If you're planning a trip to Portugal – and northern Portugal, especially – everyone will likely tell you that you HAVE to visit the famous Douro Valley.
Skirting Portugal's portion of the Douro River in the northern part of the country, the Douro Valley is a special wine grape-producing region in Portugal. It’s where the famous port wine comes from – and the ONLY place true port wine comes from.
It’s like the Champagne region in France; under Protected Designation of Origin laws in the EU, only fortified wine made with grapes from the Douro wine region can officially be called Port or Porto.
The best way to see the Douro Valley
The part of the Douro Valley that people go to see is the Alto Douro, or Upper Douro. This UNESCO-recognized area has been a wine-producing region for roughly 2,000 years, and stretches for miles along the Douro River. It's known for its steep terraced hills, winding roads, and incredible countryside views.
Many people will tell you that you need to rent a car and self-drive the valley to truly experience it. But unless you want to spend a couple days exploring (and aren't intimidated at all by narrow, winding mountain roads), I honestly think one of the best ways to visit this hilly wine region is by taking a day trip from Porto.
The heart of the Douro Valley is only about a 90-minute drive from central Porto, and going on a tour with a driver/guide means you can taste test all the port you want without having to worry about getting back behind the wheel!
When I did my own trip to Portugal without renting a car, this day tour option is the one I went with. And not only was it an easy way to explore the Douro Valley for a day, but we also saw so much!
What will you do on a Douro Valley day tour?
I booked a day trip that included a tour and port tasting at one vineyard, lunch and another port tasting at another vineyard, and an hourlong cruise on the Douro River. (It was this tour, and it was great!)
The tour started with a hotel pickup in the morning, and about 1.5 hours of driving until we got into the Douro Valley. We made a stop for coffee and photos, and then continued on to our first vineyard of the day.
Port vineyards and tastings
Which vineyard(s) you visit may differ depending on the tour you book and the time of year you go, but the first place we visited was a small vineyard called Quinta do Tedo. This estate vineyard makes all its wine and port using grapes it grows itself, and the short tour we took gave us some insight into making wine in this unique environment.
The Douro has a very distinct climate with very cold winters and hot, dry summers (our guide told us it was “9 months of winter and 3 months of hell”). But this climate yields the small, sweet grapes needed to make the best port.
After we got a tour of the 18th century cellars and learned about how Quinta do Tedo is still very traditional in its operations (for example, they do everything by hand, from picking the grapes to stamping them, “I Love Lucy” style), it was time for our first tasting of the day!
Porto wine is made like most other wine, with the main exception being that after fermenting for a few days, the wine is fortified (often with local brandy or cognac) to stop the fermentation process. The result is a very sweet, full-bodied wine.
It can come in various colors ranging from white to ruby, and at Quinta do Tedo we got to try their ruby, tawny, and rose ports.
Lunch at another vineyard
When I did this tour, we visited a second vineyard for lunch (Vintage Theory, to be exact), where we had a multi-course meal and another port tasting (including 20 and 30 year-old varieties!).
Again, the exact vineyards you visit might differ, but this was certainly a great one, with a pretty garden space and really good food and wine.
Douro River cruise
After our tasting, we headed through the terraced landscape and down to the Douro River near Pinhão to board a traditional Rabelo boat for an hour-long cruise. We sailed along at a comfortable pace, sipping another glass of port as we admired the steep hills covered in vineyards around us.
Once you see these vineyards up close, you'll understand why it's almost impossible to “modernize” the wine-making process here. The hills are so steep that grape-picking simply can't be done by machine. It will make you appreciate the wine-making tradition here even more.
Before heading back to Porto, you'll make one more stop at a famous viewpoint looking out over the Douro River and terraced vineyards. This is a great spot to grab a selfie, and soak in some last Douro Valley views.
Is one day enough in the Douro Valley?
The Douro Valley is a very special place, and you could easily spend a couple of days following all its windings roads and tasting all the port. But if you only have one day, I think a day trip to the Douro Valley is a great option.
Most Douro Valley day tours last 9+ hours and include multiple port tastings and a cruise on the Douro River. For an introduction to this region, I think that's pretty great!
So to answer the question of is a Douro Valley day trip worth it? I would definitely say yes!
Best Douro Valley tours from Porto
Several companies offer day trips from Porto to the Douro Valley. Which tour you book might depend on availability and your own personal interests, but as long as you'll be visiting a couple vineyards and maybe taking a cruise, I feel like you can't go wrong!
Most of these tours are done in small groups using comfortable private transportation, and on average will cost around $100 per person with food, tastings, transport, guide, etc. included.
Again, I personally did this Douro Valley day tour: From Porto: Douro Valley w/ Boat Tour, Wine Tasting & Lunch (or you can book it here on Viator)
Here are some other good tours options with lots of positive reviews to choose from:
- 3 Douro Valley Vineyards Tour with Lunch
- Full-Day Douro Wine Tour with Lunch and River Cruise
- Douro Valley Tour with Wine Tasting, Cruise and Lunch
- Douro Valley Small-Group Tour with Wine Tasting, Lunch and Optional Cruise
Would you want to take a day trip to the Douro Valley?