August 20, 2019 by Melissa Haun
What to See, Do, and Eat in Ericeira: The Prettiest Town on Portugal’s Central Coast
A lot of people ask about the best places to visit in Portugal, and of course, it depends on what you want out of your trip. But there’s one town that I never fail to mention. Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, enjoy incredible views, or surf some of the world’s best waves, you need to go to Ericeira.
Where Is Ericeira and Why Should You Go?
Ericeira is located about 45 minutes north of Lisbon, right on the coast. And when I say right on the coast, I mean it — the whole town is built on breathtaking cliffs that drop down to expanses of bright blue waters. The small town center features narrow tiled streets that wind between whitewashed houses, painted with blue trim to match the sea.
The first reason I’m in love with Ericeira is simple: it’s an absolutely gorgeous town. It’s hard to walk through it without stopping every few steps to snap a photo. The second reason is the community, made up of locals and travelers who base their lives around surf and sun. It’s a beachy, chill, anything-goes kind of place, with artsy shops and cute cafés around every corner.
The best time to visit is in the shoulder season, before or after the summer tourist rush. Things are a bit calmer in June and September, and the weather is still warm enough to enjoy the beach. This means lower prices and fewer people — but if you’re willing to brave the crowds, July and August can also be super fun.
A Brief History of the Area
Ericeira has been a well-known destination for decades, and for various reasons. Traditionally it was a commercial fishing port, but records dating back to the 1800s show that it was also a popular holiday destination among the Portuguese royals. In addition, it was an important port for many years, where goods were shipped to and from the rest of Portugal.
The town of Ericeira is especially famous for the events of October 5th, 1910. On this day, King Manuel II of Portugal went into exile, following the revolution that led to the Portuguese First Republic. Fleeing from Lisbon, he departed from Ericeira’s Praia dos Pescadores to reach the royal yacht docked offshore, which carried him and the Royal Family to Gibraltar and then the UK.
Since then, Ericeira’s economic activity has shifted towards tourism (although fishing is still a large part of local culture). In the second half of the 20th century, it gained a reputation as a resort town for Portuguese families. This was followed by a boom in surf tourism, as local and international surfers discovered its breaks. In 2011, it was named one of only a handful of World Surfing Reserves around the globe, cementing its status as a hotspot for the sport.
What to Do in Ericeira
First of all, surf. If you’ve never tried it before, head to Foz do Lizandro for the most beginner-friendly waves. If you’re more advanced, take advantage of the tougher conditions — and rockier seabed — at Ribeira d’Ilhas, Matadouro, and Coxos (among many others). There are several surf schools and places to rent equipment throughout Ericeira, but I can personally recommend Liquid Earth Adventure if you’re looking to take lessons.
Beginners should always choose a foam/soft top surfboard, which makes it easier to balance and catch waves — and minimizes the danger of wipeouts. Most people start with an eight-foot board and then switch to a smaller one as they improve. Don’t make the jump to a hard board until you’ve had a lot of practice and can comfortably control the board in the water!
The water in Ericeira is cold year-round, so you’ll need a good wetsuit even in the summer. Whether you buy or rent it, I recommend a 4/3 mm thickness (with long sleeves) to keep you warm.
Ericeira’s beaches are good for more than just surfing, of course. If you want to lay in the sand and enjoy the sun, Praia dos Pescadores and Praia do Sul are the closest and nicest options. Foz do Lizandro is also a great spot, with several cafés and restaurants right on the beach. If you don’t have a car you can catch the Beach Bus for just one euro. It runs between Foz do Lizandro and Ribeira d’Ilhas, and is even equipped to transport surfboards.
If catching waves isn’t for you, then why not catch some fish instead? You can go fishing in Ericeira, although it’s not a super popular activity among tourists. The best option is to book a fishing tour with a guide who will take you out and provide all equipment. But unless you’re truly passionate about fishing, I would leave it to the locals (and enjoy the fruits of their labor for dinner instead).
When you need a break from the beach, spend some time exploring the charming city center. It’s easy to get lost in its winding alleys, but you’ll always find your way back to the main square. Here you can chill on a shaded bench or pop into a store selling souvenirs, beachwear, or gourmet treats. Souvenir shops in Ericeira mostly offer the standard options, but keep an eye out for handmade ceramics and miniature windmills, which are an unofficial symbol of the region. You might also want to buy a box of ouriços, a local specialty, from Casa da Fernanda. Although the name means “sea urchin,” these are actually small pastries made from almond, eggs, and sugar. For other gourmet souvenirs, head to Loja da Amélia — foodie heaven.
Not far away you’ll find Boardriders Ericeira, a Quiksilver surf shop complete with a café, bar, terrace, gym, and skate park. In summer they have live music every Friday at sunset!
Where to Eat and Drink
There are dozens of restaurants in Ericeira, offering everything from traditional cuisine to trendy health food. Let’s start with the basics: this is a fishing town, so you’re pretty much obligated to have some fresh seafood. I recommend Mar d’Areia and Mar à Vista, where you can’t go wrong no matter what you order.
That said, I always opt for the catch of the day, accompanied by a chilled vinho verde.
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to local seafood, but some common staples you shouldn’t miss are dourada (bream), robalo (sea bass), cavala (mackerel), chocos (cuttlefish), and sardinhas (sardines). If you’re feeling adventurous, try percebes (goose barnacles) and ouriços (sea urchins). Fun fact: Some people say that Ericeira is named after the latter, having evolved from “Ouriceira.” But researchers now believe that the name was actually derived from ouriço-caixeiro, which means “hedgehog” — go figure.
For more international options, head to Sunset Bamboo Bar just off the main square. Sandwiches, salads, smoothie bowls, and fresh juices make it the perfect place for an after-surf snack. For breakfast (or brunch on the weekends), The Mill offers Australian-inspired dishes with a Portuguese twist, plus the best coffee in town. Their brunch consists of a sampling of savory and sweet specialties, plus fresh juice and coffee. I recommend any of the breakfast plates, which include eggs, toast, and veggies. Make sure you try the banana bread with fresh mascarpone and berry compote. And most importantly, order a perfectly brewed flat white.
When the sun goes down, the party begins. Most restaurants close around midnight, so the best way to start your post-meal shenanigans is at Adega Bar 1987, offering live music in addition to cheap drinks (and tapas if you’re still hungry). Then head to Ericeira’s most popular bars: Tubo and Tubo Tiki Bar, just down the street from each other. Cocktails, DJs, and street parties keep people out until 2h in the morning (when all bars close). If you want to continue later, everyone will be heading to the same place: the aptly named Ouriço. It’s the town’s only nightclub, located right by the ocean and open until 6h.
Just don’t expect anything too fancy — it’s still a sleepy surf town, after all.
photos by Melissa Haun