The Riviera Travel Blog

01283 742 300

Douro Cruise – a Guide to Cruising the Douro River

  • Take an unforgettable voyage along the Douro river as it travels through Portugal and Spain
  • Discover the delights of the stunning Douro Valley and enjoy a glass of its famous wines and ports
  • When to book a Douro river cruise, what to pack and typical Douro river cruise itineraries

If you’ve never been on a Douro river cruise, 2020 may be the year to embark on an unforgettable voyage alongside the Douro river’s beautiful riverbanks awash with olive, almond and grape terraces. A cruise on the Douro river also allows you to sample the fine wine and port produced in the valley – so what are you waiting for?

douro river salamanca cathedral

Salamanca Cathedral, Spain

Why should you visit the Douro Valley?

There are lots of reasons why a Douro river cruise should be on your bucket list for 2020. Although the Douro stretches some 550 miles from Porto on the Portuguese west coast to Spain’s Sierra de Urbión mountains, cruises tend to focus on the delights of the stunning Douro Valley – one of the world’s oldest delimited wine regions. Dotted with charming villages, age-old traditions and, of course, wonderful wine, what’s not to like?

A Douro Valley wine tour is a highlight of any Douro cruise, where you can learn more about days gone by when the Douro was a wild, precarious river and transporting port to wine merchants was often a perilous expedition. Fortunately, today the river has a series of dams and locks making voyages perfectly serene and enjoyable. All you need to do is sit back and relax on the ship’s sun deck and soak up the surrounding scenery. On board a Douro cruise you pass by lush hillsides, soaring cliffs, monasteries and mansions.

As for excursions ashore, as well as being guided around Porto and taken to the vibrant Spanish city of Salamanca, days will be spent in an idyllic 12th-century walled village and at the glorious Mateus Palace Gardens.

douro river mateus palace

Mateus Palace and garden in Villa Real, Portugal

What’s a typical Douro river cruise itinerary?

Eight-day Douro river cruises typically start and end in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city. With its red-tiled townhouses, tangled lanes and traditional shops, Porto is also home to a wealth of wine houses. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in a little port tasting. Some of the best, world-renowned port producers such as Taylor’s and Sandeman have cellars in the city making it easy to learn more about port’s unique fermentation and ageing processes. You’ll discover that the grapes are still pressed by feet!

douro cruise porto wine cellar

Old fashioned wine cellar in Porto, Portugal

A city tour with an English-speaking expert guide unveils more about the fascinating history of Porto, its trading links with India and celebrated architecture – a fortress, cathedral and elaborate bridge are a testament to some ingenious designs.

Leaving the coast and cruising inland, the first Douro river stop-off is near Castelo Rodrigo, a hilltop medieval village. The church here was a resting place on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and it’s believed St Francis himself paid it a visit. Views over the nearby ochre hillsides are a highlight of the excursion. Don’t forget to take your camera!

douro cruise village of figueira de castelo rodrigo

Village of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Guarda, Portugal

Next on the itinerary is Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Regarded by many Spaniards as the nation’s most beautiful city, time spent exploring the two cathedrals, tranquil streets and historic squares is a joy. Also head to the university, the oldest in Spain having been founded in 1218. The Spanish Inquisition’s records are still kept here, and the building’s immaculately preserved lecture halls are inspiring.

While in Salamanca, why not buy some souvenirs? Traditional shops and markets sell filigree charro jewellery (in Spanish ‘filigrana charra’) and plenty of handmade crafts. And don’t miss out on catching an authentic flamenco show.

A leisurely cruise along the Douro river also moors at the small town of Peso de Régua from where it’s easy to visit the grand Mateus Palace, a recognisable residence if you’re familiar with the label on a bottle of Mateus Rosé. Baroque in design, the palace’s interior includes some intricately carved wood ceilings. Its landscaped French gardens and pond are impressive too.

douro river cruise senhora dos Remédios in Lamego

Senhora dos Remédios, Lamego

Before returning back to Porto a final day is spent in Lamego, a historic town that was one of the first places to be reclaimed from the Moors in the 12th century. Lamego is also the home of Raposeira, Portugal’s sparkling wine, as well as close to the region’s most distinguished quinta, an estate-vineyard. Excursions culminate in a much-anticipated port tasting.

When’s the best time to go on a Douro cruise?

The most popular times to visit the Douro Valley are during the spring months of May and June, and again in autumn during September and October. Temperatures are at their most pleasant – the mercury can push 30°C inland in July and August – and cities are less crowded. However, a journey along the Douro is one of the few Europe cruises you can enjoy from March onwards, right up until November.

Book a cruise to coincide with harvest time and the colours in the vineyards are simply dazzling. There is also much excitement as wine producers start to access their crops.

douro cruise glass of raposeira in the douro valley vineyard

Glass of raposeira in a Douro Valley vineyard

What should you pack for a Douro river cruise?

As with every Europe river cruise, the dress code is relaxed and informal, so pack comfortable, casual clothes and good shoes that are suitable for any walking excursions. As temperatures vary as you travel from place to place bring layers, especially if visiting early or later in the year. Although there’s not usually much wind along the Douro Valley, there can sometimes be a breeze from the Atlantic Ocean so Porto may feel cooler.

Don’t forget your swimsuit either. Many ships that sail along the Douro have a sundeck pool – a rare treat on river cruises.

Start your own Douro cruise adventure

As you can see, a trip to the Douro Valley really ought to be added to your holiday bucket list. On a Douro river cruise, both Portugal and Spain can be discovered and enjoyed. Two distinct cultures, only one captivating cruise.

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