Nazaré is recently known for its beaches and giant waves, but it has been a popular holiday destination for the Portuguese for a century. Traditionally, it is a fishing town with fascinating peculiarities related to the people and the sea, making it symbolic in Portugal. Come and discover the best things to do in Nazaré, but also learn about its culture and people.
Located in central Portugal, in the district of Leiria, Nazaré is 99 km north of Lisbon and 220 km south of Porto. The city gained international fame in 2011 after surfer Garrett McNamara surfed the biggest wave in the world at 23.77m high, breaking a Guinness Book record. From that moment, the city has become a Mecca for surfers looking for the biggest waves in the world. There are several surfing competitions every year, especially from November to March when the waves are bigger.
But long before surfing, the city was always associated with the sea and fishing. They are dedicated to traditional fishing called Arte Xávega, a fishing method involving encircling and trawling the fish with a net on the high seas, 2 to 4 km from the coast.
In addition, the city is known for the seven skirts costume, a traditional outfit worn by women fishmongers who sold dried fish. Even today, it is possible to find some Nazarenas with the typical seven skirts but selling dried fish, nuts, and snacks for tourists. Nazaré is a reference place in Portugal for beachgoers, attracting many people in the summer, as it is a long-standing tradition.
It is a city with a sense of autonomy and even isolation from the rest of Portugal. Going to Nazaré is almost like entering a very characteristic and peculiar world. In this Nazare travel guide, we will answer all your questions about visiting Nazaré – what to see, do, eat, where to stay and when to go.
What to visit in Nazaré?
#1 Fisherman’s neighborhood, Nazaré
The village of Nazaré comprises three areas, the beach and fishermen’s district, Sítio da Nazaré, and Pederneira. The fishermen’s quarter and the beach of Nazaré are located in a valley surrounded by hills; to the north is Sítio, behind (to the east) is Pederneira and to the south is Serra da Boavista.
The fishermen’s neighborhood is located by the sea and is made up of a tangle of houses and buildings painted in white, with narrow streets perpendicular to the sea. The village has little room to expand, so it’s packed with a very interconnected community. The concentration of white houses where the fishermen lived makes the town very beautiful.
Nazaré has been a famous holiday destination for a long time, and it is typical for Nazarenes to rent their houses or spare rooms to tourists in the summer. It is common to find Nazarenas wearing their seven skirts traditional costumes while advertising rooms for rent. Don’t be surprised if they come to you and offer you a room.
One of the most fun things to do in the fishermen’s quarter is to get lost in its cobblestone streets. You will find small shops, several restaurants, the municipal market, the town hall, the chapels of Santo António and Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos.
Note: It is not easy or pleasant to drive within Nazaré village. It’s virtually impossible to find parking in the summer, so it’s best to park your car in the new part of town close to the big shops and walk to the beach. It’s not far and makes the experience much more relaxing.
#2 Nazaré Municipal Market
The Municipal Market of Nazaré is not one of the prettiest markets in the country, but it is an interesting market and an excellent place to buy fresh fish, vegetables, and fruits. Furthermore, it is located in the middle of the village, making it very easy to get there. The market is open every morning until 1:00 pm except Monday. Product prices may vary, and try to negotiate prices, especially if they seem exaggerated.
On the other hand, if you want to buy a souvenir from Nazaré, the market is not the best place. There are plenty of shops on the beachfront and in Sitio, where you can find the typical wool sweaters and the little Nazarenas dolls with seven skirts, among other adorable things.
#3 Praia da Nazaré
Nazaré beach is one of the most famous beaches in Portugal, even before it was known for its surf waves. In the past, the beach was used by fishermen who went out to sea to fish, and when they returned, they spread their fishing nets on the sand while the women prepared and dried the fish.
With the construction of the Nazaré port, the fishing activity was concentrated there, and the beach became fully available for bathers. Despite changes in tradition, fish continues to be dried on the beachfront. Yet, it’s more a matter of preserving tradition than of necessity.
