Merely two hours from Lisbon is the fishing village-cum-beach town of Nazaré, an incredibly popular spot for vacationing locals and their families.
This is a place that gets away with not having the architectural masterpieces or Roman ruins like other centres in Portugal. Instead, Nazaré draws its visitors with its long sunny days, wide golden beach, fresh seafood and easygoing lifestyle.
While we may have been in town for a very short time, it is the kind of place where you can easily chill for a week and get right into doing not much at all.
We jumped right into exploration mode as soon as we checked into our private room at Nazaré Hostel. No time to waste!
A good spot to kick things off in Nazaré is the beach, or praia. Here you’ll find a multitude of shops selling all things for the tourist: from swimwear and sunglasses to souvenirs and icy slushies. Sit at a café, grab a bite and soak in the atmosphere or simply head straight to the water and get wet.
From the esplanade, head to the Ascensor da Nazaré (€1.20) and take a ride up to Sítio, the old part of town located on a bluff 318m above Praia. The funicular was built in 1889 to connect Sítio to Praia, and to save the locals from walking the precarious gravel path, plus a little time, too.
Santuário de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré
A couple of lookouts provide incredible views over Nazaré and the sweeping coastline. Here you’ll also see many elderly ladies dressed in traditional multi-layered petticoats selling nuts and dried fruits, amongst some expected tourist garb like woven fishing nets, carved wooden boats and costumed dolls.
You can also see a stone memorial which honours Vasco da Gamas’ pit stop in Nazaré before leaving Europe for India in 1497.
Another small memorial and chapel called Ermida da Memória sits at the cliff edge honouring a local legend. In 1182 a nobleman known as Dom Fuas Roupinho was hunting a deer in the mist, chasing the animal on horseback. Just as he realised he was close to going over the cliff edge with the deer he was chasing, he called out to the Virgin Mary, who appeared and saved him.
Ermida da Memória
The most striking landmark in Sítio is Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, with its twin Baroque belfries towering over the main square. The transept features many early 18th century azulejos depicting biblical scenes, along with a painting of the Dom Fuas Roupinho legend.
Keep walking west along the road or the clifftops and you reach Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo (entry €1), built in 1577 and modified almost 100 years later. In the early 20th century a lighthouse was erected, which is still in use today.
Anyone that’s serious about their surfing would already know that Nazaré is home to the largest wave ever surfed, and if you time it right (Oct-Feb), you can witness these 30m waves from the fort or Praia do Norte.
Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré
Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo & Farol de Nazaré
You could choose one of the traditional seafood restaurants up in Sítio and make an afternoon of it, or take the funicular back down to Praia and explore the maze of streets in the old village.
Shops, restaurants and gelato cafés fill the cobbled streets and laneways, many of which are heaving with vacationers and locals alike.
Head into the grid of the lower town and the scent of fresh laundry hits you as it flaps in breezy laneways. Elderly women sit in doorways wearing those traditional multi-layered petticoats, embroidered aprons, shawls and clogs and kids tear around playing games.
This area is mainly residential, though you can discover small pastelarias that are perfect spots for a coffee-and-cake break.
One of my favourites at Portuguese bakery cafés is the pao com chouriço, a deliciously chewy bread roll stuffed with paprika-rich slices of chorizo. The best breakfast, especially when they’re fresh from the oven.
Pastelaria Iceberg – Rua Sub-Vila 34
Pao com chouriço at Pastelaria Cenoura – Rua da Estiva
Look Bar – Largo das Caldeiras 13
Mercado Municipal da Nazaré – Avenida Vieira Guimarães
Self-caterers and market-goers can get their wares from Mercado Municipal near the bus station. This vibrant, covered marketplace is packed with fresh produce, cheeses, meats and smallgoods, and the lifeblood of Nazaré – seafood.
Speaking of seafood, one place to try it is Restaurante Remo. From something as simple as grilled squid with boiled potatoes (9), sardines or sea eel, to the most delicious caldeirada (9.5). This stunning pot of fish stew features mussels, prawns, three types of fish, macaroni and a little mint.
Restaurante Típico Remo – Rua 3 de Setembro
Rede Expresso buses leave for Nazaré at 11.30am from the terminal opposite Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa. Cost is €11.50 per person and it takes 1hr 45 mins. Check the map for location.