Taking a surf trip to Portugal started as a dream. During a particularly New England winter (well, harsh for a California native), I distinctly remember fervently googling “Best places to surf in the fall” and repeatedly reading about Portugal.
After two years of lockdowns that were particularly severe in Europe, the thought of European travel didn’t feel very realistic- but things were starting to open up, and the world was returning to some semblance of normalcy.
Fast forward to about 9 months later, and I’m wrapping up my 2 month Portugal surf trip. It went nothing like I thought it would, I spent way more money than I thought I would, and the surf was nothing like I thought it would be! In short, my Portugal surf trip went how most trips go- absolutely nothing like you expect.
What I did find on my Portugal surf trip:
- The kindest locals
- Rugged, beautiful coastlines
- Stunningly beautiful surf in the Algarve
- Heavy barrels
There is a lot of misinformation out there on surfing in Portugal, and planning a surf trip to Portugal. I know this because I spent about 6 months researching my surf trip to Portugal, and after spending a few months surfing in Portugal, a lot of things didn’t add up.
So, I’ve written this Portugal surfing guide to help other surfers plan a trip to Portugal.
Portugal surfing overview
Portugal has a ton of coastline, and a lot of diversity in its coastline. In the south, you’ll find warmer waters, dramatic cliff sides, and a ton of beach breaks, reef breaks, and a great variety of surf.
In the Lisbon area, you have a ton of surf, and a lot of city beaches.
Up north you have much colder water, and more rugged surf conditions.
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Portugal surfing seasons
Like most surf destinations in the world, the time of year you plan your trip is going to drastically influence how the waves are. If you’re planning a surf trip to Portugal, I highly recommend you plan your surf trip accordingly- there is a TREMENDOUS difference between the surf in July, and the surf in December in Portugal.
In the summer, the waves in Portugal are very small. The more sheltered breaks might be completely flat, and the exposed breaks will see some solid waves for beginners, and the occasional decent sized waves for intermediates. The water is really warm in the summer, and a lot of surfers simply wear board shorts/bikinis, or a springsuit. The summer crowds in Portugal are pretty insane. It gets very, very crowded- Portugal is definitely no longer a secret, the word is out!
The fall surf in Portugal offers a really nice mix of summer and winter conditions. In early fall, you still get the warm waters of summer.
But, you also get some more consistent surf, and decent sized waves. In September, the surf is still pretty small in Portugal, and it really starts to pick up in late October/November, when it gets big. We had an amazing time surfing in Portugal in October- it’s truly one of the best places in the world for an October surf trip.
The winter surf in Portugal is pretty insane. Nazare goes off, and the surf is pretty consistently overhead at most exposed breaks. It’s a good time for advanced + big wave surfers- not so much for the beginners & intermediates. Oh, and it starts to get pretty cold- bring out the 4/3, booties, and earplugs!
The spring surf is a pretty mixed bag. The water is still pretty cold, and there are still a lot of bigger swells. Spring is also the windiest season for the surf in Portugal, causing surfers to seek more sheltered breaks. However, it’s not nearly as crowded as the summer, and the spring can bring plenty of amazing surf to Portugal- it’s just not as consistent.
Best season for a Portugal surf trip
The best season to go on a Portugal surf trip really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a beginner, I recommend going in the summer! Also, check out my guide to the best beginner surf spots in Portugal. You’ll enjoy warm water, and small, beginner-friendly waves. If you’re an intermediate surfer, I recommend going in the fall, when the surf gets a little bigger. For advanced surfers, I recommend going in late fall-winter.
Planning a surf trip to Portugal? Check out our new guide to the BEST Portugal surf camps!
Portugal surf regions
The Algarve is the region encompassing most of southern Portugal, with coastlines to the west and south of the country. It’s characterized by dramatic cliffsides, rugged, undeveloped beaches, and national parks.
While the Algarve definitely isn’t as untouched as it was 10 years ago, it still maintains its natural charm and the nature and open spaces in the Algarve serve as a very stark contrast to the areas around Lisbon and Ericeira.
