11 Reasons Why Portugal's Douro Valley Should Be on Your Bucketlist

Douro River, Portugal
Douro River, Portugal | © joyfull / Shutterstock
An unforgettable road trip or train journey through Portugal awaits you in the mesmerizing Douro Valley, located just 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of the city of Porto. Sought out by curious travelers looking for an up-close-and-personal introduction to Portuguese viniculture, visitors get more than insight to port wine production—find out why the Douro Valley is one of the places in Portugal that locals are most proud of and make sure to add it to your travel bucket list.

It’s a UNESCO Site and the world’s oldest demarcated wine region

Boundaries were determined for the Douro Valley’s vineyards in 1756, making it the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Grape harvest and wine production goes back 2,000 years, however, and the support of the people led to the vineyards’ recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The terraced fields on either side of the Douro River are breathtaking and unique to the region.

Experience Port wine production and help in the harvest

Strong and sweet, Port wine is the Douro Valley’s cultural treasure and has been attracting international wine aficionados since the 18th century. Participating in the harvest and production, towards the middle to the end of September is a unique way to appreciate this delicious, sweet drink even more.

Douro Valley, Portugal © PHB.cz (Richard Semik) / Shutterstock

You can stay at a country estate

Wine-loving travelers can stay at rustic quintas, or estates surrounded by vineyards and the breath-taking rolling landscape. Country homes, many more than 100 years old, have been converted into bed & breakfast-style lodging, so guests can spend peaceful days exploring the region and nights indulging in the wine and learning about the culture from friendly locals.

The breathtaking views are unlike any other part of the country

Terraced vineyards climbing up and down the rolling hillsides on each side of the curvy river are responsible for the region’s unique landscape. Portugal is a country brimming with natural beauty but the Douro Valley is considered one of the country’s ‘crowned jewels’. A couple of the best viewpoints to see the green hilltops and the Douro River are in Ventozelo (near the Portugal-Spanish border) and the Miradouro São Leonardo da Galafura, located between Peso da Régua and Pinhão.

Vineyards in the Valley of the River Douro, Portugal © hermitis / Shutterstock

You can plan a romantic boat trip along the Douro River

Sure, driving or taking a train will sweep past the scenic landscape faster, but a boat trip on the Douro River is perhaps the more romantic way to travel.

Douro River, Alto Douro Wine Valley, Portugal © csp / Shutterstock

To try the local cuisine

Don’t visit the Douro Valley on a diet—another reason to make your way to this part of northern Portugal is the local cuisine, and it’s anything but light. Follow locals to the neighborhood tascas where meats, fish and stews fill the menus. Some favorite dishes include grilled bacalhau (salt cod), roasted suckling pig and octopus salad. Even if you’re not hungry, ordering a cheese and charcuterie platter to accompany a glass of the local wine is always a good idea.

Many of the same country estates that accept overnight guests double up as locations offering the best food and wine experiences, but D.O.C. Restaurante in Folgosa pairs a Michelin experience and a sophisticated ambiance with unparalleled views (especially from the terrace seating over the river), and traditional meals are presented with modern and creative touches.

Visit some extraordinary museums to learn about the region’s history

Learn about the local culture, cuisine and wine while museum-hopping, or learn about everything in one place at the Douro Museum in Peso da Régua.

How often can you canoe past vineyard fields?

Indulge in your love of water sports, wine and adrenaline-boosting activities, all while getting lost in a picturesque background. Canoeing and kayaking are just two more activities that this beautiful region offers.

Douro River, Portugal © joyfull / Shutterstock

It is an excellent area for bird-watching

Portugal in general offers many bird-watching opportunities and some of the best spots are Ria Formosa, the Minho region, the Serra da Estrela and (last but not least) the Douro Valley. Get your camera poised and ready to snap unique images of several birds of prey (including some endangered species) like the black stork, Egyptian vulture, Griffon vulture, golden eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, the Peregrine falcon and the red and black kites.

The Douro Valley is just a hop, skimp and jump from charming Porto

A scenic train trip is waiting for anyone who has extra time to spend in Porto but is interested in exploring beyond the city. Depart from the magnificent azulejo-decorated São Bento Station and settle in for a rickety ride through rural Portugal, along the river and through green valleys, on the Linha do Douro, the historic train route.

There is nothing quite like retreating from everyday life with the Douro Valley’s landscapes in the backdrop

The Douro Valley is truly an off-the-beaten-path and wonderful destination for peace and quiet. Dotted with sleepy hamlets and bustling towns, life moves at a slow and steady pace, and the region is filled with landmarks that date back several centuries; some, like the Alpendurada Monastery, date back nearly 1,000 years. Life’s everyday stresses will melt away when you wander through the vineyards and chat with the cheerful locals.