The best guide to Nazaré and Central Portugal
Nazare is one of the finest beach resorts in Portugal, and is an outstanding destination for a holiday. The town is situated on a wide bay of golden sands and stands in the shadow of the towering Sítio headland. Historically, this headland provided shelter for the fishing fleet and the boats were moored high up on the sands, safe from the ferocity of the ocean.
Today, fishing has succumbed to tourism, but Nazaré is proud of its heritage, and the town has lost little of its character. Cobbled streets lead from the beachfront, fishermen’s houses have been converted into stylish hotels, and old women still wear traditional dress.
In the summer months, Nazare is a bustling and vibrant holiday destination, which attracts a diversity of nationalities and range of ages. The winter draws a wholly different type of tourist, daredevil surfers, who come to surf the colossal waves that break off the Praia do Norte beach.
For a holiday there is a lot to love about Nazaré: there is delicious sea food, beautiful scenery and a social holiday atmosphere. As a day trip, Nazaré is as equally appealing, combining historic monuments with a glorious beach. This article will provide an introduction to Nazaré.
One of Nazare’s main attractions is that it is a multi-cultured and multi-aged destination, which is suitable for all. In the lively seafood restaurants, sun-burnt tourists and Portuguese families can be found eating together, while later the bars are filled with a mix of European languages.
The summer season tends to attract a younger crowd and families, and the low season is popular with more mature tourists and visitors touring Portugal. I would happily recommend Nazaré to my younger party-loving sister or my more mature parents; all will love Nazaré.
Nazaré is a highly regarded holiday destination that is popular with both Portuguese and foreign visitors. In the summer hotels sell-out, the vast beach will be crowded, and reservations are needed for the best restaurants. The town will feel crowded and hectic, but this is no different to the Algarve or any other Europe holiday destination.
If you are planning a summer holiday to Nazaré, always book your accommodation as far-in-advance as possible, as the town will sell-out. This is especially true for 2019 as Portugal is experiencing a massive growth within tourism, and demand for accommodation will outstrip supply. For reviews of the best hotels in Nazare please see Booking.com.
The map below shows the location of hotels and rental rooms in CascaisNazaré, and by altering the date to your holiday, the map will display current prices:
Nazaré has a single massive beach, the Praia da Nazaré, which extends for 1.5km from the Sítio headland in the north to the fishing harbour in the south. The beach has soft golden sands and is of a very high standard, but the sea waters are shockingly cold, reaching only 18C in the summer.
In the peak months the beach is supervised by lifeguards, but care must always be taken as there can be powerful currents and waves. The beach has a host of water activities, including stand up paddle boards, kayaks and jet-skis (hired from the harbour).
There is a second huge beach on the northern side of the Sítio headland, the Praia do Norte. This vast beach extends for many kilometres and has a beautiful, natural setting, with almost no tourist development, but it is the huge waves which makes the beach famous. The winter winds, currents and the under-sea geology combine to form staggering 30m waves, which only the most brave and experienced would even consider surfing. The summer waves are minor in comparison, and the exposed, windswept nature of the beach does not lend itself to summertime relaxing.
The village of Sítio da Nazaré and the Sítio headland contain the prominent tourist attractions of Nazaré, and is the area to explore on a day trip. Sítio da Nazaré is located at the top of Monte Sítio and the village has a pretty historic centre along with wonderful views of the coastline.
At the centre of Sítio is the grand baroque Igreja Nossa Senhora da Nazaré church, which houses an ancient statue of the Virgin Mary. This small statue is unique, as it is a Black Madonna feeding baby Jesus. The statue is believed to have been carved in Nazareth (Israel), and its arrival in Nazaré (Portugal) gave the town its name.
At the western tip of the Sítio headland is the Farol da Nazaré lighthouse and the Miguel Arcanjo Fort. This area is all about extreme surfing and the Praia do Norte waves. Inside the fort are informative exhibits about the surfing culture of the region, and including surfboards and pictures of the extreme surfing.
Nazare is an ideal holiday destination if you want more than just beaches and good weather for your holiday. Within the surrounding region are many interesting towns, including Batalha, Alcobaça, Sao Martinho do Porto, Leiria and Peniche. All of these towns can be reached using public transport.
Slightly further away is the pilgrimage destination of Fatima and the charming walled town of Obidos. With a rental car, the Serras de Aire e Candeeiros nature park can be explored along with the pristine coastline north of Nazare.
Related articles: Guide to Batalha - Guide to Obidos
Nazare is a good destination for a family holiday, and the town is popular with Portuguese families. Nazare has not been overrun by drink-fuelled tourism as has happened with the major resort towns of the Algarve (Albufeira, Lagos and Praia da Rocha), and at the height of the summer there is an equal mix of families and couples.
Nazare has added the benefit of being a large town with many facilities and a good selection of shops. The Portuguese are very accommodating of children, who will be welcomed in all restaurants and hotels. An activity popular with families is the Norpark waterpark, close to the Praia do Norte (GPS: 39.612930, -9.08057), which is open during the summer season.
Some of the world’s highest waves are found between the Sítio headland and the southern section of the Praia do Norte beach. There are a number of factors which give rise to the giant waves:
• A deep marine trench that extends from the shoreline and channels the water
• A southernly current along the Praia do Norte
• Two wave directions that are angled together at different depths/speeds
• Winter swells and winds
These factors combine to create colossal waves but are limited to a very narrow stretch of sea. The highest surfed wave was by Garrett McNamara in January 2013 and had a height of 100 feet (30m). Respect.
There is nothing the Portuguese enjoy more during a long day on the beach, than a Bola de Berlim. This delicious custard filled doughnuts were traditionally sold by old women who would wander along the beach, while the sticky mess of sugar and custard from eating them could be washed off in the sea. The old women can no longer sell them (hygiene laws), but there are two shops on the beach promenade which sell them.
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