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In this post, you'll discover the Nazare big waves and more!
A quick overview
What to see? Enormous waves in front of the coastal town of Nazaré.
Costs? Watching the surfers is totally free!
Where? Nazaré Portugal, a famous coast town on the Silver Coast.
Worth it? In summer, the waves might be smaller, but Nazaré has a lovely beach for a swim as well. The magical big waves happen in winter.
Guinness World Record Nazaré big waves
The sleepy town of Nazaré has become THE place for ginormous waves. After all, it holds the Guinness World Record for the highest wave ever surfed. In 2020, the German surfer Sebastian Steudtner surfed a 26,21 meters (86 feet) tall giant wave! And this was not the first record Nazaré set. Rodrigo Koxa (with a wave of 24.38 meters in 2017), Maya Gabeira (with a wave size of 22.4 meters in 2020), and Garret Macnamara (a 23.77-meter tall wave in 2011) have surfed waves the size any person would run a mile from.
Currently, five out of the six biggest waves ever surfed happened at Nazaré. And not only are the surfers magical to see, but the jetskis and riders that tow the surfers are a show in itself! Welcome to Nazaré, the town of big wave surfing!
Watch Sebastian Steudtner surf the Nazaré biggest waves to set the last world record!
When is the big wave season in Nazaré?
The big wave season in Nazaré is roughly between October and March, the Portuguese winter season. The size of the waves then depends on multiple factors, such as winds, tides, and storms. Every big wave surfing season usually has 1 to 6 big swells. If you visit Portugal specifically for the waves, staying in the area for at least two to three weeks is recommended.
Although the waves are uncertain, you can check the waves before your visit. Click here for a current update! The wave forecasts are usually for the upcoming week only.
It’s become a famous sight for those who’ve seen the Nazaré big waves. Nearly 30-meter tall waves surround a tiny red Nazare lighthouse (Farol da Nazaré) on a cliff! It’s a spectacle many of us would love to witness. When people visit Nazaré in summer, they might wonder if they’re in the correct location. It’s fair to say that Nazare Beach (Praia da Nazaré) has calm waves all year round, but North Beach (Praia do Norte) is where the big waves happen. But even in summer, when it is off-season for big wave surfing, there might not be much happening in this part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Why are in the waves in Nazaré so big?
What makes Nazare Portugal so unique? The answer lies underwater! Before the coast of the fishing town lies Nazaré Canyon, the largest underwater canyon in Europe! The canyon in the Atlantic Ocean reaches a staggering depth of 5,000 meters, and the North Canyon is the main reason for the generation of some of the most giant waves in the world.
This, in conjunction with other natural elements such as tides, big Atlantic Ocean swells, wind, sea currents and the sea floor, creates the Nazaré big waves. And North Beach, or Praia do Norte, is where the magic happens!
Tip: Surfing in Nazaré at Praia do Norte is only for professional surfers, but you can learn how to surf in Portugal! Check this guide to find the best surf camps in Portugal!
Nazaré Canyon is a whopping 227 kilometres long, and the deepest parts are 5 kilometres deep. It is the largest submarine canyon in Europe, with several steep slopes. Many local fishermen have dreaded the sea at Nazare Portugal, as many traditional fishing boats ended up right at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean! Nowadays, the small fishing town has transformed into heaven for experienced surfers. Check this super inspiring video to learn more about Nazaré town, the big waves and the canyon.
Where to watch the Nazaré Portugal big waves?
When you’ve decided to visit Nazaré and witness this magic, it’s good to know where to watch this natural performance. Especially when the high wave forecast is good, Nazaré gets very busy. Only surfers, emergency services, staff, and press can drive up to the Nazare lighthouse and the beach at Praia do Norte. Thankfully, Nazaré has ample parking spots; from there, it’s a bit of a walk towards the lighthouse, Farol da Nazaré. From town, you can also take a tuk-tuk, so you don’t have to walk so far.
The Nazaré big waves take place on Praia do Norte (Norte Beach), a vast beach close to the Nazere lighthouse, Farol da Nazaré. Once you walk towards the lighthouse, you’ll notice some cliffs and rocks to the side. This natural platform is a fantastic place to sit and watch.
