable walking shoes that don’t slip! You don’t want to be slipping and sliding all over the wooden deck! Nor do you want to come back from a walking tour with blisters.
I believe capri pants or 3/4 length pants with some stretch are fabulous for the day time, and teamed with a long length T-shirt, button down shirt or blouse, they are very adaptable. You can wear them with flats, sneakers or sandals in the daytime and then with a smarter blouse and ankle boots or elegant sandals at night-time.
Only the men on our barge cruise wore shorts. Firstly it probably wasn’t quite hot enough for us to need them, but secondly we visited churches where it may not have been appropriate. Women mostly wore active wear, smart tracksuit pants, jeans and treggings teamed with T shirts, pretty blouses, cardigans, sweatshirts and light sports jackets.
For outerwear I would have loved to take more but I packed one black cardigan, a sweatshirt, a light outdoor-wear fleecey and a reasonably thin black sports jacket that I actually bought at Aldi – it has a hoodie too! A front zip and side pockets made it practical for all kinds of weather. I could put my mobile phone and credit card in the pockets, and zip it up on cooler days pulling up the hoodie when I was on the outside top deck in the morning or evening.
I like V-neck T shirts with some room around the middle – ie not tight and fitted. For me Styling You The Label T’s fit the bill perfectly. They are designed for curvy figures, don’t cling around your midriff or arms, and don’t need ironing. I took along a long sleeved white Tee and a short sleeved baby pink Tee both pictured below. Read more about Styling You Clothes and where to buy here.
For cooler days and for dinner times my staples were black ponte pants, treggings and jeggings – again so adaptable and smart enough to look as if you’ve made an effort at night. I packed a classic pair of full length jersey ponte pants, and a pair of treggings for nighttime, as well as a thinner pair of jeggings for day wear (pictured above and below).
I wanted to dress up a bit for the captain’s farewell dinner, so I took along a pair of comfy designer pants and button down black shirt in a technical fabric (both from Styling You The Label designed by Nikki Parkinson) to wear with some silver costume jewellery and my black ankle boots.
Scarves are your friends, as they can jazz up an outfit instantly and turn it into something that appears quite new. So too is costume jewellery; necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Just don’t take your crown jewels with you. It’s not worth the risk while you’re travelling. Rather opt for some stand-out fashion jewellery.
A sun hat is a must-have. Preferably something with a string tie inside the rim that you can adjust in windy weather, or if you’re on a smaller craft. I always like my travel hats to be scrunchy – ones that I can scrunch up and put in my handbag if I’m not wearing them.
What clothes to bring on a barge holiday
A capsule wardrobe for a river cruise should consist of mostly block colours, and as few colours as possible.
You want to think about packing mostly casual clothes that don’t take up a much space – think quick drying, and clothes that don’t need ironing. Activewear is a good bet.
What you want to achieve is simplicity. You want to be able to grab a pair of pants in the morning and instantly team them with a top, scarf and outerwear to suit the activities and the weather for that day.
I generally stick to black and white, but then add some show pony pieces in block jewel colours that I know will go well with black or white. For this cruise I also took along a pair of 3/4 length bengaline capri pants in a gorgeous shade of blue, which actually worked really well with a long white Tee, a red blouse, a striped white and blue shirt, and a baby pink top. The shade of blue was very versatile.
Packing List : What to pack for hotel barge cruise or river cruise
- One casual dress suitable for day-time (that you could also wear for dinner)
- T shirts – 2 short sleeved, 1 long sleeved
- 3 blouses that you love.
- Cut offs or Capri style pants x 2 (white and one other colour)
- 1 x Ponte Pants (for daytime)
- 1 x Jeggings (for daytime)
- 1 x Treggings (or black pants or smart black jeans)
- 1 sweatshirt
- 1 fleece
- 1 long length cardigan
- 1 flexible sports jacket
- An outfit for the captain’s dinner.
- 1 pair of super comfy walking sandals
- 1 pair of walking shoes or trainers
- 1 pair of ankle boots with small heel
- 1 pair of elegant sandals or fashionable sneakers (that are comfortable but dressier)
- Light rain jacket
- Scarves and accessories
- Hair Shampoo, Conditioner and Shower Gel (if you prefer your own to the amenities provided onboard).
- Lightweight crossover bag
Top Tips for Barge Cruising
What you’ll need to pack for your Euro Barge Cruise Vacation, some tips on packing light, when to go, and handy hacks.
- Do pack a swimsuit in case there’s a hot tub on board.
- Pack comfy sandals or walking shoes for excursions such as those to local markets, or wine estates, and walking tours of towns with a tour guide. Three pairs of shoes should be enough: Walking shoes, sandals, night-time fashion sneakers or sandals.
- Pack Tee shirts that are quick dry. If you have to wash them you can pop them on a hanger in your bathroom to dry. Same goes for underwear.
- Pack a hat for when you’re sitting up on the sun deck (make sure it’s crushable and fits into your handbag)
- The best time to go on barge holidays in Europe is not during the peak season but rather during the shoulder seasons, so do take a couple of warm sweater or cardigans if you’re vacation falls in April and May or September and October.
- The en-suite bathroom is adequate but in reality it’s a small space. Take a couple of pegs with hooks, or caribeners to hang your vanity bags on the towel rails.
- The best way to store your suitcase is under the bed – so bring a smallish soft shell suitcase or one which can squish up.
- Bring a couple of extra hangers with you. I found we could really have done with a few more in our wardrobe.
