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Setubal; things to see, activities and sightseeing guide

Setubal is primarily an industrial city and commercial fishing port, but it contains a charming historic centre and has a surprising amount for tourists to see. It is a city full of rugged character and charm, which makes for an enjoyable day trip from Lisbon or Sesimbra.

Setubal may not have the fame or prestige as other cities around Lisbon but spending time within this hardworking city will reveal an authentic and culturally rich destination. This guide will detail the main sights and activities of Setubal and the surrounding region.

Highlights of Setubal

setubal portugal

In case you’re not sure where you've visited for the day……

 

 

The Fortaleza de Sao Filipe fort

The Fortaleza de Sao Filipe fort stands high above Setubal and once guarded the city and estuary against pirate raids and seaward attack. It’s a challenging uphill walk from the city centre, but the panoramic views are worth the effort. On the tunnelled entrance way there is a beautiful tiled chapel detailing the life Sao Filipe. The fort (GPS: 38.51782, -8.909505) is a 2km (about 20 minutes) walk from Praça de Bocage and is free to enter.

setubal fort castle

The solid defences of Setubal fort

The Igreja de Jesus Church

The Igreja de Jesus (GPS: 38.52591, -8.894786) is the most architecturally important building of Setubal; it is just a shame that an ugly plaza has been constructed around it. The Igreja de Jesus is the earliest example of the Manueline style of architecture in Portugal - Manueline architecture is characterised by intricate stone carving and dates from the early 16th century.

Igreja de Jesus church setubal

The entrance to the Igreja de Jesus influenced many other Manueline buildings, but was never completed!

The architect (Diogo de Boitaca) used this church as his trail and inspiration before being commissioned for the magnificent Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Lisbon. The exterior of the Igreja de Jesus is Gothic minimalist apart from the decorative main entrance, which was never finished (and is now sadly badly worn). Inside, six pillars twisted pillars support the vaulted roof, and the altar walls are lined with geometric azulejos green tiles. Originally 14 striking paintings hung around the altar, and these can be seen in the Galeria Municipal.

The Praça de Bocage

The delightful Praça de Bocage (GPS: 38.52425, -8.89264) is the main plaza of Setubal. The Praça de Bocage’s open space balances the warren of narrow shopping streets that surround the plaza, and it is a popular location with Setubal’s residents. Found on the Praça de Bocage is the purple painted Município de Setúbal and the 16th century Igreja de Sao Juliao.

The plaza is named after the Portuguese Neoclassic poet Manuel Bocage (1765- 1805) who was born in Setubal and went on to write suggestive and controversial poetry. A statue of him stands at the centre of the square.

Praça de Bocage setubal

The Praça de Bocage is the heart of Setubal and a great place for a relaxed drink

The Mercado do Livramento

The Mercado do Livramento (GPS: 38.52264, -8.89416) is one of the largest covered markets in Portugal. This bustling market includes a large fresh fish section and numerous stalls selling locally grown produce. The Livramento market is a great place for an immersion into typical Portuguese life, but arrive early, as by lunchtime most of the stalls are closing.

Mercado do Livramento setubal

The Mercado do Livramento, Portugal's busiest indoor markets

The water front of Setubal

Setubal has a pretty waterfront, which though not an actual sight is just a pleasant place to stroll along. At the eastern end is the Doca de Recreio das Fontainhas (GPS 38.52052,-8.886368) and is where the green car ferries to Troia depart from. Heading west is the Troia Catamarans jetty and the scenic Jardim Engenheiro Luís da Fonseca park. Next is a semi-industrial area where the fish is stored and loaded. This then leads to the Doca dos Pescadores fishing harbour (GPS: 38.52024, -8.89852) with its colourful dolphin statues. Further westwards is the Albarquel Urban Park and the Praia da Saúde beach (GPS: 38.51695, -8.90566). This walk is around 2km and a pleasant introduction to Setubal.

Jardim Engenheiro Luís da Fonsec setubal

The Jardim Engenheiro Luís da Fonseca park and Setubal water front

Museums of Setuball

Setubal has a decent selection of museums and art galleries, some of the most famous and popular include.

The Museu do Trabalho Michel Giacometti

Sardine canning may not sound an interesting subject, but the Museu do Trabalho Michel Giacometti is a gem of a museum. This industry was once critical to Setubal’s economy, and the museum, which is housed in an abandoned canning factory, details the tough life from the perspective of the workers. On the upper floors is a re-creation of a 1900 Lisbon grocery store. The Trabalho museum is the perfect attraction for when the heat of the day gets too much. The entrance fee is €1.50 and it is located to the east of the city (GPS: 38.52323, -8.88665).

