The Douro Valley in Northern Portugal is a wine lovers paradise. With rolling green hills, rows and rows of vineyards as far as the eye can see, and beautiful properties hidden throughout the valley, the Douro is a beautiful and serene place that should be on every wine lovers bucket list. The Douro Valley is also characterized by the Douro river that cuts through, running from Spain and ending in Porto, Portugal. This wine region dates back 2000 years ago when the Romans first began planting vines here. Today, there are 300 wine estates in the Douro Valley, and being an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the land is fiercely protected making it illegal to build new property (although you can renovate old property).
Because of the size of the Douro Valley, it can be difficult to decide how to spend your time in the region. Should you go at it alone? Should you hire a guide? Below I’m sharing my itinerary and giving you tips on how best to visit the Douro Valley.
Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Douro Valley
If you’re planning a trip to Portugal, don’t miss The Best 8 Day Northern Portugal Road Trip Itinerary and The Ultimate Portugal Travel Guide
Should You Visit the Douro Valley Alone or With a Guide?
I traveled to the Douro Valley with LAB Portugal Tours, and highly recommend them. But if you’d rather visit the Douro Valley alone, it’s also doable. To decide whether or not to visit the Douro Valley alone or with a guide, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions…
WHAT’S YOUR MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION?
If you plan on renting a car, visiting the Douro Valley on your own is pretty easy. Besides navigating narrow and winding roads, the valley is easy to get around. If you don’t have a car, it might be easier to hire a guide to take you around.
I prefer to rent from Enterprise or use QEEQ to compare rental prices.
WHAT’S YOUR “GOAL” WHEN VISITING?
If your “goal” is to have fun and drink a lot, you’ll definitely need a sober driver and should consider hiring someone to drive you. If your “goal” is to see tons of the valley and maybe do one or two wine tastings, then you might want the freedom of having your own car and being able to decide where you want to go on your own.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE YOU TRAVELING WITH?
When you visit, you’ll also need to consider how many people you’re traveling with. Can everyone fit in one car? Do you need to rent more than one car? Do you have a small group and want to take a private tour or join in on a public tour?
DO YOU WANT A HAND IN THE PLANNING PROCESS, OR WOULD YOU RATHER SOMEONE ELSE DO IT FOR YOU?
Another important question to ask yourself is if you want to be the one to make the plans, or would you rather an expert do it for you? If you’re a planner and want to visit certain wineries, you might want to explore the area alone. If the thought of planning overwhelms you, you might want to hand that part over to a guide.
WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?
Lastly, what’s your budget? Hiring someone will be significantly more money than planning and executing the trip yourself. But when you factor in planning, logistics of renting a car and getting around, etc… paying someone to guide you might be more worth it than doing it on your own.
Getting to the Douro Valley
The easiest way to get to the Douro Valley is by car, although you can also helicopter in, take a boat, or take a train. If you choose to arrive by car, the two areas I’d recommend basing yourself would be Porto or Lamego. Porto is an incredible city located about an hour and a half drive west from the valley, and Lamego is a quaint town located about 20-minutes southwest from the valley, making visiting the Douro Valley easy from either of these places.
For more information on visiting Porto and Lamego, don’t miss:
A Guide to Visiting Porto, Portugal
A Quick Guide to Lamego, Portugal
The Best Time to Visit the Douro Valley
In my opinion, the best time to visit the Douro Valley is in the shoulder season – when there are fewer crowds but the weather is still nice. The busiest time of the year to visit is from June until September, which is around harvest time. I recommend visiting in April or May when the weather is still warm, not too hot, and you can still have some peace and quiet without tons of crowds.
How Many Days Should You Stay in the Douro Valley?
Depending on what your interests are, the Douro Valley can be done in a day, or you can stay longer! If you’re interested in diving deep and really want to get to know the area, I recommend at least three days. If you’re on a time crunch and aiming to see much more of Portugal, a day trip is totally doable and well worth it to get a taste of what the Douro Valley is like.