The council of Nazaré decided to dry the fish, creating the Museu Vivo do Peixe Seco, recreating the drying line for the fish on the beachfront. In addition, every Saturday from May to June, there is a recreation of artisanal Arte Xávega fishing on the Nazare beach.
The beach of Nazaré is a beautiful half-moon-shaped sandy beach. The north side of the beach is protected by a huge cliff that enters through the sea. On top of the ridge is the Sítio da Nazaré. The beach has a long strand of thick yellow sand and a rough sea with strong waves. However, the famous giant waves are not here; they are on Praia Norte (North beach)
It’s a blue flag, lifeguarded beach, but even so, it’s important to have some respect for the sea. The sea temperature is usually pretty cold, between 16º and 18º C. The beach is full of textile tents with colorful stripes. You can rent these to shelter from the sun and wind. The beach also has showers and toilets and is accessible for people with reduced mobility. It is easily one of the best beaches in Portugal.
#4 Nazare funicular
One of the most emblematic things about Nazaré and something you have to do is to take the lift from the village of Nazaré to Sítio. The Nazaré funicular allows you to travel from the town of Nazaré to Sitio, at the top of the headland. The funicular was built in 1889 by Raul Mesnier du Ponsard, a disciple of Eiffel.
The elevator journey is slow and very safe; it climbs 318 m with a 42% slope. There are two funiculars, with a waiting time of 15 minutes, but during the summer, the waiting time will be longer due to the influx of people. The ticket price is €2 and €4 round trip.
Alternatively, you can take the stairs made with Portuguese pavement, the path is challenging with many steps, but there are several places to rest and enjoy the spectacular views. And there’s a surprise along the way, the Nazaré swing, a recent landmark, where you can take beautiful pictures and have a little fun. Very instafriendly.
If you don’t want to go up the stairs, we suggest taking the elevator up and walking down the stairs to Nazaré beach.
#5 Suberco lookout, Sítio
The Suberco lookout or Miradouro do Sítio, as it is better known, is located at the top of the headland in the Sítio neighborhood. It is the most beautiful place in the city and the best place to enjoy the beach, the village of Nazaré, and watch the sunset. The view is extraordinary.
In the viewpoint, there are benches made of stone that are part of the wall, where you can rest and enjoy the view. Near the viewpoint is the chapel of Memory and stalls with sweets and dried fruits to be sold by Nazarenas dressed up in their seven skirts.
#6 Chapel of Memory on the Site
The Chapel of Memory is strongly linked to the legend of Our lady of Nazaré and the city’s history. According to legend, D. Fuas Roupinho, a Portuguese nobleman, was hunting when he saw a white deer, which he continued. Both headed for a cliff, but as it was a dense fog, they didn’t realize the danger. When D. Fuas was going to fall down the cliff, he prayed to the Virgin Mary and asked her to save him. The horse’s legs got stuck in the rock at that moment, saving him from death. As a form of gratitude, D. Fuas had a chapel built in the Ermida da Memória.
The small chapel became a place of pilgrimage and worship. Inside it is decorated with blue tiles and has an altar. There is a cave on the lower floor of the chapel, but it is closed to visitors; you can only see a statue of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré at the entrance. It is also said that there is a footprint of Dona Fuas’ horse where he got stuck in the rocks.
#7 Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, in Sítio
The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré is located in the main square of the Sítio, close to the ChSanctuaryemory and the lookout. The sanctuary is dedicated to Our Lady of Nazaré and was made to welcome pilgrims. It was built sanctuary D. Fernando I.
Inside the sanctuary is a statue of Our Lady of Nazaré, a blaSanctuary. And the walls of the sanctuary are covered in tiles. It is a simple but important sanctuary. Next to the sanctuary is the Nazaré Hospital, which currently operates as a Continuing Care Unit.
One of the most important celebrations in Nazaré is the feast of Our Lady of Nazaré on the 8th of September, in which an open-air mass and a Sanctuary in front of the sanctuary, among other things.
