Just a mention of Nazare surf is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned riders. But this big-wave mecca isn’t always mighty. It’s still not the place for a beginner’s trip, though.
Surfing in Nazare at a glance
- A chance to see awesome big waves.
- Explore a beautiful Portuguese fishing town.
- Punchy beach breaks for some fast summer surfing.
- Waves way too strong for most of us!
- Nothing for beginners.
- Gets busy on weekends.
This is a part of our greater guide to surfing Portugal.
What you’ll find in this guide
An introduction to Nazare surf
In November 2011, North Shore veteran Garrett McNamara rode a record-breaking 23.8 metre wave on the Praia do Norte of Nazare. It was the largest swell ever conquered, and with it, this small Portuguese fishing town on the Oeste coast entered the stuff of surfing legend.
The XXL Nazare surf is the product of a colossal deep-sea canyon (the Nazare Canyon). It cuts through the seabed to almost five kilometers at some places, helping to funnel and shape some of the strongest swells on the planet.
But things aren’t always apocalyptic here. Nazare beach surfing can be tame in the summer months. There are a few wedges and some good peaks for the more expert riders to get stuck into when the Norte isn’t working. What’s more, the whole town oozes traditional charm and atmosphere – it’s just a nice place to be!
When is the Nazare waves season?
October-April (Pros only!)
The big wave season starts in earnest with the coming of autumn. If you’re heading to Nazare at this time, you better be a seasoned veteran of Ulus and the North Shore. Alternatively, just join the spectators on the lighthouse point of Fort of Sao Miguel Arcanjo.
As the XXL Nazare waves season drops away, the town enters the role of pretty Portuguese fishing/seaside town. However, there are still some breaks. And they can still be punchy. Overall, though, the surf scene dies down for the summer months.
What are the best Nazare surf spots?
Nazare can be split in two when it comes to surfing. There’s a wide beach break that’s worthy of mention for its powerful breaks that can work all year. And then there’s the piece de resistance – that mighty wedge that can hit 30 meters and draws the hardcore folk with their jet-ski hitches. You might also find some interesting breaks by looking further afield up the Portuguese coast to the north and south.
Praia do Norte
A spot that surely needs no introduction, Praia do Norte is the largest wave in Europe. It’s the current playground of big-wave surfers, and is written into record books for the highest peaks ever (think over 24 meters from crest to bottom!). This one’s not to be taken lightly. Simply do not even think about it unless you’re a sponsored pro who knows what they’re doing. Of course, spectating from the lookouts of the nearby lighthouse is a different matter…
Praia do Nazare
A huge horseshoe bay that spreads out right in front of the town itself. Don’t confuse this with the epic Praia do Norte – you’ll have a hefty shock if you do. That’s not to say the rides are a cinch on Nazare’s main beach. In fact, they stay punchy and fast all year. South and south-west swells bring the best of the action. As you head further along towards the headland, expect classier rides that are sometimes rippable, sometimes barrels. Lots of bodyboarders.
Praia do Sul
The most southerly wave to be linked to Nazare town is on Praia do Sul. It’s not often ridden, especially compared to its brother to the north. However, when big swells lurch in from the ocean canyons, it can offer some high-speed tubes that the locals love to chase. Again, experts only, please!
Where can I find surfboard rentals in Nazare?
The truth is, most surfers will be heading to Nazare with their own rigs. No one wants a 9″ soft top to conquer the 30-meter wedges of Praia do Norte, right? And it’s actually the same story with the surfers who you’ll find on the main beach of Nazare. Most are seasoned riders with their own quiver suited to those fast barrels.
That said, a few outfitters have set up shop in the Nazare surf location. You’ll find them on the streets just behind the main sands at the north side of town. Alternatively, you could head south to Peniche, where there are oodles of surf schools offering long-term board rentals to anyone planning a west coast surf trip.
Where to stay on a Nazare surf trip
Let’s get one thing straight – Nazare is one downright handsome town. It’s got all the cobbled pavements and little seafood taverns you could ask for. There are traditional Portuguese red-tiled roofs, and blue-tiled frontispieces. The upshot? Loads of travelers come here for a classic sun, sand, and sea holiday, particularly during the summer months. So, you’re sure to find plenty of awesome accommodation:
Nazare Marisol Praia ($$$)
Beaming beachfront views make the apartments at this acclaimed hotel really worth the extra moolah. The best of them have big balconies and airy dining spaces. They are all chic and modern, with walking access to the Nazare surf spots. An excellent choice for families.
Gil Vicente House ($$)
Tucked under the headland where you can go to watch the biggest Nazare waves of all, Gil Vicente House is a whitewashed little cottage that’s perfect for couples. The main beach of Nazare is literally 20 meters walk away. You also get use of a small kitchenette.
Paz & Amor Guest House – Peace & Love ($)
Quirky, traditional, and quaint, this is a classic Portuguese homestay. Maps scrawled on the walls evoke the era of exploration. A shared kitchen makes for a great atmosphere. The beds are comfy. The beach is just a short walk through the town, too.
A travel guide for anyone surfing in Nazare
This section highlights a few of the basic travel details you should know before planning a trip to this corner of the Portuguese coast. It’s less about the Nazare surf spots and more about the logistics of getting in, around, and enjoying.
Where exactly is Nazare?
Nazare strings along the coastline of the Oeste province. It’s almost exactly midway up Portugal, virtually equidistance between the border with Galicia and the Algarve. The nearest main town is Leiria. It’s surrounded by the glowing beaches and dunes of the so-called Silver Coast – an uber-popular vacationing area.
How to get to Nazare
Flights to Nazare don’t exist – sorry! You’re best off looking for rides into the Lisbon Portela Airport. That’s the nearest place to land, and it’s got loads of low-cost carriers linking to the UK and the rest of Europe. Flying into Porto is also an option, but travel links going south from there tend to be a little harder to come by than transfers out of the capital.
Rede Expressos run regular connections from the center of Lisbon to Nazare (tickets are €10 each way). A southbound line also runs on Rede Expressos from Porto (tickets €19 each way).
For a comfier but more complicated ride, you can catch the train from Oriente Station. That connects with the Linha do Oeste up the coast. Expect a few changes along the way, and a local bus or cab ride to complete the journey into Nazare.
How to get around Nazare
Nazare is a pleasure to walk. A wide, blustery promenade links the whole beach area. It’s where you’ll find the local fishing folk dressed in their traditional garb. It’s also littered with lovely cafés and restaurants. In short, you should find it easy to navigate the whole city on foot.
A funicular line has been connecting the center of Nazare with the lighthouse, fort and headlands above for more than 125 years. You can still ride it to get sweeping views of the red-tiled roofs and the roaring Nazare waves that crash onto Praia do Norte.
Currency and ATMs in Nazare
Use euros (€) in Nazare.
You’ll find several ATMs sitting on the main promenade that lines the seafront of Nazare. There are also cash points on R. das Traineiras and Av. Vieira Guimarães behind the beach.
This ultimate guide to Nazare surf is always being updated and changed. If you think we’ve missed something or gotten something wrong, we’d sure love you to get in touch. You can use email or just drop a message in the comments below.