The Casa Bocage

The Casa Bocage museum celebrates the life and works of the poet Manuel Bocage. The museum is located in the house that he was born in, in1765. The entrance fee is €1.50

Casa Bocage setubal
Galeria Municipal

The Galeria Municipal is housed in a beautiful rose painted building, which was originally the bank of Portugal. This converted bank is now the general museum of Setubal, and includes an archaeological section (covering Greek/Roman/Middle East), art galleries and temporary exhibits.

This museum is the temporary home of the Galeria da Pintura Quinhentista collection while the museum is being rebuilt (correct 2018). This collection includes the magnificent 14 paintings that hung in the altar of the Igreja de Jesus. For this one collection alone the Galeria Municipal (€1.50) is highly recommended.

Parks of Setubal
The Albarquel Urban Park

Setubal’s urban park is incredibly scenic as it extends along the banks of the Sado Estuary. The park is filled with grassed areas, urban art and incorporates the Praia da Saúde beach. The park is pleasant location to stroll through and offers pleasnt views over the estuary and the Troia Peninsula.

Casa Bocage setubal

The Albarquel Urban and the Praia da Saúde, as seen from the castle

Parque do Bonfim

Within the shaded Parque do Bonfim are the unique ceramic statues of the Pasmadinhos. These large and colourful statues depict traditional professions of the Setubal region or local heroes (such as Bocage) and were created by the artist Maria Pó. Similar to the Albarquel Urban Park, this is a peaceful setting after a long day’s sightseeing.

Things to do – The beaches of Setubal

Setubal should never be considered as a beach resort, but close to the city are some of Portugal’s finest beaches. The beautiful stretches of coastline include the Troia Peninsula and the Ponte de Arrabida (coastline of the Serra de Arrabida), while within walking distance of Setubal city centre are the Praia de Albarquel and the Praia da Saúde beaches.

Praia Atlantica de Soltroia Troia Peninsula

The idyllic Praia Atlantica de Soltroia on the Troia Peninsula

The Troia Peninsula is lined with pristine sandy beaches and the resort town has an exclusive upmarket vibe while inland hides luxury villas of Europe’s super-rich. It is very easy to reach Troia from Setubal, as there is a regular ferry service which crosses the Sado Estuary.

The stunning beaches of the Ponte de Arrabida are to the west of Setubal and offer turquoise seawaters, soft golden sands and the beautiful backdrop of the Serra de Arrabida hills. The Ponte de Arrabida beaches include the Praia do Creiro, Praia dos Galapinhos and Figueirinha beaches. For a full guide to Setubal’s beaches please click here.

Ponte de Arrabida coastline

The stunning Ponte de Arrabida coastline

Things to do - Eat Fresh Fish at the Restaurants of Setubal

Fishing is Setubal's main industry and every day the fresh catch is served in the many great restaurants that line the harbour. The fish served is exceptional value and always guaranteed to be as fresh as physically possible. The restaurants tend to conjugate along the western edge of the Avenida Luisa Todi with each displaying the days fresh catch.

Hiking in the Serra da Arrabida

The Arrabida national park offers some fantastic hiking trails through the pine-covered hills of the Serra da Arrabida. Popular signed hiking routes from depart from the northeastern town of Palmela or around the Convento da Arrabida. These shorter hikes provide stunning views over the Sado estuary.y.

Arrabida national park

The lush forests of the Arrabida national park

Dolphin watching tour in the Sado Estuary

The Sado estuary is home to a growing population of bottle-nose dolphins and half day boat cruises go in search of these elusive animals. Even if the dolphins are not spotted it is a pleasant trip.

The estuary is part of the Natural do Estuário do Sado, which has greatly improved over the last few years and now colonies of birds including flamingos have started to thrive.

fishing fleet  Setubal

The colourful fishing fleet of Setubal

The Castle of Palmela

The Castelo de Palmela stands high above the plains of central Portugal on the easternmost edge of Serra da Arrabida. Palmela castle commands amazing panoramic views and is a perfectly maintained castle that is surprisingly untouristy. In the castle, the battlements, church and keep can be fully explored, but the main draw are the wonderful views over central Portugal.

Castelo de Palmela

The ancient Castelo de Palmela

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