The wonderful thing about travel: beautiful areas usually have other beautiful areas nearby. In Portugal especially, where almost every town is a destination, it is never difficult to find day trip lurking nearby.
One popular day trip from the city of Porto is a drive into the nearby Douro River Valley. The Douro River flows from central Spain, through Portugal, and exits the country into the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.
The valley is famous for its production of Port wines. Historically, Port was grown and produced in the Douro River Valley and then transported down the river into Porto for trade and consumption.
A drive 2 hours west of the city pulls you deep into the Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The terrain in the valley lends itself to being a prime location to grow olive oil and grapes for wine (most commonly Port wine).
Click to read: Your Guide to Drinking Port Wine in Porto
Production of wine in the region can be traced back almost 2000 years to the Romans in the 1st century AD. Especially in the 18th and 19th century, Portugal used its Port as a key trading good. The demand for Port was high in England, and Portugal traded Port with the country for textiles.
The Douro River Valley became the first regulated wine region in the world in the mid 18th century when the Duke of Pombal began regulating the area.
The rolling vineyards of the Douro River Valley are a breathtaking sight. Wine lovers will appreciate the history and the drinks. Anyone with a pulse will appreciate the beauty. If time allows it, a trip into the Douro River Valley is an excellent way to spend a day in Northern Portugal.
WAYS TO GET INTO THE DOURO RIVER VALLEY: A trip to the Douro River Valley can easily be done in one day by starting very early and getting home very late. If this does not sound appealing and time is not a concern, spending a night in the valley is a stunning way to break up the trip.
There are nearly 100 miles between Porto and heart of the Douro River Valley. There are various ways to get into the region.
CRUISE: There are many boats that travel up the Douro from Porto. For the sake of time, most people take a boat into the valley and train home, as it is a very slow cruise.
CAR: This is probably the best way to see the most the area has to offer, as it is possible to bop around at one's own leisure. There are many vineyards above and around the large towns where the boats and trains stops.
If you would like to enjoy all the region has to offer (AKA if you want to drink), it may be worth it to spend the money on a private driver over personally operating a vechile.
TRAIN: As mentioned in the 'cruise' section, it is possible to train in and out of the region. This option limits you to visiting only spots on the train route.
The Douro Valley Tourism site has a ton of information on all of the places to visit in the region for any type of traveler.
Portugal blogger Julie Dawn Fox has a lot of information on getting in and out of the region, and how to arrange tours while you are there.
Trip Advisor and Fodors forums on how to get to the Douro River Valley. Visit Portugal information on the valley.
Because the average person does not have a taste for Port wine, visiting Port house after Port house in the valley can be unnecessary. Usually, just a few (or just one) will be sufficient.
Two non-drinking things to do while in the Douro River Valley:
SANTUARIO NOSSA SENHORA DOS REMÉDIOS STAIRS IN LAMEGO:
15 mins from the banks of the Douro River is the town of Lamego. The 686 steps of the Santuario Nossa Senhora dos Remedios are famous for their beautifully imposing heights. The church (and its steps) were built between the 18th and 20th century. Some early pilgrims would climb the steps on their knees.... as impressive as the view! Location here.
OLIVE OIL MUSEUM:
High above the town of Pinhão is a family owned and operated olive oil museum and wine tasting room.... I guess this one only half counts because it involves drinking. The family explains the process of olive oil making in the region and their 5 generations of involvement. More information here. Location here.
Enjoy! Travel + Leisure (or, 'the Big Guys,' as I like to call them) named the Douro River Valley the #8 place to visit in 2016!
Information courtesy of the Douro Valley Board of Tourism. More information available on their website!