Douro vineyards and quinta from Miradouro de Frei Estevão

The Douro valley in northern Portugal has more than just the perfect climate and soil for cultivating grapes and a wine-producing culture that dates back centuries. The undulating curves of the Douro wine region’s hillsides create a beautiful and dramatic landscape which changes with the seasons and is so special it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001.

There are plenty of things to see and do within the Douro and ever-increasing ways of experiencing all the region has to offer in terms of food, wine, scenery, culture and history.

In this guide to visiting the Douro Valley I help you decide when to go, how to get to and around the Douro and share other practical details so that you can make the most of whatever time you have to spend here.

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If you’re thinking about planning your trip take a look at my When is the best time to book a Portugal holiday post for some great tips.

How to get around the Douro wine region

There are three main ways of exploring the Douro valley: by road, rail or river. If you have several hundred euros to spare you can also rent a helicopter but I’ll focus on the more affordable options here.

Day trips from Porto to the Douro Valley

If your time is limited, rather than spend most of it on a full day boat cruise (see below), I would be inclined to choose a one-day tour that includes a 1-hour boat trip in the picturesque heart of the Douro Valley.

Several full day small group tours from Porto include the opportunity to take a scenic boat trip from Pinhão as well as great viewpoints, winery tours and lunch, enabling you to get a broad experience of what makes this region special.

This would be my first choice for a small group tour so check availability. The tour operator strives to ensure that you avoid crowds and visit some great wineries. You also get picked up/ dropped off at your hotel.

If you are staying overnight in the Douro, you would be better off with a private tour (see below) or a small group tour that departs from Peso da Régua instead of Porto.

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Private tours to the Douro Valley

Most Douro tours will include tastings of port and DOC Douro table wines if not meetings with the wine makers.

Private tours can be tailored to you suit your interests so don’t worry if you don’t really like port wine, want to have lunch in a special place or prefer to incorporate a stop in a Douro village or viewpoint. 

If you’re looking for a private guided tour of the Douro Valley, click here and complete the form to tell me what you’re interested in so that I can connect you with the most suitable tour operator.

Visiting the Douro on your own

If your budget is limited or you simply don’t fancy an organised tour, my guide to a do-it-yourself day in the Douro wine region gives you the information you need to see the highlights without the need for a car or a tour.

I’ve included several options for upgrading your experience if your budget is more flexible.

Boat trips on the Douro River

Rabelo boat on the Douro River, Pinhão
Rabelo boat on the Douro River, Pinhão

Douro river cruises can last from an hour to one or more days, with or without meals, drinks and vineyard visits. There are overnight boat tours where you sleep in a hotel and week-long cruises with accommodation on board. If you’re new to multi-day river cruising, here are some points to consider before booking.

Full day Douro River cruises 

If you’re happy to spend most of the day on the river, there are full-day cruises that depart from the quayside in Porto or Vila Nova de Gaia  and take you to Pedo da Régua or Pinhão, depending on the provider.

Breakfast, lunch and wine is served on board and the highlights of the trip are going through the locks that were built into the Douro River to manage the flow and make it safer for boats.

Some of these tours offer free time in Régua before the return trip by bus or train. Others include a winery visit.

Be warned that these boat trips can be quite noisy and crowded in busy periods. Some people really enjoy the experience but if I only had one day for the Douro, I would be looking at one of the above tours to maximise my time and get a broader perspective than just seeing it from the river.

Take this full-day Douro cruise from Porto to Pinhão with winery visit

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Or this shorter day cruise from Porto to Régua without winery visit but free time in Régua

Shorter Douro boat trips

For a shorter boat trip, many people take a shared wooden rabelo boat upstream from Pinhão but in busy months (May to October) these can get crowded. You can buy tickets from the quayside in Pinhão but if it’s a popular period, you may need to wait a few hours.

Insider tip: If you’re on a tight schedule or simply want to be organised, it’s best to book ahead. If the weather is likely to affect the experience, i.e. in the cooler months, you can wait until closer to the date or even book on the day.

