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Last Updated on June 19, 2021 by Ella
On my trip to Lisbon, Portugal, I had one goal: to take a day trip to Nazare. As a surfing enthusiast, I’ve spent every winter for the last few years watching the insane surfing in Nazare!
This small beach town is world-famous for its insanely huge waves. Every winter, swathes of professional big wave surfers descend on the town. Here they’ll stay for months, anxiously checking the surf forecasts and waiting for the big swells to roll in. And when I say big waves I mean big.
These guys aren’t playing around!
In 2011, Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara broke the world record of the biggest wave ever surfed, which measured a whopping 78 feet! This was the event that firmly put Nazare on the map. Now, the record for the biggest wave ever surfed has passed to Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa (80ft), also at Nazare.
Safe to say, Nazare is an awesome place to visit whilst you’re in Portugal!
I struggled to find out the best way to visit Nazare from Lisbon on my trip to Portugal. There wasn’t much information out there about visiting the big waves in Nazare, so I decided put together this handy guide!
Not every visitor to Nazare is interested in surfing or seeing the huge waves, though. In fact, Nazare has a reputation as a family-friendly beach town and heaven for seafood lovers. For this reason, I’ve also included some great non-surfing related things to do and places to see in Nazare.
Where to See the Big Waves in Nazare
There are two beaches in central Nazare – Praia da Nazare and Praia do Norte. Although Praia da Nazaré is in the town centre, this isn’t where you’ll see the big waves. In fact, the waves on this beach are surprisingly mild!
Instead, you’ll want to head to Nazare’s Lighthouse, Farol da Nazare. This lighthouse is on the headland bordering the Praia do Norte beach, where the Nazare big waves break. To get here from Nazare town, you can either drive or take the Funicular and then walk.
The lighthouse is the best place to view the waves as it offers panoramic views of the waves breaking from a safe distance. You may recognise this red lighthouse as featured in all those crazy photos and videos of people watching the insane surfers on the monster waves!
This whole area is an awesome place to spend a while and hang out. In summer, buskers play laid-back music, and there are countless viewpoints to look over either the town or the Praia do Norte.
To get to the lighthouse itself, you’ll have to enter the Nazare surfing museum underneath it. I was so stoked when I found this out, as I wasn’t even aware there was a surfing museum here!
Entry to the museum costs just €1. Although it’s a small museum, it made my visit undoubtedly better. It contains an exhibition space explaining why the waves here get so huge (turns out there’s a massive underwater canyon which causes the waves to build so much height). There’s also a section with videos and photos documenting the sheer power of the Nazare waves (and just how brave/insane the surfers are)!
My favourite part, though, was the space which contained surfboards and jet skis used by surfers in Nazare and donated to the museum. Some of these are in super rough shape after tackling the power of Nazare’s waves (one board was even snapped in half)! But it really reinforced just how powerful the surf here is.
Next to each item was a quote by the surfer who used it about their experience. These quotes really reflected the complex feelings the surfers have about this terrifying experience!
Once you’ve explored the museum, it’s time to step out onto the pier, right next to the lighthouse! I couldn’t resist snapping a selfie because I just couldn’t believe that I had finally made it there!
Standing at the lighthouse and looking at the water far below me, it was hard to even comprehend how huge the waves get. It had me even more desperate to return in the winter to witness this extreme feat of nature for myself.
If you have time, you can also go down onto the Praia do Norte beach to see the waves from a different perspective. PLEASE be careful though! Apparently, some waves can be totally rogue and sweep people into the sea from the beach. Stay firmly on the beach and nowhere near the water!
When to See the Big Waves in Nazare
The big wave season in Nazare runs between October and March. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see giant waves, though. The huge waves only happen when big swells move into the area. So, if you’re only in the town for a day or a week there’s a chance you’ll totally miss them.
Nazare is still awesome (and you can still get an idea of how huge the waves must get even when the swell isn’t there) without the big waves, but it’s a bucket list experience for a lot of people to see them. I visited in summer, so although I was thrilled to finally be in Nazare I knew that I’d be back sometime in winter to try to see the big waves.