The surf in the Algarve is awesome. There’s a nice mix of beach and reef breaks, and from pretty much anywhere in the area, you can drive to 5 different surf spots in 30 minutes. Here are the different Algarve surf regions:
Aljezur is by far my favorite surf region not just in the Algarve, but in all of Portugal. The whole area has a chill surf vibe, and everything has a very rustic feel. The surf in Aljezur is amazing. You’ve got the consistent beach break Arrifana, awesome waves and crazy cliffs at Bordeira, and a string of reef breaks hidden all up and down the coast. If you want a large variety of surf in one of the most beautiful areas of the Algarve, definitely visit Aljezur.
Check out my Aljezur surf guide for in-depth information on all the different surf breaks in the area.
While you’re at it, check out my Arrifana Travel Guide.
Sagres is right at the tip of Portugal, and it’s got a few different surf beaches to check out. On the west coast, the main beach to surf at is Tonel. It’s mega crowded in the summer, and barrels in the winter. On the south coast in Sagres, you’ve got Praia Mareta, which needs a very specific swell direction to produce rideable waves- the rest of the year, it’s pretty much a lake.
For more on surfing at the “end of the world”, check out my Sagres surf guide.
The south coast of the Algarve doesn’t see much action in the way of surf, except for during the winter when it gets the right swells. Since the surf on the south coast is so sheltered, the south coast surf spots are good for beginner surfers visiting in the winter, when the surf is too big at all the west coast spots.
For an in-depth guide on the Algarve surf regions and surf spots, check out my Algarve surf guide.
Lisbon is the industrial port city capital of Portugal, and a lot of people call it the best surf city in the world. And, Lisbon is very close to tons of high quality surf breaks, so I understand the title.
However, Lisbon isn’t the type of surf town where you can walk from the city to the surf. You’ve got to take the train, bus, or drive from Lisbon to its nearby surf spots in Costa da Caparica, Cascais, and Guincho. The traffic is pretty terrible too- I definitely wouldn’t want to be caught driving from Lisbon to Costa da Caparica during rush hour.
If you’re planning a quick surf trip to Portugal, I wouldn’t recommend staying in Lisbon and planning to hit all the nearby surf spots. However, I would recommend staying in a beach town like Costa da Caparica or Cascais so you’re in close proximity to the surf. Here are some of the main surf spots/ area you’ll find in Lisbon:
Costa da Caparica
Costa da Caparica (pronounced Coshta da Caparica” is a surf town just south of Lisbon, on the other side of the bridge. It has a very urban feel, and miles of surf. Costa da Caparica is also one of the best places to buy a surfboard in Portugal.
Carcavelos is just north of Lisbon, and like Costa da Caparica, it has a very urban feel. Waves break all the way up and down the beach, with some of the best surf being all the way on the southern end by the fort, and all the way up north. Since it’s so close to Lisbon, it gets CROWDED here, and the vibe in the water can be a little agro.
Praia do Guincho is just up the coast from the luxe resort town Cascais, and the west-facing beach picks up swell all year long, making it a good option for surfing even when other Lisbon surf spots are flat.
Guincho isn’t just known for surfing though- it’s often called the windiest beach in Portugal, making it very popular with windsurfers.
About one hour north of Lisbon, you’ll find Ericeira, the “Surf Capital of Europe”. This surf town hosts a whole collection of world-class surf breaks, and 7 of those breaks are part of the World Surfing Reserve. Ericeira was about as similar to a California surf town as I found in Portugal, but with a very European flare, especially in the old town. Most of the surf breaks in Ericeira are reef breaks, but there are a few beach breaks strewn in the mix as well. Depending on what time of the year you visit, Ericeira has some of the best surf spots in Portugal for intermediate and advanced surfers. Coxos, Crazy Left, and the Cave are famous for their heavy barrels, and beaches like Praia de Ribeira d’ilhas have amazing, clean lines that are popular with surfers of all levels.
For more on Europe’s surfing capital, check out my Ericeira surf guide. If you want to stay in a fun surf camp, sharpen your surfing schools, and meet other likeminded surfers and travelers, check out my guide to the best surf camps in Ericeira.
