Portugal is definitely my favorite country in Europe. I have visited it over and over, and each time I discover something new.
During my third trip to Portugal, while I was exploring the Algarve, I asked the locals and fellow travelers about which place to visit in Portugal next. Most suggested Nazaré.
Of course, I had to go back and check what Nazaré was all about. So is Nazaré worth visiting? Let me share my experience and I will let you decide for yourself.
Nazaré is a coastal destination in Portugal. It is different from all the other beach Portuguese destinations because of its famous massive waves.
Yes, in case you’re wondering, Nazare’s name is definitely a Portuguese version of the biblical city, Nazareth.
It is called so because a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary was brought to Nazaré from Nazareth. It was first brought to Mérida in Spain and then eventually to Nazaré in the year 711.
What is Nazaré Famous for?
Nazaré is famous for its massive waves. Surfers come here from all over the world to ride the big waves and some of them even make the world record!
A German surfer Sebastian Steudtner rode the world’s biggest wave here which was measured to be 26.2 m (86 ft). Before that, it was Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa, whose video went viral as he surfed a 24.4 m (80 ft) wave.
The first-ever surfing record here was made in 2011 by surfer Garrett McNamara from Hawai’i at 23.8 m (78 ft). As of 2023, there are six world records that have been made in Nazaré over the years.
No, you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy the big waves of Nazaré. There are places where you can sit and enjoy the spectacle of these waves during the main season. But I’ll talk more about that later in the waves section.
How to reach Nazaré
The easiest way to reach Nazare is by flying to Porto or Lisbon and getting on a bus to Nazare. You can also rent a car from there and drive to Nazare yourself. If you are traveling with a friend or family, then renting a car may turn out to be more economical and convenient.
I have always talked about the ease of train travel in Portugal, but for reaching Nazare, I found the bus to be a better option than the train, because the bus will leave you directly at Nazare city center.
If you arrive in Nazare by train, keep in mind that the nearest train station is Valado, from where you have to take a taxi. The time we left Nazare, we took a taxi to Valado and got on a train from there to Coimbra.
Valado train station is super tiny and the toilet was locked. I specifically remember this, because we had had beers and had to use the toilets before getting on to the train.
Things to do in Nazaré
Praia da Nazaré (Nazare beach)
When in Nazaré during summer, a visit to the beach is a must-do and is the most obvious way to spend time here. Praia da Nazaré is the main beach and is massive. Although I personally prefer the beaches of Lagos in the Algarve region because of the rock formations, I should stop comparing!
Don’t take a normal beach day with a swim for granted when you’re visiting Nazaré. When the waves are very high, you can’t just sit on the sand and let alone go in the water!
Thankfully during our trip in August, we had calm waves on the first day and we made the most of it by swimming. The water was super cold! That’s how it is to swim on the beaches of Portugal because of the Atlantic ocean.
Even though we swam a lot on our first day, the very next day was different. The waves were massive and the water was off-limits.
Even though the waves were big, we were allowed to sit on the sand and we were shocked to see such massive waves, and it wasn’t even the peak season for big waves.
If you are looking for an offbeat beach, then look for a beach called Praia Do Salgado. If you are renting a car then it is possible to drive to this beach and spend a nice day.
Hike to Upper Nazaré (Sítio)
When in Nazaré, don’t miss the beauty of upper Nazaré. It isn’t just a small spot but an entire village called Sítio that’s built on an elevation. As a result of the height, there are many viewpoints on all sides.
If you like clicking pictures, then Sítio is the place for you. The hike itself will give you many photo opportunities but when you eventually arrive in Sítio, the photo possibilities are endless. As a travel content creator, I kind of lost my mind here with excitement!
There are two ways of reaching Upper Nazaré – the easier one is by riding the funicular and the adventurous one is by hiking. Both journeys are fun and are almost as rewarding as the destination itself.
We hiked. Not because we are adventurous, actually we are pretty lazy. But we used Google Maps to Upper Nazare, instead of putting Funicular station as our walking destination, and on the way, we realized that it was a start of a hike.
Honestly, the hike from Lower Nazare to Upper Nazare is very small and there’s a stunning swing on top that overlooks the view. I would have LOVED to click a photo on it but there was a queue of children who wanted to go on the swing.
If you are in Nazare for just a day and want to experience the Funicular ride instead, then skip the hike and look at the next point instead. You can always hike on your way back and experience the views, as long as it’s not dark.
