Not only does Figueira da Foz have an excellent stretch of beaches and fun medium-sized waves (that are sometimes on the larger-to-medium scale), but it’s also conveniently located smack in the middle of Lisbon and Porto, making it easy to visit. Cross the Mondego River, heading away from the expansive resort-lined sandy stretch blanketed by sunbathers, and you’ll find the Praia do Cabedelo, where surfers ride the waves parallel to a rocky jetty. To the opposite side of the resorts, local surfers head to the traditional fishing community of Buarcos, where they sometimes find longer, lower rides than at the Praia do Cabedelo.
Many enthusiasts opt for being a spectator instead of an active participant when visiting Nazaré, and no one can blame them. This is where you’ll find Portugal’s powerful monster waves, including the largest swells ever recorded in the world. Order a takeaway lunch from a local café (we recommend a tosta de queijo with delicious Portuguese cheeses – enough said) and head to the Praia do Norte to watch the pros in action. Why are the waves so massive? Facing the Praia do Norte is a canal-like channel with a fairly steep (and deep) slope that, combined with the Atlantic winds, create these colossal waves.
Local tip: A surf trip doesn’t always imply getting into the water, and Nazaré’s waves reach heights of up to 100+ feet (30 metres), but if you’re itching to give it a go, summer is a good time for smaller swells. Otherwise, why not enjoy the show and use the build-up of excited energy at any of the other beaches on this list?
One great place to use the surge of energy after visiting Nazaré is Peniche, less than an hour south (approximately 45 miles (72 km) away). Surrounded by the Atlantic on all sides, except for the narrow isthmus-like strip that connects it to the “mainland”, Peniche is one of the country’s traditional fishing towns with a few beautiful beaches. The one that has placed Peniche on the map, however, is Medão Beach. This is the home of “Supertubos”, a world-renowned tube wave where the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal event takes places each October. Although these waves may not reach the heights of those in Nazaré, they are still powerful and better left for experienced/advanced athletes.
In less than an hour north of Lisbon, you’ll find Ericeira, a surfing mecca and the home to one of Portugal’s largest surfing communities. In fact, the waves are what the town is known for these days. They come in all strengths and sizes, making Ericeira a popular choice for every proficiency level. Beginners, after visiting one of the local schools, will want to make their way to the Praia do Sul or Foz do Lizandro, where they can alternate jumping in the water with sunbathing and stops at the local beach bars/cafés. More serious surfers, on the other hand, have more than 10 spots within 8 km (5 miles), but Coxos Beach Lodge is one of the more popular spots with the biggest waves.
Local tip: Although surfers head out year-round, winter is arguably the best time for enjoying stronger waves in central Portugal (just be wary of spots like the aforementioned Nazaré).
Are you planning to spend time in the Portuguese capital? Lisbon is a great a home base to experience the local must-visit attractions and to act as a springboard to a plethora of fantastic beaches. Locals with cars often frequent the Costa da Caparica, especially the beaches around São João da Caparica (parking isn’t far after you cross the 25 de Abril Bridge), and the Praia do Guincho at the base of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The entire coast from Lisbon to Cascais is littered with smaller beaches that can be reached by public transportation, and these are also fun spots to go bodyboarding.
Plan a summertime road trip through the Costa Vicentina’s rugged landscape to experience many “hidden gem” surf spots (you can camp along the way!). Officially known as the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park, it’s a dramatic stretch of cliffs and flora extending from the Alentejo’s ancient fishing town of Sines to remote Sagres in the Algarve, considered one of Portugal’s secret surf spots. Start your adventure 18 km (11 miles) south of Sines in Porto Covo and make stops in Zambujeira do Mar, Odeceixe, Aljezur, and Carrapateira (the cliff-rimmed Amado Beach is definitely a must-stop and where new surfers will find some local schools).
This list wouldn’t be complete without highlighting one of Portugal’s exotic islands, and although Madeira Island may offer more of a challenge, São Miguel in the Azores offers more opportunities at different levels. Known as the Green Island for the dramatic rolling landscape covered in farmland and flowers, it’s a stop that’s easy on the eyes too. A few of the best surfing spots in the Azores’ largest island are Ribeira Grande and the nearby Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara, the traditional village of Mosteiros (located near Sete Cidades), and the beaches near Ponta Delgada (Praia do Pópulo is a locals’ favorite).