Nazaré is a small fishing town surrounded by a long stretch of sandy beaches. This city has a long, rich history, but in recent years it is growing in popularity because of its enormous waves. During the winter months, the largest surfable waves in the world crash on Nazaré’s shore, making this a surfing mecca. Seeing the giant waves tops the list of things to do in Nazaré, but you can also learn about its surfing and fishing traditions, visit a few historic churches, and dine on fish fresh from the sea.
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Interesting Facts about Nazaré
Nazaré is centrally located on the west coast of Portugal, along what is referred to as the Silver Coast.
This town is home to two very long beaches, Praia da Nazaré and Praia do Norte. These two beaches are divided by a rocky peninsula, and on this peninsula sits Sitio (a hilltop neighborhood) and São Miguel Arcanjo Fort (a great spot to watch the legendary waves).
There are three neighborhoods in Nazaré. Sitio, just mentioned, sits on top of the rocky peninsula. Praia is located along the Praia da Nazaré beach. The funicular connects Praia to Sitio. The third neighborhood, Perderneira, is located higher in the hills above Praia. This hilltop town was one of the first settlements of Nazaré since its elevated location protected the citizens from pirates.
Before Nazaré was a world class surfing destination, it was a fishing community. The fisherman here fished on some of the most dangerous waters on earth, with the mighty waves. The fishing traditions still remain, and you can see this in the dried fish market and Barcos Salva Vidas on Praia da Nazaré.
More recently, Nazaré became one of the world’s top surfing destinations. Nazaré is famous for its giant waves. It seems as if new records are being set every few years, but in the winter months, waves as tall as 25 meters/80 feet are surfed by the world’s leading surfers. We’ll get more into this next.
The cliffs of Nazaré (photo taken from São Miguel Arcanjo Fort)
Best Things to Do in Nazaré
1. See the Giant Waves of Nazaré
Nazaré is home to the highest surfable waves in the world. This town’s history as a surfing destination is rather short, as Nazaré didn’t really enter into the surfing world until 2011.
In 2011, Garrett McNamara surfed a 23.8 meter/78 foot wave, a record breaker at the time. With this event, Nazaré came crashing onto the surfing scene. Every winter, world class surfers arrive in Nazaré to surf these monstrous waves.
More records have been set since 2011. In October 2021, German surfer Sebastian Steudtner set the new record, serving a massive wave with a height of 26.2 meters/86 feet. You can watch it on this 2-minute video on YouTube.
Giant wave in November 2019 | aleksey snezhinskij/shutterstock.com
The new technique of tow-in surfing is what allows surfers to ride these enormous waves. Tow-in surfing can be done by wave runners and helicopters. The surfer is pulled faster than he or she would be able to do by hand paddling, which allows them to catch waves larger than 9 meters/30 feet.
What makes the Nazaré waves so big? Sitting off the coast of Portugal is the Nazaré Canyon. At 5,000 meters deep, it is the largest underwater canyon in Europe. This canyon creates the perfect conditions for the large waves to form in Nazaré.
The largest waves can be seen from October through March. These waves don’t occur every day and for the best chance of seeing them, the Nazarewaves.com website recommends at least a two week stay during this time period (they state that the big swells happen one to six times per month). You can get the wave forecast on their website here.
Once you are in Nazaré, the best place to watch the waves is from the fort, but you can also see them from the viewpoints in Sitio or right from the beach.
Our visit was in September, not a great time to see the waves. Our hotel host said that the “sea was flat” during our visit, but these waves, even in the off season, are amazing. Tim and I estimate that the waves were about 2 meters/10 feet high, a lot larger than we get at home in the mid-Atlantic of the USA.
2. Walk out to the São Miguel Arcanjo Fort
The São Miguel Arcanjo Fort is an iconic spot to visit in Nazaré. This fort sits at the tip of the rocky peninsula, giving visitors a spectacular vantage point of the giant waves and Nazaré beaches.
View from the São Miguel Arcanjo Fort
São Miguel Arcanjo Fort | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
From Sitio, it is a downhill walk on a paved road to get to the fort. This walk takes about 10 minutes and along the way, there are viewpoints over both Praia da Nazaré and Praia do Norte. If you don’t want to walk up or down this path (it’s a moderately difficult uphill walk back to Sitio), there are a few tuk-tuks you can hire to save your steps.
