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Watching the giants: Waves in Nazaré, Portugal

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Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 21/06/2024, 15:45

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

Portugal is special in many ways. Among things like food and laid back lifestyle, it also offers wonderful conditions for surfing for beginners and for those more advanced. The latter flock here at the end of the year to conquer the biggest waves, which can be seen in Nazaré, a small town only an hour away from Lisbon. And if you’re not such a daredevil, watching surfers riding the giants is an awesome experience.

I always wanted to see the waves in Nazaré. When I saw the pictures, it scared me a little. I couldn’t even imagine such force! I was brought up by the Baltic Sea and stormy waters are quite a usual sight for me. However, the ones in Nazaré are a little different and anyone who has ever seen the spectacle, will tell you that it’s something unusual and wonderful. After hearing so much about it, I decided to see it for myself. I watched the weather forecast and chose a day to go. Unfortunately, the waves weren’t that huge, but it was still a very enjoyable thing to witness.

If you’re in Portugal for a bit longer, don’t miss Nazaré. It’s not only a place, where you can see the giant waves, but it’s a lovely little town with a very interesting culture, good food and a nice beach. I would even advise staying here for a little while to relax and unwind.

a man dressed in black stands on top of a hill and watches the waves in nazare, portugal
During a storm like this, the shore looks completely white with waves crashing at the nearby rocks.

The interesting facts

If you’re interested in visiting Nazaré and witnessing this amazing spectacle, here’s some basic information for you.

The size

The waves in Nazaré reach amazing sizes. The biggest ones are around 30 meters high! Imagine that! Imagine standing on a beach and seeing them coming closer and closer to you….Brrr…It’s a bit like a scene from a horror movie!

Here’s a little video of how it looks.

Anyway, the days when the waves are that big are rare and you have to check daily for updates online (see below). More often you will see that they are around anything from 4 to 10 metres in height. If you don’t have a choice and can’t wait, go to Nazaré even if the waves are smaller. It’s still a beautiful thing to see.

The reason why they are so big

Waves are caused by currents and winds that push them towards the shore. Normally, they are slowed down by the ocean’s bottom. However, in Nazaré, just before the shore, they ‘fall’ into an underwater canyon, where they gather even more energy. This canyon is over 4,000 meters deep, which is mainly the reason why the waves are so huge.

The waves in Nazaré – Visitor Information

Here’s some basic information about watching the huge waves in Nazaré, Portugal.

When to see the giant waves in Nazaré, Portugal?

The waves cannot be seen all year round. The spectacle starts around December and lasts until March. Again, they don’t occur every day and you need to keep an eye on the forecasts.

There are a few sites, where you can check it:

Where to see the waves in Nazaré?

The town lays right on the coast, by a beach. However, the main beach is not where you should head. You need to go up the cliff, to Farol da Nazaré, the lighthouse.

a man sitting on a chair watching waves in nazare, portugal
Watching the big waves in Nazare is hypnotising. Some people choose to come here for a whole day.

You can watch the waves from one of the hills. It gives you a great perspective over the ocean and the nearby beach. If the waves are particularly big, you will see how small the lighthouse is.

Don’t miss going inside the lighthouse. There is a little museum there with the surfboards of those that conquered the biggest ones. You can also walk up the stairs, to the top, where you will be even closer to the action. The entrance costs 1 Euro.

Getting there by car

A car would be your best bet to get to Nazaré. It’s only about an hour away from Lisbon and the road is very straightforward. If you don’t have your own 4 wheels, don’t worry. Renting a car in Portugal is very easy and quite cheap.

parking in nazare filled with cars near the main square
It’s hard to find parking here, but be patient. Just drive around and you’ll find something.

Once you get to the top of the cliff, finding a parking space might be a challenge, if you’re visiting on the weekend and when the waves are supposed to be bigger. It gets really crowded. However, if you drive around a bit, you will find something for sure. Just remember that you can’t park near the lighthouse unless it’s not crowded. You need to park around the square, or somewhere in the small alleys nearby.

If you don’t have your own transport

The cheapest ways to get to Nazaré is by bus. You can catch a Rede Expressos bus from Sete Rios station in Lisbon for 10 Euros each way. The tickets can be bought on their website, but from my experience it’s really hard to purchase them there. Sometimes the site doesn’t work, or they don’t accept foreign cards. You can go to the station and buy the tickets there, or save yourself some time and purchase them from Omio. It’s more expensive sometimes, but it’s hustle free and very reliable.

