There’s a handful of countries in Europe with plentiful good surf, but when you consider all of the factors, surfing Portugal might be the best. The food and wine are delicious, the cost of living on the more-affordable side (one of the cheapest in Western Europe), and the people are friendly.
The country manages to be both modern and traditional at the same time and maintains a romantic, Old Europe charm that makes it a great place to travel even if there weren’t any surf. But there is surf — and a lot of it.
The main surf centers of Peniche, Nazaré, Cascais, and Ericeira are home to some of the best waves on the European continent, and they are only the tip of the iceberg. For every wave you have heard of, there are dozens more littering the coast, which faces straight into the Atlantic and picks up tons of swell.
Portugal also picks up a lot of weather, but with so many nooks, crannies, and bits of coastline facing different directions, it is almost always possible to score good waves. In fact, a few years back, the Portuguese tourism bureau famously offered a “guaranteed score” deal to visiting surfers, promising to finance a return trip to the country for anyone who got skunked.
Any country this rich in waves will typically have a large surf scene and Portugal is no exception. Thousands of traveling surfers and backpackers looking to learn flock to the surf schools and surf camps in the regional centers, where the only thing as consistent as the waves is the nightlife.
The country hosts multiple qualifying series events, a world tour event at Supertubos, and a Big Wave Tour event at Nazaré, which is not only the biggest wave in the world but also one of the biggest spectacles in Portugal. Tens of thousands of people line the cliff whenever Nazaré breaks, and even on days when it’s barely capping—and most of those people don’t even surf!
Nazaré is a bona fide tourist attraction in a country that is already known as having some of the most die-hard surf fans on the planet. Indeed, the Portuguese love surfing more than just about anyone, which makes a visit for the average surfer even better.
The Surf Regions
PENICHE: Home to numerous surf schools, a world tour event, dozens of quality waves (including the famed Supertubos), and thousands of backpackers living out their surf van fantasies, Peniche is a quaint little town that has become one of the biggest surf scenes in Europe. Whether you are looking to surf drained-out sand-bottom barrels, stand up for your first time in rolling beginner waves, or simply spend a warm night shacked up with a sexy surfer boy or girl (or frothing surf fan), this is the place to do it.
CASCAIS: Located a stone’s throw from capital city Lisbon, Cascais is a resort town with a laid-back vibe, beautiful beaches, and a bunch of super fun waves. There was a women’s world tour event there for much of the past decade, and numerous surf schools, shops, and camps have sprung up as the Portuguese surf industry has grown. For an affordable European surf experience with a coastal resort feel, Cascais fits the bill.
NAZARÉ: Until 2010, Nazaré was little more than a blip on the pro bodyboard tour—a heavy beach break with astronomical potential that the surf world had somehow missed. Then Hawaiian big wave surfer Garret MacNamara was invited to Nazaré by Dino Casimiro to check out Praia de Norte, a wave that the local bodyboarder thought might be the biggest in the world. A decade later, Nazaré has become ground zero for XXL surfing.
The gargantuan, wedging beach break at Praia de Norte breaks records every year for the biggest waves ever towed, hosts a Big Wave Tour event, and is home to the most surf-friendly local government in existence. When the mayor shows up for every swell, throws shakas to everyone he meets, and counts most of the world’s best big wave surfers as personal friends, you know you’ve found a town worth visiting.
ERICEIRA: Largely considered to be Portugal’s surf capital, Ericeira has a huge variety of waves ranging from beginner spots to expert only. It is one of the few regions to be named a World Surf Reserve, and the first in Europe. With beach breaks, slabs, and points such as the world-class Coxos (one of the best right-handers in Europe), Ericeira should be a bucket-list destination for every surfer from the European continent.
ALGARVE: The Algarve’s position on the corner of the Iberian Peninsula blesses it with the widest swell window in Portugal and frequent offshores on the south coast. There’s a wide range of reef and beach breaks, and the vast unspoiled coast gives you the potential for uncrowded waves. Waves can be found year round in the region, but the summer can bring some flat spells. While May through July is typically the least favorable time for more advanced surfers, if you’re a beginner to intermediate surfer, summer can be a great time to visit, as the waves are smaller, and the weather and water are warmest. The peak season for advanced surfers is from October through December.
THE ISLANDS: Many people forget that Portugal is more than just a country on the European continent. It also has a number of islands, including Madeira and the Azore chain. These volcanic islands have a variety of waves as well, including numerous points that break along picturesque cliffs.
