Visit Nazaré, Portugal – An Original Seaside Experience!
The sleepy little fishing village of Nazaré, on Portugal’s west coast, was a well-kept secret until 2011. Only those in the know were booking summer holidays or day trips to this ancient beach resort, and they were quite happy to keep their hidden gem to themselves. But overnight it was propelled into the limelight when Garrett McNamara surfed the world’s biggest wave right here in Nazaré, Portugal at 90 feet!
Biarritz who?? Nazaré was the new surfers hang-out!
The first time we visited in winter 2009, Nazare was a ghost-town – where people’s smalls blew unabashed on washing lines and your unfamiliar face turned local heads. Now the winter months are just as popular as the summer, with big names in surf living out the season catching waves the size of 5 piggy-backing giraffes.
But the allure of Nazaré goes way beyond the waves and beaches – it’s a captivating fishing town with a very colourful personality. Where the old and new rub shoulders, like a Thursday night yoga class. Long-established traditions materialize on every corner, but then so do the poke bowls and flat whites at the Nazare food trucks. It’s this heart-warming harmony that rouses an intrigue and makes you want to linger and discover more.
So, whether you’re here for the weekend, a summer holiday, or even just a day trip, let us tell you about this unique Portuguese seaside town and how to make the most of your stay when you visit Nazaré, Portugal.
THINGS TO DO IN NAZARE
No matter the time of year, there are plenty of things to do in Nazaré. It might feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon and Porto but the culture and heritage of this sleepy little coastal town mean that there’s plenty to do on a day trip.
And, with nearby attractions like the Batalha Monastery and the medieval town of Obidos, Nazaré would also make a good base for a central Portugal break too. It’s the perfect halfway point between the two cities of Porto and Lisbon if you’re planning a Portugal road trip.
We have an amazing apartment recommendation right on the seafront that we’d like to tell you about – we’ll list it at the end of the article.
So, without further ado, here’s our Nazaré bucket list – what to do and must-see places…
1. Enjoy A Beach Day
Nazaré beach is a crescent of golden sands divided by the Sitio headland, punctuated by the fort of São Miguel Arcanjo. If you want to spend a few hours on a beach towel with a book in hand then we say head for the shelter of the cliffs at the north end of Praia da Nazaré. The other beach, Praia do Norte on the other side of the Sitio headland, is a 1.5 km stretch of beach that produces those world-class waves – it’s a little windy and there is nowhere to buy a bucket and spade!
Praia da Nazaré is definitely more prepared for its visiting beach-goers and you have everything on hand, like umbrellas, takeaway beverages and flamingo inflatables!
Whichever side you choose, Nazaré is noted as one of the best beaches in Portugal so you really must spend some time there.
2. Go Surfing!
Whilst Nazaré beach might attract the sun-worshippers in the summer months, Praia do Norte draws in the pro surfers from October to March for some of the world’s biggest waves. To watch them, head up to the rocks at the fort for the best views. Just watch out for drones flying too close as they grab footage for TheSurfChannel! And you never know, you might spot the man himself, Mr McNamara, rumoured to spend the winter here in Nazare.
The winds whip through the sand dunes of Praia do Norte and there are no coffee vans or umbrella rentals, for fear they might blow away. But, if you do fancy your chances at catching a barrel and hanging ten, you can hire a board from Praia da Nazaré, the other side of the Sitio headland.
Actually, in the summer months, when the waves aren’t quite so fierce, Nazare beach can be the perfect place to catch a break for surfer beginners or part-timers.
3. Learn More About The Worlds Biggest Waves At The Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo
Wandering around the fort and viewing Nazaré from this unique position is cool enough, but the Surf Museum at the fort was one of the highlights of our Portugal trip last year.
The Nazare Canyon is believed to be the largest canyon in Europe, with a maximum depth of at least 5,000 metres (3miles)! So if you’ve been wondering why are Nazare waves so big the museum endeavours to explain that to you. The canyon is the cause of these waves and using video and 3D models you get a full demonstration of what is happening on the ocean floor. It’s fascinating and made even more mind-blowing when you watch some footage in one of the galleries from some of the surf competitions held there. It really caught our kids’ attention and imagination.
The museum also has a pretty rad collection of boards owned by pro-surfers that have surfed the Nazaré waves.
