We had such a good time going sailing on the Douro river in Pinhão that we were curious about what it would be like to cruise the waters at the other end of the river, in Porto, Portugal. We were invited to do a Douro Azul river cruise on a rabelo boat, and I want to tell you all about this fantastic experience.
The Douro is one of the most picturesque rivers in Europe, and it's been the lifeblood of the city throughout its history. So it's not surprising the waterfront views are the most popular for visitors looking to get the best photos and the most unforgettable experiences.
And what better way to experience Porto than from its traditional boats, the rabelos?
- Free admission to more than 6 museums and attractions.
- 50% discounts at other museums and sights.
- Free and unlimited access to the Porto metro, city buses, and suburban trains.
- Special deals at restaurants, shops, and other venues.
Get your Porto Card from GetYourGuide. They allow you to cancel up to 24 hours beforehand in case you change your mind.
Rabelos were used to transport port wine, but also other goods and even people, over the river. Before the construction of the railroad, the rabelo boats offered the fastest way of getting port wine from the Douro Valley, where it's produced, to the city of Porto.
The boats have a flat bottom which made it easy for them to navigate the formerly shallow waters of the Douro River. Nowadays, the water of the Douro in Porto is deeper thanks to the construction of dams and locks in the 1960s.
The word “rabelo” means “little tail” and refers to the long wooden stick at the end of the boat that is used to steer it. Every year on St. John's Day, the 24th of June, a rabelo boat race is held in Porto as part of the festivities.
Our Douro Azul river cruise
Douro Azul offers various cruises and the one we went on was the one-hour Bridges Cruise (€15/person). That cruise goes alongside Porto and takes you under the different bridges that connect the river banks of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. It was a great way to see both cities from a different perspective.
Bookings also include an audioguide in multiple languages with information about the city and its iconic bridges. This post by Anil from foXnoMad has all the details about the bridges of Porto, if you'd like to know more.
The Douro Azul Bridges Cruise operates all week with daytime trips from 9:30 am to 6 pm, so it's easy to fit into your itinerary for the day.
The rabelos depart from Cais de Gaia, one of the most picturesque areas in the city with its cozy coffee shops and restaurants and the Port Wine warehouses visible from the waterfront.
Although a boat isn't the most stable ground for taking photos, I attempted to capture what we saw along the way.
Besides families taking out their boats, we also passed some fellow cruisers and we especially got a great view of the Museu dos Transportes e Comunicação, an impressive building as well as this huge painting of one of the most famous port brands.
They even took us to the ocean! Well, almost…
Besides small tours in Porto, Douro Azul also does longer cruises on bigger boats, like an eight-day cruise that will take you on a fascinating trip through the Douro Region in northern Portugal, with visits to wine cellars and interesting landmarks at every stop.
More Porto boat rides
If the Douro Azul tours don't fit your schedule, there are plenty of other options. For example, this 48-hour hop-on hop-off tour of Porto allows you to discover the most iconic places in the city with impressive waterfront views. You’ll get to explore the Cálem, Poças Junior, and Quinta da Boeira wine cellars in guided tours with wine tasting included, and visit museums and other attractions at each stop in your own time.
Or, if you’d like to combine your Porto river cruise experience with other activities in the city, this Porto river tour also includes a historic train tour departing from the Sé Cathedral and arriving at the Real Companhia Velha. You can enjoy a wine tour there before heading back to the city, with several scenic stops at some of the most important landmarks in Porto, like Aliados Avenue, Carmelitas Church, St. Johns Theater, and more.
Where to stay in Porto
For a refreshing dip after a day of exploring, check this list of hotels with pools in Porto.
For other types of hotels, I recommend Booking.com for its wide range of options and flexible booking conditions.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered on every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
PIN FOR LATER
We were offered a tour with Douro Azul by the Porto Convention Bureau, but, as always, all opinions expressed here are my own.