When you arrive in Nazaré, you can catch a tuk tuk to the lighthouse, or you can ride the 19-th century funicular, which slides on the side of the cliff. It costs 1.20 Euros each way.

Go on a tour

If you can’t be bothered organising your own transport and figuring out the way to get to the town, hire a guide. There are plenty of guided tours to Nazaré from Lisbon. Check out some of them here.

huge waves in nazare hitting the cliffs during a storm
The waves, the wind and the fog create a beautiful landscape.

Where to stay in Nazaré?

I would say that Nazaré is a lovely place for a short holiday. The main beach is beautiful, there are plenty of bars with fresh fish and seafood and it’s quiet enough to relax and unwind. Check out some of the best places to stay in the town.

Backpacker budget

Paz and Amor Guest House – a very nicely designed hostel, 500 metres from the centre. It offers rooms with private balconies, an open kitchen and an open lounge area.

By the Beach – private rooms with balconies and bathrooms, plus great location! The rooms are small, but clean and the area is great for relaxation.

Medium ranged budget

Casa Faroleiro – beautifully appointed apartments. It’s small, but has everything what you need for a relaxing holiday.

Hotel Ribamar – it’s situated just at the beachfront and some of the rooms have a view over the beach. There is also a small restaurant downstairs.

Luxurious

Miramar Hotel & Spa – you will not want to leave. Except comfortable rooms, this hotel offers swimming pools, Turkish baths, massages and a view over the beach and the ocean.

Hotel Praia – it’s located in the centre of the town. The beach is only 50 meters away. It offers a rooftop glass covered swimming pool from where you can see the town and the beach.

My experience

I have been to Nazaré a couple of times. Every time it was outside the Summer season and with an attempt to see the huge waves. I managed to do it only once in December and even then, they weren’t that big.

This year I really kept my eye on the weather forecasts and the sites I mentioned earlier. The biggest waves were always during the week, when I work and can’t do any trips. So, I had to wait.

Only around Christmas, the waves were big enough and I had enough time to travel to Nazaré.

I drove there first through the highway and then through the countryside, which is always a very interesting thing to do. There might not be that many exciting places, but you pass small villages and towns on the way and that’s a great insight into the country.

Once in Nazaré it was very hard to find a place to park. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had a great idea to go there at that time. It took me quite a few minutes and a bit of luck to finally find a parking space. The lighthouse was pretty far from the car, but the weather was nice and the streets of Nazaré are pleasant enough for a brisk stroll.

On the way I passed the main square of the area with the pretty Church of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré. Here you will also find the famous ladies dressed in seven colourful skirts selling nuts, dried fruit and some seafood. They are the symbol of the town and Nazaré is the only place where you can see them. No one actually knows why they wear these skirts. Some say that it’s to protect them from the wind, others that they used to be an extra ‘security’ against unwanted advances when their husbands were out at the sea. Whatever the reason is, they look really nice and add some extra flavour to this charming town.

an older lady dressed in seven skirts selling nuts in nazare
These ladies are very friendly and cheerful. They are the symbol of the town.

The path to the lighthouse is lined with some cheap fast food places. They are crowded during the weekends and the whole area has a festive atmosphere. It’s loud and cheerful.

Only when you finally reach the gate with a very weird sculpture of a half-deer, half human surfer, the noise and the hustle and bustle disappear and the only thing you hear is the roar of the ocean.

crowds of people walking to the lighthouse in nazare to watch the waves
The main route to the lighthouse was quite crowded.

That day the waves were around 4-8 meters, so not that big comparing to other days, but I was in awe! What a view that was. The first few hundred metres of the shore was white, covered in small, foamy waves. It swallowed the nearby beach and was progressing further down into the land.

The day was gloomy and the air filled with moisture turned into mysterious fog. It covered the hills and I could only vaguely see the windmills on the opposite side.

It was crowded, of course. Everyone wanted to see the most amazing spectacle provided by nature. But then, the ocean and the hills were so vast that people spread around the area and some of them looked like tiny pins.

groups of people watching big waves in nazare
It is crowded during the most busy times, but you can easily find a place to watch the waves in Nazaré.

The waves, even though a little smaller, looked really impressive and I stood there for a long time looking at them, admiring them and thinking that such force could wipe me away from the face of the Earth in a matter of seconds. That was a very humbling experience!

I will keep trying and see if I can see even bigger waves in Nazaré in the future. I hope I will be able to experience those that reach 10-20 meters. I’m not leaving Portugal any time soon, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to do so.

Do you have any questions? Would you like to share your experiences or your point of view? Don’t be shy! Leave a comment!