All the best surf spots in Europe are found on the Atlantic coastline, which ranges from the Canary Islands all the way up to Iceland, but it is really cold up there. The storms in the Atlantic are great swell generators and prime time to catch big waves is of course when the storms are doing their thing, in winter. If you are a beginner however, then summer is probably your best bet, as there will be smaller waves for you to get learning on.
Surfing in Europe is cold and you will need a wetsuit for your trip. These are easily hired along with boards and lessons at all the spots mentioned below.
There are a lot more good surf spots in Europe than there are on this list, meaning you can, if you like, try to avoid the crowds and find some breaks which are a bit out of the way. Some people even love surfing in Brighton in the UK. You can also use google maps and try to work out if the swell and wind direction match up with the spot you are looking at.
Peniche is a few hours north of Lisbon and is well known in the surfing world. It is a great place for beginners and pro’s and this is thanks to the peninsula it sits on. If the waves are big on one side, they are usually smaller and manageable on the other, so beginners and advanced surfers can find the waves they need.
There are two main breaks in Peniche, supertubos and baleal. Supertubos is a strong shore wave that barrels and is more for pro surfers. Baleal is more gentle and perfect for beginners and intermediates who want to increase their skills.
Peniche is a charming place and has a big range of surf schools and hostels for you to stay at and rent you gear from, along with any surf lessons you might need.
Ericeira is just an hour drive north of Lisbon and is a beautiful coastal town. It was an old fishing village and is now a picturesque Portuguese town that is popular with tourists and great for surfing.
The main attraction is a wave called Ribeira d’Ilhas. This is a perfect right-hander that is well protected from wind and works best on a westerly swell with an easterly offshore wind. Not ideal for beginners but it is suitable for intermediates and above.
There are a lot more beaches around Ericeira where you can find good waves and there are a couple beaches in town which are great just to kick back and relax on. Ericeira has beautiful B&B’s, hostels, and surf schools to stay in and as a town has everything to offer from great restaurants, fun bars and good vibes.
Sagres in on the south-western tip of Portugal and is best accessed from Faro. It is about a 2-hour drive away from the airport and is host to spectacular scenery with huge cliffs falling into the Atlantic and beautiful sandy beaches.
There are a lot of options for surfing in Sagres thanks to its unique position. If the waves are too big on the west or the wind is wrong, you can just hop around the corner to the south. There is always a beach that sits in the right direction to get some swell and an offshore breeze, making sure you have the best waves you can on the day.
Some of the most famous waves include tonel, beliche and arrifana. These spots all face a different angle and are great for beginners and upwards. Sagres itself is a lovely coastal town with great restaurants, accommodation and surf schools.
San Sebastian, Spain
We have all heard of San Sebastian, thanks to the amazing food and the beauty of the city’s architecture, but it is also great for surfing.
San Sebastian has 3 surfing beaches in the city, excellent if you are looking for a surf trip without much traveling and just want to hang out and catch the odd wave. The best beach is Zurriola as it gets a lot of good swell there are plenty of surf schools and rentals just next to it. Just be aware you’ll be sharing the waves and beach with a lot of others.
There are good options within an hour’s drive of San Sebastian, so if you are up for a bit of a drive you can find some excellent breaks.
Mundaka is located inside the UNESCO Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, around an hour drive northeast of Bilbao. It is a charming little town and is home to the longest left-hand wave in Europe. The wave is so good that Mundaka holds the annual Billabong competition. Surfers come from all over the world to get on this wave. It is not recommended for beginners but there are a few surf schools there which will take you to more friendly breaks to brush up on your skills.
Biarritz is a stunning town and a much-loved surf destination. It is very easy to access with its own airport just 20 minutes outside the city. The town is quaint and full of French culture and has a great vibe. There are a few beaches to surf in the city, from the famous Grand Plage in the centre to La Côte des Basques and Le Miramar on either side. There are plenty of surf schools for beginners, great places to stay and of course amazing food.
Soorts-Hossegor is a beautiful seaside town in southwestern France on La Côte d’Argent, the longest uninterrupted stretch of sandy beach in Europe. Surfing is the main attraction here and it is one of the stops on the annual pro tour. Thanks to the huge uninterrupted beach there are a lot of different waves to choose from. Be sure to time your surf right though as the sand bars are constantly shifting and the tide plays a big part too.
Les Bourdaines or Les Estagnots are great breaks for beginners, they have easy-access waves and plenty of surf-hire places. If you are more experienced, then you can look to the bigger waves at La Nord or even at the barrels at La Gravière
Outside of surfing, there is a huge range of things to do and it is a great place to kick back and relax with great food and wine.
Lacanau is a real surf village and is close to Bordeaux, making it easy to get reach. It is one of the top surfing destinations in France and is suitable for all levels of surfing. The wind plays an important factor here and is usually offshore in the morning and sometimes the evening. There are strong rip currents and the waves can get strong and hollow, so be careful out there.
There are great campsites, hostels and other accommodations nearby as well as numerous surf schools to hire your gear from.
Playa des las Americas, Tenerife
Tenerife is part of the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago just of the north-west coast of Africa. The weather here is second to none and if you are looking for some winter sunshine and surf, it is a great option.
Playa des las Americas is in the south of Tenerife and is just a 20 minute drive from the airport. The area is beautiful and there are lots of excellent places to stay and great surf schools to choose from. It can be a little bit touristy, so if you are looking to get out of the hustle and bustle, maybe head a little further into the wilderness.
There are a number of waves in the area that cater for all levels of surfing and being a volcanic island, Tenerife has both reef and beach breaks. La Fetina is a gentle wave and an excellent place for beginners. There are numerous surf schools and it is easy to hire gear and grab a lesson. El Medio is a great wave for beginners and intermediates alike and then there is piscinas and la Izquierda which are for advanced surfers.
Bundoran Beach, Ireland
Bundoran is in the north-west corner of Ireland and is a few hours drive from either Belfast or Dublin. It is known as the surf capital of Ireland and has a range of waves for every level of surfing.
The peak is a world-class reef break which can hold a swell up to triple over-head, it has both a left and right, the left being longer and the right hollower. This wave is one for advanced surfers, so if you are beginner I’d grab a Guinness and watch the show. The waves at Rossnowlagh are perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers and there are more challenging waves on the coast such as Inishowen, Fanad Head, Dunfanaghy, Bloody Foreland and Dungloe.
There is a whole lot of surfing available in Europe, every spot is easily accessible and not so expensive to get to. If you are a beginner, then chose a time when the waves will be manageable, usually between May and September. This is also a great time to travel and see the sights outside of surfing. The weather will be warm and all the towns will be alive and busy with culture.
If you like big waves, well I don’t need to tell you when to go, you already know.
The breaks can get crowded and surfing etiquette needs to be known and used otherwise some accidents can happen. Be particularly aware of this as a beginner, you do not want to be caught in the wrong place or mess up anyone else’s waves.