There are two ways to increase your chances of seeing the huge waves Nazare is famous for. Which one is best for you depends on how long you have, and how far away you live from Portugal.
The first option, and the one that gives you the best chance to see the huge waves, is to track the swell and only book your flights as soon as you know there’s a swell coming.
Dedicated Facebook groups track the swell in the area and send out alerts when there are big waves forecasted. This notification usually comes about a week before the swell is due to arrive. Then, it’s just a matter of booking time off work and booking your flights to Lisbon.
It’s worth trying to spend as many days in Nazare as you can to increase your chances of seeing the surfers in action. Flights may be slightly pricey since they’re so last minute, but OBVIOUSLY it will be worth it!
The second option is to stay for as long as you can during the big wave season and cross your fingers. If you stay for two weeks there’s a good chance you’ll see some good swell, but three weeks would be ideal. Many surfers spend the entire season here, waiting!
Of course, for people with normal jobs, this can be tricky, so that’s why I recommend the first option. It’s what I plan to do next winter!
Other Things to Do in Nazare
Although the big waves are the reason the majority of international visitors head to Nazare, checking these out isn’t the only thing to do!
Praia da Nazaré
This is the main beach in the town centre, and is sheltered from the ferocious wind you’ll experience over on Praia do Norte! It’s really popular with Portuguese families for sunbathing, playing in the water and building sandcastles.
Lifeguards watch over swimmers on this beach, and the ocean is perfectly safe to go in. It’ll be hard to even imagine that such huge waves are just around the headland!
Praia da Nazare is hardly one of the best beaches in Portugal, but if you want to spend a while lounging on the sand it certainly does the job.
Restaurants in Nazare
Nazare is famous for its deliciously fresh fish, and you won’t have to look far to find some! There are countless restaurants in Nazare town, and you can’t go far wrong with either of them.
For a local’s favourite, stop by Casa Pires for their grilled sardines. If the sardines are not in season, though, be sure to go for whatever is advertised as the dish of the day. This is because there are rumours that the restaurant uses frozen sardines out of season. Casa Pires is casual and unpretentious – the perfect place to stop for a quick meal or snack.
Another great restaurant is Mario do Mar, which is where I ate. Mario do Mar is tucked away on a backstreet, so is more of a locals’ affair. This is what attracted me! I opted for their mouth-wateringly good fish stew, but it was a mistake given it was already a hot day because I was truly sweating afterwards! Prices here are super reasonable and my stew cost me €9.50.
To explore the district of Sitio (and marvel at the amazing viewpoints) you’ll need to catch the Funicular.
Although taking the Funicular is one of the best things to do as a tourist in Nazare, the locals use it daily as public transport. In fact, it shuttles over 1 million people every year up and down the mountainside! You can catch the Funicular from Rua do Elevator, on the northern side of the Praia da Nazare. Return tickets cost €2.90.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazare
Once you’ve taken the Nazare Funicular to Sitio it’s the perfect opportunity to check out the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazare. This photogenic church is free to enter and a decoratively stunning place to visit.
Although I’m personally not into cathedrals and churches, I can never resist snapping photos of them. They’re often so beautiful – and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazare is no exception.
Helpful Information + Tips For Visitors
Where Is Nazare?
Nazare is one of the most popular seaside resorts on the Silver Coast, an area on Portugal’s west coast. It’s around 75 miles away from Lisbon by car.
How Long Do I Need to Visit For?
If you’re visiting in summer, a half or full day in the town is plenty. This will allow you to explore the town and take the funicular to check out some epic viewpoints, hang out at the iconic Nazare lighthouse and eat some delicious seafood in town.
If you’re visiting during big wave season you may want to stick around. The longer you spend here, the higher chance you’ll have of seeing the big waves. If you’re staying awhile I highly recommend renting a car so you can take day trips if the surf isn’t big.
How to Get to Nazare from Lisbon
Driving to Nazare from Lisbon
The most popular way to get to Nazare on day trips from Lisbon is undoubtedly by driving. The journey takes around 1 hour 25 minutes, and there are sufficient parking options in the town.
Note that the journey involves driving on a toll road, so expect to pay around €7 in toll fees each way.
