A river cruise is the ideal way to explore Europe, and the Douro is an unconventional destination with stunning vistas, where the wine flows as abundantly as the river itself. I have created this guide to help you learn about the Douro and find the Douro River Cruise that is right for you!

  • Imagine visiting multiple locations on one journey but only unpacking once.
  • Imagine traveling in a floating boutique hotel right to the heart of some of the world’s most romantic and historic destinations.
  • Imagine experiencing this with the people you love most from the vantage point of a beautiful cabin with views of dramatic and beautiful terraced vineyards.

The River Cruise Experience

A Douro River Cruise takes you on a journey across Portugal from the Atlantic Ocean to the border with Spain. You dock right in the middle of each destination and walk off the ship to the center of town.

As the Douro is the epicenter of the unique winemaking culture of Portugal, many of your stops along the river will incorporate trips to the region’s vineyards. You will also be able to experience history as you wander the towns and cities on this river in guided tours or at your leisure.

In order to navigate these waters, the ships need to be small in size: they hold between 75-125 passengers. So every aspect of your experience -the service, the dining, the tours – is personal. No waiting for the buffet, no lining up for excursions.

Finally, river cruises are all-inclusive. This means that almost every part of your cruise, from your food and drink to your excursions and other activities, is included in the price, leaving you free to relax and enjoy your vacation.

The Douro – an overview

Although it may be a surprise to you, the Portuguese have long known of the majesty of the Douro River. The river begins its journey westward to the Atlantic in the Urbion Peaks of Spain and then travels for 556 miles before flowing into the ocean. It is not until it crosses the border between Spain and Portugal that it becomes navigable for river cruising, but this last quarter of the river stands out for its beauty and culture. In fact, this portion of the river, often referred to as the Alto Douro Region, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002 because of its unique cultural heritage particularly when it comes to making wines.

The winemaking tradition along the Douro is immediately obvious to anyone who visits the area. As you cruise down the river you will notice vineyard after vineyard built into the hills that line the waterway. Beyond their beauty, these tiered wine estates are noteworthy for the vintages that they produce. From Port to Vino Verde, the wines produced here cannot be found anywhere else in the world. For these reasons, a Douro River Cruise is the perfect expedition for those who love unique scenery, cultures, and wine.

Some Highlights of a Douro River Cruise

Porto – Porto is the birthplace of port, the deliciously rich wine that is often served with dessert. For this reason, no trip to the city is complete without a port wine tasting, particularly if it is paired with food from any one of Porto’s fine dining restaurants. In addition, this stunning city has much to offer beyond fine food and libations. Visit the historic district of Ribeira to be transported back in time through a maze of brightly colored houses, tour the city’s Cathedral which displays the incredible intricacy of gothic architecture, or spend a relaxing afternoon wandering the botanical gardens.

Peso de Régua – More commonly simply referred to as Régua, this town marks the edge of the port wine region of the Douro and the official beginning of the Alto Douro. As a major exporter of port, Régua is another great spot to sample this special beverage. Before that though, a visit to the ornate 18th-century Palacio Anadia will provide a feast for your eyes. If you’d rather work up an appetite by burning calories, climbing the 700 Lamego Steps to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies is another great local activity. While there, also be sure to check out the gothic cathedral and the ruins of the Lamego Castle, built in the 12th century.

Pinhao – This town situated on the edge of the Douro is picturesque yet so small that there isn’t much to explore. Instead, the draw of Pinhão is the access it provides to the large number of surrounding vineyards. On your Douro river cruise, a stop in Pinhão means a chance to learn about and try some of the authentic wines produced in the region. In particular, you may want to visit the Quinta da Avessada, where you can brush up on your winemaking knowledge in the museum dedicated to the subject and delight your pallet with delicious flavor combinations.

Barca d’Alva – This small port is where your boat will dock so that you can embark on an adventure to Castilo Rodrigo. This medieval town sits atop a hill that looks out over the Douro River Valley to the North and the border between Portugal and Spain to the East. Here, you can wander streets that were first walked in the 13th century, between still-standing buildings that are just as old, and learn about the complicated history of the region. Although you can drive to Castilo Rodrigo, those looking for some exercise can opt to hike there instead. Afterward, enjoy another evening of local food and, of course, wine.

Salamanca – Just over the Spanish border, Vega de Terron will be where your ship docks, but Salamanca is the real destination. Referred to as a “living museum”, this incredible city is known for buildings crafted from golden sandstone and for being the location of one of the oldest universities in Europe, the still renowned University of Salamanca, founded in 1218. As you wander this city’s streets, be sure to stop at the Old Cathedral, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, the New Cathedral, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, the Gothic House of Shells, and the Plaza Mayor. Also, make sure to grab a bite to eat at one of the many markets before heading back to your boat in Vega de Terron.

Choosing Your Douro River Cruise!

Now that you know more about what you will see and do on your Douro River Cruise, it’s time to find the cruise that’s right for you!

Have you decided if you would like to extend your trip with an exploration into Spain or Portugal? Or whether you would prefer a trip that begins and ends in Porto or would rather travel the river in one direction? Whatever you decide, there are some other things you should consider as you choose your Douro River Cruise.

When do you want to go?

One of the first things you need to decide is when you want to travel. Cruises on the Douro River are generally available from April through November, and every season brings its own delights.

If you travel in the spring you will see the first flowers bloom; the summer brings great weather and long days, and in the fall you will be visiting during the grape harvest.

How Long of a Cruise?

Most Douro River Cruise sailings last 7 nights, but there are some that are longer, lasting 10 or 11 nights instead. These longer cruises often include land excursions to Lisbon.

So if you are squeezing in a vacation with a limited amount of time, or want to combine your River Cruise with other tours, you will want to consider one of the shorter cruises. However, if you have more time to explore the Douro, be sure to ask about one of the longer cruise options!

Special Interest Cruises

Do you love certain libations over others? Or perhaps you’re a history buff? Or would you like a River Cruise that incorporates your favorite outdoor activity such as biking, hiking, or golf?

There are many options for special cruises that focus on your interests and passions, no matter what they may be! Let me know if you would be interested in more information.

Pre- and Post-Cruise Options

You can extend your vacation on either end of your River Cruise by adding a pre- or post-cruise land extension. Longer Douro trips may already incorporate a trip to Lisbon, and it is easy to add other tours in Portugal or Spain to either end of your trip as well.

Which River Cruise Company?

You will want to pick the River Cruise company that fits your style. Some ships are more ornate, some more modern; some have more inclusions upfront and some give you more a la carte choices; and some are better options for families, couples, or singles. Tell me about yourself and I can help you make this important choice.

Start Planning

Let’s Connect!

Kira Gartner

Certified Leisure Travel Specialist

P: 267-481-2930
E: kira@blueskydestinations.net

As a River Cruise expert, I will help you sort through all the different options and find the perfect Douro River Cruise for you! Reach out to me and let’s start planning!

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