WEATHER: Portugal enjoys the same general weather pattern as the rest of coastal Europe—warm, sunny summers, a picturesque autumn season with good wind and ideal weather conditions, and colder winters that can range from briskly sunny to downright stormy. Summer is usually pretty slow as far as surf goes, autumn enjoys the ideal combination of consistent swells and good conditions, and winter has non-stop swell—some of the most consistent in Europe. But because the storms generating these swells tend to track straight into the coast, the trick is finding spots that are protected from the wind.
CURRENCY: As with most of Western Europe, the local currency is the euro. While Europe, in general, can be a relatively expensive place to visit, Portugal is probably the most affordable country in Western Europe.
STAYING CONNECTED: There is Wi-Fi connectivity basically everywhere you go, as well as comprehensive mobile phone and data coverage. The major mobile providers in Portugal are Vodafone and MEO. NOS is another option.
LANGUAGE: Portuguese is the official language of Portugal (no surprise there!), and those who speak Spanish find that it is relatively easy to pick up the local tongue. That being said, a large portion of the European population speaks English (especially the younger generation), and the Portuguese people seem pretty happy to chat with tourists in English. Of course, as in most countries, the locals appreciate it when you make an effort to communicate with them in their native language.
A few common phrases in Portuguese:
- Hello: Ola
- Good morning: Bom dia
- Good afternoon: Boa tarde
- Good night: Boa noite
- Goodbye: Tchau (chau)
- Please: Por favor
- Thank you: Obrigado
- The Portuguese people tend to be some of the most welcoming and friendly in Europe, but are also somewhat reserved in public, so try not to be overly obnoxious or loud.
- Family dominates Portuguese society, and familial relationships outweigh all else, including business relationships and dealings. Bear that in mind when conducting business in Portugal.
- When greeting strangers, it is customary to shake hands, while friends and family tend to greet each other with a hug (for men) or a kiss on each cheek (for women).
- The Portuguese tend to appreciate respectability, so dressing well and addressing people as senhor (sir) and senhora (ma’am) is common. It is also good to arrive on time, and to bring a small gift if invited to someone’s home.
TYPES OF SURF BREAKS: Portugal has just about every type of surf spot available, including slabs, point breaks, soft beach breaks, hollow sandbars, and the world’s biggest XXL spot.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Depending on where you go, you could surf a mellow beginner wave, the world’s heaviest big wave, or anything in between.
SEASON AND SWELL INFO: Summer (June through September) tends to have the best weather, but doesn’t get much in terms of swell. Winter (December through March), on the other hand, has non-stop waves, but the wind and weather can be an issue. As with most places in the northern hemisphere, autumn (September through November) is prime season, with good weather, predominantly favorable winds, and relatively consistent west swells out of the Atlantic.
CROWDS: While the major surf centers like Peniche and Ericeira can be incredibly crowded (especially at the waves frequented by surf schools), the reality is that 90% of Portugal’s surf has never been featured in the media, so if you are willing to get away from the big-name zones and do some searching, you can easily surf world-class waves alone or with a few friendly locals. Make friends while in the country, and you just might find yourself being led to secret points and beach breaks that are even better than the spots you’ve seen in the magazines.
WATER TEMP BY SEASON: The water in Portugal ranges greatly by season, and also somewhat by location (with northern beaches being slightly colder on average). Peniche is centrally located and sees water temps up into the low 20s Celsius (68-70 Fahrenheit) during summer, and down around 15 Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) in winter.
GETTING TO THE SURF: Portugal has great infrastructure, and virtually all surf spots are accessible by car. Rental vehicles are readily available, as is online information about the marquee spots in the country. The van life scene is huge in Portugal, with thousands of backpackers and surfers touring the country in camper vans.
TOP SURF BREAKS IN PORTUGAL
SUPERTUBOS: One of the best beach breaks in Europe (if not the world), Supertubos in Peniche is a series of super hollow, dredging sandbars, and one of the most famous waves in Portugal. The world tour runs a men’s event here each year and often sees the world championship decided on Portuguese soil.
NAZARÉ: The world’s biggest, baddest wave, Praia de Norte (often referred to simply as Nazaré) is a heavy, hollow beach break/shore break when small, and a gargantuan sand-bottomed wedge when big—which happens quite frequently during winter. Breaking in front of an iconic farol (lighthouse) on a cliff between Praia de Norte and Praia de Sur (North Beach and South Beach), right in the middle of the town of Nazaré, this has to be the best big wave spectating arena in the world. Tow surfing tends to dominate when Nazaré is huge and unruly, but the past few years have seen paddle sessions in huge swells as well, and the Big Wave Tour has added the spot to its yearly schedule.
