Before I went on my first cruise with Princess Cruises, I had no idea what to pack for a European cruise – or any cruise, for that matter!

Since I live out of my suitcase, I don’t normally think about packing much.

With no home base, I don’t really have the luxury for packing for each trip unless I empty my suitcase along the way.

But if there’s one trip I wish I could have packed specifically for, it was the Princess cruise.


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Packing for a cruise

The truth is, you don’t need a whole lot on a cruise. One of the best things about cruising is that you can kind of just forget about everything and relax.

With no need to think about food (hello complimentary 24-hour room service), travel or sometimes even airports, it really is the easiest form of travel.

That doesn’t mean you won’t want to go prepared, though.

Packing for a European cruise is a little trickier than, say, a Caribbean cruise. Europe is so varied – and the weather so unreliable! – that it pays to be prepared for all occasions.

Here’s what to pack for a European cruise, based on the things I used (and the things I wished I had!).

A European cruise packing list

This packing list isn’t going to cover absolutely everything you need to take on a cruise. If you’d like a full downloadable cruise packing list, sign up at the bottom and I’ll send you one.

Instead, we’re going to focus on the particularly useful things to pack for a European cruise. Europe is an incredibly varied continent, with fairly unpredictable weather. Therefore, what you need to pack will depend partly on your cruise destinations.

Here are the different things to think about when putting together your European cruise packing list.

Princess Cruises stateroom on the Sapphire Princess

What to pack for the cruise ship

The average European cruise may not have as many sea days as, say, a Caribbean cruise. But you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy everything on board!

For a comfortable and convenient time at sea, considering adding the following items to your cruise packing list:

Swimwear: Most cruise ships have a swimming pool and/or spa on board, so don’t forget to pack your swimwear! It can easy to forget, especially if you’re heading to on a city-focused cruise, but will come in handy for a chilled out sea day.

Sunglasses: Even in the middle of winter, the sun can show itself in Europe. Make sure you have a pair of sunnies if you want to enjoy the outside decks. 

Gym clothing: Even if you don’t plan on using the gym on board, you may want to sign up for a yoga session or spinning class. I found myself more motivated than ever to workout while at sea – and yes, the fact that the gym was at the front of the ship may have helped with that!

Comfortable shoes: If you’ve never been on a cruise before, prepare to be blown away by just how MASSIVE cruise ships are. Pack  some comfy shoes for day to day life on the ship so you can get around and make the most of it. (If you want to know what else to expect, here are 13 more pointers.)

Layers: Again, it pays to be prepared for that unpredictable European weather! 

A good book: There’s plenty of time to relax on a cruise – if you want to! Pack a book to enjoy by the pool, in your cabin or even at one of the many bars and lounges on board.

Card wallet/pouch: If, like us, you’re going to be given a cruise card on board, make sure you have somewhere to keep it. There’s nothing worse than rummaging around your bag looking for it at the end of the day (or night)

Princess Cruises top deck bar on the Sapphire Princess

Packing for formal nights on a European cruise

Formal nights are one of the most fun parts of a cruise! 

For me, the formal night was a bit of an issue. With only the clothes I use and wear in my suitcase, I didn’t have anything remotely formal to wear.

I had to ask my mum to bring a bag of dresses to London for me to pick up on my way to Southampton, but would have had SO much fun packing if I’d had a wardrobe of dresses (or somewhere to get them delivered) beforehand.

Next time I go on a cruise, this is the one thing I hope to be WAY more prepared for.

As I found out, you can get as dressed up as you like on formal nights. It’s a chance to have fun getting ready and wear the kinds of dresses you rarely get chance to otherwise.

Here’s what to pack for the cruise formal nights:

Dress/suit: There’s one rule to follow when packing for formal night – if you’re in doubt, go for the dressier option. For men, this will most likely mean a suit. For women, it could mean a cocktail dress, a full length ball gown or even a glitzy jumpsuit (my personal preference!).

Generally speaking, you want to pack the kind of thing you might wear to a wedding or the races.

Shoes: Being on a cruise ship, you might not want to pack your most delicate heels. If you’re confident walking in them, by all means go ahead – plenty of people on our ship wore stilettos on formal night.

I went for sandals with a slight heel because I was recovering from an ankle infection, but I needn’t have worried about looking out of place. While most women wore heels of some kind, there were a number of people wear sandals or smart flats too. Just leave the trainers for another evening!