Peniche is a small fishing village turned surf town. It’s home to some of the best surf spots in Portugal, including the super famous Supertubos, and Baleal, one of the most popular beginner surf beaches in Portugal.
Planning a surf trip to Peniche? Check out our guide to the best Peniche surf camps.
Nazare is one of the biggest waves in the world, and one of the most famous places in the world for big wave surfing. Located about a 90 minute drive north of Lisbon, this big wave at Praia do Norte comes alive at the end of October, and consistently throws out some of the biggest waves in the world all winter.
How to plan a Portugal surf trip
1. Pick your dates and book your flight!
However, once I use these platforms to find the cheapest flights, I always book directly with the airline- never use a third party booking site!
2. Book your accommodations or surf camp
The best accommodations for a surf trip to Portugal get snagged months in advance. Once you know where you want to go, book your accommodations using Booking.com, or you can book a surf camp from BookSurfCamps.com.
3. Book your rental car
Typically, the sooner in advance you book your rental car, the more money you save. I booked with Guerin, and they let you get a full refund up to 7 days before your contract starts.
My Portugal surf trip itinerary
We flew into Portugal with the intention of spending 3 months there working remotely and surfing. Over the course of two months, the plan was to spend a week in Lisbon, a week in Ericeira, rent a campervan and surf around the Algarve while wilderness camping, and then head north. The goal of that trip was to find a place that really resonated with us, and spend our final month there at the end of the trip to save money. Needless to say-that’s not what actually happened.
Here’s how it actually went:
Week 1: Lisbon
After a particularly rough overnight flight with Tap Air Portugal, we touched down at about 11am. We breezed through security, but were quickly confronted with the first hurdle of the trip: all our luggage had arrived, minus one surfboard. Rowan’s surfboard didn’t arrive, and the airline had no idea where it was. Tap’s customer service was pretty horrendous about the whole thing, and we still have not been compensated.
Anyway, we had plans to explore the historical sites of Lisbon, get used to the time change, and check out the nearby surfing areas. We took the train to Carcavelos, an energetic beach break with a very urban feel. The waves were pretty flat, and the only people surfing were at the very far northern end of the beach, where there were small beginner-friendly peaks rolling in.
We then rode the train further north to Cascais, a glitzy resort town with luxury shops and restaurants- the surf wasn’t great here either, as it was still early September, a little too early for the surf season.
We spent the next few days in Lisbon exploring, but we were very excited and eager to make it south- so we packed up a night early and headed to Arrifana.
Week 2: Arrifana
The drive to Arrifana from Lisbon took about 3 hours. We skipped the toll roads by driving down the more scenic coast road, and our drive south was lined with Olive trees, cows, and farms as far as the eye could see.
Once we arrived at Arrifana, our jaws literally dropped. We were in one of the most beautiful beach towns I had ever seen, with old white European buildings dotting the dramatic cliff sides leading down to the large surf beach below, Praia Arrifana. That first night we were greeted with glassy, fun waves, and I felt like I was finally home.
One night: Sagres
I remember thinking to myself, “If the first beach town we visited was this amazing, surely it only gets better from here!”
Man, was I wrong. We were sad to leave Arrifana, but sure that Sagres would be just as amazing, if not better. However, the beaches in Sagres are much more sheltered than the beaches in the Arrifana area further north, and we were greeted by extremely crowded, and very mediocre surf at the end of the world.
I’m told Sagres gets much, much better in the winter, and I believe it. It just wasn’t the place to be in mid-September, so back up to Arrifana it was.
Weeks 3-5: Arrifana
We spent the next 2 weeks surfing almost every day, working at the cowork, and exploring everything this beautiful area has to offer. There are three main surf beaches in the area, and they are all very different- when one isn’t working, it’s only a 10 minute drive to check out another, and this was great.
After about 3 weeks of surfing and exploring in the Arrifana area, it was time to head north. Once again, we were sad to leave, but excited to check out Ericeira, the surfing capital of Europe. However, as we were leaving, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this was not the last time we’d be in Arrifana.
Week 6: Ericeira
After leaving behind the sleepy surf towns of the Algarve, Ericeira felt like a big city. The roads were nice and paved, the buildings were taller, and there were more than three places to eat.
