What To Pack For A Barge Cruise: A Guide for First-Timers

Published on: September 8, 2018 | Last Updated on September 20, 2018
Canal in Canal in Illkirch, France

If you are reading this article and are in a tizzy about what to pack for a barge cruise, relax. The most important thing to remember is that hotel barging is a casual, comfortable and pretty hassle-free way to travel.

While barge cruising is a luxury travel experience (because it is so intimate and personalized), barge cruises and their devotees are typically devoid of pretense. You’ll find yourself amidst kindred spirits who appreciate “slow travel” without the glitz and who share your passion for immersing yourself in art, architecture, history and the culture of a destination—and appreciate good food and wine!

Here are a few tips, based on our experience, to help you think about what to pack for a barge cruise:

Dress code: Informal

There aren’t any formal dress-up nights on a barge cruise. The closest thing to it is probably the farewell dinner on the last night of the voyage. But even then, you don’t need to wear anything fancy. Slacks and a nice top for women and long pants with a collared tee shirt for men are fine. (No ties or dinner jackets required and they would probably feel out of place). Dress comfortably.

Depending on your dress style and the weather, shorts, skirts or slacks are appropriate daytime attire for women. If you’re visiting a church, you’ll want to have something to cover exposed shoulders with a sweater or shawl. Unlike ocean cruising, days often blur into evenings without any need to change clothes for dinner.

Casual onboard entertainment on a European Waterways barge in Saverne, France

Casual onboard entertainment on a European Waterways barge in Saverne, France

Don’t count on onboard laundry services

There aren’t any laundry services onboard hotel barges so be sure to bring enough clothes and underwear to last you through the trip. If push came to shove, you could probably wash small items in your bathroom sink (although you might have to wait some time for anything to dry). 

Resist the urge to overpack 

Square footage in staterooms and suites on hotel barges is more limited than that on riverboats or ocean liners. While cabin space is sufficient to stow your belongings, it is more of a hassle to bring “too much stuff” or weigh yourself down with an oversized suitcase. (After you unpack, your suitcase is generally stowed under your bed).

What to Pack for a Barge Cruise: Stateroom on European Waterways barge Panache

Stateroom on European Waterways barge Panache

If you only bring what you think you’ll require, you’ll allow yourself a little space to tuck in an irresistible treasure you find to take home from your travels. Women don’t need to bring expensive jewelry or evening bags.

Comfortable walking shoes are essential 

Remember you’ll be on a boat, getting on and off multiple times via steps and/or a metal gangway. Both of these can be slippery when wet so wear sensible, rubber-soled shoes. Sneakers or some other type of athletic shoes are a good choice.

Because barges travel quite slowly (no more than 4-5 miles per hour), this affords passengers opportunities to hop on and off the boat to walk, bicycle or jog along the towpaths before meeting the boat at an upcoming lock. You’ll also be walking in small towns and villages—sometimes with unpaved or cobblestone streets—for guided tours and visits to artisans, wineries and castles.

What To Pack For a Barge Cruise: Bicycles on a barge on a canal in Nordhouse, France

Bicycles on a European Waterways barge on a canal in Nordhouse, France

A pair of flats or sandals can be comfortable to wear at meals or when relaxing on the barge. 

Pack in layers

Barge cruises typically sail between April and October so the weather is temperate. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t get colder or hotter than expected.

Our last barge trip was in late August. During the course of one week, we experienced very hot weather, weather cool enough to warrant a sweatshirt or warm sweater and rain. Dressing in layers allows you to feel comfortable on a crisp, chilly morning and take off your outerwear as the sun warms up the day.

Daytime tours take place rain or shine, so bring along a light rain jacket or poncho. Umbrellas are usually available on loan aboard the barge. Many barges have hot tubs for relaxing after a hot day. If you want to take the plunge, bring a bathing suit, sun protection and sunglasses.

Hot tub on European Waterways' Panache

Hot tub on European Waterways’ Panache

Stay connected

Wi-Fi connections can be spotty along canals (especially if the barge is passing through a lock or tunnel) but you’ll be able to use your smartphone or laptop some of the time. If you want to make phone calls, you’ll need to arrange an international data plan before leaving home.

