There are many options for exploring this UNESCO World Heritage rated landscape, but a boat trip gets up close and personal with the river. They range from cheap-and-cheerful day trips from Porto with lunch on board and a scenic rail journey back, to romantic bespoke sailing tours, or cabin-ship cruises lasting several days with sidte journeys to Lisbon or into Spain.
Among day-trip operators Rota do Douro (www.rotadodouro.pt, [tel] 223 759 042; starting from 60€.) is popular with locals. Their basic cruise starts early, from 7:45am at the quayside in Vila Nova de Gaia. You get breakfast and lunch on board, a slow trip upriver, then a couple of hours in Régua to visit the Museum do Douro before heading back on by train. They also offer other trips heading further up the Douro to Pinhão or Barca D'Alva through some of the most dramatic scenery. Other local day-trip operators include PortoDouro (www.portodouro.com, [tel] 229 389 933) and Cruzeiros Douro (www.cruzeiros-douro.pt, [tel] 220 108 022).
For longer trips, international companies such as AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, Scenic Cruises, Viking River Cruises and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offer voyages for a week or more on the Douro, including during the September grape harvest. Vessels often feature a pool on top so that passengers can take advantage of the often sunny climate.
Cruises including trips to vineyards and towns along the route, meals and live fado music on board start from around $1,000 a week, but can run up to over $8,000 depending on services and season. Some companies offer add-on excursions to Lisbon or cities in Spain such as Madrid or the university city of Salamanca. The main local operator is Porto-based Douro Azul (www.douroazul.com, [tel] 223 402 500) which has a fleet operating on a variety of routes up and down the river. Its unique attraction is The Spirit of Chartwell, a luxury barge fitted out with artifacts from pullman carriages and vintage liners. It was used to waft Britain's Queen Elizabeth II down the Thames on her Diamond Jubilee in 2011, before being sold to the Portuguese company.
Hiring your own boat is also possible. Douro Azul and a number of smaller specialized companies have crewed vessels for hire. One of the best is Douro à Vela (www.douraavela.pt, [tel] 918 556 045) which offers trips from 2hrs to 3 days on its sailing yacht or a 60-year-old river launch. Their cruises take in some of the most beautiful stretches upstream from Régua. Among the most popular is the 4 hour sunset dinner cruise, with catering by the award winning DOC restaurant, 290€ for two. Pipadouro (www.pipadouro.pt, [tel] 939 196 262) seeks to create a refined 1950's ambiance with its "gentlemen's vintage boats" operating out of Pinhão. One once transported admirals in Britain's Royal Navy.
If you'd rather stay on dry land, there are rail trips along the line that dips down to the Douro soon after leaving Porto and clings to the bank for over three hours before terminating at Pocinho, up near the Spanish border. The trip costs 13.15€. It also stops at several pretty, azulejo-decorated stations serving the wine towns and villages along the line. The CP rail company (www.cp.pt, [tel] 707 210 220) also runs special day trips between June and October in historic carriages pulled by a 1925 steam engine with local musicians and port tastings on board. Adult prices start at 37.50€, children 17€. Then there's the Presidential train (www.thepresidentialtrain.com, [tel] 915 725 300). Built in 1890 to carry heads of state, it's been beautifully restored and in 2016 started hauling lucky passengers on spring and fall runs along the Douro line. The 9hr trip includes wine tastings at a top-class quinta and lunch served on board by Michelin-stared chefs. Details of the 2017 program were still being finalized as we went to press, but in 2016 the trip was priced at 350€ per person.
Get a car and you can discover the road proved scientifically to be the world's best drive. The N-222 sweeping along the south bank of the Douro between Régua and Pinhão beat the likes of California's Highway 1 and Australia's Great Ocean Road, in tests to evaluate the thrill factor of the world's scenic routes carried out in 2015 by a race-track designer, quantum physicist, and a roller-coaster builder organized by rental company Avis. It is, however, just one of the dramatic drives around the Douro. The climb from Pinhão to the winery-packed village of Provesende is another. Given the twisting tracks, however, it's doubly important drivers avoid the temptations on offer in vineyards along the way.
If you'd rather discover the Douro under your own steam, We Love Small Hotels (www.welovesmallhotels.com, [tel] 210 991 899) organizes walking and cycling tours among the vineyards and historic sites, as well as self-drive trips, with overnight stops in some of the region's most charming accommodation, like the scrumptious Vintage House (www.vintagehousehotel, [tel] 254 730 230) overlooking the Douro in Pinhão.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.