Walking path from Sitio to the fort (photo taken from the fort)
Along the walk, you will pass the Veado sculpture, which blends together Nazaré’s surfing history with the legend of Nazaré (a tale in which Dom Fuas Roupinho was chasing a deer, almost fell from the cliff, cried out to Our Lady of Nazaré, and was saved).
Once at the fort, there is a small fee to enter. This includes your visit into the Big Wave Museum, mentioned next. At the fort, there are several viewpoints over both beaches, a close-up view of the lighthouse, and if you are lucky enough to be here when the giant waves are rolling in, one of the most memorable views in Europe.
3. Big Wave Museum
Located within the São Miguel Arcanjo Fort is the Big Wave Museum. On the Surfer Wall are the surfboards of famous people who have surfed these legendary Nazaré waves, including Garrett McNamara, Sebastian Steudtner, and many others. There is also a small room with information on how and why the Nazaré waves are the largest in the world.
Big Wave Museum | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
4. Praia do Norte
Praia do Norte (North Beach) is the northern beach of Nazaré. You will see it as you walk out to the fort but if you want to explore a cool cave, it’s worth the walk down to the beach.
Praia do Norte | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
To get to the cave, there is a trail that starts near São Miguel Arcanjo Fort. It is a short but steep 10-minute walk down to the beach. The trail ends with a rough, rocky, somewhat slippery walk. Just before you make it to the beach, look to your left and you can see the top opening of the cave.
Once on the beach, there are two caves. The best one is closest to the trail, a large cave with an opening at the top. This resembles Benagil Cave, one of the most popular places to visit in the Algarve. On Google Maps, it is called Forno de Orca Cave.
Forno de Orca Cave
The smaller cave sits to the right of the Benagil Cave look-alike. Both give you a cool view of the fort and lighthouse. Can you imagine being down on this beach and seeing the giant waves of Nazaré?
We loved this experience. There were only about 10 people here, much different from the crowds at the fort, and the views are amazing. The only downside is the long, uphill walk back to Sitio (about 20 to 30 minutes from this point).
5. O Sitio
O Sitio is the neighborhood that sits on top of the rocky peninsula. This area is home to one of the first settlements in Nazare, as its location high above the beaches protected the citizens from pirates.
In this small area are a few notable places to visit (the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazare, Ermida da Memória, and viewpoints over Praia da Nazaré, all which will be mentioned next).
Parking is extremely limited here. If you are visiting Nazaré for the day, it is best to park down by Praia da Nazaré and ride the funicular up to Sitio. If the funicular is under maintenance (it was during our visit in September), the town usually operates a bus service as a replacement, or you can use Uber to get around.
6. Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazare
This baroque church, also called the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazareth, sits on the main square of Sitio.
Church of Our Lady of Nazareth | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
Built in the 14th century, its construction began under the request of King Ferdinand, who visited Nazaré on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Nazaré.
Paintings inside the church depict the appearance of Our Lady to Dom Fuas Roupinho. There is also a painting with the image of the Madonna nursing baby Jesus on her lap.
Visiting the church is free. For a very small fee, you can enter the sacristy, which is well worth it. You will see lots of beautiful blue tiles, the sacristy, and unique views of the nave of the church.
View of the church while visiting the sacristy
Blue tiled hallway that leads to the sacristy
7. Ermida da Memória
Ermida da Memória, also called the Memory Heritage, the Chapel of Miracle’s Memory, and the Chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth, is a small, easily overlooked chapel in Sitio. Without knowing its history, it is very easy to skip over this small chapel. But this spot is home to the Legend of Nazaré and possible a hiding spot for the Black Madonna.
Ermida da Memória | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
The Legend of Nazaré is a tale in which Dom Fuas Roupinho was chasing a deer in foggy conditions, almost fell from the cliff, cried out to Our Lady of Nazaré for help, and was saved. After this event, he went down to the grotto to pray and give thanks for this miracle. This happened in the same spot where an original statue of the Black Madonna was taken from Nazareth to Iberia in 711, to be kept safe.
After the Legend of Nazaré, a chapel was built in this same spot, not only to protect the Black Madonna, but to also memorialize the miraculous event that saved Dom Fuas Roupinho.