Douro Valley Highlights
Where to Stay in the Douro Valley
There are so many incredible places to stay in the Douro Valley, and something that will fit every travelers budget. There are hostels, boutique hotels, and luxury hotels. Although I only did a day trip to the Douro Valley and didn’t spend the night, I did visit some properties that offer incredible accommodations. Below you’ll find three hotels that I have my eye on for the next time I’m in the Douro Valley, all three of which I’ve heard great things about and am looking forward to trying out.
QUINTA DA PACHECA
A unique, boutique hotel, Quinta da Pacheca is a winery that also has wine barrels you can sleep in. (There are also normal hotel rooms to book if you want to stay on this property). There are 10 wine barrels to choose from, but they fill up quickly so I highly recommend making a reservation well in advance!
Because of the uniqueness of the wine barrels, Quinta da Pacheca is one of the more touristy hotels to stay at, attracting many visitors that aren’t staying on the property.
QUINTA DOS MURCAS
Quinta dos Murcas is another winery in the Douro Valley, overlooking the river and rolling green hills. This area is particularly beautiful, and offers five different rooms to stay in, accommodating up to 10 people.
VENTOZELO HOTEL & QUINTA
Ventozelo Hotel & Quinta is a much bigger hotel property than the other two hotels mentioned. Ventozelo has 29 rooms to stay in, offers villas with private swimming pools, and is a complete luxury. The property used to be a farm, and still has a garden that grows food for the incredible restaurant on the property.
Where to Eat in the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley has tons of incredible restaurants, you truly can’t go wrong! Below are two restaurants I highly suggest visiting when in the area.
CANTINA DE VENTOZELO
Cantina de Ventozelo is an incredible, farm-to-table restaurant at Ventozelo Hotel & Quinta. With both indoor and outdoor seating, they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with the menu changing based on what “nature provides”. I highly recommend booking reservations ahead of time by emailing email@example.com or calling +351-254-249-670.
DOC – CHEF RUI PAULA
DOC – “Degustar Ousar Comunicar” (“Taste Dare Communicate”) – is an upscale restaurant in the heart of the Douro Valley, on the river. The chef, Rui Paula, focuses on using regional products from the area, with the menu always changing. DOC is the place to be if you’re looking for good food and a bit of luxury in the Douro Valley.
Wine Tasting in the Douro Valley
With over 300 wine estates in the valley, my dream one day is to be able to say that I’ve visited each and every one. Unfortunately, having only been to the Douro Valley once, this is not yet a reality. So instead, I’m sharing my favorite wineries that I have visited and that I would recommend you visit too.
QUINTA DO PANASCAL – FONESCA PORTO
Quinta do Panascal is a 200 year old property, that strictly makes and serves port wine. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, nestled in the rolling hills of the valley, what feels like a world away from the rest of the Douro. One unique thing about this estate is that it was one of the first properties in the valley to contain areas of vineyard with organic certification.
QUINTA DOS MURCAS
Another breathtaking property, Quinta dos Murcas serves both wine and port wine. Interestingly, it’s the first property where terraced (or vertical) vines were planted, dating back to 1947. You can tour the property with a guide, learning all about the wine making techniques in the region, or just come for a tasting. While no reservation is required, if you want a guided tour of the property and to learn about wine making, a reservation is highly recommended.
The Ultimate Douro Valley Day Trip – A Proposed Itinerary
Now that you have all of the information on the best places to visit in Douro Valley, how exactly should you plan your trip? Below you’ll find my exact route if I were to revisit the area again, (without a guide), skipping over the things I thought were overrated and spending more meaningful time at places that were extra special. Depending on what time of the year you visit, I highly recommend making reservations at each place ahead of time. I suggest starting and ending your day trip from Porto or Lamego.
- First wine tasting – Quinta dos Murcas
- Lunch – Cantina de Ventozelo
- Second wine tasting – Quinta do Panascal
- Dinner – DOC – Chef Rui Paula
Visiting the Douro Valley was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Whether you’re traveling with a romantic partner, friend, family member, or solo, the region deserves to be explored. And even if you don’t find yourself enthralled with wine, I would still argue that the beauty of the Douro Valley is unlike any other, worthy of a visit if not to see the region but to taste its food, smell its air, and be whisked away by the magic within the valley.
For a more visual look at the Douro Valley, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel by searching, “#ppinportugal” or looking for my “Portugal” highlight.