Book a 1-hour shared rabelo boat trip

Book a 2-hour shared rabelo boat trip

A calmer alternative to the group boat trips is to book a private rabelo boat cruise (well in advance) or take this private yacht cruise from Pinhão and admire the impressive vineyards and scenery in peace and quiet.

Scenic train rides along the Douro River

Douro reflections from the Regua-Pinhão train journey
Douro reflections from the Regua-Pinhão train journey

One advantage that the train has over driving is that the train tracks often hug the banks of the Douro River. So close, in fact, that you can see people fishing.

The views become appealing about an hour outside Porto and most scenic as you approach Régua and continue further upstream. The scenery changes again the further along the Douro you get. The quinta (wine estate) signs become further apart and the landscape more barren but still impressive.

From the beginning of July to the end of October, there’s a special historical train which runs between Régua and Tua, with entertainment and light refreshments. You also get a little free time at Pinhão so you can stretch your legs and admire the beautiful azulejos that cover the station walls and maybe grab a glass of wine at one of the riverside cafés.

Check the website for online tickets as well as prices and timetable.

Insider tip: If you board the train before Ferradosa, try to get a window seat on the right hand side of the train for the best views of the river, the hills and the wine estates through the rather grubby glass. Once the train crosses the river, you should switch to the left side of the carriage.

Carrying baskets of grapes, azulejo panel, Pinhão train station, Douro Valley
Carrying baskets of grapes, azulejo panel, Pinhão train station

Driving around the Douro wine region

If you choose to explore the Douro by car, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the valley. However, if you’re the one behind the wheel, you’ll need to keep your wits about you and eyes firmly on the winding narrow roads.

You can always park up and admire the scenery from one of several viewpoints (miradouros) such as the Miradouro de Assumadouro, Casal de Loivos or Miradouro de São Leonardo da Galafura.

View from Casal de Loivos in April
View from Casal de Loivos in April

If you have a car, you’ll also have more choice over which wine estates you pop into for tours and tastings, although you’ll need to be very careful not to drink much if you’re the driver.

It will also give you the freedom to discover some of the Douro wine villages. More information in this post: 6 Traditional Wine Producing Villages In The Douro Valley. My favourite of these is probably Favaios, for several reasons including moscatel wine and artisan bread.

See this post for tips on How to Rent a car in Portugal and Avoid Sneaky Charges

If you decide to rent a vehicle while you’re in the Douro you can pick one up from Europcar rental in Regua, close to the train station. For the best car hire prices check out Discovercars and car rental.

For scenic drives, the N222 between Pinhão and Régua was voted the World’s Best Drive in 2015 but if you have time to spare, it’s worth continuing to São João da Pesqueira and the Miradouro de São Salvador do Mundo. I’d also recommend the N101 from Régua through Mesão Frio in the direction of Amarante and the N322-3 between Pinhão and Alijó.

Hiking in the Douro Valley

There are several hiking trails within the Douro wine region, some planned and marked out by the local councils, others provided by the wine estates themselves.

You can ask at the local tourist information office for route leaflets but to be honest, they are often less than helpful and it’s very easy to get lost.

If you simply want to walk in the vineyards for up to a couple of hours, you’d be better off getting a map from one of the quintas (wine estates) or going through a tour operator.

Several tour companies offer self-guided or guided hikes in the Douro Valley ranging from half a day to multiple days – read more about these options in this post.

You can combine walking in the Douro with Peneda Geres and Viana do Castelo on this Highlights Of Northern Portugal: Self-Guided Walking Holiday or read about my experience of a week-long self-guided walking holiday.

And this unique hiking vacation, on the under-the-radar south side of the Douro River.

Do bear in mind the weather conditions if you’re thinking of walking in the Douro Valley or the Alvão and International Douro Natural Parks. In summer, it really isn’t advisable or pleasant because of the extreme temperatures and lack of shade; winter weather can be quite grim so aim for March to May or September and October, or even Novemer for Douro International.

Cycling in the Douro

If you’re staying at one of the quintas (wine estates) in the area, they may have bikes for rent and be able to suggest suitable routes for you, or include a bike tour as part of their package.

