Ericeira vs. Peniche: Which Surfing Destination Is Right for You?
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Portugal’s central coast is home to some of the best and most impressive waves on the planet – record-smashing behemoths and heavy, spitting tubes that only a few can handle.
But the wave-rich stretch of coastline between Lisbon and Peniche isn’t just for die-hard surfers. It’s for everyone, from beginners to pros.
When it comes to surfing in Portugal, the choice is often narrowed down to either Ericeira or Peniche. They’re both top-notch destinations with a well-established surf culture, world-class waves, good food, amazing beaches, and plenty of surf camps. But each of them has its own personality and an entirely different wave setup.
Trying to decide between Ericeira and Peniche? Read on and make the right call.
Traveling to Portugal in 2021
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Ericeira and Peniche at a glance
Ericeira is a traditional Portuguese fishing village, with whitewashed houses and narrow cobblestone streets, perched atop a sandstone cliff overlooking a picturesque harbor. It’s a delight to wander around town, but it’s the surf and the spectacular ocean vistas that attract tourists from all over the world.
Located 50km (30mi) northwest of Lisbon, it takes roughly 40 minutes to get to Ericeira by car from Portugal’s capital. There are also public buses that can take you there. Furthermore, during summer, a bus equipped with a surfboard rack connects most of the surf spots.
Did you know that Ericeira has the highest concentration of world-class waves in Europe?
It’s also Europe’s only World Surfing Reserve. The reserve protects the 8km (5mi) of coastline north of town, home to seven world-class waves, including Ribeira d’Ilhas, which hosted numerous World Surf League championships.
You’ll find a large number of dedicated surf camps in Ericeira, already an established surf town and a mecca of Portuguese surfing.
When you’re not riding the waves, you can easily go on a day trip to Lisbon or to the nearby Sintra-Cascais National Park and Sintra Castle.
Find out all you need to know about planning your surf trip to Ericeira.
Image credit: Planet Surf Portugal
Peniche is one of Portugal’s largest traditional fishing ports, set on a dramatic headland surrounded by the restless Atlantic. Over the last years, it has become the most visited surfing destination in the country, often referred to as the surf capital of Portugal.
Located 90km (55mi) north of Lisbon, it takes roughly an hour to get to Peniche by car. You can also get there by public bus. Most surf spots are within quick reach from town, and you can easily reach them by rental bike or even by walking to them.
For history buffs, the walled historic center is a must-see, especially the 16th century fortress – Fortaleza de Peniche – where political prisoners were detained during Salazar’s regime. Further north, you can visit the medieval town of Óbidos and its lagoon, one of the best kitesurfing spots in Portugal. No matter your level, a short trip to Nazaré will not disappoint, home to the biggest wave ever surfed.
You’ll find surfing facilities and surf camps on both sides of the Peniche Peninsula. That being said, most of the surf camps in Peniche are based in Baleal, just north of town, where the most beginner-friendly waves can be found.
Find out all you need to know about planning your surf trip to Peniche.
Image credit: Quintinha do Mar
Ericeira is a multicultural town with surf vibes at every corner, yet it has managed to preserve its authentic charm. The town is very Portuguese, with a relatively large historic center, cozy cafes, and highly rated restaurants serving both local dishes and international cuisine. There are quite a few vegetarian/vegan restaurants too.
You can grab a pastry after a morning sesh, some grilled sardines for lunch, try the local delicacies like ouriços (almond cakes) for dessert, and mingle with surfers from all over the world in the evening.
Ericeira has a well-established surf culture and a dedicated and close-knit community of surfers.
But it’s during summer that the town truly comes to life, when there’s always a party somewhere in downtown Ericeira. The resort is less busy outside the peak season, but it has year-round inhabitants so it never feels empty. Plus, many Lisboners come here during weekends throughout the year.
Image credit: Magikvanilla Surf Camp
In terms of nightlife, there’s far less action in Peniche. There are only a handful of beach bars, with a very intimate atmosphere, where surfers gather in the evening and sometimes dance and hangout until the break of dawn.
In terms of the surf, it might have the edge. After all, it’s home to Supertubos, one of the best beach breaks on the planet. And let us not forget the big wave surf spot at Papoa.
