How to plan a DIY Douro Valley train trip from Porto

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Have you decided to explore the Douro Valley while you’re in Porto?  There are many planned excursions with set timetables so if you prefer to go at your own pace, why not create a schedule.  Here’s how to plan a DIY Douro Valley train trip from Porto, Portugal. 

While I was in Porto, I decided to do just that – visit the Douro Valley to my own schedule.  After doing some quick research while in Porto, I booked my train tickets. 

The Douro Valley

The Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has within it a breathtaking stretch of river called the Douro River.   Known as the Port Wine making region – and one of the oldest wine regions in the world – the Douro Valley is home to a number of vineyards and winery companies along its river bank.  

Picturesque 

The Douro is one of those places you just have to visit once you see pictures of it.  It’s wrapped with steep hills, deep valleys and the winding river that runs through it and under the eye-catching Gustave Eiffel Bridge.

Planning and timing 

If you’re up for making your own way to the Douro Valley, then it’s best to get up early and take one of the first trains.  You can use the Porto São Bento or Campanhã train stations.

Sao Bento train station - Porto_RiA Vistas
Sao Bento train station, Porto

The journey itself is just under two hours depending on the train you take.  If you get a train just after 9am (you can check train timetables here) you should get to the Douro Valley just before lunchtime.  I took the 9:10am train and arrived in Pinhão minutes after 11:30am.  

Sao Bento train station Porto_RiA Vistas solo travel
Beautiful blue tiles at Sao Bento train station, Porto

Pinhão is one of the main stops along the valley, but of course, you can get off anywhere along and visit other parts of the valley such as Livração or Régua.

After researching, I found that Pinhão was the best option.  It’s known as one of the most beautiful points to explore.  Surrounded by beautiful hills covered with rows of wine vineyards, Pinhão is at the heart of the Douro Valley and the Port Wine making regions.

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Blue divider - thin
Tips & Advice - solo travel

Train tips 

  • Sit on right-hand side of train for the best views as you enter the valley
  • Here’s a neat trick – if you’re in any of the seats right before the last ones in any carriage, take hold of the handle and move the seat in the opposite direction to face it the way you want
  • Sit on the left-hand side when travelling back to Porto for views of the Douro
  • Book your ticket the day before you travel.  The queues in the station can be really long in the morning and you want to make sure you don’t miss your train.
The train to Pinhão at São Bento - RiA Vistas solo travel
The train to Pinhão at São Bento
Switching side - seats on the train to Pinhão
Train to Pinhaão - seat switching_RiA Vistas
Train to Pinhão - seat switching

What to do in the Douro Valley 

The Douro Valley is amazing – the view, the atmosphere.  Once you get there you can wander the few shops along the main road and walk by the river.  You should also try to do an activity or two.  I knew I wanted to do wine tasting and go on a boat ride at the time I did my research.  

Outside Pinhão station - Porto_RiA Vistas
Outside Pinhão station - Porto
Pinhão train station - Douro Valley Porto_RiA Vistas
Pinhão train station in the Douro Valley

Take the Magnifico Douro Boat Tour 

I decided to do the Magnifico Douro Boat Tour, a boat ride along part of the Douro River.  You can pick a one- or two-hour ride depending on the time you have.   Catch the boat from Pinhão and during the trip you’ll pass many vineyard buildings wineries such as Bomfim and Carvalhas.  A one-hour journey starts from €11 (at the time of writing 2022).  

Sitting on the Magnifico Douro Boat Tour - Douro River_RiA Vistas
Magnifico Douro Boat Tour - Douro Valley River

You’ll travel on a Rabelo Boat – and electric boat.   It’s such a beautiful boat and doesn’t disturb the calm and picturesque surroundings of the valley. The journey starts at Pinhão and the boat travels towards Romaniera and back.  It was such a relaxing experience with fantastic weather.  I loved it!

The tour comes with the option to download the Magnífico Douro Tour app, available on iOS and Android.  It’s an audio guide that you’ll be able to listen to as you’re on the tour which tells you what you’re seeing along the way.  It’s available in multiple languages including Portuguese, English, French and Spanish.

The Magnifico Douro Tour runs every hour and operates daily (except Christmas Day) as long as the conditions on the river allow.  You can book any of the Rabelo Boat tours here.

NOTE: They have since changed the way you book.  Whether it’s online via their website (where I had booked) or even through partners like GetYourGuide, they require a minimum of two people per booking.  But don’t worry my solo travellers out there!  Just drop them an email in advance to let them know the situation and that you’ll be travelling alone.  Email: [email protected]

Gustave Eiffel iron Bridge bridge - Douro River Porto_RiA Vistas
Gustave Eiffel iron Bridge bridge across the Douro River

Quintas das Carvalhas Wine Tasting Tour

I chose a wine tasting tour with Quintas das Carvalhas.  I booked the Panoramic Minibus Tour in advance for €12.50  which is available every hour (at the time of booking) and starts at Pinhão station. 

You’ll need to make a reservation in advance and can do so [email protected].

As part of the panoramic bus tour, we travelled 550 metres up into the hills of the valley.   At the peak we had a 360-degree view.  Absolutely stunning, breath-taking views over the Douro River.  

We learnt that they classify grapes from ‘A-F’.  ‘A’ is the best as those grapes are in the sun all the time.  In a good year, they can produce seven million bottles of wine.  In the middle of September they harvest for about six weeks with the help of 45 workers.  The company also harvests olives. 

Panoramic Bus Tour - Douro Valley - Porto_RiA Vistas
Panoramic Bus Tour in the Douro Valley
View over the Douro River - Porto_RiA Vistas solo travel
View over the Douro River and Valley and Gustave Eiffel Bridge

After the bus tour, we headed back to the Quinta do Bomfim.  This was the winery where we would do the wine tasting part of the tour.  We were served with glasses of Porto wine to taste and chattered in the bar area. 

Quintas das Carvalhas grapes in the vineyard - Douro Valley_RiA
Quintas das Carvalhas grapes in the vineyard
Quinta do Bomfim wine tasting - Porto_RiA Vistas
Quintas das Carvalhas
Port Wine tasting at Quinta do Bomfim - Douro Valley Porto_RiA V
Port Wine tasting at Quinta do Bomfim

Travel tips 

  • Take some snacks and a drink with you.  Not all of the tours will provide food but there are places to eat along the main road.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as you may be on your feet at times if you go on any tours in the vineyards 
  • Book your activities in advance where you can.  The area is busy if you’re visiting in the summer months.
  • The trains that depart Pinhão in the early evening will be quite packed.  Everyone will return from their tours and make their way back to Porto.  Get there well ahead of time before the train arrives to help guarantee a seat. 

So, are you ready to plan a DIY Douro Valley train trip from Porto, Portugal?

I hope this helps you on your way!  Let me know in the comments below.

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