Viking Cruises Portugal’s River of Gold nine-day cruise begins in Lisbon and ends in Porto. Along the way, you’ll visit the oldest university in Portugal, sample some of Portugal’s famous port wines, and feast your eyes on some spectacular scenery.
Due to the depth of the Douro River, the larger Viking European river cruise longships cannot travel on the Douro. Instead of traveling with approximately 200 passengers, you’ll travel with only 100 passengers, including the crew. This makes it a more intimate journey with the opportunity to get to know your fellow passengers (if you choose).
What Makes the Douro River Cruise Different?
The Douro Valley is the oldest delineated and demarcated wine region in the world. Though it has become an increasingly popular destination in recent years, it is still very rural.
There are no large cities along the Douro River aside from Porto. Regua is about 50,000 people, but at this time, there are no shore excursions in Regua. A Douro River cruise is more about enjoying the scenery and the small villages, quintas, and history of the region.
This makes the trip much slower-paced than a cruise on the Danube or the Rhine River. It’s more about relaxing and enjoying the scenery, which is spectacular, especially as you move farther north, where river access through the valley is more recent.
As the cruise line travels upriver, you’ll discover the real history of the Douro River Valley.
Lisbon and Coimbra
All Viking Portugal river cruise passengers meet in Lisbon and travel by bus to Porto to board the ship.
You can book pre-cruise extensions if you would like to stay longer in Lisbon. Viking Cruises takes care of the hotel booking. Daily excursions are included, just as they are onboard the ship. Note that there are several optional excursions to choose from in each port.
There are two UNESCO World Heritage sites on the Lisbon excursions, Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery. They’re known for their whimsical and exotic Manueline architecture, a blend of Gothic, Italian, and Flemish Renaissance influences.
Located on the River Tagus, Belem was originally a watch tower. Both pay tribute to Portugal’s maritime history and former status as a world superpower. Since they are adjacent to each other, this is a UNESCO double hitter.
On the way to Porto, the bus stops in Coimbra, once the capital of Portugal and home to the oldest university in Portugal. The university’s centerpiece is a gorgeous baroque library, considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It houses more than 200,000 volumes; some are rare and very valuable.
Fun fact: The university keeps a colony of bats to eat the paper-eating bugs that attack the books. It is one of two libraries in the world that have a bat colony. But don’t worry, you won’t see any bats!
Arrival in Porto
The cruise part of the trip officially begins in Porto, once Portugal’s capital city. Your Viking longship docks in Villa Nova de Gaia just across from Porto. This is where all the big port wine houses are located. While not as scenic as Porto, Villa Nova de Gaia is a nice place to take a short walk.
There’s also the option to join an excursion to Graham’s port wine house for a seated tasting and dinner.
Porto is where you will officially embark on the ship and settle into your stateroom.
There are three categories of staterooms: standard staterooms, French balcony staterooms, and veranda staterooms, and there are veranda suites.
Every stateroom is furnished in light and neutral colors and has ample storage under the bed for your luggage. There’s a table on each side of the bed, portals so you can stay connected to wifi, a desk, built-in drawers, and a good size closet.
In other words, ample room for you to unpack and enjoy your week on the Douro River.
Vila Nova de Gaia to Lamego
The next morning the cruise ship sets sail for Lamego. From here, you’ll visit the lovely Mateus Palace and gardens, the very same palace that is depicted on every bottle of Mateus rosé wine. The family that owns the estate has been there for 400 years and the decor and architecture are fantastic.
In the afternoon, the excursion includes a visit to Quinta do Seixo, a famous winery. Aside from a tour of the winery and a tasting of the wines this is a fun vantage point to watch your Viking longship sail past on its way to the next port.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The bus ride up the steep mountainside to the winery is not for the faint of heart! If you don’t like heights, sit on the other side of the bus.
Cultural Experiences Onboard the Ship
The cultural experiences onboard the ship are always enjoyable. I’ve been on three Viking cruises, including the Danube, and I attend every scheduled event onboard. On the Douro River cruise, we had a lesson on cooking Portuguese pastry, a port wine-tasting experience, and afternoon tea, along with nightly music and dancing. There was even a flamenco performance one evening.
Lamego to Barca d’ Alva
Barca d’ Alva is the last Portuguese town on the Douro River and is only a few hundred yards from the Spanish border. From here, the shore excursion is to Castelo Rodrigo.
Castelo Rodrigo is one of Portugal’s 12 historic parishes. There has been a castle or fortress here for centuries due to its proximity to the border of Spain. From the early 11th century until 1325, it was constantly besieged as it was fought over by both Portugal and Spain.
Throughout the centuries, Jews, Arabs, and Christians coexisted here. Today the village is tiny, with only about 1000 inhabitants. The ruins of the castle and the old church are all that remain of the town’s bloody past. The little chapel is especially beautiful, and there are fantastic views over the countryside from the castle.
The trip to Castelo Rodrigo is about an hour and a half, but the drive is broken up by a fun stop at what we in the US would refer to as a roadside cafe. It’s a nice stop for observing the life of people who live nearby as they get their coffee and meet with friends. The owner of the cafe will make you a fresh espresso or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, which is what they are known for.
A day trip to Salamanca, Spain is one of the highlights of the cruise.
Salamanca was founded in 1134 but is wonderfully preserved. The golden color of the buildings in the center of the city makes it one of the most beautiful on the Iberian peninsula.
Spend time watching the world go by in Plaza Mayor, also known as the public square. Another thing Salamanca is known for its delicious pork, so find a tapas bar and order a nice tempranillo from Ribera del Duero or white wine from Rueda. This day-long excursion allows to time to wander on your own.
Note that the Douro River originates in Spain and travels west to the Atlantic Ocean. Cruise ships do not dock in Vega de Terron, Spain, but in Barca d’ Alva, minutes from the border. It’s a two-hour bus ride to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Salamanca. Believe me, the bus ride is worth it.
Barca d’ Alva is the last Portuguese town on the Douro River. The ship turns back to the west en route to Porto.
But first, a stop at Quinta da Avessada for an incredible meal and wine tasting. Due to the elevation of the town, Favaois, Quinta da Avessada produces mostly Moscatel de Favaois, a sweet wine that is made from Moscatel grapes that are grown nowhere else. Even if you don’t enjoy sweet wines, you’ll love the winery, the landscapes, and the food.
The final port of call is Porto, where the cruise began. Porto lends its name to the port wine produced in the Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Porto is a lovely old city, especially so for the beautiful tiles you’ll see almost everywhere. Be sure to visit the Sao Bento train station with its beautiful blue and white tiles telling the story of the Douro.
Porto is also referred to as the City of Bridges. There are six bridges in Porto, with the most famous Luis I Bridge named for the king of Portugal at the time of the construction of the bridge.
Of course there is so much more to see in Porto, but Viking Cruises shore excursion orients you to the city. After that you can enjoy wandering on your own.
If you fall in love with Porto (and you will, it’s one of Europe’s most romantic cities), you can also have Viking Cruises arrange a post-cruise extension and spend some extra time exploring this historic European city in one of the world’s oldest wine regions.