Nazaré is in the Leiria District of the Silver Coast area of Portugal and has three distinct neighbourhoods:
- The beach (Praia)
- An old village on top of a cliff (Sítio)
- A second old village on a hill top (Pederneira)
The first inhabitants of the area lived in Pederneira and Sítio, high above the beach. This gave them shelter from the Viking raids, and later from the French, English and Dutch pirates. There is now a funicular railway connecting the Praia with Sítio.
The municipality of Nazaré is divided into 3 civil parishes (freguesias):
According to the 2011 census, the population of the area is 15,158.
Nazaré is steeped in history. It is said that the town was given it’s name from a small wooden statue of Our Lady, which was originally from Nazareth in the Holy Land. This statue was originally brought from Nazareth to a monastery in Spain in the 4th century, and then to Nazaré in 711 by another monk, Romano, and Roderic, the last Visigoth King of Portugal. The monk lived out his days in a small grotto on the hills of Sítio, where there is now a chapel: A Ermida da Memoria.
The chapel was originally built to remember another legend of Nazaré. It is said that on a misty September morning, in 1182, the sheriff, Dom Fuas Roupinho, was chasing a deer whilst on horseback. The deer (later believed to be the devil in disguise), jumped off the edge of the cliffs, but the sheriff was riding too fast to stop. He called out to Our Lady to help him in his hour of need, and the horse abruptly stopped, leaving a hoof mark in a rock which can still be seen today. The chapel was later created to keep the statue of Our lady safe, and offer a place for pilgrims to come and give thanks.
In the 14th century, a magnificent church – Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré – was funded, near the place of the chapel, by King Ferdinand, whilst on a pilgrimage to Nazaré. This church has been added to and adapted over the years and now offers a welcoming haven for the pilgrims who travel to see the wooden statue of Our Lady.
The Feast of Nazaré is celebrated on the 8th of September, with the area having a regional holiday on that day.
Nazaré is famous for its breath taking large waves, which attract professional surfers to the Silver Coast area to try and beat the world record. Portugal’s surfer Hugo Vau claims to have surfed a 115 foot high wave on January 17, 2018. To date this has never been confirmed.
In 2011 Garrett McNamara’s 78 foot wave was officially confirmed by the Guinness World Records as the largest wave ever surfed.
There have been other challenges to this record but at the time of writing none have been confirmed as beating the 2011 record set by Garrett McNamara.
Nazaré provides all the usual amenities you would expect to find in a seaside town:
- several restaurants and cafes offering a wide range of menus
- a play park for the children along the beach front
- a library (biblioteca)
- an indoor swimming pool (piscina)
- a large variety of food and other shops that you would expect to find
- Several surf schools
Other services you can find in Nazaré include lawyers, banks and accountants.
Just a few kilometres north of Nazaré’s centre, is a small waterpark : Norpark.
The local schools in the Nazaré area cater for children from 6 – 18, with crèches also available from 3 years.