River Cruise in Portugal’s Douro Valley
We’ve returned from a fun river cruise in Portugal and have so many wonderful experiences and photos to share. A European river cruise has been on our travel wish list for years now, so we jumped at the opportunity to partner with Viking River Cruises.
There are so many European river cruises to choose from – so why did we decide to visit Portugal?
Well, the simple answer is that we had not yet explored Portugal, so this would be a new adventure for us. We also wanted to do something special to celebrate Cameron’s upcoming 40th birthday.
After learning about the Douro Valley and it’s famous wine region, we thought a luxurious river cruise would be the perfect adult only vacation (this was the first time we’ve left the boys behind for an extended period of time – 12 days!).
The tour we did is called Portugal’s River of Gold. It’s a 10 day itinerary that begins in Lisbon and ends in Porto (learn more here). The Viking website provides a general overview of the itinerary, but we struggled to find detailed information about the cruise, specifically around excursions, sailing times and how long we’d be at each destination.
This post will answer the questions we had about the Portugal river cruise itinerary and land excursions.
We will break down each day of the tour and provide information about what we did. We did this tour in late May 2018. Times and details may change on future tours, so use this information as a guideline (when in doubt, contact Viking directly).
Ask questions by leaving a comment below or contact us.
Day 1 – Lisbon, Portugal
The River of Gold itinerary begins in Lisbon, Portugal’s vibrant coastal capital. Our flight from Canada arrived at Lisbon International Airport at 12:00 PM on a Sunday.
A representative from Viking was waiting for us at the airport. She was holding a red Viking sign so we could easily identify her. We were given a private transfer from the airport to our hotel, the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa. This transfer was included – there was no additional payment required.
Although we arrived at the hotel before the standard 3:00 PM check-in time, our room was ready and waiting for us. We were thankful to have our room ready after a long travel day.
This day is a free day on the itinerary. Guests are free to do whatever they want. The only organized activity was an optional talk at 6:00 PM that reviewed basic details about the Portugal river cruise itinerary and upcoming activities. The hotel has table in the lobby specifically for Viking River Cruise guests, so there’s someone available to answer your trip related questions.
After a quick nap, we went to the rooftop bar at the hotel. The views from this bar are amazing. We could have easily spent the entire evening there but we only had two nights in Lisbon, so we wanted to get our and explore the city. Find out what we did in Lisbon here.
Views from Sky Bar, the rooftop bar at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa.
Day 2 – Lisbon, Portugal
A complimentary breakfast is provided at the hotel. The morning began with an included excursion that visits a few of Lisbon’s top tourist attractions. We departed the hotel at 9:00 AM sharp and quickly learned that the wheels on the bus start moving at the specified time – punctuality is very important.
The Lisbon city tour is a guided tour. Guests on the Portugal river cruise are split into 3 separate coaches. There are about 25-30 people per coach. Each coach has an English speaking guide.
Guests are provided a QuietVox audio system so that you can hear what the guide is saying. Our guide was very knowledgeable and shared interesting stories about Portugal’s history and culture.
First stop was the magnificent Belém Tower (above photo). We spent about 30 minutes at Belém. We did not actually go inside the tower, we took photos of the outside only. There are shops and cafes where the tour bus drops you off and picks you up.
Belém Tower is arguably the most important tourist attraction in Lisbon. We did not actually go inside this 16th century tower but we were able to marvel at its unique Manueline architecture.
Navy Museum and Jerónimos Monastery
After Belém Tower we visited the nearby Navy Museum and Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s quite an impressive building (see above photo).
The Portuguese are very proud of their maritime history and achievements. The Portuguese Empire was one of the largest and longest-lived empires in world history, existing for almost six centuries. The exhibits in the museum include historical paintings, archaeological items and several models of ships used in Portugal since the 15th century. The museum has over 17,000 items!
We spent about an hour at the maritime museum. The first 30 minutes was with our tour guide, the remaining 30 minutes was for us to explore on our own. Give yourself some time to walk down to the impressive Monastery (the domed tower at the far right of the above photo).
The bus departed the museum at 11:30 AM and passed the beautiful Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) before arriving at our next destination – the Alfama District.
The Alfama is is the oldest district of Lisbon. It’s the only part of Lisbon to survive the great 1755 earthquake, so it retains some of its old world charm. Today, this historical district is famous for its labyrinth of narrow medieval streets, small squares and quaint cafes and restaurants. We toured the Alfama for about 45 minutes. The tour concluded at 1:00 PM.
We had the option to take the coach back to the hotel or get dropped off in the city center. We opted to stay in the city and spend the afternoon exploring on our own. Find out what we did here.
