Douro, the third longest river of the Iberian Peninsula (after Tagus and Ebro), crosses the northernmost part of Portugal and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at the city of Porto.
The valley of the Douro is one of the most beautiful areas of Portugal. Although not as ‘obvious’ as the popular beach destination, Algarve, or the vibrant capital Lisbon, the Douro Valley is definitely on the rise as a tourist destination.
What are the greatest Douro Valley attractions? The region enchants visitors by the unparalleled beauty of its rolling hills, lush greenery and an overwhelming peace ‘disturbed’ only by the sounds of water which is ever present rivers, mountain streams and dam reservoirs.
Douro – UNESCO World Heritage Site
The local micro-climate is beneficial for cultivation of almonds, olives and most importantly, grapes. The wine production has dominated the region’s activity since the remote past and terraced vineyards are the most characteristic feature of the Douro Valley landscape.
Nowadays, wine-making continues to be one of the greatest driving forces of the local economy.
In 2001, the Alto Douro (Upper Douro) Valley Region was enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the unique beauty of its landscapes shaped by the over 2000 years long tradition of wine-making. As justified by UNESCO, Alto Douro “is an outstanding example of a traditional European wine-production region, reflecting the evolution of this human activity here over time”.
Douro wine tours
A paradise or enologists (specialist in wine, that is), Douro Valley is also an ideal location for mere mortals who simply enjoy wine. Here, they get to taste it directly at the source and in beautiful surroundings.
Wine tours and wine tasting are one of the most popular attractions of the region and available in great variety. From simple Port wine experience in one of the many wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto city centre, to a whole day long excursions to many of the wine estates scattered across the region.
There, apart from wine tasting, visitors will be offered an insight into the all stages of the wine making process, from growing and collecting the grapes, to the final product, often available only decades later. During the crop harvest time they may be even invited to participate in the traditional grape stomping. See how wine is made in Douro Valley:
Douro Valley is believed to be the oldest demarcated origin wine region (DOC), being established in 1756, in attempt to ensure the quality and the authenticity of the port wines, which at the time were already known across all Europe and especially at the British court.
Many of the Douro wine estates, known local as quintas, have centuries-old tradition and have been run by one family for generations, being often compared to open-air museums.
While some of the quintas are available to visit only during day-time, many offer accommodation, sometimes in a very high standard (and priced accordingly).
Here are just some examples of Douro Valley wine estates:
Those tourists based in Porto, who do not fancy car rides (in sometimes oppressive heat of the Portuguese summer), Douro cruises are a great way of discovering the area. The length of the cruises can vary from a few hours to several days but a wine experience of some kind is always a part of the programme.
Douro Azul is the leading river cruise company operating in the area, the competition, however, is steep.
Douro Valley activities – enjoy the great outdoors
Apart from the wine-related activities, a number of attractions are available for tourists in the Douro Valley. A great majority of them is inspired by the beautiful nature of the region. Hiking, horse riding, cycling, bird watching, stand up paddle board trips are some of the suggestions of Douro Valley attractions for active holidaymakers.
For nature loves, there are two natural reserves in the Douro Valley: Douro Nature Reserve, shared with Spain and Serra de Alvão Nature Reserve, located north of Vila Real.
The region is also rich in archaeological sites, the most valuable of which are the rock engravings found in Vale de Côa which also deserved the inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage site as an outstanding example of the prehistoric art.
Suggestion for Douro holiday villa – Quinta do Loureiro
Quinta do Loureiro is a 17th century farmhouse set in 25 acres of gardens, with superb views over the Douro River. The house has been fully modernized whilst still retaining its unique charm and atmosphere.
Explore Quinta do Loureiro and see many stunning pictures.
Best time to visit
Douro Valley mesmerizes all year long, having each of the season’s a special charm. Almond blossom marks the spring in Douro Valley; the end of summer/early autumn is all about the grape harvest; late autumn provides beautiful spectacle of leave changing colours. Even in the winter, when not much colour is left on the vineyard slopes, Douro Valley has plenty offer, especially for those who seek a tranquil refuge, far away from the tourist crowds.
Visitors to the northern part of Portugal should be, however, aware that it is considerably colder than the central and southern regions. See Porto weather information.
The further away from the coast, the most significant the temperature difference between the day and night and between winter and summer. In Peso da Régua, for example, deep inland, the average daytime temperatures during the winter months rarely reach 10 degrees Celsius.
High season for tourism in the Douro Valley lasts from July to early October, with a peak during the grape harvest in early September.
Visit Douro Valley – flights to Porto Airport
The growing popularity of the Douro Valley is partially due to the constantly increasing offer of international flights to Porto Airport, which serves the northern part of Portugal.
Porto remains at the top of the rankings for the best European city break destination and the city airport, the second largest in Portugal, offers an extensive and constantly developed selection of European flights, as well as routes to the United States, Canada, Brazil and Angola. See Porto Airport route map.
From the UK, flights to Porto are available with the carriers as Easyjet, Ryanair and Monarch Airlines, with departures from Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and London, amongst other cities.