All You Need to Know About Surfing in Portugal
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From a surfer’s standpoint, Portugal has it all. It’s not just the awesome waves, but also the surf culture, its authentic charm, and the fact that it’s inexpensive that make it one of the world’s top surfing destinations.
Why go surfing in Portugal? The short answer would be this – Portugal delivers every kind of wave imaginable and anything you could possibly want from a surf trip.
You’ll find beginner-friendly whitewater, gently rolling tubes for progressing surfers, and some gnarly beach and point breaks for the pros. There are waves for all levels, all year round, within close vicinity from one another, and highly-acclaimed surf camps in Portugal all along its coastline.
From the surfing seasons and wetsuit requirements to the culture, cuisine, and other useful travel advice, here’s all you need to know about budgeting and planning your surf trip to Portugal:
Surfing seasons in Portugal
Portugal is a swell magnet. With a coastline facing both west and south, it picks up every swell direction. Yes, Portugal is a year-round surfing destination, but each season has its particularities.
For beginners, the best time to go is during summer, between May and September. This is when the swells are less frequent and the waves are smaller. Do take note that most popular surf spots get crowded during summer, especially in July and August.
For more experienced surfers, the most consistent surf can be found between September and April. Winter is renowned for its powerful swells, which produce heavy waves that are better left to advanced surfers. Luckily, there are some sheltered spots where beginners or progressing surfers will feel safe even in winter.
Now let’s break it down according to the seasons:
In spring (March – May), you can surf just about anywhere. However, this is probably the best time of the year to go surfing in Northern Portugal and check out the spots around Porto, the likes of Matosinhos and Espinho.
In late spring, it already starts to get crowded.
In summer (June – August), the crowds are insane, especially on the central coast and even more so on the surf beaches near Lisbon. Furthermore, trade winds from the north can wreck certain surf spots on the west coast.
Your best bet during summer is the Algarve, blessed with some of the most reliable surf in Europe.
In autumn (September – November), almost all the spots work. The crowds will have dispersed, the swells start to kick in, the water is at its warmest, and there’s still plenty of sunshine to be had. Do take note that the waves are bigger than in summer.
This is a great time to check out the spots on the central coast, the likes of Peniche, Ericeira, Nazaré, and the surf near Lisbon.
In winter (December – February), the swells are mental. Unless you’d like to charge Nazaré, you’ll have to look for sheltered spots. Strong storms can occur during winter, which can make many of the surf breaks unsurfable. You’ll have to look for south-facing spots for protection from the storms.
Cascais and the Algarve are your best bet if you’re looking for friendly waves during winter.
Still not sure where to go? Take a look at our guide to the best surf spots in Portugal for more information!
The water in Portugal stays pretty cold all year round. This means that you’ll need a wetsuit even in summer.
In summer, on the central and northern coast, water temperatures reach a maximum of 18-22°C (65-71°F). You’ll need a 2mm long-sleeve shorty or a 3/2mm wetsuit is it’s windy.
On the southern coast, in the Algarve region, the water is warmer, reaching 21-23°C (70-73°F) in late summer and early autumn. You might get lucky and have days when you can surf in your swimsuit, but a 2mm shorty is recommended for longer sessions.
In winter, on the central and northern coast, water temps reach a minimum of 13-16°C (55-60°F). You’ll need a fully-sealed 4/3mm wetsuit and booties, although a 5/4mm is recommended for longer sessions.
In the south, water temps stay between 15-17° (59-63°F) in winter, and a 3/2mm wetsuit should suffice.
Portugal’s surfing scene
Despite its world-class waves and year-round surf, Portugal’s surfing scene didn’t truly blossom until the 1990s, and the last decade has seen an exponential growth. Surf-related businesses have flourished, especially on the central coast.
Almost every surf beach is lined with surf camps, schools, board rentals, surf cafes, and bars. This, in turn, helped boost the local economy. Some surf factories have emerged too, and it is possible to visit them and see how a surfboard is shaped, or even buy one from the source.
Portugal’s first surfing contest was held in 1977 at Ribeira D'Ilhas in Ericeira. The Portuguese Surfing Federation was established in 1988, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the country finally got the recognition it deserves, when Peniche became a stop on the WSL (World Surf League) Championship Tour.
Each year in October, the Rip Curl Pro Portugal draws an international crowd of surfers to the world-famous Supertubos. Guests from all the surf camps in Peniche and the surrounding areas gather on the beach to watch their favorite pro surfers fighting for a chance at the title.
In late autumn and winter, the world’s top big wave surfers come to take a stab at the grueling waves at Nazaré, which pinned Portugal on the big wave surfing map. In 2011, Garrett McNamara rode a 23.77-meter (78-foot) wave, setting a world record at that time. In November 2017, Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa broke the record when he surfed a 24.38-meter (80-foot) wave at Nazaré.
In 2011, Ericeira was declared a World Surfing Reserve, Europe’s first and so far, only one. Along 8 km (5 mi) of coastline you’ll find a high density of waves and seven world-class surf breaks, including Ribeira D’Ilhas, Coxos, and Portugal’s most challenging and heaviest wave – Cave.
Surfing is deeply ingrained in Portugal’s beach culture. The country has a laid-back surf culture and surfing is now the second most popular sport after football. Mild localism can occur, but it can be avoided with respect and politeness. Most surfers in Portugal practice an exemplary surfing etiquette and are respectful of surf schools in the water.
How to budget your surf trip to Portugal
Portugal is the cheapest country in Western Europe (not counting the flights, of course), and if you’re a money-savvy person, you’ll get more bang for your buck here than in any other European surfing destinations.