Optional Tour – A Taste of Lisbon
Viking offers optional tours at some of the locations. We decided to join the A Taste of Lisbon tour. The additional cost for this 3.5 hour tour is $69 USD per person.
The coach departed the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa at 3:30 PM. There were 12 people on the tour with us. The tour stopped at 3 locations and included small samples of local dishes. The first stop had us sampling Portugal’s most popular pasty – pastel de nada (see photo below). The second stop included steak sandwiches and beer. The final stop included charcuterie with wine pairings. This was the highlight of the Taste of Lisbon tour.
We also visited the Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte to check out the amazing views of Lisbon (see photo below). We arrived back at our hotel at 7:00 PM.
Day 3 – Coimbra & Porto
We departed the hotel in Lisbon at 8:00 AM. Guests are required to be packed and ready by 7:00 AM because the luggage needs to be picked up from your room and taken to the coach. Complimentary breakfast at the hotel is included (buffet style – typical European spread).
We drove for 3 hours before arriving at Coimbra, the country’s former capital and home to the historic University of Coimbra. The coach stopped for a bathroom and coffee break about half way between Lisbon and Coimbra. The coaches are equipped with wifi and bottled water is provided.
We arrived in Coimbra at 11:30 AM. We explored the medieval town for about 30 minutes before making our way to the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world.
A highlight of the university tour is Joanina Library, an 18th century Baroque library that is home to 300,000 ancient books. We could not take photos inside the library. That said, the photos we did see do not properly capture how incredible this library is. You have to experience it firsthand (there’s good reason why this university is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The tour at the University of Coimbra is about 1.5 hours. After the tour we had lunch at a nearby restaurant and were treated to a delicious 3-course meal with live traditional music (guitar and singing). The food was very good and the atmosphere was quite festive. We spent about 2 hours at this restaurant.
We got back on the coaches and made our way north to Porto. The final drive was about 2 hours. Most people had a siesta to sleep off the wine from lunch.
We arrived at the ship in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto) at 5:00 PM.
Above – street scene in the city of Coimbra.
Above – Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (see listing).
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Above – the courtyard inside the historical University of Coimbra. Quite the place!
Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto
Our river cruise vessel, the Viking Osfrid, awaited our arrival at Vila Nova de Gaia, which is the south side of the Douro River (Porto is the on north side). The above photo was captured close to where the Viking ship docks. It’s technically not Porto but it’s close enough.
We boarded the ship and checked into our room. The process was fast and easy. Our luggage was delivered from the coach to our room. We had welcome cocktails at 5:30 PM and at 6:15 PM we were required to participate in a short safety drill. Basically, learn where your life jacket is located and how to use it in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Dinner was served shortly after the safety drill, around 7:00 PM. The captain took us up and down the Douro River on a sunset sail of Porto. After the sunset sail the ship docked at Vila Nova de Gaia for the evening.
We decided to get off the ship and explore Porto for a few hours. It’s such a photogenic city!
Day 4 – Full day in Porto
The included excursion on Day 4 is called Panoramic Porto. Breakfast is served between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM. The excursion departs at 8:30 AM sharp.
Similar to the Lisbon city tour, guests on the Portugal river cruise are split into 3 different coaches (the same groups as before). The QuietVox audio system is provided so that we can learn about the places we visit (the devices are located in your stateroom – make sure you charge them every evening because you will use them every day).
First stop on the tour is the Porto Cathedral, one of the city’s oldest monuments. It’s located on a hilltop and showcases incredible views of the old red roofed city (we assume this is why the tour is called Panoramic Porto). After the cathedral, our group walked to the nearby São Bento Railway Station, famous for its detailed tile murals. There are approximately 20,000 azulejo tiles on the walls that date as far back as 1905.
After the train station we visited Porto’s most popular shopping district and had about an hour of free time. We enjoyed another delicious round of pastel de nata and coffee (Europeans know how to make great coffee!). We visited Igreja de Santo Ildefonso (Church of Saint Ildefonso), an eighteenth-century church located near Batalha Square, before re-joining our group and making our way back to Vila Nova de Gaia.
The last stop on the tour was probably our favorite – we visited Sandeman’s port wine cellar to learn about the region’s famous port wine and sample the goods. The Sandeman location is a short walk from where the ship is docked in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Above – monument in front of Porto Cathedral.
Above – beautiful tile mural inside São Bento Railway Station, Porto.
Above – the Church of Saint Ildefonso. Notice the detailed tile art on the outside of the church.
Above – inside the Sandeman cave, home to hundreds of barrels of port wine. It smells so good in there!