But the biggest difference of all was the surf. While the Algarve has beach breaks galore, with average-quality (albeit fun) waves, Ericeira has a line of beaches, all easily accessible off the main road, and almost all of them are world-class reef breaks.
While we were there, the surf was heavy but good, everywhere we went we saw professional and local surfers ripping. There were a handful of surf schools, but paddling out for the very first time on rocky reef breaks didn’t look like much fun to me- and it didn’t seem very fun for the students either.
For more advanced surfers who are comfortable surfing reef breaks, I can’t think of a better place to surf in Portugal than Ericeira. But for us, we missed the fun, unpredictable beach breaks around the Algarve- and back to Arrifana we went.
Weeks 7-9: Arrifana
The last few weeks of our Portugal surf trip were spent surfing as much as we could, and soaking up the beauty of the area. As the summer and early fall crowds left, prices dropped, and the beaches became far less busy- which was a really great end to the trip. Towards the end of October, the first big swells of the season started to hit Portugal. Up north, Nazare started to work, and the beaches in the Algarve got really big and unrideable.
However, the last night of our trip coincided with the tail end of that big swell, and we were treated to a glassy ocean, with perfect head-high waves, and the best surf session of the trip.
Portugal surf trip FAQS
Do you need a rental car for a Portugal surf trip?
It depends. If you’re booking a surf camp in Portugal, then your surf camp should cover all transportation to/from the beaches, in which case you won’t need a rental car.
However, if you’re planning your surf trip independently, I absolutely recommend renting a car. Portugal has a huge variety of surf spots all within driving distance. If you rent a car, you have the freedom to find the best waves in the area, depending on the conditions of where you are. We rented a car from Guerin, and while they’re not the cheapest out there, we had ZERO issues with them, and I would recommend them to anyone traveling to Portugal.
How much does a Portugal surf trip cost?
The prices for a Portugal surf trip are super dependent on the time of year you go. Portugal is super expensive in the high season (summer), and those prices are still high even going into the fall. The winter is by far the least expensive time for a Portugal surf trip.
Depending on your travel style and how long you go for (if you stay for a month+ you’ll get a better rate on accommodations), a Portugal surf trip will cost anywhere from $40-$150+ per day.
Between a rental car, food, fuel, and accommodations, I was spending about $70/day in Portugal. That does not include shopping I did, how much I spent when I bought a surfboard, or the price of flights.
Is Portugal safe?
When you take the usual precautions, Portugal is absolutely safe. Portuguese people are incredibly kind and respectful, and I always felt safe while I was there.
The only incident we had while traveling in Portugal was having our car broken into- we left something valuable in sight while surfing, and someone took advantage, broke into our car, and stole it. Car theft isn’t even that common in Portugal compared to other countries. We just started to feel a little too safe, didn’t take our normal precautions of never leaving anything valuable in the rental car, and someone took advantage. Lesson learned!
Does Portugal have good surfing for beginners?
If you’re a beginner planning a Portugal surf trip, I recommend heading to the Algarve, or surfing in Costa da Caparica, where there is plenty of good surfing for beginners. The waves are smallest and best for beginners in the summer.If you’re visiting in the winter, I recommend finding a very sheltered beach to surf at- a surf break on the south coast might be your best bet in winter.
How thick of a wetsuit do you need to surf in Portugal?
In the summer, you can get away with a spring suit, or a 3/2 on colder days. In the winter, a 4/3 and booties will be perfect.
In the early fall, I wished I had a spring suit, it was WAY too warm for a 4/3, and most days I pulled the top down and only surfed with my wetsuit legs on. Even on the coldest days in fall a 4/3 was a little too warm for me, but if I had stayed through winter I would have been grateful for the extra warmth.
Portugal surf trip- final thoughts
Overall, I absolutely loved surfing in Portugal. The coastlines are insanely beautiful, the water is nice, clear, and clean, and the waves are fun. I 100% see myself returning to this amazing country to surf again.
If you’re considering planning a surf trip to Portugal- just go! You won’t regret it.