Explore one of the world’s most amazing surf meccas: Europe. Yep, surfing in Europe is booming. From the salt-washed cliffs of Portugal all the way to the roaring beach breaks of France, there’s oodles to get through. You might just need that wetsuit though…
- Some of the best beach breaks in the world.
- Great atmosphere in wonderful European surf destinations.
- It’s super easy to plan a European surf trip.
- Wetsuits required.
- Huge seasonal changes.
- Some of the most popular towns can get busy.
More guides to European surf destinations
An introduction to surfing in Europe
Ever since the Spanish ambassador to Hawaii fetched back the first ever boards in the 1880s, people have been uncovering the potential of the continent. These days, there’s oodles to sink your fins into. You can catch competition-ready tubes on rocky reefs. You can settle in happening surf towns with loads of apres and breaks for all. You can drive out to hidden Portuguese bays or delve into Spanish fishing villages where rollers beckon the more intrepid among us.
From the icy waters of the North Sea to the gleaming swells of the Canary Islands, European surf spots come in all shapes and sizes. Take Hossegor. It’s arguably the most famous surf destination in Europe, famed for its high river mouth tubes and wind-sculpted beachies (the offshores can be incredible). Then compare that to the barrels of Portugal’s Supertubos. Or, look to the beginner-friendly coves of Cornwall.
Adding to all that is the relative ease of planning a European surf trip. It’s just a short-haul flight from the UK to the continent’s best breaks. Car rentals are easy to score. Surf hostels rarely break the bank. And there are some of the best surf camps on the planet strung out along the coastlines of Iberia, the Canaries, and the UK.
The best places to surf in Europe
From the sheer fjords of Norway to the bath-warm waters of southern Portugal, Europe ranges across thousands of miles of Atlantic coast. That means there are oodles of countries where you can wax down the board and hit the waves. They offer myriad variety of breaks and conditions, too. There’s always something on offer in this corner of the world, no matter if you’re Kelly Slater or just starting out.
Perhaps the most famous European surf destination of them all, Portugal has really embraced the rising popularity of the sport in recent decades. In truth, the 1,100 miles of shoreline here is still being discovered by surfers. The most popular regions are around Lisbon and the Algarve. The first has the iconic surf meccas of Ericeira and Peniche. The latter comes with warmer waters and more beginner-friendly waves. Of course, a nod to the wild waves of northern Portugal, and the huge XXL breaks of Nazare, is also a must.
Read our ultimate guide to surfing Portugal
The West Country and south-west regions of Old Blighty are world-famous for their waves. They’re almost singlehandedly responsible for nurturing the UK’s homegrown surf culture. It’s Cornwall that often tops the bill. There are sheltered breaks on the English Channel there, along with others – liker Sennen and Polzeath – that pick up the brunt of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, burgeoning surf scenes exist in Yorkshire and the north-east, where the locals brave the icy North Sea waters and wind swells.
Stunning landscapes combine with reliable waves all along the relatively unknown Welsh coast. There is loads to be said for heading out to Pembrokeshire with the board in tow. The Wide and exposed sands of Freshwater West are a real Atlantic swell magnet. Then you’ve got the Gower Peninsula near Swansea. Miles of peaks wait on that one’s Llangennith bay – one of the most breathtaking areas of shoreline in the world, let alone the United Kingdom.
Put aside preconceptions of paella chefs and flamenco dancers – Spain isn’t all chilling on the Costa del Sol, you know? Around the south coast, you can venture to Cadiz. By a gorgeous old town of cobbled streets and tapas bars, walled-up waves roll in after gathering a little punch from the Atlantic. However, it’s San Sebastian that reigns supreme. A happening city, it’s the gateway to loads of attractive and challenging beach breaks in the Basque Country.
Just a mention of the name Hossegor is usually enough to conjure frightful images of spraying overhead beach breaks that roar in tubes and walls against wind-blasted dunes. But you don’t have to contend with the winter monsters of La Graviere to enjoy surfing in this corner of Europe. There are oodles of long, sandy beaches that have countless peaks going right and left (but mostly closing out) up the west coast. Further north, Brittany comes with its own family-friendly surf breaks and unique Breton culture.
When other parts of Europe are dusting down their snow jackets, the Canaries are basking in sun. What’s more, strong cross-Atlantic swells hit these Spanish islands in the winter months, so you can hop south from the ski fields to find consistent point breaks, beachies, and even barrels. The Canaries get popular in summer with families and learner surfers. For that, the glowing white beaches of Fuerteventura and north-western Lanzarote are perfect!
Month by month guide to the surf season in Europe
Winter storms batter the Atlantic Coast of Portugal and France. Expect heavy swells that turn even easy spots into something for the pros. Wetsuits will be needed. Canaries are the exception that proves the rule – January to March bring some of the best waves.
The SW swells that roll into the central and Silver Coasts of Portugal bring something to delight intermediates. The Algarve is warming for beginners. The Canary Islands see easier waves and plenty of sun. The result? Early spring is a good balance for mixed-ability groups on a Euro surf trip.
Surfing in Europe in April and May can offer a good mix of reliable swells and more relaxed days in the ocean. The likes of Nazare are dropping away in favour of surf towns like Peniche in Portugal. Lanzarote and Fuerteventura offer warm seas where you might even get away with just a rash vest. France and the UK also start to get popular; Cornwall and the region around Biarritz in particular.
Be sure to pack the sun cream if you’re off on a European surf trip in the early months of summer. Anywhere south of Brittany is liable to get some scorching days of sun for your riding. What’s more, as the powerful NW swell loses a little of its moxie, the beaches all down the Portuguese coast become more accessible to more levels. Canaries are hot and the waves decreasing in size for beginners in Caleta. Downsides include the summer onshores in Portugal.
Surfing in Europe in July is a real pleasure. The oceans have cooked just enough to warrant a wetsuit of 3/2 in most places bar Scandinavia. Groundswells are tamer, offering waves of all shapes and sizes for all levels of surfer. Regions like Bordeaux, Basque Country, Galicia, and the Costa Vicentina could very well be at their finest at this time of the year.
Hot, hot, hot – Europe’s sweltering in August. Everyone and their dog is planning a surf holiday when the temperatures up and school’s out, so be warned of crowds. Summer onshores across the Atlantic seaboard also mean lots of closeouts. Oh, and did we mention it’s busy? This might be a top time to explore more hidden surf destinations in Europe. Think about heading to the Porto region, Galicia, or Scotland.
The latent heat in the ocean keeps things warm into September. However, crowds disperse at the end of the summer holidays, freeing loads of space on the peaks of popular learner destinations like Peniche, Ericeira, Cornwall, and the Canaries. Waves are a good mix of low-energy sets and more powerful swells that come from an early cooking of the winter storms. That makes the autumn a fine pick for mixed-ability surf groups (just like March).
October is when Nazare starts roaring. In tandem with the Oahu North Shore on the far side of the world, the North Atlantic breathes life into the Nazare Canyon and offers waves that crash over 100 feet from tip to trough. The upshot? Portugal isn’t for the faint hearted at this time of year. France’s beach breaks also get wilder. And there’s a chill in the waters from the UK upwards, meaning you might need the gloves and booties if you’re heading Cornwall, Scotland, or Scandinavia for a ride.
Be ready to be cold if you’re surfing in Europe in December. Yes, there are some corners of the continent that stay balmy but you’re likely talking 4/3 and a hood to boot. The Canaries are great in the mid-winter, though – there’s reliable sun and some of the most consistent surf of the year. Winter offshores in Portugal continue to help peaky breaks across the Lisbon coast, too. France and the UK is typically left to the most dedicated of riders.