Closer to the lighthouse, there is a viewpoint towards Praia da Nazare, but it’s harder to see the spot where the most powerful waves break. Some viewing spots are at the lighthouse, but the house’s best seats are for photographers and film crews. The best way is to walk around a little and find a spot that works well for the day you visit.
Be aware: you can reach the Nazare beach Praia do Norte by dirt road, but this can be a dangerous place to visit. Several tourists have drowned by high waves coming to the beach with enormous strength. If you have no business at Praia do Norte, the advice would be to avoid the area.
São Miguel Arcanjo Fort
The lighthouse of Nazaré stands on top of São Miguel Arcanjo Fort. The fort is open all year round from 10 AM to 5:30 PM. For a small entrance fee of € 2,00, you can visit inside to view the Big Wave tour Nazaré. It’s a small exhibition about surfing with surfboards of those who’ve mastered the giant waves of Nazaré Portugal.
You’ll learn more about the surfers at Nazare Portugal, the equipment, and the WSL Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge. Or discover more about the underwater canyon and its effect on the waves at Praia do Norte. Afterwards, you can climb to the top of São Miguel Arcanjo Fort to enjoy a stunning view over Praia do Norte, and if you’re lucky, you can see professional surfers riding an enormous wave.
What else is there to do in Nazaré?
Is Nazaré worth visiting when there are no big waves? Absolutely! Check out some other things to do in Nazare Portugal, and enjoy your stay in this stunning coastal town.
The other beach, Praia da Nazare
It’s not just surfing that attracts visitors to Nazaré. Traditional tourism has been important for the town for many years, and Praia da Nazare, the main beach, is perfect for a beach holiday. The town has terrific traditions, and the food is delicious! And although Nazaré might not have any significant landmarks or famous tourist sights, you’ll easily spend a few days here.
Close to Praia da Nazaré, you’ll discover the fisherman’s district, where you’ll blend in with the locals. Colourful fishing boats decorate the Nazare beach, and you’ll spot fish drying everywhere. You’ll see freshly caught fish on every menu when you visit Nazare Portugal!
In May and June, you can also witness Arte Xávega, a promotion of the recreation of traditional fishing art. Nets laden with fish will be hauled in and sold in an improvised auction on the beach. It’s a spectacle to witness if you happen to be at the Nazare beach! Are you here without the festivities? Then it’s worth visiting the local market, where plenty of fish will be displayed.
Another place not to miss is the Ascensor da Nazaré. Nazaré Funicular runs between the funicular station at the Nazare beach (Praia) and the viewpoint at Sítio da Nazaré. This funicular station is known as Sítio. During the funicular ride on the Nazaré Funicular, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the fishing town and Praia da Nazaré.
Once you’ve taken the funicular up, you’ll find several mesmerising viewpoints along the ridges. Take a look at Baloiço da Ladeira, for example. It’s a gorgeous spot to be, especially during sunset! And the Baloiço da Ladeira swing is perfect for taking a picture or two.
The streets of Nazaré
Many people rush straight to the beach, but along the narrow streets are a few places to visit. Take a look at the church Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré on the main square. It´s open daily, so you can go inside to take a look. On the other side of the court, you´ll spot a small chapel, Ermida da Memória. Another highlight is Palácio Real on Largo Nossa Senhora de Nazaré.
There is a chance that you spot some locals wearing traditional Nazaré clothing around the back streets of the town. The colourful skirts are beautiful, and they often wear them with a woolen cape, an apron and house slippers.
Some fun history facts
Nazare is the Portuguese version of the biblical city of Nazareth. A small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary was brought from Nazareth to Nazaré in the year 711. A monk brought the wooden figure to Mérida (Spain), and another Monk, Romano, brought it to Nazaré. He was accompanied by Roderic, the last Visigoth king of today’s Portugal.
It was Roderic who left the statue of the Black Madonna in the grotto on an altar. This is where you find Ermida da Memória today. The Black Madonna is sculpted in wood inside the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazare. The church itself was founded in the 14th century.
Nazare has a few other beaches nearby that are worth visiting. Besides the Praia da Nazaré, which is a fabulous beach during the summer months, you can see the nearby Praia do Sul. You’ll find this beach close to Porto da Nazaré. A bit further south, you can also check out Praia do Salgado. It is a super long beach (5.3 kilometres!) and an excellent spot for a swim.
Where to eat in Nazaré?
