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Mateus Palace, built in the 1700s in Vila Real, Portugal, is visited on some Douro River Cruises.

Bert Kaufmann / Creative Commons BY NC

Mateus Palace, built in the 1700s in Vila Real, Portugal, is visited on some Douro River Cruises.

River cruising on Portugal's Douro River

5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites highlight voyages through region

While not exactly a river laden with mystery, the Douro River of Portugal and Spain hasn’t quite reached the level of becoming a household name like some of the more well-known waterways such as the Rhine or the Danube.

Dubbed the ‘river of gold,’ the Douro does indeed offer the potential to encounter treasures

Dubbed the “river of gold,” the Douro does indeed offer the potential to encounter treasures — at least, the kind that make for an unforgettable vacation experience.

But this river in Portugal can offer a wealth of surprises and unexpected discoveries — and in that way, it can almost be like finding a wonderful bounty that has somehow managed to escape others’ notice.

A journey down the Douro River can involve many potential highlights, with something delightful around nearly every turn. You'll experience a number of interesting cities and villages along the river’s path. One of these is Salamanca, where you will feel like you have been transported back in time. Many of the buildings here have stood for centuries. Don’t miss the chance to check out the university where Columbus once studied!

Along the way you'll find a number of charming villages, some of which are hidden in the mountainside or nestled among lush greenery. Strolling along the cobblestone streets, you'll spot ancient structures burrowed among grapevines and wild gardens.

The Dom Luís Bridge spanning the Douro River at nightfall.
Rossana Ferreira / Creative Commons BYThe Dom Luís Bridge spanning the Douro River in Porto, Portugal, at nightfall.

5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites included

A number of river cruise lines sail the Douro, including Viking River Cruises, Scenic, Uniworld, AmaWaterways and Tauck

Viking offers a 10-day voyage along the Douro River, which gives you the chance to enjoy a relaxing cruise experience while also stopping along the way to explore all of the wonders found along the river’s trail. In addition to the cities already mentioned, you will also get to check out Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal. This is the birthplace of port wine, and that drink is still exclusively produced in this region. Not surprisingly, your tour of this city will most likely include a stop at some of the wineries and warehouses located here. You also won’t want to miss a view of the city’s famous bridge, the Dom Luis.

As if the Douro River and all it offers isn’t enough of a draw, the Viking getaway also includes a hotel stay in Lisbon, as well as a visit to Spain included as a bonus. Your trip will include stops at five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and you also have access to eight included shore excursions with insider information shared via a local guide and headset.

A Douro River bridge near terraced hillsides in Portugal.
Pete Diehl / Creative Commons BY-SAA Douro River bridge near terraced hillsides in Portugal.

Viking River Cruises also offers passengers their Culture Curriculum, designed to help you feel as if you are immersed into the culture and ambience of the region, even when you're still aboard the ship. On this trip, that means you'll get to sample some local port wines, enjoy a folkloric music performance, learn about wine-making traditions and Portuguese history, and attend a flamenco show.

As with any trip aboard Viking River Cruises, the cruise line promises comfortable accommodations and personalized service. And beyond Viking, Scenic, Uniworld, AmaWaterways and Tauck are excellent ways to see the Douro as well. 

— Bobbi Dempsey, TravelPulse. This article originally appeared at

Interested in a Douro cruise?

If you're interested in a cruise along the Douro River, please contact Cruiseable's Business Department by email or call 1-877-322-3773 to speak with a travel expert. 

Ralph Grizzle at the always useful River Cruise Advisor adds this info:

Douro River cruise packages range in length from 6 to 15 days. The longer itineraries include land travel along with a cruise and may include cities, such as Lisbon or Madrid. The cruise itself generally lasts for an average of 8 days.

One of the highlights of Douro River cruises is the Douro River Valley. This region was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2001. It’s located between the cities of Barqueiros and Mazouco in northeast Portugal near the border of Spain.

Most of the river cruise is spent in Portugal. Ships only travel as far east as Vega de Terron, Spain. While docked in this city, most itineraries include a trip to Salamanca. It’s located about 165 miles southeast of Vega de Terron. Transportation to Salamanca is by motor coach.