Which is the Best Douro River Cruise?

The pool onboard Scenic Azure

In this blog, I’ll talk about my own experiences of cruising on the Douro and how to decide which is the best Douro river cruise for you.

The Douro Valley is spectacular and a river cruise through this region is the perfect way to explore. It’s my favourite itinerary so far and I hope to visit again very soon.

Ships on the Douro are not allowed to sail at night, ensuring ample opportunities to soak in the breathtaking scenery. The terraced vineyards draped over the hillsides created a stunning backdrop. River cruising is the ideal way to explore this gorgeous region of Portugal.

Joining the ship in Porto   

Our voyage along the Douro River began in the vibrant city of Porto, a UNESCO-protected gem at the river’s mouth. With its charming streets, historic churches, and bustling waterfront cafes, Porto is a delightful starting point for any journey. The iconic cable car and a historic tram ride added to the city’s allure, offering panoramic views and a glimpse into Porto’s rich heritage. Our exploration began with a visit to the awe-inspiring Palacio da Bolsa, a neoclassical masterpiece that embodies Porto’s historical significance. I highly recommend adding an extra day or two to your trip. Some river cruise companies offer a land extension and extra excursion opportunities in Porto.

Scenic Azure   

My Douro adventure was on the beautiful Scenic Azure. I quickly felt at home in my beautiful balcony suite, a comfortable haven for the week ahead. Conveniently located in the heart of Porto, Scenic’s exclusive docking spot ensures easy access to the UNESCO-listed historic centre. It’s a delightful starting point for any Douro River journey.

Itinerary highlights

One of the most unforgettable moments of our journey unfolded as we approached the Carrapatello Dam. This monumental lock, one of the world’s tallest and Europe’s deepest, boasts an astonishing 35-meter water level change. As our ship ventured into this cavernous structure, its sheer scale left us awestruck. Water poured in, and our ship ascended to the top. As the gates lowered, we continued our journey, inspired by the engineering marvel that is Carrapatello Dam.

One of our excursions took us to picturesque Provesende, one of the most charming villages in the Douro wine region. Sampling traditional Folar de Chaves and visiting the village bakery, where the aroma of freshly baked bread filled the air, were delightful highlights. We also had the privilege of sitting in an ancient wine cellar, surrounded by wooden barrels, to sample local Port wine. Our local guide shared captivating stories of rural life and the region’s history, providing a unique glimpse into the past.

Food – an important consideration

Every day, our onboard culinary experiences exceeded expectations. We savored locally inspired regional specialties, including the delicious Pastéis de Nata. A Portuguese-style BBQ on deck under the sunny weather made the experience even more delightful. River cruising’s appeal lies in its ability to offer a range of opportunities to explore while returning to the same comfortable room each night, making for a relaxing and convenient way to travel.

Choosing a Douro Itinerary – which is the best Douro river cruise?  

I’m often asked about which is the best itinerary or river cruise company and the answer can be different for each person. There are several factors to consider including budget, itinerary options and what’s included. The style of the ship can vary and is sometimes chosen to reflect the location of the itinerary. Some river cruise lines offer a wider choice of excursions, including active options.

There are various options when choosing an itinerary. Below are some examples:

Scenic offers an 8-day Delightful Douro itinerary and an 11-day round trip option, allowing more time to explore the region. Extensions to Lisbon and Madrid are also available.

Emerald Cruises offers the 8-day Secrets of the Douro itinerary alongside an 11-day Secrets of the Douro and Lisbon option.

Uniworld provides an 11-day itinerary, including 3 nights in Lisbon, as well as an 8-day Porto to Porto round trip option.

AmaWaterways has two ships based on the Douro River, with options for Lisbon and Madrid extensions.

APT introduces the MS Estrela, designed specifically for the Douro, and offers an 11-day itinerary with Lisbon.

Avalon’s newest ship, Alegria, offers 8-day and 11-day options, the latter including 3 nights in Lisbon.

Croisi Europe provides six ships on the Douro, giving you greater availability with options ranging from six to eight days.

Tips for choosing your Douro River Cruise

  1. Look at the excursions that are available:  find out about the various shore excursions offered. Some river cruise lines provide active alternatives such as hiking, cycling, and kayaking. Others offer unique experiences like private concerts.
  2. Consider the length of the cruise: a typical first river cruise is seven nights, but you can add extra nights on land at the start or finish to extend your adventure.
  3. Look for river cruises that cater to your interests: themed cruises can include art, wine, or history. Some cruise lines even invite celebrities to host themed river cruises, making your experience extra special.
  4. Have a look at my blog about the things you should know before you book. It includes information about the view, itinerary changes and what’s included.
  5. Chat to me about your ideas:  Don’t hesitate to reach out for advice and insights. I’m always happy to offer my experience and guidance to make your first river cruise a memorable one. I can help simplify the process of choosing the right option. We often receive offers from our river cruise partners too.