Most people don’t know it, but Portugal holds the Guinness World Record for the largest wave surfed. American-born surfer Garret McNamara rode a 78-foot (24m) wave off the coast of Nazaré, a small fishing village located less than two hours north of Lisbon. Other surfers may have broken this record but they were never officially recorded, like Brazilian athlete Carlos Burle who rode a 100-foot (30m) swell. But the location was the same, with Burle’s wave also caught in Praia do North (North Beach) of Nazaré. With 600 miles (965km) of beaches, however, Nazaré isn’t the only place where surfers can hang 10, and many other beaches actually provide safer and more excellent conditions.
From the very north to the southernmost tip of Portugal’s borders, the beaches provide fantastic opportunities to catch waves of all sizes. A few spots stand out among the crowd, however, and the best time to catch wetsuit-clad surfers in the water is in winter. While summer’s waves are smaller and less exciting for more experienced surfers, they may be better for surfing newbies looking to dip their toes in the water and get on a board for the first time.
The north may be less popular when compared to the beaches in the central and southern parts of the country, but Porto and its northern neighbors have a few cool locations for some fun surfing. The water may be colder, but that doesn’t stop the free-spirited surfers who rush to the water on a regular basis. A few spots to mark on your “must visit” lists include Viana do Castelo, Matosinhos, and Espinho. The waves of Praia do Cabedelo in Viana do Castelo are influenced by the strong winds common in that area, which also means windsurfing in addition to regular surfing can also be enjoyed.
For the waves that have caught attention worldwide, head to the center of the country, specifically Figueira da Foz, Nazaré, Peniche, and Ericeira. These hubs are where most water-loving athletes make a bee-line for, and the waves are among the strongest and biggest in Portugal. Monster-wave mecca Nazaré isn’t for the faint of heart, and the waves and rocky coastlines are even considered dangerous among pro-surfers. But anyone interested can sit at a nearby café and enjoy a drink while watching the pros do what they do best.
Ericeira has joined the ranks alongside Baja Mexico, the Gold Coast in Australia, and Malibu in California as a World Surfing Reserve. Located a one hour drive north of Lisbon, it is where the strongest surfing community can be found in Portugal.
Speaking of Lisbon, the capital is in close proximity to plenty of beaches, all of which offer a variety of athletic opportunities. One of the top spots for riding the waves near this centralized location, however, is Costa da Caparica where the waves are consistent but easier to manage. The beaches there can get a little crowded, however, and those furthest from public transportation stops are preferred when trying to beat the crowds. Resort-friendly Cascais also has surfing schools and spots for learning to manage the swells.
Visiting Portugal for a surfing vacation and not heading to the crystal-blue waters of Algarve is a near cardinal sin. First, the coast itself is mesmerizing and unlike most places in the world, with jaw-dropping cliffs and pristine beaches, and it boasts the warmest water along the coast. Sagres, Carrapateira Aljezur, and Monte Clérigo are among the best surfing spots with wide swells and fewer tourists in this normally tourist-filled destination.
One of the best beaches in Algarve for surfing is the Praia da Arrifana, located 30 miles (49km) north of Sagres, but it’s recommended for experienced surfers only. There, the waves are said to be strong and fast.
Most spots along Portugal’s coast are equipped with picture-perfect conditions for varied levels of surfing, from beginner to expert. Off the Portuguese coast, the Azores and Madeira increase those opportunities. As the largest island in the Azores, São Miguel has the greatest number of beaches, and those around Ponta Delgada, Ribeira Grande and Vila Franca do Campo may be the most popular. In Madeira, head towards Jardim do Mar (which means “Garden of the Sea” in English), Porto Santo island, and Paul do Mar.