After a day of watching the fearless surfers surfing the huge waves, it’s time for some food in a local restaurant! Nazaré has many excellent restaurants, and fresh seafood is a highlight on most menus. Rice, potatoes, chips, or salad often accompany the catch of the day. Besides fish, there will be plenty of meat options available.
Favourite restaurants include Mili, Zé d’Avo, Joaquim, and Maria do Mar. Vegetarian and vegan options are available at Little India, Tabernassa, and Blue Jardim. Sabor’art Café is perfect for breakfast, and there are vegan options available.
How to get to Nazaré from Lisbon or Porto
By car to Nazaré Portugal
The easiest way to get to Nazaré Beach in Central Portugal is by car. From Lisbon, the drive takes about an hour and a half. You can follow the A8 towards Leira and take exit 22 (Nazaré / Alcobaça / Valado dos Frades).
From Porto, the ride takes around 2 to 2.5 hours. You follow the A1 towards Lisbon and take exit 16 (Aveiro / Viseu) to join the A25. Then follow the A17 (the A17 becomes the A8) to exit 22 (Nazare / Alcobaça / Valado dos Frades).
Need a rental car? Check DiscoverCars for the best deals during your holiday!
There are daily buses from Lisbon to Nazaré, and the journey takes just 1.5 hours. You can take a Flixbus from Oriente Station in Lisbon. It takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes from Porto to Nazaré.
There is a train connection to Nazaré Portugal, and you can check the details on the Comboios De Portugal website. This option takes the longest as you’ll need to change trains in (usually) Lisbon, Agualva-Cacem, and Caldas da Rainha. The train journey from Lisbon to Nazaré takes around 3 hours. There are trains from Porto, but they are rare and take a long time!
With an excursion
Places to visit nearby Nazaré
You can easily spend a few hours or days in Nazaré, but the area is also great to visit! For example, make day trips to Óbidos, Alcobaça, Buddha Eden Garden, Fátima, Batalha, Ourém, Tomar, and Leiria. Óbidos is known for its medieval vibe, and you can walk around the castle walls! Alcoboça has a stunning monastery where you can marvel at the interior! Fátima is a well-known religious pilgrimage site, which is also interesting to visit when you´re not religious. The Buddha Eden Garden, on the other hand, is filled with Buddhist statues and artwork.
Where to stay in Nazaré
Nazaré Portugal makes a great beach holiday destination in the summer and a surfing spot in the winter. Besides, Nazaré is centrally located on the Silver Coast, with many sights and towns to visit in the area! You can easily make day trips to Óbidos, Alcobaça, Buddha Eden Garden, Fátima, Batalha, Ourém, Tomar, and Leiria.
If you want to make a day trip in nature, visiting the Cascata da Fórnea and Mira de Aire Cave are recommendations. Check the below map for all accommodations around Nazare Portugal. The Silver Coast in Portugal is an excellent beach location besides the Algarve region, with many hidden gems to visit!
Off the shores of Nazaré is a 227-kilometre-long canyon with a depth of up to 5,000 meters deep. The North Canyon is primarily responsible for creating the big waves at Nazaré.
The big waves in Nazaré happen of Praia do Norte. You have the best views from the São Miguel Arcanjo Fort lighthouse and the surrounding cliffs.
The big wave season in Nazaré is in winter, between October and March.
You can certainly swim in Nazaré, but only on specific beaches. Praia do Norte can be extremely dangerous, and you cannot swim here. The main beach, Praia da Nazare, is suitable for swimming in summer.
Absolutely! The big waves season is in winter, but it’s nice to visit the tiny fishing town all year round. There are some incredible viewpoints and beaches to see. And if you happen to witness the enormous waves, you’re in for a treat!
Conclusion about the Nazaré Big Waves
If you want to see the big waves, you’ll need to visit Nazaré between October and March. The forecast only shows the swells a week ahead, and there is no guarantee that you can witness the big waves in Nazaré, especially when you visit during the hot summer months. If you want to be sure to witness the huge waves, book a place nearby for at least 2 to 3 weeks.
The annual WSL Nazare Big Wave Challenge is between November 1st and March 31st. The event will be confirmed only 48 hours in advance. The rest of the year, Nazare Portugal makes the perfect beach holiday destination on the Portuguese Atlantic Coast. On top of that, it makes a fantastic day trip from Lisbon!