Exploring Porto, Portugal
We arrived back to the Viking Osfrid for lunch. Guests can join a few different optional tours at this time. Or, you can take a shuttle back to Porto’s main shopping district. We chose the shuttle back to Porto and spent the afternoon exploring Porto at our own pace.
We walked across the infamous Dom Luís I Bridge and took hundreds of photos of this incredible city (more on that in an upcoming blog post).
We wandered around the city for about 3 hours and made our way back to the ship by 6:00 PM. The city is quite hilly, so we definitely got our exercise. We enjoyed dinner on the boat at 7:00 PM.
Views of Porto from the top of the Dom Luís I Bridge, an iron bridge built in 1886. One of the key people involved in its design was Gustave Eiffel, the same man who designed the world-famous Eiffel Tower.
Day 5 – Régua, Mateus Palace and Pinhão
We began the Portugal river cruise up the Douro River on Day 5, passing several towns and villages along the way. The ship departed from Porto at 7:00 AM. We woke up slowly that morning and watched the world slowly pass us by from the comfort of our bed.
We made our way to breakfast around 8:30 AM and finished just in time to witness the ship pass through the first river lock on the Douro River. It’s a very interesting procedure.
These river boats were built for the tight locks on the Douro River. Our captain carefully guided the Viking Osfrid into the narrow lock with only a few inches to spare on each side.
We spent the rest of the morning enjoying coffee on the sundeck of the ship, soaking up the unique landscapes as we sailed up the Douro. Lunch was served at 12:30 PM.
We arrived at the town of Régua at 2:30 PM. The included excursion departed shortly after we arrived, at 2:45 PM. We were a little behind schedule because there was a delay at one of the river locks.
Mateus Palace in Vila Real, Portugal
First stop on the excursion is to Mateus Palace, a beautiful baroque palace located in Vila Real. The drive from Régua to the palace took about an hour. We had a 30 minute guided tour followed by 30 minutes of free time to explore the beautiful gardens and chapel.
After Mateus Palace we boarded the coach and made our way to Quinta do Seixo, located in the Upper-Corgo in the heart of the Douro Demarcated Region. This region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (read the listing here) because wine has been produced in the Alto Douro region for 2,000 years.
If you’ve been counting, that’s 4 different UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 4 straight days (we need to update our list!). Portugal is full of treasures.
The drive up the hill to the Sandeman winery is a little harrowing. The tight switchbacks put our driver to the test, but he was up for the challenge. If you don’t like heights, you may not want to look out the window during this part of the tour.
The views from the Sandeman at Quinta do Seixo are spectacular – see photos below. We’ve been to wine regions in Europe before (read about our trip to the Mosel Valley in Germany), but we haven’t see vineyards quite like these. The rows of grape vines stretch up the side of the river valley for miles.
The terraces reminded us of the ancient terraces of Banaue in the Philippines.
Régua to Pinhão
For those who decided to skip the excursion to Mateus Palace and Quinta do Seixo, they stayed on the ship as it sailed from Régua to Pinhão. The coaches met up with the ship in Pinhão at around 6:45 PM.
Our coach actually passed the ship while it sailed up river. The above photo was captured from the window seat of the coach. That is our ship, the Viking Osfrid.
Dinner was served at 7:30 PM. That evening, we enjoyed local dishes and the ship’s staff were dressed in traditional Portuguese outfits. Performers came aboard the ship and played live music while we ate. It was a very festive evening.
The ship docks in Pinhão for the night. We had the opportunity to explore the town in the evening but we were too full from dinner. We decided to enjoy some local wine on the sundeck instead. It was a fun day.
Above – ship docked in the town of Pinhão, located in the district of Vila Real.
Sailing up the calm Douro River. Views from the sundeck of the Viking Osfrid.
The variety of landscapes was unexpected. One minute we’re surround by wineries, the next minute we are sailing within a few meters of jagged rocks and steep canyons.
Panoramic views from Quinta do Seixo, home to the Sandeman brand of port.
Our big coach carefully made its way up these steep, windy roads.
Day 6 – Barca d’Alva and Castelo Rodrigo
The ship casts off from Pinhão at 7:15 AM. Like the previous morning, we take our time and enjoy the passing countryside from the window of our upper level stateroom.
We ate breakfast at 8:00 AM and made our way to the sundeck. The weather did not cooperate that day. It rained for most of the morning.
We arrived at Barca d’Alva at 2:15 PM and joined the included excursion that departed at 2:30 PM. We boarded the coach and made our way to the historical village of Castelo Rodrigo, a tiny medieval fortress town that retains its old world charm. The hilltop village is still home to about 60 people.