Each year in October, Supertubos hosts the World Surf League’s MEO Rip Curl Portugal surf competition. This is the best beach break in Portugal and one of the best on the planet. The name says it all – long and heavy tubular waves break off Medão Grande Beach, very similar to Pipeline.
Peniche is still a working port, so the atmosphere is different from the resort towns along Portugal’s central coast. The historic center is smaller. Outside the old town, there are signs of Peniche’s fish industry at almost every corner – factories, harbors, and warehouses. On the bright side, the seafood is exquisite and slightly cheaper than in Ericeira.
Find out why Peniche is summer 2019’s top surfing destination.
Image credit: Surf Riders Ericeira
Ericeira offers an impressive wave diversity and plenty of perfectly-shaped barrels. Most surf spots are west facing, which translates to great consistency. These are some of the most reliable waves in Portugal.
The best surf spots for beginners in Ericeira can be found south of town. North of town, the waves are a bit more challenging.
Image credit: Magikvanilla Surf Camp
Most of the waves in Ericeira break over reefs, but there are some that break over flat rock, and those are great for surf lessons. You’ll find some beach breaks too, like Foz do Lizandro and São Julião.
Ericeira’s reef breaks can hold bigger swells a lot better. The mere thought of reef breaks and big swells is enough to put any beginner off. But these infamous reefs can be tackled by beginners too, only closer to shore. When the waves are big and with a low tide, beginners can surf the whitewater closer to shore. The big waves are slowed down by the reefs in the back, and by the time they reach the shore, they’ve lost most of their power.
Beginners will find friendly waves at Foz do Lizandro, São Julião, and Praia do Sul. More experienced surfers can try their hands at Ribeira d’Ilhas, Coxos, Cave, and São Lourenço.
When it comes to the waves, Peniche never disappoints. There are surf beaches on both sides of the peninsula, facing many different directions. No matter the swell or wind conditions, there will always be good waves.
During summer, when other surf spots in Portugal go flat, Peniche is your safest bet. Furthermore, from late autumn to early spring, when powerful Atlantic swells hit the coast, Peniche offers more shelter and the waves maintain a good form
Peniche is one of the best places to learn to surf in Portugal, especially in summer, when the waves are smaller and gentler.
Most of the waves in Peniche break over sand, which makes it quite appealing for beginners, but also for intermediates looking to step up their game. Novice surfers will find mellow waves at Prainho and Catinho da Baia, while intermediates will have a blast at Lagido, Meio da Baia, and Molhe Leste.
North of Peniche, Baleal Beach is a haven for beginner surfers. This is where most of the surf camps in the area take their students. The long beach with fine white sand is sheltered from big swells and powerful winds, and is home to several soft beach breaks with mellow waves and plenty of room to practice.
Peniche has its share of gnarly waves as well. After all, it is home to Supertubos. There’s also Consolação and Papoa, plus several exposed breaks north of Baleal.
The crowd factor
Image credit: Hostel Surfcamp 55
Both Ericeira and Peniche are top surfing destinations. For some, that’s their biggest drawback, as they get crowded during summer.
In Ericeira, weekdays aren’t as bad. But due to its proximity to Lisbon, hordes of surfers and sunbathers hit the beaches over the weekend. The beaches are quite small. Luckily, there are many of them, which makes it easier for the crowds to spread.
On the other hand, the beaches at Peniche are bigger, offering much more room in the water. Baleal Beach is the most crowded, mostly with surf schools there. But the rest are far less crowded than most of the other surf spots near Lisbon. Just go a bit further south or north of the peninsula and you’ll find some quiet waves.
Portuguese surfers are usually friendly. However, when there are many people in the water, the atmosphere can get a little tense. Always remember to practice good surfing etiquette and show respect to local surfers.
Both Ericeira and Peniche are within easy reach from Lisbon. They have quality waves all year round and, during peak season, plenty of surf facilities and a great atmosphere. Plus, fresh seafood can be found on every menu.
The biggest and most important differences between the two lie in the wave setup, the crowd factor, and the vibes of the towns.
Ericeira and Peniche are about an hour apart. So, why not increase your wave count by visiting both?
*Cover image credit: Luis Ascenso
Chase the swells and discover the best surf spots in the country on a surf camp in Portugal.