#8 São Miguel Arcanjo Fort, in Sítio
The São Miguel Arcanjo Fort is located at the tip of the Nazaré cliff, strategically in front of the North beach and the ocean. D. Sebastião built the fort in 1577 to protect the city against pirates and privateers. Centuries later, a lighthouse was built to help fishermen signal the coast.
It is currently the observation point for the giant waves of Nazaré. Surfer GarrfortMcNamara was photographed and filmed from the fort when he surfed the biggest wave in the world at 23.77m high, breaking a Guinness Book surfing 2011. It is also where surfers are evaluated in the surf competitions. The fort is very popular for surfers and surf-lovers who want to see the giant waves of the Nazaré canyon.
Inside the lighthouse is the Nazaré Canyon Interpretive Center, where the phenomenon of wave formation is explained, and there is the Surfer Wall, an exhibition of photos of famous surfers worldwide.
#9 Nazaré Canyon
The Nazaré Canyon is an underwater 200 km long and 5000 m deep canyon. A fault in the continental plate causes giant waves on the North beach in Nazaré, reaching the coast with almost no energy dissipation.
In addition to the giant waves, the Nazaré Canyon promotes an influx to the surface of waters rich in nutrients and plankton, attracting different types of fauna.
#10 Praia do Norte / North beach
Praia do Norte is a beach that is located north of Sítio. It is a deserted and wild beach with extensive sand. There is no surveillance, and it is not recommended to go to the beach or take a bath. Furthermore, Praia do Norte is a unique beach in Portugal and the world due to its giant waves. The beach has waves over 15 meters in winter caused by the Nazaré canyon, which means the waves reach the coast without energy loss.
This has made the beach a Mecca for surfers, becoming well-known in 2011 when Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara surfed the biggest wave in the world. Later in 2017, Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa set a new world record with a wave of 24.38m. Some world surfing competitions are held at North beach. The waves are highest between October and March. In addition to the giant waves, the beach is very windy, offering ideal conditions for bodyboarding, kitesurfing, and windsurfing.
To get to Praia do Norte, take the North road, next to the pine forest at Casa de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré and the Norpark amusement park.
#11 Pederneira Viewpoint
Pederneira is one of the areas of the village of Nazaré and is located on a hill east of Nazaré beach. The neighborhood has great historical value as it was once the birthplace of Nazare. Until 1912 the municipality and the parish were Pederneira, later changed to Nazaré. It even had a Mother Church and the Town Hall.
Besides, it is well worth going to Pederneira because of its viewpoint. The Pederneira Viewpoint, at the top of the hill, has unparalleled views of the beach, the fishermen’s quarter, and the headland where the Sítio da Nazaré is located. The viewpoint is situated near the Misericórdia Church, which you can also enjoy and visit.
Where to stay in Nazare?
Although Nazaré is very touristy, it hasn’t many hotel options. However, it has many rooms and apartments for rent made available by the Nazarene women around the village advertising rooms. It is always a fun and exciting experience to arrange a room in this traditional way. Please note that finding a room during the high season can be challenging. So, if you don’t want to go that route and want to stay in a hotel, we have some recommendations:
Hotel Miramar Sul
This hotel has it all, an outdoor and indoor pool, fantastic views, free parking, mini golf, billiards, a restaurant, and a bar. The hotel is located in Pederneira and has a superb view of the beach and the village. It is a luxurious and good place to relax. Yet, it has a fault – it is not located near the beach, you can go on foot, but it is a long walk. Check more info here.
Praia Hotel is a charming hotel close to Nazaré beach, 150 meters from the beach. It is a hotel with everything you need, a swimming pool, restaurant, and gym. The only downside is not having free parking. We recommend this hotel as it is one of the best in Nazaré. Check more information and other reviews here.
Hotel Mar Bravo
Hotel Mar Bravo is on the beachfront, so it overlooks the beach. It is a hotel with a great location; it has a restaurant and free parking nearby. It’s the ideal place if you want to be in the center of the action with everything close by. Check prices and availability here.
