Tucked away in Portugal’s Centro region, the small town of Nazaré is a dazzling coastal gem. Renowned for its big wave surfing, traditional culture, and picturesque landscapes, Nazaré embodies the quintessential charm of Portugal’s Atlantic coast. Steeped in fishing traditions, this town has preserved a sense of authenticity that takes you back in time. The colorful fishing boats, locally known as “artes de xávega,” the women in traditional seven-skirted dresses, and the old houses that wind their way up the hill to the Sitio neighborhood combine to create a distinct and captivating atmosphere.
Nazaré’s main draw is undoubtedly its beach, where the Atlantic Ocean crashes onto wide, golden sands. The beach is the heartbeat of the town, playing host to sunbathers, families, and the world’s most daring surfers. The famed Praia do Norte, located near the iconic Farol da Nazaré, is where record-breaking waves occur, driven by a unique underwater canyon that amplifies the Atlantic swell. This phenomenon attracts big wave surfers from across the globe, making Nazaré a world-class surfing destination. However, the powerful waves are not just for thrill-seekers; they also draw crowds of spectators, particularly during the big wave season from October to March.
Apart from the beach and surfing culture, Nazaré is filled with interesting sights and experiences. Take the funicular up to O Sítio, the upper part of town, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the crescent-shaped bay and beyond. Here, you’ll find the Nossa Senhora da Nazaré Church, an important pilgrimage site, and the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo, which houses a small museum dedicated to the town’s big wave surfing phenomenon. Nazaré is not just a summer destination; its vibrant cultural calendar, filled with religious festivals and traditional celebrations, makes it a year-round destination. From the bustling daily market selling fresh seafood to the age-old tradition of drying fish on the beach, Nazaré is a captivating blend of old and new, tradition and modernity, quiet charm and thrilling adventure.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Nazaré
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Nazaré.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Nazaré.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental, particularly in Nazaré and the surrounding Central Portugal region. There are normally cheaper deals at the airport, so it’s better to book your car rental there.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Lisbon and Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Nazaré and the surrounding Central Portugal region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal, and are good places to look for storage options in Nazaré.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Nazaré is Lisbon Airport.
What to See & Do
Admire the World-Class Surfers
Visiting Nazaré during the surf competition season is an experience of a lifetime, particularly for those who love the exhilarating world of extreme sports. From October through March, the town transforms into a hub of big-wave surfing, attracting the bravest and most skilled surfers from across the globe. This period, known as the ‘Big Wave season,’ is defined by the monstrous waves that break on Praia do Norte, amplified by the underwater Nazaré Canyon, and can reach record-breaking heights over 100 feet (30 meters).
When a big swell is forecasted, surf competitions like the World Surf League’s Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge are often announced just a few days in advance. Watching these surfers tackle the colossal waves is a truly awe-inspiring spectacle, combining power, skill, and a bit of madness. The best spot to watch is from the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo, perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, where you can feel the ground shake as waves crash below. Make sure to arrive early to secure a good viewing spot as the area can get crowded, and don’t forget your camera to capture this spectacular show of nature and human audacity.
Praia da Nazaré
Praia da Nazaré is the iconic heart of this picturesque seaside town. With its expansive stretch of golden sand meeting the cobalt blue of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s an idyllic setting that attracts visitors from all over the world. This beach is not just a place of beauty but also a site of cultural significance, with traditional fish drying racks and brightly coloured wooden boats adding a touch of historical authenticity to the landscape.
During the summer months, Praia da Nazaré turns into a bustling paradise, with beachgoers enjoying sunbathing, swimming, and a variety of water sports. Despite its popularity, the beach remains an excellent spot for a peaceful stroll, with the charming backdrop of white-washed houses and the towering cliffs of Sítio neighbourhood. When not under the spotlight of the surf season, the beach offers smaller, friendlier waves, though it’s always crucial to respect the ocean’s power. Beachfront restaurants and cafés provide opportunities to sample local cuisine while enjoying panoramic views of the sea.
Mercado Municipal da Nazaré
The Mercado Municipal da Nazaré, or Nazaré Market, offers a delightful dive into local Portuguese culture. Located in the heart of the town, this bustling market brims with the vibrant colors and enticing aromas of fresh produce, local delicacies, and seafood. It is a hive of activity from early morning to late afternoon, with locals and tourists alike gathering to shop and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
Stalls are laden with a selection of locally grown fruits and vegetables, artisan cheeses, cured meats, and a variety of homemade products. The market is also famous for its abundant seafood section, reflecting Nazaré’s deep-rooted fishing tradition. Here, you can find an assortment of fresh fish and shellfish, including octopus, squid, sardines, and the day’s catch brought in by local fishermen. The Nazaré Market not only provides an opportunity to sample and purchase the local cuisine, but it’s also a vibrant showcase of the local lifestyle and a chance to interact with the friendly stall owners.
Forte de São Miguel
The Forte de São Miguel, also known as the Fort of Nazaré, stands guard at the edge of the steep cliff of the Sítio neighborhood, offering breathtaking panoramic views over the picturesque town and the expansive Atlantic Ocean. This historical 17th-century fortification was initially built to defend the coast from pirates and has now become an iconic symbol of Nazaré.