Tip: Even during peak summer months, carry a jacket for this hike. It gets extremely windy in Nazare and as a result, we were very cold when we reached Upper Nazare. My denim jacket wasn’t enough and I had to buy a thick sweatshirt in Upper Nazare.
Ride the Nazare Funicular
As mentioned before, another way of reaching Sítio (Upper Nazare) is by riding the funicular. It is faster and easier.
Nazare Funicular ride costs just EUR 1.50 per way, and it runs from 7:15 am to midnight. The Funicular runs after every fifteen minutes, so just go whenever you can, buy the tickets, and get inside.
Don’t make the mistake that we did, and put “Largo do Elevador” to reach the Funicular station in lower Nazare. It is at the end of Praia da Nazaré and is a while building that you won’t miss.
Igreja e Convento de Nossa Senhora de Jesus do Sítio
When you arrive in Upper Nazare or Sítio, you will see there’s a big church that’s in the village. In English, the church’s name is The Convent of Our Lady of Jesus, and is a national monument since 1923. It is also called the Church of the Hospital because Hospital João Afonso was later built next to it.
We actually made a mistake and we didn’t go inside because we were only focused on the different viewpoints of Sítio.
You should go inside this church because it is one of the best existing examples of the Portuguese Mannerism architecture style.
Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo, Lighthouse & Veado statue
Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo & lighthouse is at the end of Sítio (Upper Nazare) and right before it is the famous Veado statue.
Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo was constructed in 1577 it overlooks the ocean. This fort also has a lighthouse and there’s a surfing museum inside.
The locals told us that the big waves of Nazare have at times been as high as the fort, which is already built on top of a hill.
No, I’m not suggesting you go inside the fortress but just walk to it, walk around it to see the view. You will see a lovely almost empty beach – Praia do Norte on the other side.
Veado statue is an interesting sight because it has the head of a deer, the body of a human, and is holding a surfboard. This 21 feet (6.3 meters) statue overlooks Praia do Norte. This statue is a nod to the historical legends about Nazare and modern-day surfing identity.
Praia do Norte (North Beach)
Praia do Norte means the North Beach, and it is on the other side of Upper Nazare. This is the same beach where many surfing records were made on giant waves.
Because of the high waves, one can’t always go on this beach but on some days in summer, the waves are safe. The peak season for the big waves is in winter.
The big waves on Praia do Norte are formed because of an underwater Nazare canyon. I will explain more about the big waves of Nazare in the “How to Experience the Big Waves of Nazaré” section.
Explore Nazaré Town with White Houses
A very interesting way to experience the culture of a new destination is by noticing small details on the streets. Each destination has something unique about it and the beauty is in the details.
No matter where in Portugal I go, I love visiting the town centers and admiring the architecture. In that sense, I loved Nazaré’s white houses and narrow streets.
Some of my best photos that were clicked were on such streets in residential areas or historical towns.
Walk in the inner lanes and discover the beauty of Nazare. Rua means street and here are some of my favorite ones. I loved Rua das Flores, Rua Gil Vicente and Rua do Elevador.
Our recommended restaurants in Nazaré:
If you’ve read my travel articles, then you surely know by now that I love hunting for cost-friendly restaurants that are famous for their food. I search for places that are rated high by locals and share my best recommendations with my readers, so here you go:
Canastra A Grelha
This was definitely our most epic meal in Nazare. We ate a lot of seafood as we sat at a lovely table outside on the street. This wasn’t the most cost-friendly meal because we ordered a lot of seafood, but it was super delicious.
I highly recommend this restaurant to those who are looking for a romantic date, or an epic Portuguese food and wine experience.
Big Waves Food, Sítio
I have a thing for viewpoints and Indian food. Imagine my joy when I spotted a small Indian restaurant in Upper Nazare with the best view.
Big Waves food restaurant is in Upper Nazare with a lovely view. The good news, it is right across the road from the edge of the cliff, so you have the best seat for a meal in Nazare.
I was delighted when I found this place because it had Indian food! Order lassi, chicken tikka, and garlic naan, and enjoy your vacation as you sit on top of the world.
Restaurante a Barca
This place isn’t on Google Maps but is a small restaurant that we found in the backstreets of Nazare town where a mother-daughter duo was cooking meals. We ordered a wholesome one-pot dish with seafood and rice.
This place was a very good find by my friend for breakfast. They have excellent coffee, a typical Portuguese bakery, and a menu for those who want to order something else that’s not already made in the bakery.