COXOS: This hollow, heavy point break in Ericeira is considered by many to be one of the best right-handers in Europe. As such, it is notoriously crowded when it fires, and the vibe in the water can be a bit surly at times.
CAVE: A hairball reef slab that should only be surfed by pros and expert hellmen, Cave is a super shallow, slurped out right-hand slab that often has multiple lips and can suck dry.
CARCAVELOS: A series of sandbars located on the border between Lisbon and Cascais, Carcavelos is arguably the birthplace of Portuguese surfing, and offers up both beginner sections and barreling peaks for experts.
JARDIM DO MAR: Formerly the crown jewel of Atlantic surfing, Jardim do Mar on Madeira was a world-class right-hand point break that pumped from head high up to triple-overhead+. Unfortunately, the wave was damaged due to coastal development in the early 2000s. The wave is still surfable at certain tides, but is only a shadow of its former self.
SAGRES: The epicenter of surfing in the Algarve region, Sagres has numerous surf spots on offer, all in a beautiful setting.
SURF TRIP COSTS
As with every destination, Portugal has a peak season and low season for tourism and travel costs vary depending on the time of year. Surfing in Portugal is especially great because the best time of year for waves corresponds to the low season for tourism, which means the best pricing and more availability.
Peak season for tourism in Portugal is generally the summer, roughly June through September when the water is warmest and prices are highest. The low season for tourism is winter, roughly December through March when the weather is colder and the waves are pumping.
Portugal does get waves year-round, but if you’re an intermediate to advanced surfer we recommend visiting in the fall and winter seasons for the best waves. If you’re a beginner then any time of year will work, with the summer having the warmest water and most gentle waves.
Portugal has some great surf camps at really reasonable prices, many of which offer packages that include different combinations of transportation, meals, and surf lessons or surf guiding. If you have a couple of friends in tow, you can also DIY your trip and rent a car, stay in a hotel or villa, and either cook or dine in restaurants. You can find our top recommendations for accommodations in our Where to Stay section below and also in our Surf Resort Guide.
Your daily costs will vary depending on the level of accommodation you select, but in general, you should budget around $50 per day for a rental car, $30 to $150+ per night for accommodations (depending on if you stay in a hostel, hotel, or villa), and $15 to $100 per day for food (depending on if you self-cater or eat out, and how much wine you drink!).
With excellent highway systems, tons of rental vehicles available, and the convenience of GPS systems and Google maps, your best bet is to rent a car and drive everywhere. Just be sure to read up on Portugal’s highway toll systems because they can be a bit confusing and you can be hit with a high toll if you make a mistake.
WHERE TO STAY
Portugal has a wide variety of accommodation, and as one of Western Europe’s most affordable countries, prices are much lower than the rest of Western Europe. Accommodations are generally priced higher in the peak season of summer (June – September) and lower in the winter months (November – March).
As previously mentioned, surf camps abound and offer packages including meals, lessons/guiding, transportation, and gear if you don’t have your own. Surf camps generally range from around $30 – $150 per person per night, depending on the type of room, package, and season.
Of course, Portugal also has its fair share of boutique hotels and villas on offer. From picturesque refurbished farmhouses to modern luxury getaways, there are plenty of beautiful stays to choose from.
Here are our top recommendations for every budget (prices in USD):
BUDGET • up to $100 per night
MID-RANGE • $100 – $300 per night
LUXURY • $300+ per night
Portugal may have the best food in Europe, and at some of the best prices. Seafood dominates the local cuisine, ranging from the iconic sardine and ink-cooked squid to salted cod and various dishes involving octopus, cuttlefish, and just about every other sea creature you can imagine. Meat is also a staple of the local diet, as are bread, eggs, cheese, veggies, and fruits. Portugal has a well-developed wine industry, and the local vino is as good as it gets.
- A cheap local restaurant or street food will cost around 5 to 10 euros ($6 to 12 USD).
- A mid-range restaurant will cost around 15 to 20 euros per person ($17 to $25 USD), including a glass of wine.
- A high-end restaurant could cost anywhere from 25 to 100 euros per person ($30 to $120 USD), depending on how fancy you decide to go.
- A local beer costs around 1.5 euros ($2.00 USD), imported beer around 2 euros ($2.50 USD), and a bottle of cheap wine around 4 euros ($5 USD).
- An 11-oz bottle of water costs less than a euro (around $1.00 USD), but the tap water is potable in most places. Bring a reusable bottle on your trip and try to stay away from single-use plastics!