- It’s a good idea for pack a smart pair of sandals or sneakers for this dinner, but leave your high heels at home! There aren’t really formal nights during a luxury barge cruise in the same way you’d expect on an ocean cruise line.
Your Questions Answered : What to Pack for a Barge Cruise
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to dress up?
No, the dress code is casual. You might choose to dress up slightly for the captain’s dinner on the last night.
Should I bring a dress?
It’s not necessary to bring a dress unless you love wearing a dress instead of pants during the daytime. In the summer months a comfy day dress might be suitable for sightseeing as long as you can wear it with comfy sandals or sneakers. You could also glam it up a bit for dinner, and add an outer layer for sunsets on deck. But it’s not essential to wear a dress at all during your cruise.
What shoes should I pack?
Comfortable shoes that are non-slip.
Here are some posts to help you choose:
Is activewear appropriate?
Yes, activewear is great for sightseeing and day trips, or for lounging around in during the day on deck.
I love these shapewear leggings.
Should I bring a raincoat?
I think a light raincoat or a waterproof poncho you can fold up in your handbag is always a good bet in Europe.
What type of handbag is best?
A cross-body bag with a zip across the main compartment. Check out these posts for some fabulous crossbody bags to buy online: Best Crossbody Bags for Travels and Best Crossbody Bags for Women with Style.
Would you pack shapewear?
While I love shapewear for wearing under fitted dresses, I would say leave your shapewear at home, especially if you’re travelling in hot weather. However some tummy-hugging fitted underwear can always make you feel fab – here’s a post explaining more and where to buy : Best Shapewear for Lower Belly Pooch
What exactly is a European barge cruise?
A barge cruise is a type of tour that allows travelers to explore water routes, like canals and waterways in Europe, in an authentic and immersive way. The tours take visitors through areas of urban environment, and rural scenery that they don’t usually see up close. The boat tends to break down any barriers between tourists and locals as well as give them an opportunity to find out more about their surroundings while exploring famous, and not so famous landmarks with guides during on shore excursions. Daily activities might include; a visit to a wine estate to sample amazing wines, tours of historic towns or small villages.
A hotel barge cruise offers travelers luxury accommodation aboard the boat with daily excursions off the boat. You’ll be visiting various off the beaten track tourist attractions along canals (and some rivers) in Europe It is perfect for those travellers looking for something different from trains, planes, car hire, large boat trips, hotels or hostels.
Barge cruise prices are generally at the higher end of the cruising scale due to their exclusivity and all inclusive fare. You can expect: Daily excursions, wine tasting, fine dining, fabulous food prepared by an on board chef with gourmet dishes and wine pairings, open bar 24/7, small but comfortable cabins, dining room and salon/bar area, sun deck with adequate shaded seating, bicycles on board and sometimes a hot-tub too.
Generally you can expect the services of an English-speaking crew.
Fellow passengers will most probably be like-minded, keen to experience the sights and culture of a country at a snail’s pace.
Read more about barge cruising in these posts:
Luxury Italy River Cruise – All You Need to Know
How to Plan Your EuroBarge Trip Like a Pro and Get the Most Out of It.
What to Wear on a Barge Cruise – My personal tips
- The accent is on comfortable and casual. This is not the type of cruise which requires several changes of clothes a day, but rather everyday wear that you might take on holiday with friends.
- Comfortable shoes for around the barge, or even slipper socks if you are happy to wear them. Nobody stands on ceremony on the barge although some people will put on a clean shirt for instance in the evening, and dress up a little more formally for the Captain’s dinner at the end of the week.
- Deck shoes for around the boat are great. Comfy shoes or trainers for excursions are recommended where there is some walking involved.
- Comfy walking sandals or comfy sandals for on the boat are also a good idea.
- High heels are not required.
- A swimsuit is a good idea if you plan to use the jacuzzi – although we found we didn’t have time to even consider this.
- A mixture of capri pants and various tops were ideal for our trip at during October when the weather was a little unsettled.
- For dinner I’d generally put on a pair of slim leg black pants with a nice top. I’d sometimes wear a cardigan in the dining/saloon area.
- I took a thin fleece from Mountain Warehouse with me on some excursions – it folded up small, was warm and in a cherry red colour which was a nice show-pony piece!
- I packed a dress and never wore it.
- For gentle walking I packed activewear pants, but actually always wore jeggings or capri pants in preference on shore excursions.
- For sitting on deck watching the world go by I wore my comfy womfy ponte pants or treggings, which were very, very easy to wear.
- I travelled with a leather crossbody handbag big enough for my wallet, my phone, my sunglasses, a notepad and pen, mints, lipstick, fold up hair brush, sun hat and tissues.
- My small day backpack was useful for carrying a poncho, rain jacket, camera and water – but I actually never used it on excursions.
- When travelling to and from Italy my day pack was great. It contained my laptop, cables and chargers, documents, ear phones, kindle, and our tickets.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this almost “Complete Guide to What to Pack for a European Barge Cruise!”
If you have any tips, hints or suggestions about what to wear when vacationing on water, please share in the comments!
Author: Johanna Castro is a veteran freelance writer who’s lived in 11 different countries, and written for over 40 publications. She now writes two blogs, Lifestyle Fifty and ZigaZag and lives in Western Australia.
Disclaimer: This post “This is What To Wear on a European Barge Cruise”, What you Need to Know, Cruise Essentials, may contain affiliate links from which I stand to earn a small commission but at no expense to you. I was a guest of European Waterways but all opinions are my own. Any gifted items are marked with an *. Lifestyle Fifty Website is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Please read my full disclosure here.