Overview of surfing in Europe
Europe, the Continent, the old world, is usually not the first place that people look at when planning a surf trip. One glance, however, shows that there is a huge length of coastline exposed to the open ocean, as well as a large stretch exposed to the Mediterranean sea. The fact of the matter is the Atlantic Ocean becomes super active in the fall and winter, sending swell to the coastlines of the British Isles, Norway, France, Spain, and Portugal.
The Mediterranean coastlines are more dependent on individual storm systems that can pop up any time, but are also more common in the winters. Europe is one of those places that has such a rich cultural history that one could spend multiple lifetimes here and not explore everything it has to offer. Oftentimes surf spots are near some of the most historic cities in the world. Although Europe does not offer the tropical reefs of Indonesia or Hawaii, nor the same consistency across the board as Central America, a surf trip here will come up aces as you explore the fusion of historical and modern cultures, varied coastline, incredible cities, and breathtaking landscapes.
Europe, being such a large area, has every type of surf break imaginable. From the icy shores of Norway and Scotland, to the warm beaches of Andalusia in Spain you will find heaving slabs over reefs, barreling points and rivermouths, and endless a frame beachbreaks.
The surf seasons tend to be consistent across the continent, fall and winter being the best time to score A+ surf while summers and springs can have their days, but are fewer and lining up the conditions is a challenge. Europe is a great surf trip for any level of surfer. Different areas are better for different levels of surfer, see our “Regions” section for more information on this. Regardless of where you are, you’ll most likely be in a wetsuit. The exception to this is the Mediterranean coast in which you might get away with boardshorts and bikinis. Regardless of where you end up going, make sure to understand the conditions you are getting yourself into, take time to study the surf and know what the swell is doing as conditions can change quickly.
Top Surf Spots
La Graviere refers to a specific stretch of beachbreak that is known as some of the heaviest and hollowest in Europe and the world. This is not an easy spot to surf and will often be crowded with locals and visiting pros. Make sure to bring an extra board (or two!) and check the tides as it is highly dependent on water level, which fluctuates on this coast tremendously. It could be perfect one minute and then completely dead in an hour. Learn more here!
Mundaka is the premier left hand rivermouth in world. It can be a little fickle but offers up a long barreling ride when everything lines up. Watch out for the ultra competitive crowd, strong currents, and shallow sand bottom. One ride can make a session worth it though. Learn more here!
Found in Portugal, Coxos is a top level right hand point break that throws out barrels and performance sections at all sizes. This is the crown jewel of the scene in Ericeira, and will therefore become very crowded especially on weekends. It holds size well and will throw out “barrels big enough for a van to fit in” according to some locals. Learn more here!
In Ireland Mullaghmore has a reputation of being the place to get some of the biggest barrels in the world. This wave is mean and shallow, ledging out of deep water and slabbing hard. Only experienced surfers should dare take on this beast, and even then with caution. Make sure to pay respect to the coldwater locals who pioneered this spot, and grab a Guinness at the local pub after. Learn more here!
Coming to Europe you will find a very wide range of accommodation. This might vary from country to country and town to town but in general you will be able to find something that suits you and your wallet’s needs. From luxury resorts along the warm coastlines to surf hostels along the Basque coasts there will always be sotmewhere to stay. In the more remote areas camping will be a great option, and tends to be a popular choice among Euro roadtrippers.
Of course these countries probably dislike being grouped together, but it makes sense in a geographical and surfing sense. The main coastline here is the Irish one, which picks up a huge amount of Atlantic swell and is known for heaving reef breaks and at times perfect points and performance reefs. Scotland is perhaps even more rugged and colder. It picks up just as much if not more swell and is full of slabs and heavy surf breaks. This is not a place for the faint of heart.
The surf scene in England tends to center around the Southwest coastline, and is generally a little smaller and more tame than Ireland or Scotland, but if the right swell hits it can get big and scary as well. Beginners should look for the sheltered spots which can be found everywhere, but are much easier to find in England. Any surfer looking to explore this area should bring some thick rubber and perhaps a helmet if they plan on surfing some of the reefs.
This region is the most well known and premier surfing coastline in Europe. Starting in France you will find some of the beast beachbreaks in the world, centered around Hossegor and Biarritz. Be ready for heavy barrels and boards breaking when on, but smaller clean days are super rippable and fun.
The Spanish coastline is varied, creating a myriad of reefs, rivermouths, and beachbreaks to explore. Portugal faces due East, which leaves it open to all the strength of the Atlantic. Here you will find every set up imaginable, from the mountains of Nazare to the zippy barrels of Caiscais and smooth reefs of Sagres.
To be frank, there is not a lot of surf in the Mediterranean. Due to it’s size and lack of consistent storm season it does not see surf often, and quality surf even less often. There are a couple of surf enclaves, notably Barcelona and Fiumicino. However if you want to surf the Mediterranean your best bet is to study the storm systems and plan a strategic strike mission when it is on. That being said, with destinations such as France, Spain, Italy, and Greece, you might stop caring about the lack of surf very quickly.
A little off the beaten track, and even colder than most of the British Isles, Norway is considered by many to be a huge frontier in surfing. The coastline is rugged, gnarled, and mostly inaccessible by land. A quick search on google earth will reveal a plethora of spots with some very high potential. Swell is never an issue as well. There is a surf scene on the Lofoten islands, but this is a very small percentage of a very big coastline. Bring a thick wetsuit, hire a boat, and find some empty surf.