However, if you’re anything like me, driving on the other side of the road is way too intimidating! Luckily, there are lots of other ways you can get to Nazare from Lisbon which don’t involve getting behind the wheel. Phew!
Getting From Lisbon to Nazare by Bus
There’s a direct bus which will shuttle you from Lisbon to Nazare and from Nazare to Lisbon, and tickets cost around €11 each way. You can get tickets for as low as €6 each way if you book far enough in advance, though. The journey takes around 1 hour and 50 minutes.
This is undoubtedly the cheapest way to get to Nazare, and you can buy tickets here. A company called Rede Expressos operates buses on this route. The first bus of the day usually departs at 9am, and this is the one I recommend if you want to spend as much time as possible in Nazare.
As much as I hate to admit it, I actually find using buses in unfamiliar cities really intimidating.
I know, I know. I’m working on it…
For this reason, I decided not to take the bus. If you’re less of a wimp than I am this could be the perfect option for you though!
Getting to Nazare from Lisbon by Train
Taking the train from Lisbon to Nazare is not the quickest way to get there (average journeys take around 2 hours 55 minutes). The journey also requires 2 train changes.
Nazare also doesn’t have a train station, so you’ll have to arrive at Valado train station. This station is about a 10-minute drive from Nazare. Taxis do not typically wait outside of the station, so you’ll have to book a taxi in advance.
For this reason, I really can’t see why anybody would want to travel between Lisbon and Nazare by train! I don’t recommend getting the train as it’s just needlessly complicated.
Visiting Nazare on a Tour from Lisbon
This is by far the easiest way to visit Nazare from Lisbon, and is the option I went for.
What’s more, trips to from Lisbon usually stop at a few other great destinations during the day such as Obidos and Fatima. Joining a tour is a great way to get a taste for a few different locations in one day, and it takes the hassle of worrying about public transport out of the equation.
What to Pack on a Day Trip to Nazare
You don’t need to pack anything out of the ordinary to go to Nazare (unless you’re a big wave surfer, in which case you’re on your own!) however, there are a few things you should definitely make sure you bring:
- Quick-dry travel towel: I adore my sea to summit travel towel and it’s ideal for beach day trips because it dries incredibly fast, folds-up into a tiny ball and doesn’t get sand stuck to it on the beach like regular towels do.
- Sunscreen: Nazare gets hot, hot, hot in summer and if you’re spending plenty of time outside this is an essential.
- A book: If you’re going to Nazare, chances are you’ll be spending some time on the beach (or waiting for the waves to come if you’re watching the surfers). I love spending time on the beach wrapped up in a good book.
- Good travel insurance: This should go without saying, but unfortunately it can be easy to forget, and lots of people choose not to buy travel insurance! Nazare is very safe, and it’s unlikely you’ll come to any harm here, but bad luck happens to all of us! Accidentally leave your bag on the bus? Fall off your surfboard and need medical treatment? No problem – your insurance will have your back. This isn’t just Nazare-specific, though. If you’re travelling to Portugal, you should have travel insurance, period! I highly recommend World Nomads, who are popular the world over and cover pretty much every fun adventure activity out there (except, probably not surfing 80 foot waves…) so you can enjoy your trip without having to worry.
What’s the Weather like in Nazare, Portugal?
Well, Nazare is on the Portuguese coast, so it’s safe to say the weather is great in summer! Surprisingly, though, it can be pretty cold and wet in winter – the perfect weather for standing around all day watching surfers on the big waves…
What I loved about the weather in Nazare is that it wasn’t too hot. I visited in August, and the sea breeze meant that the town was a pleasant temperature. As someone who simply cannot handle sweltering temperatures, I was beyond happy with this!
In the summer months, you’ll see highs around 25°C and lows of around 17°C. In winter, Nazare’s weather has highs of 17°C and lows of 7°C.
Are the Big Waves worth Visiting?
Nazare and the big waves are totally worth visiting in any season, as it’s just so exciting to visit the place where such huge waves occur. I’ve now checked visiting Nazare off my Portugal bucket list, but I’m still to witness the huge waves for myself. Stay tuned for updates! You can check out my other posts about Portugal here.
Have you seen the giant waves in Nazare yet?