Adventure Cruises in Portugal
With it rugged coastline, historic ports, great food and rich culture, Portugal offers unforgettable adventure cruises.
In Portugal, cruises are found in two distinct areas, the mainland of Portugal in the region of Porto and the Douro Valley or cruises around Portugal’s outlying islands of Madeira and the Azores archipelago. These two locations are as diverse as the country, and there is much to see and experience on either type of small-ship cruise. Porto and Douro are a cultural and culinary adventure with tours of wine cellars and the opportunity to taste local delicacies and explore the beautiful green countryside littered with tiny shrines, ruins, and churches. A small ship cruise around Portugal’s islands enjoys the fascinating culture of these remote outposts historically occupied by the Portuguese with the archaeological sites to show for it. On the islands, a massive attraction of a small ship cruise is the range of marine life around Madeira and the Azores. Huge pods of whales, dolphins, and flocks of sea birds can be seen close to the islands or sometimes following your small ship cruise.
Best Portugal cruises and areas to visit
Porto and Douro
The starting point for many small ship cruises is Porto, one of the larger cities on Portugal’s coast. The city is known for its brightly colored buildings, historic buildings, and quaint street cafes. It is well worth arriving a few days early for your cruise to spend some time exploring Porto. Nearby, the enchanting valley of Douro is known for its natural beauty and as one of the best wine-producing regions in Portugal. Small ship cruises can pass along the Douro river and take guests to the wineries dotted along the banks. It is an opportunity to sample some fantastic port wines which originate in this area. Many of the stop-offs on a small ship cruise will combine wine and food tasting with local specialties such as smoked hams and cheeses on offer.
The whitewashed glamour of Portimão is an exciting start to any small ship cruise around Portugal. The town and marina are home to chic restaurants and shops along with many long sandy beaches backed by dramatic cliffs. Portimão is a reasonably modern town but isn’t without its historical sites with gothic architecture found around the back streets and an excellent museum found inside an old cannery.
Cruises around Madeira give guests the chance to see so much more of its natural wonder than any land-based visit. The island is known for its dramatic cliffs in a rainbow of colors. Dolphins whales and turtles are visible throughout the year, with a huge range of species found migrating past the island. Madeira has many beaches, both black and white sand, and plentiful hidden coves and swimming spots. The island is ideal for hiking as well, with a beautiful mountainous center and hundreds of paths to enjoy the local wildlife and nature.
Nicknamed the Eden of the Atlantic, the Azores is an ideal destination on a small ship cruise around Portugal’s islands. The nine volcanic islands that make up the archipelago and this geological past has led to a breathtaking coastline with twisting bays and deep inland basins between the rolling hills of vegetation. Many parts are mountainous and green before dropping into the sea, and hot springs are plentiful. The local culture is relaxed and lively with small but fun nightlife. Out at sea on a small ship cruise, it is a great place for whale and dolphin watching, although it is possible to see so much more, with turtles, sharks, and seabirds all passing by this haven in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Best time to cruise in Portugal
The best time to cruise Portugal depends slightly on your interests but also on which region you choose to visit. The mainland has warm summers and colder winters, which are perfect for sunbathing or cultural visits, whichever takes your fancy. Portimão has its annual carnival between January and February each year, where you can enjoy street parades, music, and a serious party atmosphere. The islands have an entirely different climate, with Madeira described as the land of the eternal spring. The summers are quite warm with 25 degrees plus between June and August, although it never gets quite as hot as the mainland, it is still the perfect beach and walking weather. In the winter, the temperature can get down to 16 degrees, which is still mild and enjoyable for cultural visits and walking in the mountains. The Azores also have a temperate year-round climate, although the weather in the winter months can be slightly less predictable with some stronger winds; however, there is always a spot in the many sheltered bays and coves to enjoy the sun. The islands also celebrate Carnaval in February with colorful dancers, music, and shows. Madeira additionally celebrates the beautiful festival of flowers in early May, expect to see dancers decked out in dresses made of flowers.
How to get to Portugal
One can easily reach mainland Portugal through the international airports at Lisbon, Faro, and Porto. Many small ship cruises begin in Porto, making it an ideal place to land. If you are taking a small ship cruise around Madeira, it is easiest to fly directly from Lisbon, although there are flights available seasonally from other European airports. Visiting the Azores on a cruise is even easier with direct flights available from Boston and Oakland, removing the need to double back from mainland Europe.
Tips about Portugal
- Portugal and its islands are within the European Union, so a Visa for this area will allow you to travel to and within all regions of Portugal. The currency is the Euro, and credit cards are widely accepted, although there will be additional charges for using them in many places.
- Although you will be onboard a cruise, there is plenty of opportunities to enjoy hiking in all regions of Portugal, so pack your boots and jacket to make the most of the scenery.
- Sunscreen is a must, particularly on a small ship cruise where the sea breeze can easily fool you into ending up burnt in the plentiful sunshine.
- In the valleys and forests of Portugal, you might find mosquitos in the summer, so bring a good insect repellent for those winery tours. Not so for Madeira or the Azores, where there are virtually no bugs or pests, thanks to their relative isolation.
- The Portuguese way of life is very laid back, and you might find the pace of service (or anything else) is not quite what you are used to, which is particularly true of Madeira and Azores, which seem to exist in a kind of time bubble. The best approach is to take it easy and enjoy the relaxed island atmosphere.