We ate avocado sandwiches that were loaded with fresh Portuguese cheese (a little like mozzarella), tomatoes, salad, and seeds. We of course drank coffee but also decided to turn our orange juice into mimosas. The owner gave us a bottle of bubbly Spanish white wine for our breakfast mimosas.
How to Experience the Big Waves of Nazaré?
As mentioned before, you don’t have to be a surfer to experience Nazaré’s big waves, but you can watch the view.
During the peak season, tourists line up in Sítio (upper Nazare) to see the waves. The biggest waves are at the North Beach and you can see them from Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo. The peak season is in the winter months from October to March.
The waves are high in summer too but surely not as high as in the peak months. When that happens, the water is off-limits (obviously) but on many occasions, you can still sit on the beach.
We were lucky to have experienced the sheer scale of big waves while we were sitting on the beach in Nazare while the water was off the limits. The waves were so big that I saw them from the main street and I ran to the beach to see more. Thankfully we had gone for a swim the day before so we didn’t miss out on anything.
Nightlife in Nazare
One of the craziest nightlife that I have experienced in Portugal was in Nazare. Actually, it was more to do with the company.
Nazare’s main town is lined up with bars and we went from one to another and drank way more than we should have.
What is the peak season for big waves in Nazaré?
The peak season for experiencing the big waves in Nazaré is from October to March.
Why are the waves so big in Nazaré?
Nazaré’s massive waves are caused by the underground canyon – Nazaré Canyon which is near Praia do Norte.
The Nazare Canyon is a deep crack in the floor that’s five-kilometer-deep. It lets the sea waves roll in without much loss of energy. The waves are thrown upward and they create giant wave breakers.
Can you swim in Nazaré?
Yes, you can swim in the sea in Nazaré on most days in summer. But be prepared to stay out of the water on many days when the waves are very big and the lifeguards won’t let you go inside the water because it is dangerous.
The waves are massive in winter, so you won’t be allowed to swim obviously at that time.
Is it safe to surf in Nazaré? Has any surfer died at Nazaré?
Surfing in Nazaré isn’t for beginners at all and is very risky, even for professional surfers. On January 5, 2023, Brazilian surfer Márcio Freire died while riding a big wave in Nazare.
How many days do you need in Nazaré?
I recommend a minimum of two days in Nazaré so that you can experience the beaches, the views from Sítio (upper Nazare), and the white buildings of Nazaré town.
What is the best time of the year to go to Nazaré?
If you’re going to Nazaré to enjoy the beach, then the summer months are perfect but keep in mind that on some days you won’t be allowed to go inside the water.
For those who want to see the big waves, then winter months are for you.
Can anyone ride the big waves at Nazaré?
The big waves at Nazare’s North Beach aren’t for beginners because they are dangerous. They are recommended only for surfing professionals. However, there are other beaches around Nazare with big waves that are suitable for surfers of all levels.
Where to stay in Nazaré
Visiting a beach destination in Nazaré, either you can look at places that are very close to the beach or ones that aren’t but they offer views.
In my experience, Nazare’s main street next to the beach is super busy and I wouldn’t want to stay there because I’m a light sleeper. For this reason, we picked an entire apartment with a nice view from the balcony.
We booked Vila Turística Conde Fidalgo, where our apartment had a living room, a balcony, a big bedroom with a double bed and a single bed, and a bathroom.
On the third day, we were here, our friend went back to Germany and we moved from an apartment in Vila Turística Conde Fidalgo to a double bedroom, which was also lovely.
Overall, we loved the beachy decor of Vila Turística Conde Fidalgo, the view from the balcony, the host, and also the cleanliness. The location was super convenient so I highly recommend this hotel to you for your stay in Nazaré.
So Is Nazaré Worth Visiting?
If you’re looking for a different kind of beach destination with a part of a town that’s situated high on the cliffs, then yes, Nazaré is definitely worth visiting.
Nazaré will suit most travelers because there’s something for everyone. Family travelers can enjoy the beaches of Nazaré in summer. Traveling couples will love the romantic viewpoints.
If you like adventure, hiking, and beaches then Nazaré is perfect for you, because there’s a lot to do. Surfers will particularly enjoy Nazaré. No, not everyone can surf the big waves on North Beach because they aren’t for beginners but there are so many beaches nearby with waves for surfers.
PS: Drifter Planet contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we will earn a little commission at no extra cost to you. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.