As you approach, the stark white exterior of the fort, contrasting with the azure backdrop of the ocean, is a sight to behold. The interior houses a small chapel and a lighthouse. The highlight of your visit, however, is the chance to stand atop the fort’s walls and take in the truly mesmerising views – the town’s terracotta rooftops, the vibrant beach dotted with traditional fishing boats, and the powerful waves that have made Nazaré a world-famous surfing spot. Besides its historical and architectural appeal, Forte de São Miguel offers a unique vantage point to appreciate the natural beauty and charm of Nazaré.
O Sítio is an ancient neighbourhood perched on a cliff top above the rest of Nazaré, offering truly panoramic and breathtaking views of the beach, the vast Atlantic Ocean, and the town below. With a history dating back to prehistoric times, O Sítio is not just a viewpoint but also a cultural hub, steeped in traditions and folklore that form an intrinsic part of Nazaré’s identity.
At O Sítio, you’ll find key landmarks such as the Baroque Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, a site of religious pilgrimage with an engaging museum. Walking along the charming cobblestone streets, you’ll come across traditional houses, numerous souvenir shops, restaurants serving local gastronomy, and the small Bullring. For ease of access, there’s a funicular railway connecting the town below with O Sítio, which is a unique experience in itself.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré
The Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré is a must-see attraction located in the O Sítio district of Nazaré. Steeped in history and devotion, this church is a pilgrimage site and holds a prominent position in the town’s cultural and religious heritage. The present structure dates back to the 17th century and is renowned for its ornate Baroque architecture and stunning tile work depicting biblical scenes.
Inside, the church houses the revered image of Our Lady of Nazaré, a wooden carving believed to have been made in the 4th century and brought from Merida to Nazaré in the 8th century by a monk. The legend associated with this statue narrates the story of a local nobleman whose life was saved due to the divine intervention of the Virgin Mary. Annually, during the first weekend of September, a grand festival is held to honour Our Lady of Nazaré, attracting numerous visitors and creating a vibrant, joyful atmosphere in the town.
The Nazaré Funicular, an iconic symbol of the town, provides a thrilling and convenient way to travel between the beachside area and the historical quarter of O Sítio, located on the cliff top. Built in 1889, this funicular railway has become an integral part of the city’s landscape and serves as a unique transportation method that not only locals, but also tourists love to experience.
The journey on the funicular, which takes a little less than 5 minutes, offers passengers an incredible view of the expansive beach, the azure waters of the Atlantic, and the vibrant town below. The traditional yet well-maintained carriages add a charming historic touch to the journey. Operating from early morning till late at night, the Nazaré Funicular ensures that you can explore both parts of Nazaré easily and comfortably, while also providing an unforgettable scenic ride.
Praia do Norte
Praia do Norte, located on the northern side of Nazaré, is a world-renowned beach, famous not only for its stunning natural beauty but also for its phenomenal surf conditions. It’s best known for its gigantic waves, which are considered among the biggest in the world due to the unique underwater canyon that funnels swells from the Atlantic Ocean into towering waves. These waves have attracted professional surfers from around the world, including the likes of Garrett McNamara, who famously set a world record by surfing a 78-foot wave here. For spectators and surf enthusiasts, there’s a cliff-top fort that offers an excellent vantage point to safely watch the surfers ride these enormous waves. However, due to its dangerous conditions, this beach is recommended only for experienced surfers.
Estatua Homenagem aos surfistas e a Nossa Senhora da Nazare
The Estatua Homenagem aos surfistas e a Nossa Senhora da Nazaré is a striking monument located in Nazaré that pays homage to the fearless surfers who brave the town’s infamous waves and to Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, the patron saint of the town. This statue depicts a surfer riding a wave, with the figure of the Virgin Mary providing protection overhead. It is an emblematic symbol that perfectly captures the spirit of Nazaré: a place where extreme sport meets deep-rooted tradition and religious devotion. Located at the Miradouro do Suberco, the monument is set against a stunning backdrop, offering a picturesque view of the expansive ocean and the majestic waves of Praia do Norte. It has quickly become a must-see spot for visitors, offering a unique insight into the local culture.
There are several ways to get to Nazaré but, generally speaking, the easiest way is to either drive or take the bus.
- Flying: The nearest international airports to Nazaré are located in Lisbon (LIS) and Porto (OPO), with Lisbon Airport being the nearer of the two. You’ll need to either drive or take public transport from the airport to get to Nazaré.
- Train from Lisbon: There is no train station close to Nazaré. You’ll need to take a train to Leiria or Alcobaça first, and then catch a local bus to Nazaré.
- Bus: There are direct bus services from Lisbon and Porto to Nazaré. Rede Expressos and Flixbus.pt are the main bus companies providing these services. The bus journey from Lisbon can take about 2-3 hours, while the journey from Porto can take up to 4-5 hours.
- Driving: If you’re planning to drive, Nazaré is approximately 125 km north of Lisbon and 210 km south of Porto. The journey by car can take about 1.5 hours from Lisbon and 2.5 hours from Porto, depending on traffic. Be aware that tolls are common on Portuguese highways.