The chapel is built across the square from the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazare, and next to Miradouro do Suberco. It is free to visit and takes just a few minutes, and well worth it to see one of Nazaré’s most important sites.
8. Miradouro do Suberco
This amazing viewpoint gives you a bird’s eye view over Praia da Nazaré. It’s free to visit and a great spot to visit from sunrise to sunset.
Miradouro do Suberco | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
9. Nazaré Funicular
To get from Sitio down to Praia da Nazaré, or vice versa, the best way to do it is via the Nazaré funicular. For a few euros, this handy funicular can save you lots of time and a very long uphill or downhill walk. If you don’t want to pay the fee, you can walk the switch backing path next to the funicular.
For hours and pricing, click here.
A view of the funicular from Praia
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Sometimes the funicular closes for maintenance, as it did during our visit in September. When this happens, you can take the bus between Praia and Sitio, hire an Uber, or walk the steep trail next to the funicular.
10. Praia da Nazaré
This long, wide, sandy beach sits in front of the neighborhood of Praia. In the summer, it’s a great spot to sunbathe and go swimming. It is also home to two places mentioned next, the open-air boat museum and the dried fish market.
Praia da Nazaré | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
11. See the Boats of Nazaré
On Praia da Norte there is an open-air museum of historic boats, also called Barcos Salva Vidas. This collection of colorful boats dates back to over 100 years ago. Each boat has an informational sign, indicating its use as a rescue boat or fishing boat.
Since Nazaré is an extremely dangerous place for fisherman to work (could you imagine braving those enormous waves on your daily commute?) there were also rescue boats to help support the fisherman and the livelihood of Nazaré.
12. Seca do Peixe, the Dried Fish Museum
Also located on Praia da Nazaré, just a few steps from the open-air boat museum, is the dried fish museum. Here fish are dried along the beach, as a traditional way of preserving the fish. The fish are for sale or you can simply walk through the museum/market for free.
Dried Fish Museum | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
13. Dine on Fresh Seafood
One of the best things to do in Nazaré is to dine on the fresh seafood the comes right from the sea.
There are a lot of restaurants that get great reviews in Nazaré, but here are some of our favorites:
Restaurante Casa Pires – A Sardinha. Located in Sitio, this is one of the best places in town to dine on grilled sardines (a must to try at least once while in Portugal!). This restaurant is located near the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré and is a popular spot with locals. If you want a great meal without paying a lot, this is our top pick.
Grilled sardines at Restaurante Casa Pires
Taberna d’Adelia. This Michelin-starred restaurant serves fresh fish and seafood in a beautiful setting. It is located in Praia, near the main market. We had the lobster rice which was amazing.
Pangeia. Located in Perderneira, this restaurant has a hilltop setting and one of the best views you can get from a restaurant in Nazaré. They are well known for their octopus, with the Octopus Trilogy being their best seller. This dish is split between two or three people and contains octopus cooked three different ways. We recommend Pangeia for those looking for a fine dining experience, a meal with a view, and those who love octopus.
Dining at Pangeia
14. Miradoura da Perderneira
This viewpoint, which is located in the hills above Praia da Nazaré, and just a short walk from Pangeia, is one of the best sunset spots in Nazaré.
Miradoura da Perderneira | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
Best Things to Do in Nazaré: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Best Things to Do in Nazaré on a Day Trip
If you plan to visit Nazaré on a day trip, here are the best things to do:
- Visit Sitio and tour the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré
- Walk out to São Miguel Arcanjo Fort
- If you want to see the beach cave, hike down to Praia do Norte
- Praia da Nazaré (see the open air boats and dried fish museums)
- Have lunch or dinner (the grilled sardines are cheap and delicious!)
If You Plan to Spend the Night in Nazare
If you plan to spend at least one day and one night in Nazaré, do everything we mentioned above, plus another dinner at one of Nazaré’s wonderful restaurants. If you want to dine with a sunset view, it’s hard to beat Pangeia.
In the morning and evening, Nazaré is very quiet, as are its beaches. This is a great time to go for a stroll along Praia do Norte or Praia da Nazaré.