We always recommend bringing along a small power strip (with appropriate voltage) when traveling to charge your multiple gadgets overnight, whether it’s a smartphone, camera or e-book reader. Bring an electrical adapter, too. Leave your hair dryer at home because you’ll find one in your stateroom (along with basic of toiletries).

If in doubt 

Specific policies and amenities always vary somewhat by barge operator and boat. If you have questions about what to pack for your upcoming cruise, don’t hesitate to call the company.

What To Pack For a Barge Cruise: Waterlife on a canal in Maconge, France

Waterlife on a canal in Maconge, France

Previously on

My Article on Forbes:


What To Pack For A Barge Cruise


  • Reply
    sheryl kraft
    September 18, 2018 at 9:43 am

    I like that the boats move so slowly…and that you need not pack much. A win-win!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 18, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      Just two of so many reasons why barge cruising is awesome!

  • Reply
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
    October 1, 2018 at 4:20 am

    The first and, until recently, the last cruise I have ever done was nearly 40 years ago. It turned out that my extreme seasickness didn’t magically disappear as promised after a few days (then weeks) at sea. This year however I discovered river cruising and was hooked. Barge cruising sounds like even more fun. I am absolutely going to give this a go.

  • Reply
    Pamela Mckuen
    October 1, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    Your packing advice is far more useful than the Heidi Klum article in which she says she packs 15 pairs of sunglasses and enough bathing suits to change two or three times a day.

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    October 1, 2018 at 11:23 pm

    I have always been curious about barge cruises. I enjoyed learning about them as well as what to pack. As always; great photos!!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 2, 2018 at 8:03 am

      Because barge cruises are so much fewer in number than river cruises or ocean cruises, they still remain undiscovered to many.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2018 at 5:51 am

    We often watch the lazily passing boats here in Burgundy, France, and dream of taking a trip on the river. I will keep your packing list, just in case!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 2, 2018 at 8:19 am

      Hope you get to use it! We cruised Burgundy, too. What a lovely place to live!

  • Reply
    Jeff Bryant
    October 2, 2018 at 6:28 am

    We have loved following the barge cruise series. I believe we are now ready to check out one for ourselves. Thanks for sharing this unique travel style.

  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    October 2, 2018 at 9:06 pm

    I would love to take a barge cruise! Thx for the fabulous guide. It will come in useful when I plan my trip.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2018 at 4:16 am

    Wow! I’ve never heard of a barge cruise before. Nice that it moves slowly. I would quite like to bike and meet it at the next point. Good tip about comfy shoes. My must do!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 3, 2018 at 7:42 am

      Glad I could introduce you to this new mode of travel.

  • Reply
    Judy Freedman
    October 4, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Sounds like a fun and easy way to travel. I prefer not having to pack dress clothes. This style if travel seems more relaxing.

  • Reply
    Kristin Henning
    October 5, 2018 at 10:20 am

    I love your photo of the swan out the porthole–and of course the bikes onboard. Inspiring!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 5, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      It sure was neat to see all the wildlife in and around the canals.

  • Reply
    October 5, 2018 at 11:35 am

    I do prefer travel without the glitz – just down to earth to see the earth, outdoors, as wells as art, architecture, history and culture. Sounds like we would like a barge cruise. It sounds like all you need for dressing up is casual slacks or skirt and a nice top. Sounds good! I always take a sweater even when going to hot weather, as you never know if you’ll be indoors in air conditioning. Sounds like the way I generally pack for trips – layer, rain wear, medium weight sweatshirt with hood, and comfy walking shoes. Wondering if waterproof hiking shoes would be better than walking shoes?

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 7, 2018 at 8:29 am

      Good thought. I imagine that you might want waterproof shoes if the towpaths became very wet but we were fortunate with regular walking shoes.

  • Reply
    Rose Palmer
    October 7, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    I never knew about barge cruises.added to my growing bucket list.i like the idea that it is informal.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 17, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Glad I could introduce you to this wonderfully relaxing way to travel.

  • Reply
    Jackie Smith
    October 7, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    We’ve become so ‘relaxed’ in our lifestyle and wardrobe that I am afraid we will need to rethink any cruising as we may just look like we’ve come in from the farm! Great tips for us though on what to pack for barge cruising!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 17, 2018 at 12:52 pm

      Barge cruising is so relaxed that you could certainly “come as you are.”

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