To make the most of your surfing trip to Portugal, stay at one of the many surf camps lining the beaches. The combination of accommodation, surf lessons or guidance, transfer to the surf spots, equipment rental, and sometimes even included meals make them an excellent money-saving option.
You can stay at a budget surf camp in Portugal for as little as €25 per day! This would include accommodation in a shared dorm, surf lessons, equipment rental, and breakfast.
Of course, prices can vary depending on the location and the package, but you can expect to stay at a surf camp in Portugal for an average price of €30-50 per day.
You can find cheap accommodation all over Portugal. Most dorm rooms cost €10 per person, and private rooms around €30-40 in a hostel or budget hotel. You can also find surfer-friendly accommodation in Portugal, located in the immediate vicinity of the best surf breaks.
Food & drinks
If you’re on a budget, you’ll be happy to know that you’ll find many local eateries near the seaside serving fresh seafood and other traditional dishes for inexpensive prices.
You can have a meal, sandwich, or street food for €6-10. If you’d like to sit down in a restaurant, you can expect to pay €15-20 per meal in a mid-range restaurant.
You can spend around €30 per person per day on food and drinks if eating out (If you opt for budget-friendly eateries, of course).
Please take note that most Portuguese restaurants will bring you starters consisting of olives, bread, cheese, sometimes cold meats or sardine paste. Don’t assume that these are free, unless they are part of a set menu. If you don’t want them, just send them back untouched and you won’t be charged.
- Coffee is between €0.50 and €1.10. You can have a pastry and coffee for €2 in Lisbon.
- The average price of a domestic draught beer is €1.50.
- The average price of a bottle of wine in Porto is around €4.
Portugal has a very efficient and extensive public transportation system. And it’s inexpensive! Buses are the cheapest option, and tickets start at €1.50. If you’re planning on visiting Lisbon during your surf trip, you’ll pay €6.15 for 24-hour unlimited travel (includes all Lisbon’s buses and trams).
Taxis can be a bit expensive, but a ride should not cost you more than €12 (€3.25 to start plus €0.50-1.00 per kilometer). Taxis can sometimes charge additional fees for airport pick up and luggage. If you’re staying at a surf camp, check whether they can arrange airport/bus station pick-up and drop-off. Most surf camps include transfer in their packages.
A one-way train ticket from Lisbon to Porto will cost between €24.30 and €42.40 depending on the train category and class.
Keep in mind that July and August aren’t only the hottest months; they are also the most crowded and most expensive. Rates on accommodation can double during peak season. You can also expect higher prices for food and airfare.
What to eat in Portugal
The Portuguese love good food. Simplicity and fresh produce are at the core of Portugal’s cuisine, which has many influences – Mediterranean, African, even Far East. The emphasis is on interesting spices and fresh seafood.
If you’re into fish, you simply must visit one of the many marisqueiras, traditional seafood restaurants located close to the seaside. Try the Bacalhau, Portugal’s traditional seafood dish, which consists of salted dry cod served with various veggies and herbs.
Sardinhas asadas (grilled sardines) are very popular in summer, especially on the south coast. These are served with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon.
In Northern Portugal, try the francesinha, Porto’s famous sandwich, made with bread, wet-cured ham, sausage, steak or roast meat covered with melted cheese, thick tomato, and beer sauce.
Don’t even get me started about Portuguese wines, the most famous of which being the Port wine, a sweet red fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. There’s no better way to flush down a heavy francesinha than with a glass of Port wine.
Portugal does a great job of making soups. In fact, that’s where the Portuguese get their daily dose of veggies. Try the caldo verde, a very simple mix of potato, shredded kale, and onions cooked in olive oil and garlic.
Have pastel de natas for dessert (or as a snack any time of day). This is a traditional Portuguese egg tart with cinnamon, originally from Lisbon. Another unmissable dessert is Arroz dolce, a sweet and creamy egg-based rice pudding.
More touristic areas feature international cuisine too, so don’t be surprised if you come across Italian pizza places or Japanese sushi.
Unfortunately, vegetarian and vegan options in restaurants are pretty limited. Expect to eat lots of salads and omelets. Alternatively, you can join a surf camp that serves vegetarian food.
More useful Portugal travel tips
There’s plenty to do in Portugal when you’re not surfing. You can’t help but become fascinated with Portugal’s rich culture and history, and the many landmarks and national parks in the vicinity of the popular surf spots are definitely worth a visit.
You can do some cultural tourism in Portugal on a shoestring. Just walk the cobbled streets of the whitewashed villages in the Algarve, rent a bike to visit Lisbon or Porto, or hike the Sintra-Cascais National Park. The admission fee for the park and the Sintra Palace is €14 per adult.
Many museums in Lisbon are free on Sundays, and there are some that are always free.
Language barrier is not an issue in Portugal. English is widely spoken in the touristic areas. Here are a few useful phrases to help you get around:
- Olá – Hello
- Tudo bem? – How are you doing?
- Por favor – Please
- Obrigado – Thank you
- De nada – You’re welcome
- Desculpe – Pardon me
- Bom dia – Good morning
- Boa tarde – Good afternoon
- Boa noite – Good night
- Adeus – Goodbye
- Quanto custa? – How much is it?
Ericeira is named after sea urchins. There are lots of them on the seabed, and so are sharp rocks. Tread carefully and don’t forget your booties.
Pack a few thin layers to adapt to the changeable temperatures. Due to the ocean’s influence, temperatures drop during the night, so make sure you pack some warm clothes for the evening even in summer.
Make the most of your trip by joining a surf camp for beginners in Portugal that will help you get started down the right path!