Portugal is to Europe what Bali is to Indonesia. It’s the surf haven of the whole continent, offering the most consistent swells across a veritable hodgepodge of breaks, some uber-famous, some totally hidden.
You can come here to score peeling beachies that curl into the golden sands of the sunny Algarve. Or you can come to pit yourself against the mighty beasts of Nazare, the home of the largest waves on the planet!
And it’s not just the fantastic surf conditions and variety of breaks that this land at the end of Iberia has up its sleeve. It’s also riddled with charming surf villages, fringed with breathtaking runs of coastline that’s threaded with pine forest and dune meadows, and blessed with tasty cooking and great wine – salt-cod broth and a Douro red, anyone?
I’ve been surfing and traveling Portugal for nearly 12 years in all. Some of my first waves outside of the UK were caught on the beginner beaches of northern Peniche. Since then, I’ve returned for month-long surf sojourns in the Algarve and surf camps in Porto. Here are my 10 top picks for the best surf spots in Portugal…
Of all the surf spots in Portugal, it’s Peniche that gets the plaudits time and time again for its sheer quality and diversity of breaks. The town occupies a tombola of land about 1.5 hours’ drive north of Lisbon, with sands that face north, south, and west straight into the Atlantic.
The upshot? Just about any swell direction and wind direction will offer surfable conditions in these parts. When it’s summer and you need to squeeze every drop of action out of the ocean, hit up Praia da Consolação to catch ankle breakers under the centuries-old Fortaleza there. In winter, if it’s huge, retreat to Baleal, to surf protected sets on Praia das Pedras Muitas, the beginner hub of the town.
If there’s one wave that stands out, it’s surely Supertubos. A frothing beast of a barrel that sucks the shores dry to form curling tubes on the beach just south of downtown Peniche, it’s the site of major annual WSL competitions. Great for spectating. Risky if you don’t know what you’re doing.
See related: Best Things to do in Peniche
Sagres caps off the wave-lashed southwestern edge of Portugal. Seriously – go any further and you’ll be splashing around in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the surf capital of the Algarve these days, and comes with all the top-quality schools and surf lodges that the title warrants.
The main focal point of the wave riding is on Tonel Beach. It dashes beneath the high cliffs on the western side of the center, with the cannon-holed bulwarks of the mighty Fortaleza de Sagres – a fortress that once did battle with Mediterranean pirates – rising high above.
But Tonel isn’t the only spot you get to enjoy here. Because Sagres has equally good access to the southern side of the Algarve as the western side, it’s also great for beginners who don’t necessarily want the most ferocious of swells.
Head eastwards to beaches such as Praia do Barranco and Praia da Luz to find mellow waves, not to mention a more all-round vacationer vibe – think sunbeds on the shoreline and ice-cream parlors dotting the promenades behind.
Ericeira was the first official World Surfing Reserve in Central Portugal. It’s easy to see why. The town is the hub of a long run of west-facing Atlantic shoreline that is essentially never, ever flat. The northern side of the center is where the pros go. The southern side is for learners and casual surfers.
Let’s start with the latter. There, long, sandy bays like Foz do Lizandro and Praia do Sul are a haven for crumbly, chest-high waves in the summer. Soft boarders and groms aplenty have caught their first rides in these parts, all under the gaze of the honey-hued cliffs of Portugal’s sunny central coast.
Venture up to beaches like Coxos and the Ribeira D’Ilhas and the whole scene changes. The rocky bays north of town are beset by a riffraff of reefs and high headlands that spill straight into the ocean. When strong winter storms start kicking around November, they suck in big swells and create spinning barrel rides. It’s a fantastic sight. And a fantastic ride; if you’re brave enough.
Let’s get one thing straight – us mere mortals will probably never, ever surf the monsters of Nazare. The town’s name is nothing short of legendary on the global surf circuit because it’s known to have the biggest surfable waves of anywhere on the planet. Yep, the whole planet.
The record for the mightiest wall of water ever tamed in the history of surfing was set here back in 2020 by Sebastian Steudtner. He dropped in on a colossal 86-foot (26-meter) behemoth and didn’t bail. Woo!
Truth be told, surf trips to Nazare aren’t for the average Joe. They’re largely spectator visits, which is fine. Come by around October time to be in with a chance of sighting the biggest swells in the calendar. Everyone will gather to watch at the clifftop lighthouse by North Beach.
The good news is that Nazare town is a real charmer, too. It’s a bona fide Portuguese coast village, with a maze-like downtown knitted together by cobblestone streets, all hemmed in by cozy cottages and tavernas painted cloud-white from tip to toe.
Arrifana is known as one of the finest learner spots in the southern Algarve region. Steeped in sun (almost 300 days of the good stuff each year, in fact) and caressed by endless swells from the north and central Atlantic, the bay is hemmed in by a phalanx of soaring cliffs and whitewashed coast cottages.
