I’ve already told you what are the best vineyards are and where to stay in Douro Valley. But it was missing a guide on how to get from Porto to Douro Valley, as there are so many possibilities that they are bond to make you confused, so here it is!
On this article I will tell you how to:
- Decide between Going on your own to Douro Valley or hiring a guide.
- If you decide to go on your own, what are the best options available.
- If you decide to hire a guide, how to choose between Group tours or Private tours.
So keep on reading, it’s a long article and all your questions are answered here! 🙂
Key criteria to decide How to get from Porto to Douro Valley
Before we dive into the options available, it is important to consider for a moment what is the best way to get to Douro Valley for YOU. I recommend you to consider these criteria:
- Budget vs Reach: do you want to explore the region on your own, or with a tour guide?
This is by far the most expensive criteria. Exploring the region on your own is usually cheaper and you can do whatever you want in terms of schedules (for instance stop every 500 m to take photos :P). BUT you will have to take care of all the logistics and, more importantly, the roads in Douro Valley are no piece of cake – they are very windy and narrow, and you should never ride there after drinking alcohol.
Hiring a guide is, naturally, more expensive, but you will have access to a network of wineries + a wealth of knowledge (if the guide is good) that you wouldn’t on your own. More on that to follow (down below).
- Car vs Public transports: basically, a choice between more flexibility vs lower costs.
The most convenient way to get to Douro Valley is indeed by car – you can either rent a car on AutoEurope, join a group tour or hire a private guide (I put these in ascendent order of price). The outcome is the same: with a private vehicle, you will be able to access more remote wineries and achieve much higher flexibility.
However, you may prefer to use public transports to get to Douro Valley, because they are indeed more affordable and more environmental friendly. I particularly like to take the train to Douro Valley, but once you arrive, you will only be able to visit the wineries closer to the train stations, which are, by definition, the most touristy ones. You will also miss the opportunity to visit the stunning viewpoints of Douro Valley. You will also be more limited in terms of schedules.
Getting to Douro Valley with a Guide
If you decide to get to douro valley with a guide, you have now two options: joining a group tour or hiring a private guide. I will start first with the cheapest option: joining a group tour.
Hiring a Private guide in in Douro Valley: yes or no?
Advantages of hiring a private guide (which is the same of booking a private tour in Douro Valley):
- You will have access to a carefully selected pool of boutique, family owned wineries. In both our private wine tour in Douro Valley and our River cruise and private wine tour you will visiting small scale producers that produce the most amazing wines.
- You will drink much better wines, period. Look, the only way group tours achieve their low prices is by cutting costs everywhere – and that includes on the quality of the wines you will drink. On our tours though (and I am sure on other serious private tour operator’s) you will drink fantastic wines that you would never discover on your own.
- You will be guided by a PROPER wine guide, not by a driver. Unfortunately (and I know this from experience) many guides in the region are not exactly guides, but only drivers. A proper guide is the person that will unlock the secrets of Douro Valley for you, from the history to the landscape, from wine making processes to specific wines.
- If you wish, you can have an itinerary design exclusively for YOU. Yes, it is expensive – more expensive than a standard private wine tour, but you will have a unique day in Douro Valley, tailor-make to meet your expectations and no one else’s. Just fill in this form and I’ll get in contact with you ASAP 🙂
Disadvantages of getting a private tour in Douro Valley:
- Price. There is no way around it – private tours are expensive, so they are not adequate for budget minded travellers.
- Not suitable for solo travellers. Private tour guides (including us – I am sorry!) do not organise tours for a single person because it would be prohibitively expensive – for both you and us! If you are travelling alone, I sincerely think it is best to join a group tour.
Join a Group tour in Douro Valley: yes or no?
Advantages of joining a group tour:
- It is a cheap option, as a tour with 2 wine tastings, 1h river cruise and lunch ranges from 99€ / person to 125€ / person.
- It is an opportunity to meet like minded travellers – so it is definitely the best option for solo travelers.
Disadvantages of joining a group tour:
- Lower quality of wines & food: as a tour operator myself (we organise solely private tours), I can tell you that these prices are insane and that they are only achievable by taking people to cheap wine tastings (the quality of the wines is quite low) and by getting economies of scale – the larger the group, the better!
- Lower flexibility: whereas we can make a detour on our private wine tours for the client to see something he wishes for (for example, to drive in national roads, to visit an extra winery, etc) there is no way you can get that on a group tour in Douro Valley.
- Lost in translation: in group tours it is quite common to have people that speak different languages so it is entirely possibly that your guide will have to conduct the tour in English and Spanish and French – so half the time, he won’t be speaking to you.
- Large groups: you always see pictures of small group tours (10 people) but if you read the small letters, you will notice that these tour operators write down that they can increase the amount of people on the tour without warning their customers. What does it mean? Heeeeerds! 😀
How to choose the best group tour in Douro Valley?