It’s also possible to hire bikes for short periods from some of the tour operators in Regua and Pinhão. That said, unless they can suggest a safe, off-road route, I wouldn’t recommend this for novice cyclists planning to stick to the roads, mainly because of the traffic and hills.

This is not the wine region for leisurely bike rides between wineries.

Note: I am not a confident cyclist so I am somewhat biased.

For more serious, experienced cyclists, there are specialist tour companies which cater to cyclists with or without their own bikes.

Stay overnight in the Douro wine region

If you have flexibility in your itinerary, my recommendation would be to spend at least one night within the valley to avoid a long, tiring day trip and to better appreciate the landscape, culture and gastronomy that this beautiful area has to offer.

This gives you greater flexibility to visit different wineries, villages and historical sites as well as take a boat trip, walk or have a picnic in the vineyards or simply relax and enjoy the views.

Ideally, you should try to find a room on a wine estate (quinta) but where you stay will depend on how you’re getting around. If you rent a car, you will have more options but even by public transport and with the help of local taxi services, you can find some special places to stay in the Douro.

Where to stay in the Douro Valley

See my comprehensive guide to best places to stay in the Douro or read on for a few suggestions in the most convenient locations.

Accommodation in and around Peso da Régua

While the town of Peso da Régua is not particularly inspiring, it has plenty of restaurants and a train station, making it a possible base, especially if you don’t have a car.

I loved Casa de São Domingos, which is just outside the centre of Régua but still within walking distance. The beautiful building is tastefully decorated with quality traditional furnishings. There’s a pool and breakfast is plentiful. Click to see prices, photos and availability.

Quinta da Pacheca is a €5-10 taxi ride from the train station and the historical building is surrounded by vineyards. You can also sleep in a wine barrel. They have bikes for guest use and an award-winning onsite restaurant. Once there, they have a range of wine and food-related activities so you may not wish to leave! Check prices and availability.

If you want the ultimate in luxury surrounded by vineyards, the Six Senses Douro is the place to be. With a wine library boasting 750 vintages, onsite spa, gourmet restaurant, yoga and wellness programmes and sumptuous rooms, it’s wise to factor in plenty of time at the hotel. A car would help if you want to be independent but transfers and tours can be arranged if you’d rather not drive. Check out the luxury options here.

Quinta do Vallado is delightful design hotel built from schist stone with tasteful, comfortable and clean modern rooms, onsite restaurant and outdoor pool. They offer cellar tours for guests and free parking. Some rooms have river views. Find a room with a view.

Accommodation in and around Pinhão

Another possible base with a few restaurant options and easy access to wineries and boat trips is the village of Pinhão, another 30 minutes upstream. It has a beautifully decorated train station and pleasant riverside area although the village itself is rather drab. It’s easy to overlook that when you see the views and if you don’t have a car, it’s an easy option.

Quinta de la Rosa is technically within walking distance of Pinhão train station although I’d take a taxi if you have luggage. A working winery with privileged views of the Douro, especially from the restaurant and pool, they offer beautiful rooms and suites at a reasonable price. Check options and availability.

If you have a car, or are happy to spend most of your time enjoying the spectacular views, vineyard walks, bikes, restaurant, pool and other facilities, Quinta Nova Luxury Wine House would be the perfect place to stay, assuming you’re lucky enough to find availability. They offer transfers to the train station so a lack of transport isn’t an issue. Check availability and prices.

If you crave 5-star luxury and would rather be next to the Douro River and able to walk to wineries and restaurants, The Vintage House Hotel is for you. Recently renovated, this 18th century building offers every comfort you’d expect and overlooks the famous river, as does the outdoor pool. Check prices and availability.

If you’re on a tighter budget and can handle a few steps to get to your self-catering apartment, Casas Botelho Elias offer studios, 1 and 2-bedroomed accommodation with a pleasant shared terrace or private balcony. Check options and availability.

These are just a few of the more conveniently-located places to stay in the Douro Valley. There are many other delightful properties to choose from but the key, especially in May and September, is always to book ahead.