Best time to visit Nazareth
Despite being primarily a beach destination, Nazaré is one of those places you can visit at any time of the year. In the summer you can enjoy the beach, bathing in the sea, and feel the whole holiday atmosphere, but it is also the busiest time, especially in August. On the other hand, in winter, despite not being able to go to the beach, it is an excellent time to visit the village of Nazaré and see the giant waves of Praia do Norte. It’s also the season for surfing championships.
Therefore, the best time to visit Nazare depends a lot on what you want to do; if you want to go to the beach and enjoy the sun and the holiday atmosphere, we recommend June, July, and September. If you’re going to see the splendor of the village of Nazaré, the surf, and the giant waves, the best time is October and November.
What to eat in Nazaré?
Nazare is the ideal place to eat fresh fish and seafood. There’s nothing like eating fresh grilled fish on a terrace overlooking the sea. The great spatialities of Nazare are:
- Fresh grilled fish
- Nazaré-style stew – made with various fish and potatoes cooked in a delicious sauce
- Seafood – shrimp, crab, barnacles, and clams
- Fish cataplana – a mixture of fish and potatoes made in a typical pan
- Dried fish – which you can buy at the fishmongers that sell the drying rack on the beachfront.
As for sweets, we have:
- Sweet sardines
- Támares – shaped like a boat and filled with egg candies
There are several excellent fish restaurants around the city; the difficulty is choosing which is best. The beachfront of Nazaré is full of good restaurants, of which we highlight O Casalinho. At Sítio da Nazaré, although the offer is smaller, there are several, and we have enjoyed eating at Luís Restaurant and at Paulo Caetano Restaurant. We like these as they always have fresh and delicious fish and the prices are not exaggerated.
How to go to Nazareth?
From Lisbon, the best way to get to Nazaré is via the A8 motorway, which is 122 km and takes 1h30 min. It is the most direct way and follows a more coastal route that allows access to other beach towns such as Peniche and Ericeira without taking a long detour. This motorway is paid and has sections that are only paid electronically, so cars must have this reader.
From Porto, the best way is also via the A17 and A8 highways, 213 km, and takes 2 hours. The highway is also paid, and you must have an electronic device. Alternatively, you can take the A1, exit Leiria, and take the Nacional N242 to Nazaré. It takes longer, 2h30, but on the other hand, you don’t have to have an electronic device to pay the highway. You can pay with cash or a card.
The best way to go to Nazaré by public transport is by bus. It’s cheap, comfortable and takes you directly to the city center. What’s more, you don’t have to think about parking lots. The two largest transport companies are Rede Rxpressos and the Flixbus. Both take 1h40 and cost around €10, and you can buy the ticket online.
As for the train, although we really like to travel by train, we do not recommend going to Nazaré this way. There is no direct route from Lisbon or Porto, and it is very complicated and time-consuming to go by train.
What to visit near Nazaré?
The village of Nazaré is surrounded by exciting places to visit. Some, due to their historical importance, are UNESCO heritage monuments, and others are spectacular beach towns. We list some destinations near Nazaré that you should see on a day trip from Nazaré. Or include them in an itinerary through central Portugal:
- Alcobaça – It has a beautiful convent, classified as a UNESCO heritage site, and the tombs of Pedro and Inês, monarchs who lived an incredible love story. In addition to having the best convent sweets in Portugal.
- Batalha – the Monastery of Batalha is considered one of the most significant Portuguese monuments and a UNESCO world heritage site.
- São Martinho do Porto – fantastic beach village with a unique bay with the shape of a semicircle and surrounded by mountains. It is another of the best beaches in Portugal.
- Peniche – Another city with a famous beach for surfing, beaches with ideal waves, and a place for surfing and bodyboarding competitions. It is also the access point to the Berlengas, one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.
- Leira – Pleasant city with an important castle
- Atlantic Road – A picturesque road that passes by beaches and is surrounded by the important forest of Leiria. The road goes from Praia do Norte in Nazaré to Praia do Osso in Pombal. In 2017, unfortunately, much of the forest was destroyed by a major fire.