We had about 1.5 hours to explore the village, palace ruin and church of Castelo Rodrigo. The guided walking tour takes about 30 minutes. It’s not very big, so you can explore the village on your own.
We arrived back at the ship at around 5:00 PM. That evening we were treated to a cocktail party with a variety of colourful drinks to choose from. We ate dinner at 7:30 PM and went for a walk around Barca d’Alva afterwards. The town is quite small and there’s not a lot to do.
The ship remains docked at Barca d’Alva for two consecutive nights.
Above and below – admiring the palace ruins at Castelo Rodrigo.
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Above – steep slope in the medieval village of Castelo Rodrigo.
Sampling a glass sparkling white wine that’s manufactured in the region. It tasted like sweet almonds. We’re not sure if the white wine was mixed with the almond flavour? It was an interesting combination. We’ve never tasted anything like it before. It was a little too sweet for our liking.
Our coach stopped at this lookout point so that we could capture photos of these beautiful landscapes. You can see the Douro River in the far distance. That’s where the ship was docked while we toured the region.
Day 7 – Salamanca, Spain
This was the longest and one of the most memorable days on the trip.
After an early breakfast on the ship, we boarded our coach at 8:45 AM and began a two hour drive to Salamanca, known for its ornate sandstone architecture and the Universidad de Salamanca (founded in 1134). The Old City of Salamanca has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We arrived in Salamanca at 11:00 AM. We stopped for a coffee break about half way from Barca d’Alva to Salamanca.
The guided tour began at the Central Market, where we sampled some cured meats fresh cheese, olives and wine. It was a nice way to start afternoon. We then walked to the magnificent Plaza Mayor, considered the heart of Salamanca and considered to be one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain.
You are given free time to explore the city. You may re-join the group for a guided walking tour at 2:00 PM or choose to discover Salamanca at your own pace.
We decided to enjoy a bottle of red wine and tapas in Plaza Mayor. It’s the perfect place to people watch. We were there during graduation and there seemed to be a lot of bachelor and bachelorette parties that day (we counted at least 10 different groups that were dressed up and ready to party).
If you travel to Salamanca, you must visit the incredible New Cathedral of Salamanca, built between the 16th and 18th centuries in both Gothic and Baroque styles. It’s one of the most impressive Cathedral’s we’ve visited. It is joined together with the Old Cathedral that dates back to the 12th century.
We departed Salamanca at 4:00 PM and arrived back at the ship around 6:00 PM. The ship remained docked in the town of Barca d’Alva for a second night.
Above – admiring the sandstone architecture in Salamanca, Spain.
Above – outside Salamanca Cathedral. It’s so big that we couldn’t fit it all in the frame!
Inside Salamanca Cathedral. Nicole is dwarfed by the towering columns. This church is huge!
Above – the stunning architecture and detailed ceiling in Salamanca Cathedral.
Above – Random sighting at Plaza Mayor. This girl was dressed up in a fat suit for her bachelorette party – we believe. Salamanca is definitely a university party town.
Can you spot Nicole in the above photo? Hint – she’s looking left.
Enjoying tapas and red wine in Plaza Mayor. As you do in Salamanca!
Above – endless rows of Jamón Ibérico, Spain’s celebrated cured ham. So delicious.
Day 8 – Favaios and the Douro Valley
The Viking Osfrid departs Barca d’Alva early, around 6:15 AM. We arrived at Pocinho at 9:00 AM and disembarked the ship to join the included excursion to the historical town of Favaios, a village with a population of about 1,500 people that is known for one thing – its wine, Moscatel de Favaios.
The drive from Pocinho to Favaios took about an hour and passed through the region that was heavily impacted by the forest fires of 2017.
The first activity in Favaios was a visit to one of the last traditional bakeries in the Douro Valley. We sampled some fresh bread and learned how it’s made. Nicole tried kneading the dough but her bread did not make the cut. The baker was not impressed with her bread making abilities.
After the bakery we visited the local museum and learned about the region’s wine making process and its infamous Moscatel de Favaios. We then made our way to the Favaios co-operative, where the region’s wine makers work together to produce Moscatel de Favaios. Of course, we also had a wine tasting.
We left Favaios and traveled 30 minutes to Quinta da Avessada, an ancient site that has long produced one of the richest wines in the Douro wine region. We enjoyed a welcome glass of Moscatel before sitting down for a memorable 3 course meal. The owner is quite the character. He kept everyone laughing throughout lunch. We spent about 2 hours at Quinta da Avessada.
Our coach traveled through the Douro Valley as we made our way back to the ship. The landscapes in the demarcated wine region are amazing. The never-ending terraces stretch for miles – see above photo.
