Portugal – Europe’s New Surfing Capital

In the last 5 years the popularity of Portugal as the surfing capital of Europe has skyrocketed. It now welcomes thousands of tourists from all over the world coming to explore the famous surf breaks and hidden beaches. The waves have always been there, the Atlantic Coast has been pounding Europe’s westernmost part for centuries… Add to that surfing’s appeal worldwide growing exponentially, it becoming an olympic sport in 2020, numerous WSL competitions being held in Portugal and the biggest wave in the world (24m) surfed in Nazaré by Rodrigo Koxa in 2017 and you’ve got a winner! (Previous record was held by Garrett McNamara and his 23m monster in Nazare :-))

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PC: Red Bull https://www.redbull.com/int-en/sessions-nazare-reaches-new-heights

Tourism in Portugal has been growing steadily since 2011 and the country was named one of the top 3 hottest travel destinations worldwide by Lonely Planet and one of the top 5 safest countries in the world for tourists in 2018. Portugal saw a 12 percent increase of foreign tourists in 2017 accounting to a total of 12.7 million visitors and contributing to the strongest economic growth since 2000. Brazilians, British, Eastern Europeans and Russians lead the mix. Enough facts, let’s go surfing!

Considering you will probably fly into Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese), I suggest we start our exploration with the popular (and hidden) surf spots around the capital.

Cascais

Carcavelos is the go to spot for beginners with many schools offering lessons and rentals in the area. It is a short drive or train ride from Lisbon and with its sandy beach and gentle break is sure to offer you a good time on your first taste of surfing in Portugal. If Carcavelos is flat (it is in the river mouth and not directly on the Atlantic Coast, hence a more mellow wave), head to Costa da Caparica, which responds to a northern swell.

Estoril

If you are in the Lisbon area and need lessons, rentals, or guiding, call Andre from Salty Souls Surf School, he’ll hook you up and give you the inner scoop! His excellent reputation precedes him on Tripadvisor and Airbnb and he can help you with transportation if you are by yourself and unsure how to make your way to the beach.

PC: Andre @saltysoulspt

For surfers looking for more advanced breaks on the powerful Atlantic Coast who have their own transport, head west to Guincho or Praia Grande. Read: strong currents and powerful Atlantic swells. Guinco and Praia Grande are world famous spots where many surfing competitions are held. A guide is highly recommended for your first session or at least stop by a local surf shop to ask what peak to surf and where are the channels.

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The Atlantic Coast around Lisbon is spectacular, wild, and untamed. If you get the chance to explore after surfing, visit local gems such as Azenhas do Mar for food and drinks (and views) or take a hike to Praia Pequena or Praia das Macas (hidden surf spots frequented by locals, wink wink :-)) #thankmelater

Cabo da Roca – westernmost point of Europe, many ships’ “resting” place (not by choice :-))

Places to stay on the coast close to Lisbon – choose the adorable and convenient (but touristy) Cascais or my favorite tiny village of Azenhas do Mar. Definitely do Airbnb if traveling with a friend or group or you can stay in Ljmonade or F3 hostels in Cascais if by yourself. Both hostels offer bike rentals and additional paddle board/yoga activities.

A visit to Ericeira wasn’t in my initial plans, yet this coastal gem and Ericeira Surf Camp stole my heart and contributed to the coolest surfing experience in my entire life! The topography and surf breaks around Ericeira are so unique that that part of the Atlantic Coast of Portugal was named the only World Surfing Reserve in Europe. (Two other world surfing reserve sites I have visited are Malibu and Santa Cruz, California. There are also some in South Africa and Australia.)

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Ericeira is a surfer’s paradise with 4km of breathtaking coast and some of the best waves in the world breaking over the continental shelf. The town even features an Interpretative Center where there is an interactive video of every break in the area and a topographic map of the ocean, the coast, the swells and the wind directions.

There are plenty of surf shops in town where you can find any beach item you can think of. Right next to the Interpretative Center on the main square, there are 2 surf cafes to grab smoothies, healthy food, acai bowls and of course, cocktails 🙂 #apressurfing

I wouldn’t dare to surf Ericeira without guiding and that’s where Nuno Goncalves from Ericeira Surf Camp comes in. The man is a local legend having presided over the town’s surfing association and towed pro surfers at Nazare!!! #youbetterbelieveit Even though Nuno is the owner of the camp, his never ending passion for surfing takes him out to teach beginner lessons and to guide more advanced surfers every weekend.