Best time of year to visit the Douro Valley

Douro River framed by almond blossom. Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
Douro River framed by almond blossom

While the Douro vineyards are no more than dark gnarly stumps in late February and March, there are clouds of pink and white almond blossom to brighten up the hillsides. This is a great time of year to visit the Upper Douro and the area around Foz Côa, which gets far too hot in summer to do it justice. There’s also plenty of activity with vines being trimmed and treated in preparation for the next crop.

From April, the emerging leaves gradually transform the hills until they are covered with ribbons of green. If you’re interested in walking or cycling in the Douro, spring (April to June) or autumn (September to November) are the best times to come both in terms of colourful scenery and comfortable temperatures although there’s a risk of rainy days.

Complete this enquiry form if you want more information about walking holidays.

The micro climate in this wine region means that temperatures in July and August are often in the high 30ºCs or even hotter so not ideal for walking, especially in the afternoons.

If you want a hands on experience of the Douro grape harvest, mid to late September is the time to come. You can pick grapes and even crush them by foot in some vineyards.

After the harvest, a warm metallic colour scheme starts to take over with gold, copper and bronze tones decorating the slopes. By late October and into November, the autumn colours are at their best – a great time for photographers to visit.

Come December and the olive harvest is underway, another important crop for this region. Some of the major hotels and wine estates (quintas) have special Christmas and New Year programmes for the festive season.

See this article for more about the best time to visit Portugal.

Douro wines

If you want to swot up on Douro wines and research wineries before your trip, check out Benjamin Lewin’s Port and the Douro book

You may also like:

How to get the best rental car deal.

Tips on your first trip to Portugal.

How to learn European Portuguese for (almost) free.

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Best time and best way to visit the Douro Valley and Douro wine region in Portugal
Best ways to visit the Douro Valley


  1. Hi, I am planning 4-5 days in Porto and would love to visit the wine valley with my kids, 8, 10 yos. We would like to overnight 1-2 nights in the Douro Valley. Is Oct 7-15 too late to visit? I read your postings ( which btw are fantastic and helpful) that the harvest takes place at the end of September. I prefer not have to drive. Train or tours are great. What would you recommend? I am also going to explore the Galicia region of Spain for another week afterwards. So at some stage I need to rent a car. Are the mountain roads really narrow and dangerous? Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Victoria, early October is certainly not too late to visit although you may not catch the harvest. I’ve added some possible tours to this article since you commented, and some suggestions for places to stay so please take another look to see if anything helps.

      As for driving, the roads within the Douro are narrow and winding. If you can plan a route that sticks to main roads and motorways, driving is quite straightforward though.

  2. Julie; my wife and i are spending 3 days in late may on a quinta near lamego. we plan to take the train from regua to pocinho and perhaps lunch there. possible?? the next day we want to drive into the region. suggestions as to route and lunch along the way. love your blog!!!

  3. Nice review! bookmarked it for when I go there to contact you…

  4. Timely post Julie as we’re just planning a 3 or 4 day visit to Porto and Douro cruise in September when we go to Portugal for our grandson’s christening. Thanks for all the tips.

    1. You’re welcome, Sami. Let me know if you want any specific recommendations.

  5. Hi, we are three families (12 people) planning a two week trip to Portugal this Jul. The plan is to leave 3-4 days at the end for some relaxation. We thought about Douro Valley as an option rather than beech on south.
    Could you recommend some place where we can stay and relax and which would be central enough to do 1/2 day trips around the area (we have cars). We are ok just bout anything; hiking, wine testing, sight seeing …

  6. Hello, my wife and I will be visiting in late June. We’ll be in Porto/Douro region for 3-4 days. We would like to combine some time in Porto with perhaps one night staying overnight in Douro valley. Without a car, is there a particular town/area from which we could access several wineries in 1-2 days, without joining an actual tour (say, a small town with several wineries within walking distance of each other. We’re pretty physically able, so willing to do some walking/cycling if roads safe enough)? Thanks!