Access to Surf and Location
If you don’t already live in Europe I recommend flying into any of the major airports. There is no shortage of options on this front. For almost any stay, unless you are planning on joining a surf camp and have transport to it, a rental car is required. For those already in Europe pack up your most road worthy vehicle and get going! Most of the surf is easy to get to from the roads, it should not be too much of an issue. Of course in the most remote areas a boat or a long hike will be required to reach the surf break, but for most of us a car should be more than enough. If you plan on going from country to country trains are a fantastic option as well. Europe is definitely the most interconnected continent by rail, so you may as well take advantage.
Visa and Entry/Exit Information
For the Schengen region (including France, Spain, and Portugal) 90 day tourist travel is visa free for most countries around the world. The British Isles might be a little trickier, especially post-Brexit, and are changing constantly, so check out the official websites to make sure you have everything you need. Generally getting to and from Europe is straightforward for almost any citizen from around the world.
The 368 best Surf spots in Europe
Overview of surfing spots in Europe
Surf spot overview
Again, because this is an overview of an entire continent the answer to this is that there will be a range of localism across the map. Generally, however, European surfers are a welcoming bunch. There are some spots that you will find it very difficult to get a wave and some spots in which you will be politely asked to exit the water. Make sure you are following etiquette and being more than polite to the locals and you should be just fine wherever you find yourself.
Surf seasons and when to go
The best time of the year to surf in Europe
Autumn and winter will be the best time for surf no matter where you are in Europe. The Atlantic wakes up this time of year and the Mediterranean is more active. The winds are also better in general, so intermediate and advanced level surfers should look to these months to visit. Spring and summers are much smaller and less consistent, which makes it a perfect season for beginners to enjoy the warmer water and gentler waves.
Europe surf travel guide
Find trips that fit a flexible lifestyle
Activities other than Surf
Beyond the beckoning waves, Europe’s coastal regions present a treasure trove of activities to indulge in. History enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the age-old tales and architectural splendors of cities like Lisbon, Bilbao, and San Sebastián. As they meander through cobblestone streets, they can discover centuries-old cathedrals, bustling local markets, and remnants of ancient fortifications.
The vine-clad regions of France and Spain invite visitors to embark on wine tasting journeys, savoring renowned wines amidst the rolling countryside. Nature lovers aren’t left behind either: the rugged coastlines offer an array of hiking trails that unveil panoramic ocean views, while the hinterlands present verdant landscapes waiting to be explored. And for those keen on soaking in local festivities, Europe’s coastal towns frequently host vibrant festivals, music events, and cultural exhibitions, ensuring that there’s always something happening beyond the surf.
In the diverse tapestry of Europe’s surf destinations, language plays a pivotal role in shaping the cultural experiences of travelers. Predominantly, the coastal regions echo with the melodic intonations of French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Each of these languages reflects the rich histories and traditions of their respective regions, from the romantic nuances of French in the beach towns of Biarritz to the rhythmic cadences of Portuguese along the shores of Ericeira and Peniche. While these native languages dominate the local conversations, the influx of international surfers and travelers has made English a common lingua franca in many surf towns. This blend of local languages with English creates a harmonious linguistic environment, making it both an adventure and a comfort for surf enthusiasts navigating Europe’s waves and cultures.
Navigating the financial landscape of Europe’s surf destinations requires a blend of planning and spontaneity. The predominant currency in most of these regions, including France, Spain, and Portugal, is the Euro, simplifying transactions for travelers hopping between these countries. Meanwhile, over in the UK, the British Pound holds sway, adding a unique flair to the economic tapestry of European surf locales.
Travelers should be mindful that while Europe offers a range of experiences to fit various budgets, some areas, especially popular surf spots during peak seasons, can lean towards the pricier end. However, with a bit of research and flexibility, one can uncover off-peak deals, budget accommodations, and affordable local eateries. Balancing between splurging on experiences and economizing on essentials becomes part of the surf journey in Europe, making every Euro or Pound spent a conscious choice in the quest for waves and memories.
Staying connected while chasing waves across Europe’s picturesque surf spots is rarely a concern for the modern traveler. Thanks to the continent’s advanced telecommunications infrastructure, cell coverage is both robust and extensive, even in relatively remote coastal areas. Whether you’re capturing the perfect sunset shot in Ericeira, sharing a moment from the bustling streets of San Sebastián, or checking the surf forecast in Newquay, a reliable network is often at your fingertips. Most accommodations, from luxury resorts to cozy hostels, offer complimentary Wi-Fi, ensuring guests can effortlessly reach out to loved ones, update their social channels, or even work remotely. For those planning extended stays or wanting more consistent connectivity, procuring a local SIM card or opting for an international roaming package from their home provider can be a cost-effective solution. In essence, Europe seamlessly marries its timeless charm with the conveniences of the digital age, keeping surfers and travelers virtually and genuinely connected.
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Europe, with its kaleidoscope of cultures, history, and landscapes, offers more than just world-class waves; it provides a holistic experience that resonates deep within the soul of every traveler. From the rhythmic dance of Spanish flamenco to the serene landscapes of Portugal and the rich tapestry of English heritage, Europe beckons with an allure that’s both timeless and contemporary. Whether you’re a novice surfer eager to ride your first European wave or a seasoned traveler searching for that perfect blend of surf and culture, the continent promises memories that last a lifetime. So, pack your board and wanderlust, for Europe’s shores await with tales of adventure, camaraderie, and the magic of the endless ocean.