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We were surfing over the continental shelf on a stormy day when a torrential downpour started. I asked Nuno if we continue to surf when it rains, “You are already wet” he responded 🙂 This man made me think I was an expert…beginner. I have never surfed with so much confidence ❤

Ericeira Surf Camp is in the middle of the old town, 5 min away from sandy beaches, sunset watching spots, the old fishermen’s port, and of course multiple local places to eat and drink. No one left Ericeira hungry…more like fat and happy 🙂 🙂 🙂

The camp offers private and shared accommodation with en suite or common bathrooms. The hostel is incredible clean and convenient and the ladies who work at breakfast / reception are so kind, welcoming and so incredibly informative, I was able to visit all the local food and drinks gems in just 2 days 🙂 (Left fat as I mentioned above :-))

You can paint your house any color in Ericeira, as long as it’s white or blue 🙂

Driving up the coast from Ericeira, if you can leave town that is, you reach Peniche and Baleal. “The little fishing town of Peniche is not the prettiest spot on the Portuguese coast, but it’s probably the most renowned surfing area in the country” as Magic Seaweed says.

It features over 30 different beach breaks that face various directions and respond to different swells. The famous Supertubos is where the annual MEO RipCurl Pro competition, part of the World Surfing League tour is held.

Waves are bigger than they look…Yes, I surfed it on a flat day when it was breaking ankle high 🙂
Last photo PC Rip Curl MEO Pro (NOT yours truly in a barrel LOL ;-))

Supertubos is regarded by many as one of Europe’s best beach breaks, but there are plenty of other barrels to pull into around Peniche. The secret spot north of Baleal is Almagreira, where you go either when everything else is super flat….or you are ready to be smashed by some massive waves. Almagreira has fantastic red rock formations on the beach and is the closest to the Ericeira flat reef bottom surfing feel for me.

If you want to surf Peniche, I would suggest you stay in Nazare, 40 min up the coast. Whether you sleep in Praia or Sitio, you can use the funicular to get around 🙂

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It is a super cool old town famous for “the best beaches in Portugal” and “Our Lady of Nazare” religious festivals in fall that boast some profane celebrations 🙂 Leave it to the Portuguese to show you how to party 🙂

DO NOT surf Nazare unless you are ready for the biggest waves on Earth. Also, beware of freak waves on the beach 😦 Even 10ft waves, small for Nazare BUT common in summer, look horrifying to the most experienced surfers. Such big waves form due to the famous Nazare Canyon. Two other places on the PLANET where you can see (surf?! #bemyguest) such big waves are Mavericks in California and off shore at the Cortez Bank in Sea of Cortez. (Oh, get used to all signs and information to be ONLY in Portuguese :-))

Obviously, I take pictures only on NON-surfing days, for which I beg your pardon…but when the conditions are good…there are waves to be surfed 🙂

Finishing with a few details that can be very helpful during your upcoming trip:

Transportation

Public transportation (buses, subway, and trains) is very safe, reliable, frequent, and CHEAP in Portugal. Since I was traveling by myself, I couldn’t make it worth it for my budget to rent a car and I used the subway, trains, and local buses instead. (You may need to speak a bit of Portuguese as schedules are tough to understand and there is no sign in English 😦 You don’t need a car to travel between the major cities and having a car in the city is quite a hassle actually since streets are tiny and parking is non-existent. If you decide to rent a car after all, the best deals can be found at the airport thru online booking and discount sites. Be VERY careful when picking up the car to avoid extra charges and being stuck with a lemon. Car rental companies are notorious for trying to keep your deposit any way they can and at >EUR 1000 its a hefty deposit to forego.

Safety

Voted among world’s top 5 safest tourist destinations, Portugal is very welcoming to tourists whether you are traveling in a group or alone. Still, be smart, not overly trusting when drunk 🙂 and beware of pickpockets, weird looking people down dark alleys at night, and the random drug dealer at the corner that will offer you hash 🙂  Pickpockets are not aggressive or armed but they are magicians with their hands and you won’t notice when or where your phone or wallet has gone missing.

Money

As part of the European Union, Portugal uses the EUR. Get cash from any ATM machine or at a currency exchange / bank in Lisbon. You can use your credit card in the big cities but be prepared with cash in small coastal town and do NOT hand card for purchases under EUR 10. European merchants are still very weary of the card processing fees 😦

Food

Portuguese specialties are ABSOLUTELY delicious and very filling. Note that breakfast doesn’t happen till 10am, lunch is at 1-2pm, afternoon coffee and a snack are had around 5-6pm and dinner doesn’t start before 9pm. Plan accordingly 🙂 #wheninrome #eatlocal And the first (and only time) I asked (in Portuguese :-)) if I could have something TO GO, the lady at the counter surprisingly said “BUT WHY?!” Allocate time for every meal to be “sit down” 🙂 #slowliving (Portugal is so tasty, I will write a separate blog on FOOD!!!)

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