The walk down to the beach is sheer drama. You’ll zigzag past surf cafes and board rental spots and then hop a timber ladder onto the sands. Check out the toppling rock stacks that are visible to the south, usually plumed in ocean mists as the waves whack the shore.
Beginner and intermediate surfers here will want to stick to the main beach break. It’s not one wave but 20, all peaking and wedging along 700 meters of glistening sand.
There’s a more advanced tubular right that’s fast and sketchy to be had in front of the harbor when the tide peels back, too, though you need swells higher than eight foot to get that working at its best.
Carcavelos is the most iconic surf break on the Estoril Coast that spans westwards from the big, buzzy capital of Lisbon. For that reason, it’s always busy. But it’s also super consistent and works from December to December, offering waves for all levels depending on the season.
To get to the beach, simply hop on the tram at the Cais do Sodré station in the heart of Lisbon and cruise the rails for about 35 minutes. They’ll take you to a stop only a block back from the waves. There are board rentals and accomplished surf schools right on the shoreline, offering lessons for as little as $35 a pop.
The shorebreak wave here is what draws the crowds. It’s actually a powerful little number, curling against the beachfront with punchy closeouts and the occasional line to the left or the right.
Outside the bay, on the reefs to the west, is the Carcavelos reefy, a barreling right that’s the stomping ground of local rippers. Don’t be tempted to go there.
Further reading: Best beaches in Portugal
Chilled Espinho is a hip little beach town just to the south of Porto. A 30-minute ride on the train from the big city and you can emerge onto a golden strip of sand that’s laced with a palm-sprouting promenade and more sunset bars than you can shake your cold Sagres beer at. It’s a good-vibes sort of place to be.
The waves hit a zenith in the autumn and winter months as the strongest NW swells come in. Then, you can come to watch as shortboard maestros score barreling rights off the big concrete breakwater at the north end of the beach.
But that’s not really why Espinho reigns as one of the best surf spots in Portugal. That’s down to the fact that the town has mellower beach breaks with sand underfoot during the summer months. Plus, there are now excellent surf schools with cheap lessons in abundance. It’s destination number one for learners out of Porto.
Hidden away up on the so-called Green Coast of northern Portugal, Azurara is but a sleepy fishing village with a smattering of unbusy coast hotels. A couple of salt-washed boardwalks lead over a sea of oat-bristling dunes to the Atlantic, revealing a scythe of a bay that’s got waves for all levels.
The spring and summer months here see the onshore winds dip. That paves the way for bending sets of nice longboard and shortboard waves. The best of them curl nearly off the breakwater on the north side of Praia da Azurara, sucking a full tide into lovely wedges and peeling shoulders that are great for trimming up and down.
Azurara remains a bit of a secret on the surf scene of north PT; a fine place for escaping the booming crowds of Espinho and Matosinhos closer to the heart of Porto. The downside? The angle of the beach means that you really need some southerly element to the swell. If that fails to happen, it will be flatter than a Portuguese saltcod.
9. Jardim do Mar
Completely exposed to the ferocious winter westerly swells that cruise across the middle of the Atlantic from November to March, Jardim do Mar is a beast of a break that’s really only for the pro riders out there.
It curls around the southwestern edge of Madeira, Portugal’s sub-tropical wonderworld out in the ocean. Beneath cliffs tufted with lush palms and fern trees, and before a town topped with terracotta roofs, the wave starts with an unforgiving drop straight onto a thick slab of Atlantic H2O.
If you make the bottom turn – and it has to be a fast one – then you’ll be greeted by an overhead wall of water on the right had side. It moves fast, and you’ll need to carve top and bottom to make it through the harder sections and escape the oncoming cobblestone beachfronts.
Sadly, Jardim do Mar is officially listed as a wave at risk. The site was badly impacted by the construction of a jetty some years ago. That took away just a touch of the power and finesse. It also means that the spot can now only be surfed around complete low tide.
10. Costa da Caparica
The beautiful Costa da Caparica skirts the central coast for a whopping 8.5 miles. It’s basically an uninterrupted length of cinnamon-tinted sand within easy reach – think less than 30 minutes’ driving – of the capital. That makes it the perfect option for city breakers wanting to see the sights of Lisbon and hit the surf, all in the same 72 hours.
There are multiple named spots up and down this whole area. However, the real joy is in walking and wandering to find a peak to call your own for the day. The top end of the beach tends to have slightly smaller swells. South of Praia do Castelo, roughly the middle of the costa, things get a foot or so larger.
The waves here are all reliant on sandbanks. Those are underwater blocks of silt and sand that have built up and settled. Sometimes they are good; other times they’re non-existent. Westerly winds can turn things messy, but rare wintertime easterlies can turn Caparica to smooth glass.