    1. Hi Adam, Pinhão would be a good option. I’m going to email you with more details.

  7. Hello! Thank you for your tips! My husband and I are traveling to Portugal with our 3 year old the last two weeks of April. We will be in Porto for 2 nights, then we were planning on driving to Braga or Guimaraes on our way to Quinta de la Rosa for 2 nights. Since we will be traveling with a toddler, would you suggest Braga or Guimaraes, or do you think it’s possible to do both?
    Also, I am starting to have doubts about staying in Douro Valley at all because we will be there at the end of April. Do you think it will be green enough to enjoy, especially with a 3 year old? Our other option is to just add an extra day to Porto. From Douro Valley, we were going to drive to Evora, with stops along the way to Guarda, Belmonte and Estremoz (since it’s a long drive anyway). Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Rosa, I would stick to just one of the cities on the way to the Douro, probably Guimarães. It will be generally green in the Douro Valley but the vines will only just be sprouting leaves. You should see some lovely wildflowers though. If you want to discuss your plans in more detail, you can always set up a Quick Query consultation with me:

  8. Hi Julie, we are in the albufeira area for one month until early March but then have two weeks to explore Portugal or Spain before flying back to the uk from Lisbon. We have a car for the whole duration. We were planning to drive as follows: albufeira- Salamanca-Douro valley-Porto-Lisbon. Is this a good idea for 14 nights in March and how long should we stay in each area. Are we missing out on anything ?
    We are happy to stop in different hotels but would it be an idea to stay in about 4 or 5 places for 2 or 3 nights each. We love scenery and whilst we are looking forward to Lisbon and Porto we realise that getting around the cities may be difficult with a car. So maybe we should stay outside the cities and drive into the city. Any help would be really appreciated. Many thanks. Neil & Yvonne Johnson

    1. Hi Neil, Sending you an email…

  9. @Andy

    Where do you find such information about roads.
    The road from Porto to Pinhao is quite good!
    We traveled in September from Porto motorway in the direction of Via Real and from Via Real down towards Lamego and further longer route N222

  10. Hello Julie!
    Ill be in Porto for 2 full days (Su., 20.11. and Mo., 21.11.) and I would like to look at Douro valley one of these days.
    Since I’ve already booked a hotel in Porto for my stay, I do not want to stay overnight in Douro valley. Do you have any recommendations?
    At the moment, I’m torn between tour and renting a car. If I’m doing a tour, I’d like some kind of boat tour but also enough time to look at places. And the tour shouldnt be too expensive.
    I’m also thinking about renting a car but I’m unsure of where to rent it – I read somewhere that roads from, I think Porto to Pinhao are very bad and you should only rent in Pinhao?
    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Andy, I think you’ll have a better and less stressful experience if you take a tour rather than go to the trouble of hiring a car. You’ll get to learn about the Douro Valley and be able to relax and enjoy the wine tasting sessions without worrying about having to drive on narrow windy roads, which are unavoidable once you’re in the wine region.

      This Small-Group Douro Valley Day Trip Including Lunch, Wine Tasting and Optional River Cruise offers great value for money in my opinion.

      1. I do, however, agree with Patrycja that the road from Porto to Peso da Régua is no problem at all. It’s driving in Porto that I hate!

  11. Thank you for this information about how to enjoy the Douro valley. It is good to know that bikes can be rented to enjoy the scenery. Something to consider would be to plan this activity before the commencement of the trip to ensure that there are bikes available.

    1. Author

      I agree. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead – I get lots of enquiries from people at the last minute and they can’t always get what they want, or have to pay extra because of limited availability. A little planning goes a long way 🙂

  12. Hi Julie, I think you’re right about making tough decisions. Maybe save Braga and Guimares for our next trip 🙂 Any insight on travelers who take the train in reverse, from pinhao to porto for a day trip? And yes, any connections you have to tour operators I would love to hear about!

