Doing the Douro (without a car)
Portugal’s Douro Valley is world famous as the place where the grapes for port wine are grown. A beautiful area with terraced hillsides, a lazy river and wineries, restaurants and hotels nestled among the vines. The Douro valley is most easily accessed with a car. However it is possible to explore some of this stunning region via public transit with a bit of creativity.
Doing the Douro (without a car)
We recommend the following as an all day adventure from Porto, or better yet spend the night and explore even more.
Start the day by hopping on the train from Porto to Pinhão. Check the Comboios do Portugal website for train times and prices. We purchased our tickets the day before from the counter at São Bento station, but you can also purchase them online in advance. The train takes about 2.5 hours to reach Pinhão.
Grab a coffee and pastry to go on the way to the station and sit back and relax while the views get better and better. The train follows the river as it heads east, sit on the right side of the train for the best river views.
Get off the train at Pinhão. Be sure to take a few minutes to look at the lovely azulejos on the station’s facade depicting bucolic scenes from the Douro area.
Take a Rabelo Boat Cruise Up the River Douro
Secure your boat tickets in advance on the website of Magnifico Douro. The boat dock is almost directly behind the station but you must walk around to the right or left to cross the tracks. You can book a two hour tour or go for a shorter one hour trip. I recommend two hours as the river is lovely and I could spend all day on it, but it depends on your interests. There are typically two boats per day, but if you are taking the train from Porto you will want to reserve the afternoon boat trip.
If you caught the morning trains you will have a few hours before the boat departs at 2:45PM. After leaving the station head toward the right and follow the signs to Quinta do Bonfim. This gorgeous property offers tours and tastings of their port (reservations required). You can sit on their gorgeous terrace and enjoy a glass of wine with beautiful views. You can also bring a picnic or have one organized by Vintage House hotel next door.
Another option for a port tour and tasting is Quina das Carvalhas, just a quick walk across the bridge over the Douro. Call ahead to enquire about visits to the vineyard, hikes around their property, tours and tastings.
Grab a bottle of vino to go and make your way back to the boat docks to catch your rabelo. Find a shady spot to sit on the boat and watch the scenery go by. Audio guides are provided that tell a bit about the wineries, quintas and port houses you will pass on the boat. Or forego the guide and just snap photos and chat with your companions like we did.
Enjoy the gorgeous views on the relaxing ride. When you return to the dock you might be hungry and ready for some more wine tasting!
More Eating & Drinking Between Pinhão and Regua
There are a few options for wine and food within walking distance of the boat dock or a short taxi ride. You can stroll to Vintage House Hotel for a lovely dinner or check out Ponte Romanica or Veladouro for something more casual. Or stop into Casa do Escrito located just across the railroad tracks and before the bridge for lunch or wine on their lovely terrace. They also have a wine shop inside.
If you’d like to explore the area a bit more, call for a taxi or walk back to the train station to catch one. Ask them to take you a short 10-15 minute drive down the river to Quinta do Tedo, a port cellar with hotel and restaurant. This would also be a good place to spend a night! They are surrounded by vineyards with lovely hiking trails and have a swimming pool.
If you are lucky and arrive on time you can have a port tasting then head to the restaurant for dinner. The Quinta do Tedo restaurant terrace overlooks the River Tedo, a tributary of the Douro.
Another dining option is DOC, an upscale restaurant headed by Chef Rui Paula located in Folgosa between Pinhão and Régua. The modern restaurant has stunning views over the river and valley.
After dinner or port tastings, ask the staff to call you a taxi for the 10-15 minute ride to Régua. (the taxi should be less than 20€) You can catch the train there for the 3 hour trip back to Porto (be sure to reserve in advance and check the times carefully so you don’t miss the last train of the day). Régua doesn’t look too picturesque but it has many port tasting bars and restaurants including highly rated Castas e Pratos. It could be a fun idea to spend the night nearby and explore this town and surrounding area.
Tips for a visit to the Douro Valley:
- In summer bring along plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen as it can get hot in the Douro Valley. You may want to bring a swimsuit too! Sometimes the boats will stop for swimming.
- If you are visiting in winter be sure to dress warmly with layers.
- Bring along a bottle of wine, cups, and some snacks for a picnic along the river or on the boat trip.
- Bring some entertainment like a book, music or kindle for the long train ride, the one back in the dark can be really boring. After all that port you might fall asleep, don’t miss your stop!
- To further explore the Douro, spend the night at a quinta. There are quite a few with lodgings close to the train stops that can be reached by taxi. Check out Quinta do Tedo, Quinta de la Rosa, Casa Do Visconde De Chanceleiros, and Quinta da Pacheca. These also have fabulous restaurants.
- You can also spend the night in one of the towns. Try Regua, there are several options.
- An alternative to a boat tour is to continue the train ride from Pinhão to the small village of Pocinho, which is the most scenic part of the rail line. It is about 3.5 hours from Porto to Pocinho. For a full day round trip from Porto it is a lot of time on the train. I’d recommend it as a separate day trip. Perhaps stay the night near Régua or Pinhão and then do the shorter ride to Pocinho on another day. Check Comboios do Portugal for train ticket information.
- If you don’t wish to plan your own trip, or you’d prefer to take a boat from Porto all the way to Pinhão, check out this day trip to Pinhão tour with a boat ride one way and train return.
Portugal is a wonderful country! Check out our Weekend Guide to Porto, Weekend Guide to Lisbon and our list of 7 places to visit in Portugal. And of course, you should sample as many of the delicious Portuguese foods as possible.
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