aerial view of a surfer in Spa
The coast of Spain is dotted with some of the best surf spots in Europe

Where to Surf in Europe

The best surf trips in Europe, as recommended by STAB Mag’s editor-in-chief, an ex-pat living in France and Portugal since 2016.

Ashtyn Douglas-Rosa

Just like the rich array of cultures, histories, languages and architecture found in the (relatively) compact continent of Europe, there’s also an array of waves and incredible surf trips found there, too–should you want to keep your traveling on the coastline.

Who better to speak with about their European recommendations than a guy with some perspective. American ex-pat Brendan Buckley, the current Editor-in-Chief at STAB magazine, moved to France in 2016 with his wife, and they now have since moved to Portugal. Brendan (a former pro surfer) surfs every day, and as he puts it:

“These might not be the very best waves in Europe…but they’re the ones I’d recommend visiting.”

See, Brendan likes to shy away from crowds, so the following top-five list of surf destinations keeps that in account. Regardless, we appreciate that most of these trips aren’t your predictable Best-Waves-of-Europe-101-style rhetoric (don’t expect to see names like Nazare or San Sebastian below). They also all seem to have beautiful beaches, cool surf scenes and options that are great for all levels of surfer. Dig in and enjoy…

Biarritz, France

Waves in front of the lighthouse in Biarritz, France

While Biarritz might not be the best surf spot in Europe for advanced surfers, Buckley speaks highly of the French hot spot for various reasons.

“Wave quality-wise there’s no doubt that a little further north in Hossegor, it’s better,” says Buckley. “Like, when La Graviere is doing its shore-break-wedge thing, it’s an absolute world-class wave. The banks all around there are truly amazing. BUT…Hossegor does not have a palace built by Napoleon III that you stare in while you’re in the water — which you do in Biarritz. There are those days when you do get some great waves and wedges, and I can’t get over looking in and seeing the town, the lighthouse, the palace… It’s just such a trippy place to surf, and it does have great waves, just not quite as good as Hossegor. Mostly, it’s sand-bottomed beachbreaks, but there are some rocks that affect the wedges. But La Grande Plage is a lot of rippable chest-high wedges with air sections. Then you come in, sit at a café, watch the sunset with a beer — the vibe you get at Biarritz, you cannot find elsewhere. Not far from Biarritz is La Cote des Basques, which is a much more beginner-friendly wave with a view of the Pyrenees mountains which is really pretty, alongside a view of a castle.”

Surf France
A hand-picked collection of the best surf trips in France — focused on authentic experiences found nowhere else.

Bundoran, Ireland

group of surfers walking on an empty beach in Bundoran Ireland

Like Scotland to its northeast, Ireland is dotted with amazing, empty waves that are begging to be surfed. If you’re looking for a consistent reefbreak and don’t mind braving frigid water temperatures in a thick wetsuit, take a look at options around Bundoran.

“The wave called The Peak right there in Bundoran seems to be super consistent,” explains Buckley. “It’s like that one wave at most surf hubs around the world that’s always working, while the other spots surrounding it need a little more swell with special conditions. But when those other surrounding spots are good, they’re amazing. So, The Peak is the most reliable, but then the other ones need certain tides and can get super good, with slabs as well. I’d say it’s best to go with a local to those ones, but they’re not far from town at all. The town of Bundoran, though, has fun little bars and restaurants too–it’s just a great surf trip. Maybe the coolest thing, too, is that the locals in the water–even at some of the gnarly slabs–are really friendly, which is pretty unique at more secret waves like that sometimes.”

Santa Cruz, Portugal

An hour’s drive northwest of Lisbon and an hour south of Praia do Norte, the area of Santa Cruz is a Portuguese beachbreak haven–and a great stopping point for traveling surfers.

“I may be biased because I live here, but Santa Cruz is great because it’s between two huge surf hubs: Ericeira and Peniche,” says Buckley. “Both of those towns have a ton of surf schools and a lot of surfers, so you escape that a little being between the two here. I feel like Santa Cruz has waves similar to France, just a ton of great beachbreaks and wedgy shore breaks–and with minimal crowds. Then, if it’s going to be a good day at Coxos in Ericeira, it’s a short drive there–same for Supertubos in Peniche. But when it’s smaller, you just have sooo many peaks to choose from (and to surf alone) in Santa Cruz.”

Surf Portugal
A hand-picked collection of the best surf trips in Portugal — focused on authentic experiences found nowhere else.

Galicia, Spain

A beautiful sunset at a surf spot in Galicia, Spain

While most people’s minds go straight to images of Mundaka when thinking of Spanish surf spots to visit, Buckley advises surfers not to overlook the area of Galicia.

“The wave quality in Galicia isn’t unbelievable — there actually are some great setups in Asturias — but Galicia is where you get both north and west swell exposure, so you get a lot of swell and wind options,” says Buckley. “I think I’ve only seen like two other people in the water at a time over there. The water over there just feels so clean and there are these big, pristine coastlines, with nobody around, and the waves are super fun. Tons of beachbreak peaks up and down the coast, so untouched and raw. I think it’s just out of the way so people don’t make as much of an effort to go there. Everything’s cheap, camping is easy, it’s just a really cool part of Spain. The north coast of Spain is also a lot cheaper than France. Like, a nice hotel is 60 bucks a night, dinner for 20 bucks, and every little province has a different culture. It’s just awesome.”

Surf Spain
A hand-picked collection of the best surf trips in Spain — focused on authentic experiences found nowhere else.

Algarve, Portugal

Famous surfer spot in  Algarve, Portugal

The surf conditions along the Algarve coastline can be much different than the unruly big waves and neverending pointbreaks on Portugal’s west coast–which can be a plus in many ways.

“I think when most people think about the Algarve, they think of the southern facing coast, which is cool, because when Portugal is getting hammered by a huge swell, around that southern corner, it’s often sunny and more manageable,” says Buckley. “So, yes, there is a different weather and climate in the Algarve, but I actually love the western-facing part of the Algarve that has more Atlantic exposure. It’s a much different vibe and feeling than other parts of Portugal. Sagres is a great place to base from and I’ve gotten my best waves at Beliche which is a left wedge. Zavial is a great wave too. But then there’s a bunch of random coves and beaches on the west coast of the Algarve that make it possible to surf alone. You might sacrifice a little bit of wave quality, but it’s sooo pretty and you’ll have the beach to yourself.”

Surf Algarve
A hand-picked collection of the best surf trips in Algarve — focused on authentic experiences found nowhere else.

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