Cruising along the Douro River is a tranquil experience, taking you into rural areas of Portugal and Spain with a sleepy, rustic vibe. This waterway offers some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery as a result, from traditional villages to the history-rich sights of Porto, a colourful hilltop city famed for its port wine production. You’ll pass through the famous Douro wine region, giving you the chance to sample local port and Muscatel, before reaching the rugged and remote landscapes at the end point of Vega de Terron in Spain.
Nestled into the banks of the sleepy River Douro, Porto is best known for its port wine, ornate architecture and network of metal bridges. This seaside Portuguese city offers abundant charms including the lavish décor of the Livraria Lello bookshop and neoclassical architecture of its Palacio da Bolsa. Modern architects like Rem Koolhaas have given the city a contemporary lift with the Casa da Musica a must-visit.
This part of the world is fairly warm throughout the year, so it makes an ideal cruising destination from late March through to November. Springtime is particularly charming in the Douro region, with floral blooms brightening up the small villages and a pleasant climate. The peak time is during the harvest season in the region’s wine country, typically the autumnal months of September and October. December holds its own charms with Christmas decorations and markets in cities like Porto, while the best deals can be found in March and November (though you may face a rainy day or two).
The Douro cruises its way from the ancient city of Porto to Salamanca in Spain, with plenty of highlights along the way. In Porto, you’ll be able to see remnants of the city’s 2000 years of history starting with the Roman empire! Stroll around the UNESO listed old town and don’t miss a visit to the gorgeously gothic Livrario Lello bookstore. Go port-tasting in Pinhao, visit the lush gardens of Mateus Palace, and wind up in the glorious golden city of Salamanca. It boasts two cathedrals sitting side by side, along with art deco museum and al fresco cafes.
A Douro river cruise passes primarily through Portugal, with the addition of a day or two in Spain to explore Salamanca. Both countries can be entered freely as a UK citizen, so you’ll be paperwork-free on this itinerary! No visa is required for entry to either Portugal or Spain. What you will need is a valid passport, which should be valid for the full duration of your visit – no need for any additional validity time here. Visitors can stay in Portugal as a tourist for up to three months, giving plenty of time for even the slowest Douro river cruise imaginable.
Portuguese cuisine is world-famous, and the Douro region is particularly well-positioned to offer fresh produce, luscious seafood and amazing wine. You’ll be able to eat up to your hearts’ content on local delicacies like salt cod or bacalhau, whether it’s dished up with scrambled eggs or made into fish cakes. Pair your local port or red wine with a cheese plate including local faves like creamy Serra da Estrela or herby Amarelo da Beira Baixa. And if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll need to make a beeline to the local bakery for some honey cake or custardy pastel de nata.
England, Portsmouth on 3rd October 2018
This was our first river cruise and we chose the Douro for its reputation as a beautiful river, and that was certainly the case. We enjoyed the multinational make up of the passengers.
Brine, Aylesford on 9th August 2018
The evening meal in a local winery was excellent. I found the food on board a little fancy for my taste, but my husband loved it and apart from the 2 gala nights there was always a good choice.