    1. Author

      Hi Jennifer, I’ve sent you an email 🙂

  13. Hello Julie, I am visiting Duoro Valley for only one day, from Sept 30th morning until the next day mid-afternoon. I am looking to visit a few wineries on the 30th. What is your recommendation? Looking for views and good wine 🙂 Also a good restaraunt in maybe one of the wineries or around Pinhao – Regua. Thanks in advance!

    1. Author

      Hi Vadim, lots of wineries have great views including Quinta do Pôpa, Quinta da Panascal, Quinta do Seixo, Quinta das Carvalhas

      This restaurant should be good:

  14. Hi Julie, thanks for the insight! Your blogs have been super helpful while planning our Portugal trip. My boyfriend and I are spending three nights in the Douro Valley Oct 9-12, in a villa in Folgosa (with probably just a day trip to Porto, and maybe Braga and Guimares but that might be too much?) Thought I’d ask if you have any particular recommendations for the area? We’re wine enthusiasts and outdoor buffs and really want to explore historic wineries and get a deeper understanding of the valley.

    1. Author

      HI Jennifer, For the Douro itself, if you haven’t already seen this article about the wine villages, it might help: I’d also recommend a guided walk, possibly with a picnic and even a private boat ride thrown in. Let me know if this appeals and I’ll connect you with the tour operator.

      Porto has more than enough to keep you occupied for a full day: so I’d say that Braga and Guimarães would be another 1 day excursion. That said, you’d be missing out on the opportunity to get the deeper appreciation of the Douro that you say you want so although they are beautiful cities, I think you’ll have to make a decision as to where you are better off spending your time.

  15. Hi Julie,
    In September I plan with my boyfriend a trip to Portugal. We start in Lisbon and then we want to rent a car to go to Porto and then the Douro valley and back to Lisbon.

    The biggest problem I have with the planning of a trip through the Douro valley. Can you recommend anything in particular. Or maybe you have maps with ready-made routes. What interests us is surely nature, beautiful views and charming vineyards and maybe some sort of tasting 🙂

    Greetings from Poland 🙂

    1. Author

      Hi Patrycja, I’ll send you an email 🙂

  16. Hello Julie,
    We are visiting Douro Valley soon in September. Can you recommend any Quintas for wine tours and tastings? Also can you help me with some information on walking trails in Douro Valley.
    Thank you so much.

    1. Author

      Hi Akanksha, I’ll send you an email…

  17. Hello, we will be in Porto in September. We would like a tour of the valley, overnight preferably, hopefully not costing an arm and a leg but better than the typical cattle call tours. Any recommendations?

    1. Author

      Sending you an email…

  18. Hello, I will be in Duoro Valley September 5th – 8th, any recommendations for guide / Quinta tours? Also recommendations for self-guide walking tours – places not to miss? We will be driving there from Evora, thoughts on if we should stop at Parque Serra de Estrela?
    Thank you!

    1. Author

      Hi Colleen, I’m sending you an email…

  19. Hi Julie. I plan on driving to the Duoro from Porto on September 6 and/or 7 and then head to Lisbon. I understand that Lamego is having religious festivities on those days and that Viseu (which I understand is at least an hour away toward Lisbon) is having a festival. Do you know where I can get more info on eithwr event on those days? I would love to take a night or two for a great cultural experience or festive local atmosphere, but I am not sure which location would be better or whether it will be slow mid-week (tuesday or wednesday).

  20. Hi Julie! I am considering to visit the Douro Valley region for a self-guided day trip from Porto in August. Which scenic spots or towns in the region would you recommend that I visit?

    1. Author

      Hi Justin, If you’re doing it on your own as a day trip, the easiest thing to do would be to take the train from São Bento in Porto to Pinhão. From there, you can take a boat trip, visit wineries or take a transfer up to a viewpoint, possibly walking back downhill if that appeals to you. If it does, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with a company that can help with that.

      1. Any other town in Douro Valley which is easily accessible via public transport? Will be in Porto this early May for 5D4N.. planning to stay a night at Douro region and maybe a day trip to braga on the 4th day if it’s possible

        1. Hi Ivie, Régua and Pinhão are the easiest to get to. Take the train from Porto (approx 2.5 hours to Pinhão).

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.