The Douro Valley is a picturesque region crossed by one of the longest rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, which reaches the ocean after an impressive series of jumps and bends. It is a land at the same time hard and romantic, a fascinating destination that lends itself to be explored by boat, train or car.
The fame of the region is almost entirely connected to the most famous wine produced here, port, which greatly influenced the history and culture of these lands. As a matter of fact there are many wines produced in this region and almost in every place you are going to visit you will have the chance to enter a traditional winery and taste the typical wines.
However Douro Valley is not only wine. The region is vast and the landscape and the climate change considerably as you go from the ocean to the inland until you reach the border with Spain: from the pleasant sea breeze you pass to a dry and torrid climate.
Discover the variety of landscapes and attractions of this enchanting valley still ignored by mass tourism and experience the magical atmosphere of these lands whose history is inextricably linked to that of the river.
The Douro Valley is part of the northern region of Portugal. The Douro river has its source in Spain and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at the height of Porto, completely crossing the area.
Traditionally in the tourist itineraries of Douro Valley are included some places that from an administrative point of view belong to other regions. The city of Lamego, for example, is part of the Beira region.
The most fascinating experience to do in the Douro Valley is a boat trip starting from Porto and going up the river.
The best-selling cruises on the Douro last one day and go as far as Regua, returning to Porto by train or bus (or the opposite: arriving in Regua by train and bus and returning to Porto by boat).
If you want to prolong the magic, you can choose multi-day cruises, maybe a whole week to reach Spain! If you don’t have much time, you can still get a taste of this experience with a short cruise of the six bridges of Porto.
Expanses of terraced vineyards, romantic river bends, churches, castles, paleolithic rock carvings, wild beaches and of course wineries and wine bars: the Douro Valley has all the right ingredients for a dream vacation.
Here are the places and attractions not to be missed.
Exuberant and melancholic, rugged and bewitching, lively and decadent, Porto is a city that is impossible to forget.
The historic center, perched on a series of steep promontories along the Douro, is a tangle of streets and alleys on different levels that all seem to want to converge at the most magical point of the city: the iconic Dom Luis I bridge, an arched iron construction designed by a collaborator of Gustave Eiffel (yes, the one of the famous Parisian tower).
A good 45 meters high, with roads on two levels (one for cars and one for streetcars and pedestrians), the bridge connects the historic area of Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia, a characteristic village with a high concentration of wineries producing port.
Other attractions not to be missed in Porto are the Cathedral, the São Bento station, the Bello e Irmao bookstore (which apparently inspired J.K. Rowling to create the Hogwarts staircase in the Harry Potter series), the ultra-modern Casa do Musica but above all the wonderful barcos rabelo (typical boats) moored along the banks of the Douro.
Amarante is a city with a very special reputation, all due to San Gonzalo, the patron saint, who is said to bring good luck to lonely hearts in search of a soul mate.
The inhabitants of Amarante pay homage to him twice a year with great festivals, one on January 13 and one in June, during which it is customary to eat phallic-shaped sweets. These sweets have become so famous that they can now be found all year round in the city’s pastry shops.
Apart from these notes of local folklore, Amarante is a quaint little town that is really worth a visit. Crossed by Rio Tamega, a tributary of Douro river, and surrounded by lush vineyards, it is perfect for romantic walks along the river or among the narrow streets of the historical center.
The main historical and cultural attractions of the city are the church and the monastery of San Gonzalo, the Amadeo de Souza Cardoso Museum and the historical bridge (dedicated, needless to say, to San Gonzalo) which Napoleon Bonaparte tried in vain to cross in order to invade the city.
Lamego is a lovely town in the Upper Douro Valley 10 km from the river, included in all the tourist itineraries of the Douro Valley essentially for two reasons.
The first one is the spectacular zigzag staircase which leads to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Remedios: it has more than 600 steps and it is decorated with the typical white and blue Portuguese tiles; the second one is the possibility to taste raposeira, a very pleasant sparkling and fragrant wine.
It is worth going beyond these two very valid reasons and exploring the fascinating surroundings of Lamego to discover castles, medieval chapels, abandoned convents, fortified bridges and panoramic points.
The arrival (or departure) point of day cruises on the Douro and of exciting train journeys, Peso da Régua (more often simply called Regua) is the main administrative and commercial center of the Douro Valley.
Maybe it is not the most fascinating location, but it is an excellent base to explore the region and it is perfect for those who want to visit wineries and participate in wine tastings.
Pinhão is a destination for connoisseurs: it is considered the capital of the best quality port and it is entirely surrounded by terraced vineyards, however for its spectacular position on a bend of Douro river it is a dream location even for those who do not love wine.
Vila Nova de Foz Coa would probably have remained a small and insignificant agglomeration of houses in the most torrid part of the upper Douro, were it not for an extraordinary archaeological discovery occurred in its surroundings: a magnificent gallery of rock art of prehistoric age.
To visit the Vale do Coa Archaeological Park site and admire the famous prehistoric engravings, it is best to book well in advance because it is only possible to enter with a guided tour for small groups.
Vila do Conte is a popular resort to the north of Porto, easily accessible from the city by metro.
Its main attractions are the city beaches, considered the most beautiful in northern Portugal, and the imposing Santa Clara Monastery, which dominates the city center.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article