The best independent guide to Setubal
The best independent guide to Setubal
Setubal is a busy working port and major commercial fishing centre, that boasts an extensive history and seafaring heritage.
Setubal is a destination that polarises tourists. Some visitors adore the raw character and intriguing sights, while others will despise the gritty industrial appearance and working atmosphere of the city.
Setubal may be industrial, but it is situated in a region of immense beauty. To the east are the stunning hills of Serra da Arrabida and the idyllic beaches of the Portinho da Arrábida, while to the south of the Sado Estuary are the paradise beaches of the Troia Peninsula.
Setubal is frequently overlooked by foreign tourists, but it is a fascinating region with a surprising amount to see and do. This article will show you why you should visit Setubal and how to get the most from the city.
Related articles: Serra da Arrabida - Troia Peninsula - Sesimbra guide
There is a lot to see in Setubal, and the main tourist highlights are:
The Forte de São Filipe – The heavily fortified castle that once guarded the Sado Estuary and provides wonderful views over the region.
The Mercado do Livramento – The finest covered market in Portugal, with a vast array of stalls selling freshly caught fish, fruit and veg, and local handicrafts. A lively and chaotic experience of authentic Portugal.
The Troia Peninsula – Catch the ferry to the paradise beaches of the Troia Peninsula, the secret hideaway of Europe’s rich and famous.
The historic centre of Setubal – with its narrow alleys of shopping streets, grand plazas such as the Praça de Bocage and the Mosteiro de Jesus, the first earliest of Manueline architecture (late-Gothic) in Portugal.
Related articles: Setubal sights - Troia Peninsula guide
There are many enjoyable activities within the Setubal and the surrounding region, some of the best provided by GetYourGuide include:
• History of Setúbal and Fish Market Tour (from Lisbon)
• A day trip from Lisbon to Setubal and visit the oldest wineries of the region
• Go in search of the Sado dolphin community on a relaxing boat trip
Setubal makes for an enjoyable day trip from Lisbon or Sesimbra.
Setubal offers a range of varied activities and sights, while having a much more authentically Portuguese atmosphere than touristy Lisbon.
The city is a great destination to experience typical Portuguese daily life. There is the lively Mercado do Livramento market (Tues-Sun), the social cafes on the Praça de Bocage or the delicious seafood restaurants close to the fishing harbour. Setubal also has the added advantage of not being that famous, so it never gets overrun with coach loads of tourists.
A typical day trip to Setubal would visit the market, the historic centre, the waterfront, the fishing harbour and then climb up to the castle. For your day trip, it is very easy to travel to Setubal; there is a direct train from Lisbon or a regular bus service from Sesimbra.
Below is an interactive map for a suggested tour for a day trip to Setubal. The tour route starts at the train station, and the total tour is 8.7km. Also included in the map, is an additional walk to the Albarquel beach (10), which is marked in grey.
Sights: 1) Santa Maria church 2) Praça de Bocage 3) São Julião church 4) Câmara Municipal (city hall) 5) Casa da Cultura 6) Mosteiro de Jesus 7) Mercado do Livramento 8) Forte de São Filipe 9) Albarquel urban park 10) Albarquel beach 11) Doca de Pesca (Fishing harbour) 12) Jardim Engenheiro Luís (riverside garden) 13) Atlantic Ferries (ferry to Troia) 14) Doca do Comércio (commercial fishing port 15) Miradouro de São Domingos (viewpoint) 16) Museu do Trabalho Michel Giacometti 17) Portal Historico (gateway)
Note: It is a very steep uphill walk to the Forte de São Filipe (8), you may wish to hail a taxi after visiting the Livramento market (7).
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The Doca de Pesca and harbourfront of Setubal
Setubal is not a conventional holiday destination, but for those wanting somewhere completely different, Setubal will not disappoint. Setubal should not be mistaken as a pristine beach resort or a manicured tourist destination; this is a hardworking port city full of character and grit.
The city does make for an interesting base to explore the region, and there are plenty of day trips that could easily fill a week-long trip. Often Setubal is combined as part of a tour or as a secondary destination (e.g. Lisbon and Setubal or Cascais and Setubal).
Setubal provides an excellent standard of accommodation, which is significantly less expensive than the more famous resort towns or Lisbon. Food, dining out, and nightlife is exceptional value for money, and this is because Setubal is designed for Portuguese and locals. To get the most from the Setubal region, a car is recommended so that you can explore the Arrabida hills and visit the Cabo Espichel headland
The map below shows the best hotels and accommodation in Setubal, if you adjust the dates to your trip, it will display current prices and availability.
