The Douro Valley Train (Linha do Douro) to go wine tasting on your own is touted as a cheap alternative to organized tours but is it worth doing even though it’s cheap? This post is about our day wine tasting along the Douro Valley via train, the wineries we visited and our overall experience so you can decide if it’s something you’d like to do on your own.
The Douro Valley Train Ride is a Terrible Way to Go Wine Tasting
The Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage area in large part because its been a wine region for more than 2,000 years. For many visitors to Porto, it’s top on the list of things to experience. This blog is about cheap tricks to travel, so my husband and I based our decision to go wine tasting on our own due to the cost of organized tours. Most organized tours are over $120 per person in high season compared to a round trip train ticket of about $30 per person. There are so many overwhelmingly positive reviews of the Douro Valley train ride on TripAdvisor and many other blog sites, I feel the need to give a different opinion. In fact, if your budget is tight, like ours, you may choose to skip the Douro Valley all together.
Here’s Why You Should NOT Take the Train to go Wine Tasting…
- Only two wineries are within walking distance of Pinhão, which is the nearest station to wineries. There are two winery tasting rooms within a 15 minute walk of the station. (These wineries are not at the vineyard; rather they are only tasting rooms.) To visit actual vineyards you will have to hire a taxi from the station. The wineries we went to were about $10 per person to taste. Bob and I each got a different flight and shared tastes so we could have a good variety. Supposedly there is a third winery near the station but we couldn’t find it.
- Train times are very limited. There’s really only one option if you are going to the end of the line and then want to come back to Pinhão to visit the tasting rooms. You will need to take the morning train from Porto and you will arrive back in Porto early evening.
- The train is often (always?) delayed. It was delayed for us because it stops at many small stations along the way. If you are delayed by a few minutes at each one it adds up to very delayed.
- The train windows are so dirty you can barely see out. Quite a few windows have graffiti that obscure your view. At one station, a couple passengers found a faucet with a water hose and started cleaning windows themselves and everyone applauded.
- It takes a long time before you get to the scenic part of the trip past the suburbs, which is about 45 minutes after leaving the station.
- There’s nothing to see or do at the end of the line but you can get off the train to stretch your legs and go to the bathroom. There’s one local restaurant and a place to buy packaged ice cream bars.
- The train bathrooms are disgusting! In the morning they were dirty and they were worse in the afternoon.
- Plan on standing on the train. The outbound trip was nearly full (you can’t reserve seats) but the trip back to Porto was terribly overbooked and half the passengers had to stand or sit on the floor for more than 3 hours.
- There’s very little time for wine tasting. If you take the train to the end of the line to Pocinho, you will have about 30 minutes to hang out. Then you get back on the train to backtrack to Pinhão. You will have time to visit a couple tasting rooms before they close and grab a bite at one or two of the cafes open that late. When we visited there was only one cafe open and we were lucky the owner was a lovely woman who pulled together a meat & cheese board for us. (More on this cafe below.)
Here are a FEW Reasons to Take the Train to the Douro Valley…
- The low price is the biggest positive. All of the tours I found included tasting at two or three wineries at the vineyard, lunch and a 1-hour boat ride. The boat ride is along part of the river where the train runs. The low end of tours is $120 per person but can run more than $300 per person depending on the wineries visited.
- It’s expensive to rent a car plus dangerous to drink and drive, so at least the train is a way you can have an affordable day wine tasting.
- You will have a lot of time to talk to fellow tourists on the train because it’s a really long ride.
- The river valley is pretty but the prettiest part is after Pinhão. However, I don’t think the views are worth the extra time going all the way to the end of the line.
- Pao Com Sabor is a delightful small bakery and cafe open after 2 p.m. The owner was spectacular and created a wonderful charcuterie for us with a bottle of red wine for 15€.
- Without a doubt, the winery visits and our lovely late lunch were the best part of the entire excursion. The train ride was the worst part!
In Summary–Is Taking the Douro River Train Worth an Entire Day?
It wasn’t in our budget to go on a tour from Porto. Our wine adventures in other countries have mostly been done by renting a car, but in Porto we were advised not to because of the steep, narrow roads and long distances. By taking the train we spent about half the amount of money going on our own versus going on a tour but I don’t think it was worth the savings. This is just my personal opinion but I think it’s best to have low expectations and then be surprised if you think it’s not as bad as I described. Or better yet, just go to a nice wine bar in Porto and relax.
A Cheap Alternative (or Addition) in Porto for Wine Tasting
While in Porto, we visited Porto Augusto’s cellar in the Gaia district where for 10 euros you can take an educational tour of the production process of port and at the end of the tour get a taste of a couple varieties of port. The total length of the tour and tasting was about one hour but we felt it was comprehensive.
Another great place to visit for port, wine or cocktails is Terrace Lounge 360, which is a short walk from Porto Augusto’s in the Gaia district. The top feature of this lounge is the fabulous view from the terrace. There are no “tastings” per se but the lounge has a wine range of ports and wine to select for about 3-6 euros per glass.