We arrived at Folgosa at 3:30 PM and boarded the ship. We sailed for abut two hours before arriving at Régua, our final destination for the day.
We attended the Captain’s Cocktail Party at 6:00 PM before dinner was served at 7:00 PM. Because the ship was docked in Régua for the night, we decided to disembark the ship after dinner and explore the town. When we returned to the ship, we were treated to a special performance of Portuguese Folk Music by a local group called the Tuna Folk Show.
Above – Nicole learning to make traditional Portugese bread in Favaios.
Above – Church in the town of Favaios, Portugal.
Above – inside the impressive Favaios Adega Cooperativa wine making facility.
Enjoying the region’s famous Moscatel de Favaios, similar to port wine.
Above – our host at Quinta da Avessada gave us a warm welcome and kept us entertained.
Learn more about our Portugal river cruise itinerary here.
Day 9 – Régua and Lamego
We disembarked the ship in Régua at 9:00 AM and joined the included excursion to Lamego. The drive is 30 minutes. The tour is only 3 hours.
The clear highlight in Lamego is the Sanctuary of Our Lake of Remedies, a stunning 18th-century Baroque and Rococo sanctuary that sits on a hilltop with 686 stairs in front of it (see above photo). You can walk up the stairs, as many pilgrims will do, or you can take the bus to the top of the church and walk down. That’s what we did.
After we walked down the stairs in front of the Sanctuary of Our Lake of Remedies, we visited Lamego Cathedral (also known as Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral) and Museu de Lamego. Viking guests are given free admission to the museum. We spent about 30 minutes inside the museum.
We returned to the ship at 12:00 PM for lunch. The ship cast off from Régua and made its way down the Douro River to Porto, the final stop on our Portugal river cruise.
We arrived at Vila Nova de Gaia at 8:00 PM on the Monday.
Above – walking down the 686 stairs in front of the Sanctuary of Our Lake of Remedies.
Above – the beautiful Lamego Cathedral (Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral).
Above – admiring the exquisite rugs hanging on the wall inside Museu de Lamego.
Douro River Locks
The Viking Osfrid went up and down 5 different river locks while on our Portugal river cruise. This was the first time we passed through locks of this size. They are huge!
We have a few time lapse videos that we will post on our Facebook page soon. It’s a very interesting experience. We made sure to be on the sundeck every time we passed though one of these impressive river locks on the Douro River.
Approaching the Valeira Dam
The river lock is located on the right side of Valeira Dam, in that big concrete box with the black door that resembles a garage door.
The ship approaches the lock and the door opens. It then enters the lock compartment and the doors close. The lock fills with water and this lifts the ship. Once it reaches the top, the opposite side door opens and the ship departs at the higher level (or lower lever if the ship is going down).
Above – inside the river lock. Views from the sundeck of the Viking Osfrid.
Above – view of the Douro River from the top of Valeira Dam. It’s a long way up (and down)!
Day 10 – Porto and Disembarkation
The Portugal river cruise finishes in Porto. Most of the guests disembarked the ship early in the morning and went straight to the airport. You can enjoy breakfast one last time on the ship. Viking asks guests to vacate the room by 9:00 AM so they can prepare the ship for the next cruise.
We decided to stay one extra night in Porto. This was the right call for us. Otherwise, we would have had to disembark the ship at 4:00 AM to catch our 7:30 AM flight home.
Porto is such a cool city. We could have easily spent a few more nights there. We disembarked the ship at 9:30 AM and took a taxi to the hotel. We organized the accommodations separately. Because we were early, we left our luggage at the hotel and spend the afternoon exploring the city.
On our final evening in Porto, we dined at a restaurant on the riverfront promenade. We could see the Viking Osfrid docked across the river at Vila Nova de Gaia. We watched guests taking photos on the sundeck, just as we did 7 days earlier. We had a moment of envy and nostalgia as the ship set off for its sunset sail up the river (see photo below).
We knew exactly what those guests were about to experience as they began their unforgettable Portugal river cruise up the Douro Valley.
Above – the Viking Osfrid sets sail up the Douro River.
What did we think of this Portugal River Cruise?
We thoroughly enjoyed our Viking River Cruise. We believe everyone should experience the luxury and simplicity of a European river cruise at least once in their life.
We look forward to discovering new destinations with Viking River Cruises. Their service and attention to detail is top notch. We would recommend the Portugal’s River of Gold cruise. It exceeded our expectations.
With that said, we must disclose that we teamed up with Viking River Cruises in order to make this trip possible. Our cruise was complimentary. We agreed to share our honest, firsthand experience on this blog and social media channels. Read our disclaimer here and see previous campaigns here.
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