The best guide to Setubal

Setubal Introduction - Setubal as a day trip - Things to do and see - Beaches - Lisbon to Setubal - Troia Peninsula

Setubal Portugal Guide

Setubal is a busy working port and major commercial fishing centre, which unashamedly does not try to mask its heritage and history. Setubal is a destination that will polarise tourists, some will adore the raw character and intriguing sights, while others will despise the gritty industrial nature of the city. Setubal deserves to be visited as a day from Lisbon, and you never know you may want to stay much, much longer……

Setubal is a city that has always had a close connection to the seas, and this is celebrated along the newly rejuvenated waterfront, which encompasses the colourful fishing harbour, the popular urban park and the Troia Peninsula ferry terminal. Within the charming historic centre is a maze of narrow alleys, hidden plazas, and family-owned shops, along with Portugal’s largest fish market.



Setubal is primarily an industrial city, but is situated in a region of immense beauty; to the east is the stunning Serra da Arrabida, to the north is historic Palmela, while to the south are the paradise beaches of the Troia Peninsula. Setubal may not be a conventional holiday destination, but there is a surprising amount to see and do within the city and the surrounding region. This article will provide an introduction to this fascinating destination.

water front of Setubal

The water front of Setubal, with the castle in the back ground

Quick introduction to Setubal Portugal

car ferry setubal

The Setubal-Troia ferry crossing the Sado estuary

A day trip to Setubal?

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 historic monuments, and the city has a very different atmosphere from dynamic Lisbon, or peaceful Sesimbra.

sesimbra coastline

The colourful fishing boats in the harbour

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 fishing harbour’s delicious seafood restaurants. Setubal has the added advantage of being off the common tourist routes, and it never feels overrun with coach loads of tourists or plagued by gimmicky tut-tuk tours.



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 to Lisbon to Setubal, as there is a direct and inexpensive train service (or bus from Sesimbra) and for a full guide to a day trip to Setubal, please click here.

A holiday to Setubal?

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 and Setubal or Cascais and 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 guide to the best hotels in Setubal please click here.

Who should visit Setubal?

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.

What’s the best tourist attraction of Setubal?

The best tourist attraction of Setubal is the Fortaleza de Sao Filipe and the 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 important Sado Estuary against pirate raiders and possible 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 are the outstanding views over Setubal.

setubal portugal

The view from the top of the Fortaleza de Sao Filipe

Local’s best sight

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 stall holders 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.

Mercado do Livramento setubal

The Mercado do Livramento, Portugal's busiest indoor market

Best Day trip from Setubal

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 cross the estuary.

Troia Peninsula

The eastern side of the Troia Peninsula is a haven for wild life

Setubal, Sesimbra or Costa da Caparica?

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.

Extended Setubal Portugal Introduction

Setubal is a working town but is a good base from which to explore the region as it offers great value, stunning landscapes, unspoilt beaches all within a short distance of the port. Let us here at show you why you should include the Setubal peninsula on your Portugal holiday plans.

Setubal's other main advantage as a resort is that it is so close to Lisbon and the major gateway of Lisbon airport. Due to the regular bus service visitors can be either at the heart of Lisbon or in Setubal in under an hour. Along the coast to the west from Setubal is the rugged headland of Cabo Espichel and the much smaller fishing town of Sesimbra both within easy reach by public transport. Setubal but has a lively atmosphere that makes for a good base to explore the Setubal Peninsula.

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The colourful fishing fleet

Setubal and Sesimbra are slightly off the common tourist trail but can be easily combined with a holiday in Lisbon. Many tourist insist on heading south to the Algarve but there is as much natural beauty within just a stones throw of Lisbon and best of all few foreign tourists even know of the region. Outside of the short Portuguese summer season beaches are quiet and the more remote beaches completely deserted.

As Setubal is not a common tourist town, with most tourist heading to Sesimbra, prices for accommodation food or services are great value. The town makes for an ideal complement destination after visiting Lisbon and the Setubal Peninsula is a highly recommended region to visit.

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The best guide to Setubal