Honestly (and I am being very, very honest here), they are all very similar. In general, they all provide the same three things: wine tasting (1 or 2), a river cruise, and lunch. These are the most popular options:
- Group tour with 2 wine tastings + Lunch + river cruise, visit to Amarante included: 99€. Average 4.6 / 5 of 3000+ reviews. For me this is the most interesting option as, before heading to Douro Valley, you will stop for coffee at Amarante, one of my favourite cities in Portugal :’)
- Group tour with 2 wine tastings + Lunch + river cruise, with a fantastic viewpoint included: 99€. Average 4.6 / 5 of 1150+ reviews. I also really like this option because it includes a winery that has the most stunning viewpoint over the region. It is SO cool! 🙂
- Group tour with 2 wine tastings + Lunch + river cruise: 99€. Average 4.7 / 5 of 6000+ reviews. I included this option because it is the largest group tour operator in Douro Valley, but beware that the groups can be quite large!
Expert tip: the prices mentioned above do NOT include pick up and drop off at your hotel. If needed, you need to pay an extra for that!
How to get from Porto to Douro Valley on your own:
For the ones who love to drive as much as I do, renting a car is the best option to get from Porto to Douro Valley.
Keep in mind that even though the ride from Porto to Peso da Régua (the main city in Douro Valley) runs very smoothly on the highway, the roads on the region itself are narrow and windy and not suitable for the fainted heart.
But if this does not deter you from driving in the region, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view on your way from Porto to Douro Valley.
If you have already booked your trip to Portugal, you can rent car on AutoEurope, where you can not only get an overview of the cars & prices but also handle the booking.
Driving from Porto to Douro is the best option for those looking for complete freedom and flexibility. However, keep in mind that if you plan to indulge on wine tastings in Douro Valley, it would be completely reckless and dangerous to drive afterwards!
If you want more information on this topic, check out my complete guide on renting a car in Porto.
Day Cruise in Douro river
There is another way of getting from Porto to Douro Valley which consists of a combination of a train or bus ride from Porto to Régua, Pinhão, Pocinho or Barca d’Alva, followed by a boat ride down the river, or the other way around (going up the river by boat and then getting back to Porto by train or by bus).
This is a popular choice for those who are not so much into wine tastings and prefer to spend the day enjoying the views and making new friends.
Usually there are welcoming drinks and lunch being served on board, and there are also some programs that include a visit to a vineyard.
There are two programs:
- Douro river cruise Porto – Régua (the main city in the Baixo Corgo sub region), where you take the train at São Bento train station all the way to Régua, and from there take a boat ride back to Porto (Estimated time of arrival: 18h). Lunch is served on board.
- Douro river cruise Porto – Pinhão (the main city in the Cima Corgo sub region). You will take the boat at Cais de Estiva, in Porto, all the way to Pinhão. Take the opportunity to visit the azulejos tiles at the local train station, they are quite pretty! Afterwards, you will take a bus back to Porto, where you’ll arrive around 21h.
Probably the cheapest way to get from Porto to Douro Valley is to take the train, a ride famous for its scenic views of Douro river. (However, I must warn you that the most beautiful part of the train journey is from Pinhão onwards, very deep in Douro Valley – a part you will not explore on a day trip from Porto!).
In Douro Valley you have three train stations available:
- Peso da Régua, which is 2h away from Porto (if you were driving, it would be 1h30).
- Pinhão, which is 2h20 away from Porto (if you were driving, it would be 2h). Be careful because you have waaaaaay less connection Porto – Pinhão and Pinhão – Porto than Porto – Régua and Régua – Porto!
- Pocinho, which is 3h30 away from Porto. This is deep in Douro Valley and 99% sure you won’t get there, so let’s just focus on Porto – Régua and Porto – Pinhão connections.
Train schedules Porto – Douro Valley – Porto
These are the current train schedules to connect you to Douro Valley (from Porto):
Expert tip: avoid the train connections that have R|U or U|R written on the first column (“Serviços”). That means that you have to change trains half way through your journey, which makes for a more lengthy and uncomfortable trip!
A similar option in terms of pricing is to take a bus to get you from Porto to Douro Valley.
There are several companies offering this connection (Porto-Régua): Rodonorte and Rede Expressos. Rodonorte has a bus from Porto to Douro Valley departing at 7h00 and the last one at 14h30. The one way ticket costs 9,50€.
Rede Expressos’ first bus from Porto to Douro Valley departures at 10h00 and the last one at 18h15. The one way ticket costs 9,50€.
Local tip: Honestly, there is no advantage to take a bus to get you from Porto to Douro Valley, as it is not cheaper (nor does it take less time) than a train ride. It may come in hand if, for some reason, there are no more spots available on the train.
To sum up all the options to get from Porto to Douro Valley:
- The train and bus are the most affordable options to get you from Porto to Douro Valley, however you will have zero flexibility and will need to pay for a taxi to drive you to vineyards (very few are at a walking distance from the train stations).
- Private transfers and private wine tours (like the ones we provide) are the most expensive option, but also the option that can be tailored to your requirements.
- Renting a car is a mid-price option that I highly recommend to experienced drivers who enjoy driving 🙂 However, if you want drink during the day this is not a responsible option.
- Douro river cruises are a good option for those who just want to enjoy the landscape.