The best independent guide to Setubal
The best independent guide to Setubal
Setubal is a busy working port and major commercial fishing centre, which unashamedly does not try to mask its heritage and history.
This is a destination that will polarise tourists. Some will adore the raw character and intriguing sights, while others will despise the gritty industrial nature (atmosphere) of the city.
Setubal maybe industrial, but it is situated in a region of immense beauty. To the east are the stunning hills of Serra da Arrabida and idyllic beaches of the Portinho da Arrábida, while to the south of the Sado Estuary are the paradise beaches of the Troia Peninsula.
Setubal and the surrounding region is often over-looked by foreign visitors, but there is a surprising amount to see and do. This article will detail the best of the city and explain why you should visit as a day trip or even spend a few nights here.
Top 5 things to do and see in Setubal
• Hike up to the Fortaleza de Sao Filipe fort with its amazing panoramic views over the city.
• Visit the Mercado do Livramento, Portugal’s largest fish and produce market.
• Wander the maze of cobbled streets within the historic centre.
• Join a dolphin watching tour, looking for the pod of dolphins who live within the Sado Estuary.
• Eat the local speciality, Choco Frito (fried cuttlefish) in one of the lively restaurants that line the harbour front.
Top 5 things to do within the Setubal region
• Drive the along the dramatic Estrada de Escarpa road as it crosses the Serra da Arrabida hills.
• Go wine tasting at one of the Muscatel vineyards in Azeitão.
• Catch the ferry to the beautiful Troia Peninsula
• Relax on Praia do Creiro beach with its turquoise waters, golden sand and beautiful natural scenery
• Visit the castle of Palmela, that stands high above the entire region.
Related articles: Setubal sights - Troia Peninsula guide
The majority of tourists to Setubal visit as a day trip either from Lisbon or Sesimbra, and the city makes for an enjoyable excursion. Setubal offers a range of varied activities, interesting sights and historical monuments, along with a very different atmosphere from Lisbon, or peaceful Sesimbra.
Setubal is the ideal location to immerse into typical daily Portuguese life, either in the lively Mercado do Livramento, the social cafes of the Praça Bocage or the delicious seafood restaurants near the fishing harbour. Setubal has the added advantage of being off the conventional tourist routes, and it never feels overrun with coach loads of tourists.
A typical day trip to Setubal would visit the market, the old town, the waterfront, the fishing harbour and then climb up to the castle. It is hassle-free to travel from Lisbon to Setubal, as there is a direct train service, while from Sesimbra there is a direct bus.
Below is a suggested tour for a day trip to Setubal. The tour begins at the train station and covers 8.6km. There is an optional walk to Albarquel beach via the urban park, which is highlighted in grey.
Major sights along the route: 1) Igreja de Santa Maria da Graça 2) Praça de Bocage 3) Mosteiro de Jesus 4) Mercado do Livramento 5) Forte de São Filipe 6) Parque Urbano da Albarquel (optional) 7) Fishing harbour 8) Waterfront 9) Historic gate
Note: It is a very steep up hill walk to the Forte de São Filipe (5), you may wish to hail taxi after visiting the Livramento market (4).
Related articles: A day trip to Setubal – Setubal beach guide
Setubal should not be mistaken as a pristine beach resort or a manicured tourist town, but for those wanting somewhere wholly different, Setubal will not disappoint. It does make for an interesting base to explore the region, and there are plenty of day trips to easily fill a week’s holiday. Often Setubal is combined as part of a tour or as a secondary destination (eg Lisbon with Setubal or Cascais with Setubal).
Setubal provides an excellent standard of accommodation, which is significantly less than the more famous resort towns or Lisbon. Food, dining out and bar nightlife is exceptional value for money, and this is because Setubal is designed for Portuguese visitors or locals socialising. A rental car is highly recommended for a holiday to Setubal, and this is to explore the Arrabida, Troia and Azeitão.
For a holiday Setubal is better suited for the more mature tourist or cultured traveller, who is seeking an authentic Portuguese experience. Setubal will have little to appeal to families, who will be better suited in Sesimbra, Cascais or Troia.
For a day trip, Setubal will appeal to a wide range of tourists. Basically, if you’ve visited and enjoyed Sintra and Cascais, then Setubal should be the next logical destination. Setubal compliments Sintra and Cascais, as it is so different, and the three excursions provide a diverse and rounded view of the region.
The best tourist attraction of Setubal is the Fortaleza de Sao Filipe. From the fort high above the city, there are wonderful panoramic views from the imposing battlements and solid walls. The castle dates from 1580, when King Philip II, decreed a fort be built to guard the Sado Estuary against pirate raiders and seaward attack.
The fort was constructed around an irregular star layout, with walls that could withstand heavy ballistic bombardment. The fort is perched high above the city, and the main draw is the outstanding views over Setubal.
The Mercado do Livramento is one of the best-covered markets in Portugal. The market has a wide range of stalls, selling fresh produce through to local handicrafts but the main speciality is the large fish section. The fish market is a chaotic and lively affair, where stallholders and fishwives call out their stock to savvy early morning shoppers.
The fish as is fresh as can be, being pulled from the sea the during the previous night, and is often destined to be served expertly in one of the seafood restaurants that line the waterfront. Visiting the market is a morning activity as by lunch all of the fish is sold, and stalls are closing.
The Mercado do Livramento, Portugal's busiest indoor market
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 Peninsular. 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