Mosteiro de Jesus the earliest example of Manueline architecture in Portugal
For a day trip, Setubal will appeal to a wide range of tourists. If you have visited and enjoyed Sintra and Cascais, then Setubal should be the next destination. Setubal compliments Sintra and Cascais, as it is so different to them, and the three excursions provide a diverse and rounded view of the region.
For a holiday, Setubal is better suited for a more independent tourist or cultured traveller who is seeking an authentic Portuguese experience. Setubal has little to appeal to families, who will be better suited in Sesimbra, Cascais or Troia.
There are both bus and train services connecting Lisbon and Setubal, but the train is the recommended means of travel.
The train service is operated by Fertagus (the only private train company in Portugal) and departs from the Roma-Areeiro station in Lisbon. The journey takes 58 minutes, a single adult ticket costs €4.55, and there is a departure every hour. The latest timetable can be seen on the Fertagus website: www.fertagus.pt
The bus services of the Setubal region are operated by TST (Transportes Sul do Tejo), and there are express services from Lisbon (route 561 or route 562) along with services to Sesimbra and the Costa da Caparica. www.tsuldotejo.pt
The catamaran between Setubal and the Troia Peninsula is operated Atlantic Ferries (www.atlanticferries.pt) and their bright green catamaran departs from the Cais 3 on the harbour front. The journey from Setubal to Troia costs €7.75, but the return journey Troia to Setubal is free. If you have a car, there is a slower ferry service that departs from Setubal docks.
Related articles: Guide to the Troia Peninsula
Catamaran to Troia is popular during the summer, as the whole of the city heads to the beaches.
The best tourist attraction in Setubal is the Forte de São Filipe.
The fort dates from 1590, and was constructed during the Philippine Dynasty when Spain ruled over Portugal. The fort protected the mouth of the Sado Estuary from pirate raiders and seaward attacks (notably from the English and Dutch), but also demonstrated Spanish power to the population of Setubal, who had been resisted the Spanish rule.
The first stone was ceremonially laid by king Filipe I in 1582, and the fort is dedicated to Saint Philip, but this was also the name of the king…
The Forte de São Filipe design an irregular star layout, with solid walls that could withstand heavy canon bombardment. From the battlements are wonderful views over the Sado Estuary and city, while inside the fort is a beautiful tiled chapel dedicated to Saint Philip.
The barracks of the fort have been transformed into a luxury hotel – The Pousada de São Filipe
The stunning little chapel dedicated to Saint Philip
The Sado Estuary is the permanent home to a large pod of bottlenose dolphins, which can be frequently seen swimming and playing within the waterway. Currently, there are 28 dolphins in the pod, and they have been in the estuary since 1981 after discovering the bountiful supply of food (sea bass, cuttlefish and mullet) within the marsh fringes of the estuary.
A unique activity while in Setubal is to join a dolphin watching trip, and these tours cost around €35 for a 2hour tour - further details here.
The Mercado do Livramento is one of the best-covered markets in Portugal. The market comprises of over 130 stalls selling fresh produce through to local handicrafts, but the main speciality is the large fish market.
The fish market is a chaotic and lively affair, where the fresh catch from Setubal’s fishing fleet are sold by loud fishwives, and savvy chefs come to secure the finest cuts of fish. The market (Tues-Sun) is open from 7am to 2pm, but most of the fish is sold by 11. The market is closed on Mondays.
On the entrance to the market are beautiful tile paintings depicting the traditional agricultural life of the Setubal region, and are worth a visit even if the market is closed.
During the summer many Portuguese visitors pass through Setubal, on their way to the glorious beaches of the Troia Peninsula. This low-lying sandbar headland separates the Sado Estuary from the Atlantic Ocean, and comprises of pristine beaches and exclusive tourist developments, catering for the super-rich.
The town of Troia is a chic resort, with five-star hotels, gourmet restaurants and even its own casino, and is the complete opposite to hard-working Setubal. The paradise beaches of Troia are reached by the ferry, which departs from Setubal and crosses the estuary.
The eastern side of the Troia Peninsula is a haven for wild life
Setubal, Sesimbra and Costa da Caparica are three popular tourist destinations on the Setubal Peninsula. Costa da Caparica is a modern resort town, Setubal is a busy port and Sesimbra is a pretty Portuguese holiday destination.
Generally, for a day on the beach from Lisbon, head to Costa da Caparica, for a holiday destination choose Sesimbra and for a day trip choose Setubal. Setubal is a fascinating city but is far from a conventional holiday destination, and the Serra da Arrabida is easily accessible from Sesimbra.
Our most popular guides to the Setubal region