Bag: You’ll probably want a bag of some kind, although you could just slip your cruise card into your phone case (if you have one). I packed this Kate Spade bag which doubles as both a shoulder bag and a clutch to carry the essentials. You won’t need much, so pack a smaller bag for the evenings.

Jacket: You never know what the temperature will be like on the ship. While it wasn’t cold in the restaurants, it was a little breezy at the outdoor bars at times. It’s a good idea to pack a lightweight jacket or cardigan for the evenings.

Visiting Dragonstone in Bilbao, Spain, on a Princess Cruise from Southampton
A shore excursion in Bilbao, Spain, on a 7-day European cruise with Princess Cruises

Packing for European cruise excursions

Europe has everything from mountains and hiking, to sandy beaches and bustling cities. That means you could find yourself in all sorts of environments during your shore excursions. 

The exact items you’ll need to pack might depend on the type of European cruise you’re taking, but here are some items to consider:

Hiking boots: The shore excursions you choose will depend on your own personal tastes and travel style, but there will probably be plenty of opportunities to hike!

Europe’s coastlines have some amazing walking routes and short hikes, so pack a pair of hiking boots or walking shoes if you might want to explore one.

Umbrella: Wherever you go in Europe, unfortunately you can’t guarantee the weather! Make sure you have an umbrella or a rain jacket so you don’t get caught in the rain.

Jacket: Again, layers are key when packing for any Europe trip. Pack a lightweight jacket that you can stick in your day bag.

Backpack/bag: Although you’ll have pretty much everything you need on board the cruise ship, make sure you pack a bag for carrying your essentials when on shore.

When I’m not carrying my camera bag, my favourite day bag is the Berghaus Freeflow. It comes in both men’s and women’s versions to fit your body and won’t leave you with any back pain!

Camera: You don’t need to carry a 16kg camera bag like I do. If you’re looking for something to slip in your pocket, the Canon PowerShot SX740 is pretty the perfect travel camera. In fact, Canon designed it just for travellers like you!

Princess Cruises Sapphire Princess cruise ship swimming pool

Other cruise essentials

Now you have your cruise clothing sorted, here are a few other things you might want to add to your European cruise packing list:

Sunscreen: You might not think you need sunscreen, especially if you’re heading to northern Europe. Given how unpredictable the weather can be, though, it’s a good idea to have a bottle of factor 30

Medication: It goes without saying that you’ll need any medication you usually take! You may also want to pack some painkillers and cold and flu medication, too. I came down with a nasty cold on my first day, and there weren’t any medicines or tablets available on board.

Refillable water bottle: Many people don’t know this, but the water on cruise ships is some of the cleanest in the world! Not only does it go through vigorous filtration systems, but it’s constantly monitored to make sure it meets global health standards.

Save any wasted plastic by bringing a refillable water bottle with you.

A watch: Even if you don’t usually wear a watch, you may want to pack one for your European cruise. Europe spans several time zones, so it’s helpful to have a way of keeping track.

Plus, you don’t want to depend on your phone (which could run out of battery) on shore days!

An adapter: Just because you’re in a particular part of the world, it doesn’t mean the plug sockets will be the ones from that region.

Cruise ships travel all over, so their sockets will depend on where the ship originated or where the cruise company is based. If you want to be safe, pack a multi-way adapter like this one. 

Travel tip: Check out my full list of recommended travel resources by clicking here.

What not to pack for a European cruise

So far, we’ve only looked at the things you might want to pack for a cruise, but I want to end this blog post by mentioning a few items you don’t need to pack for a European cruise.

Of course, you’re more than welcome to pack (most of) these if you like, but you really don’t need to.

Here are some things you can leave at home if you’d like to save yourself some space in your suitcase:

Tote bag/beach bag: On our cruise, everybody was given a bag to use on board and during excursions. You could even keep it if you wanted to! I’ve heard that most European cruises are the same. If you’re cruising on a large ship, you’ll probably have some kind of beach bag provided on board.

Towels: Another cruise essential that will be provided for you, you certainly don’t need to pack towels. In fact, it’s one item I pretty much never travel with! Both pool towels and bathroom towels are provided on the ship, so you don’t need to bring any.

Food! It should go without saying but you’re never going to go hungry on a cruise. There’s food everywhere! When you’re on land, there’s plenty of great local food to try too, so leave the snacks at home.

Hairdryer: Some ships don’t allow hairdryers on board, so make sure you check if you’re planning to pack one. Chances are you don’t need to, though, because your room should come with one.