Nazaré, Portugal’s most famous surf beach got that title because of its really big waves. But until a few years ago, this small coastal city was just a fishing center.
Although Nazaré’s beaches have been popular with surfers since the 1960s, it was in 2010 that professional big wave surfer, American Garrett McNamara really put the place on the map riding a 78-foot (23.77 meter) wave.
The massive waves are due to the presence of an underwater canyon that increases the height of the waves. The season for these really big waves is between October and March.
Other surf centers in Portugal
Nazaré may be Portugal’s most famous surf beach but the country has several other well-known surf centers. South of Nazaré Peniche, and Eiriceira both offer ample opportunities to enjoy the beaches, watch surfers and try to learn this tricky but exhilarating sport.
Though Nazaré is now known worldwide for its big waves, the town is much more than just colossal surf. It’s history as a fishing village is still very much on display. In fact, you can see an array of local catch drying on racks along the seafront. Old ladies dressed in black will happily sell you a fish or two from their stands near the beach cafés.
A town on two levels
The town itself is on two levels. On the lower level, a warren of narrow streets clusters beside the main town beach. And these days, it’s very much a tourist scene. Shops along the street closest to the main beach sell all kinds of Portuguese souvenirs.
If you tire of shopping, you can stop and have a coffee at any one of the many local cafés. Or if you have a hankering for Indian food, you will find a superb menu at the Little Indian restaurant down one of the side streets. It’s near to the funicular railway that takes visitors up to the upper level, O Sitio.
The funicular railway that takes you up the steep cliffside to the Sitio costs 2.90 Euros round trip.
The Sitio is mostly ranged around a large market square that’s dominated by the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré (Nossa Senhora da Nazaré). You’ll find plenty of stalls selling souvenirs around the square plus a variety of restaurants specializing in excellent seafood.
But it’s what is beyond the Sitio market square that really draws the crowds to Nazaré. The Praia do Norte, or North Beach is where surfers from all over the world come to ride the massive waves that occur between October and March. To one side, you walk down toward the lighthouse that overlooks the North Beach, you can see the lower town spread out below the imposing cliffs.
If surfing really isn’t your thing, Portugal has many other beach areas worth exploring. Try the Alentejo region south of Lisbon or the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost province.