4. Explore The Narrow Streets Of Nazaré (Bairro dos Pescadores)
If you’re visiting Nazaré for the day, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve seen it all from the seafront! Wandering the narrow cobbled streets a few blocks back from the beach will transport you back in time.
Laundry twists in the breeze from apartment balconies and shared lines, and visitors snap photos. But you could never capture the real-life buzz that permeates these streets – it’s tangibly authentic and testimony to the fact that life has continued the same here in Nazaré for centuries. Maybe it’s because their underwear is blowing around above your head that these streets make you feel intimately connected to the real people of Nazare, or maybe it’s just because you can’t help but catch glimpses of family life going on behind the doorways. Whatever, a stroll around this neighbourhood – particularly the Bairro dos Pescadores – is a worthwhile venture on a visit to Nazaré.
NOTE: The Bairro dos Pescadores (Fishermans District) runs mainly from R. António Carvalho Laranjo and Praça Dr. Manuel Arriaga.
5. Grab A Coffee At A Seafront Spot
The Nazaré promenade is as good as any other… a collection of seafood restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops present themselves like any other beach town. But there’s so much to WATCH in Nazaré.
Not least is the unusual dress of the fishermen and their wives – the women with their seven embroidered skirts and barefoot, and the men in clogs and crazy hats.
Add to that the surf crowd and accompanying photographers dripping in lenses.
So grab yourself a table on the pavement and watch the people of Nazaré go about their daily business.
TIP: The cafe on the square at Praca Dr Manuel Arriaga is probably the best place to have a coffee early morning in the sunshine. Anywhere on the promenade is more than likely still in shade until late morning.
6. Try Some Dried Fish From The Fisherwives
You cannot miss them and it’s probably one of the first questions you’re puzzled with when you approach the seafront in Nazaré – ‘what on earth are those strangely dressed women doing there on the beach?’
Wooden racks are laden with fish drying in the sun whilst the fish-women sell the ripe ones to unsuspecting customers. But watch your dentures! Nazaréans must have gums of steel to deal with this local delicacy. When in Rome though, eh…
If you want to learn more about this old tradition of Nazaré, head to the Cultural Centre (Centro Cultural da Nazaré) on Av. Manuel Remigio.
7. Eat Some Fresh Fish
Nazaré has a great reputation for some of the best seafood restaurants in Portugal! And you shouldn’t be surprised when you spend a little time here and see that Nazaréan life still revolves around the sea. If you’re up early enough you can watch all of the fishing boats depart from the harbour at the south side of Nazaré beach.
This sea harvest then makes its way to Mercado Municipal later in the day, ready to be snatched up by restaurant owners and locals.
Restaurant Rosa Dos Ventos (Rua Gil Vicente) keeps it simple and serves everything with potatoes and salad (lord knows Portugal produces the sweetest potatoes!) but the freshest fish you will ever taste. And A Tasquinha (Rua Adriao) dishes up the best cataplana (fish stew).
8. Take The Funicula Up To O Sitio
Whilst officially still part of Nazare, the area of Sitio feels like a different town altogether. Take the funicular up to city above the Atlantic and spend a few hours checking out the birdseye views from all angles.
There are more women in traditional dress selling souvenirs and plates of barnacles in the pretty market square, and more than a handful of excellent places to eat around the bandstand. You’ll need a few hours to see this area properly, especially if you want to visit the popular Chapel of our Lady of Nazare.
It’s also from Sitio that you can reach the lighthouse and fort museum so you might want to allow more time for that as well.
It is possible to reach this part of town without taking the funicular and there is plenty of parking too.
Our Nazare Apartment Recommendation…
We don’t know much about Nazare hotel choices as we always book the same apartment on the sea-front. It’s beautifully modern with 2 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms (sleeps 5) and a fully equipped kitchen. But, the USP is the view from the living room and balcony of the sea – it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset!
So, if you were wondering is Nazaré worth visiting, we hope we have convinced you it is! The two towns in one ensure there’s plenty to do and the big wave attraction is only half of the story. Old interweaves with new and thankfully this vintage little beach town has still clung on to its charm… we don’t think you will be disappointed!
Check out our Portugal section from our menu for more suggestions of wonderful places to visit in central Portugal!