What We Did
We spent two nights in Nazaré, using one day to visit Nazaré and the second for day trips to nearby sites. Tim and I really enjoyed our time in Nazaré, and it’s one of our favorite Portuguese towns, but you can also go on some great day trips from here.
If you have plans to visit Nazaré between October and March, I think it’s worth spending two to three nights here (or more), to see if you get lucky to see the monster waves and to go on day trips.
Praia da Nazaré | Best Things to Do in Nazaré
Things to Do Near Nazaré
The Alcobaça Monastery is a Gothic monastery that was built by monks of the Cistercian Order. Construction began in 1178. There is a lot to see here, but the highlights are the church, the multiple cloisters, the royal tombs, the old and new kitchen, and the dormitory.
The Alcobaça Monastery is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This Dominican convent was constructed between 1386 and 1517, in commemoration of the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota. It later became a burial church for Portuguese royalty.
On a visit here, you will see the church (the nave is incredible to see), visit the Founder’s Chapel (the first royal pantheon in Portugal), the royal cloisters, and the unfinished chapels. The Batalha Monastery is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fátima is an important pilgrimage site in Portugal. Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The Chapel of Apparitions stands on the place where this occurred. Also in Fátima are the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity.
Tomar is the farthest location on this list from Nazaré. It is home to the Convent of Christ, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to 1160 and the Portuguese headquarters of the Knights Templar.
Inside the Convent of Christ
Where to Stay in Nazaré
We stayed at the Iris Apartment in Praia. This property gets rave reviews on TripAdvisor. They offer two 3-bedroom apartments with a kitchen and washing machine. There are two parking spaces for guests (a nice bonus, as finding parking can be challenging in Nazaré). From the apartments, it is a short walk to Praia da Nazaré and a 10-minute walk to the funicular.
Seven Seas Apartments offers one and two bedroom apartments and also gets fantastic reviews.
If you want a beach front location, take a look at Resort Holidays Nazaré, which has multiple three bedroom beachfront villas. This property is located at the southern end of Praia da Nazaré so it will be a longer walk or drive to the sights in town.
If you want to stay closer to Sitio and the fort, take a look at Sonho do Mar Apartments, which offers 2-bedroom apartments and an outdoor pool.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to spend one day in Nazaré?
With one day a Nazaré, don’t miss the São Miguel Arcanjo Fort, the hidden beach cave on Praia do Norte, touring the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, dining on grilled sardines, and seeing the historic boats and dried fish on display on Praia da Nazaré.
Is Nazaré worth it?
With its giant waves in the winter months, Nazaré is now one of the world’s best surfing locations. This Portuguese beachfront town is also home to many fabulous seafood restaurants, long stretches of sandy beaches, and a few historic sites to visit. Nazaré also makes a great place to visit several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and pilgrimage sites in Portugal, including Alcobaça Monastery, Fátima, and Batalha Monastery.
Is Nazaré worth a day trip?
With its long white sandy beaches, giant waves, and hidden beach cave, Nazaré is well worth a day trip. Dine on fresh sardines and octopus, learn about the Legend of Nazaré, and visit one of the most picturesque coastal towns in Portgal.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Nazaré, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Portugal
PORTUGAL ITINERARY: If you have 10 days in Portugal, here are 5 different ways to plan your trip.
PORTO: We cover the best things to do in Porto in our Porto Bucket List. In our Guide to the Wine Cellars in Gaia, get recommendations on which wine cellars to visit and how to plan your time. See the best of Porto in our 2 Days in Porto Itinerary.
ALGARVE, PORTUGAL: Here are 10 gorgeous beaches to visit in the Algarve. Learn how to hike the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail, one of the most beautiful walks in Europe. Don’t miss our guides to Ponta da Piedade and Algar Seco, find out where to stay in our Algarve Hotel Guide, get a list of the best restaurants in Albufeira, and learn why October is the perfect time to visit the Algarve.
ÓBIDOS: Óbidos is a hillside town that is a joy to explore. Learn more in our Guide to Óbidos.
SINTRA: In our article Best Things to Do in Sintra, we cover the top sights to see in Sintra. In our article One Day in Sintra, we provide three different ways to plan a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon.
We have TONS more information about Portugal in our Portugal Travel Guide, including Lisbon, Sintra, Porto, the Algarve, and the Douro Valley.
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