The best independent guide to the Serra da Arrabida
The best independent guide to the Serra da Arrabida
The Serra da Arrabida provides some of the most stunning natural scenery of central Portugal.
This beautiful region encompasses the forested hills, picturesque beaches and towering cliffs, that spans the southern side of the Setubal Peninsula.
Within these varied landscapes, you will discover a region rich with activities and sights. There are challenging hiking routes, scenic mountain roads, paradise beaches and a coastline ideal for sea-kayaking.
The beaches of the Serra da Arrabida coastline (known as the Portinho da Arrábida) are some of the beautiful in Portugal. Turquoise sea waters lap soft white sands, with steep forested mountains rising to the rear.
Crossing the heights of the Arrábida mountains is the Estrada de Escarpa (the N379), one of the most scenic roads of the Lisbon region.
It is difficult to comprehend that the untouched and pristine beauty of the Serra da Arrabida is less than a 40-minutes from Lisbon, and rarely visited by foreign tourists.
Related articles: Sesimbra guide – Setubal guide – Costa da Caparica guide
The interactive map below shows the highlights of the Serra da Arrábida region. The yellow markers show the beaches, the green points are the regional highlights, and the orange line is the Estrada de Escarpa mountain road.
Serra da Arrábida Beaches: 1) Praia do Creiro 2) Praia da Figueirinha 3) Praia dos Galapinhos 4) Praia dos Coelhos 5) Praia de Albarquel
Highlights of the Serra da Arrábida: 1) Convento da Arrábida 2) Forte de Santa Maria da Arrábida 3) Lapa de Santa Margarida 4) Miradouro do Norte viewpoint 5) Miradouro Portinho da Arrábida viewpoint 6) Serra do Risco 7) Parque de Merendas da Comenda 8) Castelo de Palmela
Note: The brown shaded area is the cement works – an ugly industrial area but provides many jobs
The Parque Natural da Arrábida (Arrabida Natural Park), covers two regions; the much larger Serra de Arrabida (the hills between Setubal, Palmela and Sesimbra) and the Cabo Espichel coastline (from Sesimbra to the Cape Espichel headland).
This article focuses on the Serra de Arrabida, for a guide to the Cabo Espichel, please see this article.
The Serra da Arrabida covers 72km2 , and were formed during the Late Cretaceous period, with the mountains extending in an east-west direction.
There are four sets of ridges within the Serra da Arrabida region; the Serra de São Francisco, the Serra do Louro, Serra da Arrabida and the Serra do Risco.
The Serra do Risco is the most southerly set and has been eroded by the sea to form shear drops cliffs, such as the distinctive Píncaro cliffs.
The Serra da Arrabida peaks are the most interesting for visitors, offering the finest scenery, the best hiking and along the coastline are all the beaches. Within the Serra da Arrabida is the region’s highest point, Formosinho, (501m GPS: 38.48371, -9.00122), and from here there is a very steep descent to the sea, only 1km to the south.
The Serra de São Francisco hills extend along the northern side, and the gentle slopes and fertile lands have been used for centuries for growing Muscat grapes. These vineyards produce the region’s specialist Muscatel wines, and the town of Azeitão is a centre for its production. The Serra do Louro hills are to the west, closer to Palmela and Setubal, and offer unspoilt countryside and quieter paths.
Covering much of the region are dense evergreen forests comprising of Ceratonia silique and Kermes Oaks.
The Serra da Arrabida is a popular location for adventure activities, include coasteering, climbing and mountain biking. We have worked with GetYourGuide for the previous five years, and some of their best activities for the Serra da Arrabida region include:
The beaches of the Serra da Arrabida are stunning, offering soft white sands, calm turquoise waters and the beautiful backdrop of the Arrabida mountains.
This coastline is sheltered from the powerful Atlantic Ocean waves and the constant sea breezes that plague the coastline on the western side of the Setubal Peninsula (the Costa da Caparica). The calm setting of the Serra da Arrabida beaches makes them ideal for families or snorkelling.
There are three main stretches of sands within the Serra da Arrabida coastline; the Portinho Arrábida, Praia da Figueirinha and the Praia de Albarquel. The Portinho Arrábida beaches (Praia do Creiro, Praia dos Galapinhos and Praia dos Coelhos) are the most visually stunning, and the Praia do Creiro is our favourite beach of the region.
The Praia da Figueirinha is the largest beach of the region and a good location for a beach day. The Praia de Albarquel is the closest beach to Setubal and tends to be the most crowded with day-trippers from Setubal. For a detailed guide to the beaches of Setubal and the Serra da Arrabida, please click here.
Warning: Parking near any of the beaches is a nightmare during the summer months, always head to the beaches as early as possible. Also, be cautious where you park as the GNR Police make a fortune fining illegally parked cars; when parking at the side of the road, all four wheels must be off the tarmac.
Advice: To add to the traffic problems of the Serra da Arrabida coastline, the coastal road between Praia do Creiro, and the Praia da Figueirinha is closed to non-local traffic between 8am and 8pm. The 21km/35minute detour crosses the hills of the N379; scenic but time-consuming
The N379-1 follows the ancient Estrada de Escarpa mountain path, and is one of the most spectacular and scenic roads in Portugal.
The 14km route winds up from the Serra do Risco valley in the west, navigates the base of Formosinho summit, crosses the Serra da Arrabida ridge, before dropping down to the coastline at the Parque de Merendas da Comenda.
Along the route, the road passes the Convento da Arrabida and three wonderful viewpoints. The best viewpoint is the Miradouro do Norte with its views both north (to Lisbon) and south (over the Península de Troia).
The road is safe to drive, (a lane for each direction, fully tarmacked and safety barriers) but expect some steep inclines and tight twists – this is not a road to go fast, but expect to be over taken by impatient Portuguese drivers!
There are a handful of small pull-ins along the route, but you cannot stop on the actual road. We would advise to drive slowly and try to stop at every opportunity (especially in the busy summer season). The Miradouro do Norte has off road parking for 15 cars.
Insight: If you travel in a west to east direction you will be closer to the edge of the cliffs, which provides the better views.
There are many quiet and scenic hiking routes within the Serra da Arrabida.
There is limited information (hiking routes or maps) for the region but when we go hiking in Portugal, we use OpenStreetMap.org for their free and detailed maps - the maps for Serra da Arrabida can be seen here:
Produced in the village of Azeitão is Queijo de Azeitão, a delicious unpasteurised soft cheese. The milk for this cheese is collected from sheep who graze the northern sections of the Serra da Arrábida, and the curdling process is initiated using a thistle that grows wild in the region.
The Parque de Merendas da Comenda is a pleasant area for a picnic or BBQ, and sits at the mouth of the Ribeira da Comenda river with the Sado Estuary. The area provides a sandy river beach, and safe waters for children to splash around in, all under the shade of tall pine trees. There are permanent BBQ pits, for you to cook your own food.
The Lapa of Santa Margarida is a small chapel, hidden within a sea cave, close to the village of Portinho. The chapel is accessed via 200 steps, which leads down to the grotto at sea level.
The Serra da Arrabida has very poor public transport and is incredibly difficult to explore without the use of a rental car.
There is a bus service from Setubal to Praia da Figueirinha operated by TST bus: https://www.tsuldotejo.pt/
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