The best guide to Setubal
The port city of Setubal makes for an interesting day trip, either from Lisbon or Sesimbra. Contained within this industrial city is a charming old town, an impressive fort and some of the best seafood restaurants of Portugal. Setubal is vastly different from the common day trips form Lisbon (Cascais, Sintra, Obidos or Mafra) and offers a raw and gritty city, which is full of character.
Setubal lies on the northern edge of the Sado Estuary, a waterway that is home to a large pod of Bottlenose dolphins. Surrounding Setubal, is a region of outstanding natural beauty, including the pristine beaches of the Tróia Peninsula, the hills of the Serra de Arrábida and the vineyards of Azeitão.
The view of Setubal from the castle
As a day trip, Setubal has numerous attractions, more than enough to fill a day’s sightseeing, and can be easily visited from Lisbon (or Sesimbra), as there is regular and inexpensive public transport. This article will provide a suggested a one-day itinerary for Setubal, detailing the main sights of the city and includes travel information.
• The amazing panoramic views from the Fortaleza de Sao Filipe
• The lively Mercado do Livramento, often considered as Portugal’s best fish and produce market
• The colourful Doca dos Pescadores fishing harbour
• Delicious freshly cooked seafood from one of the many excellent restaurants near the harbour or.....
• ....try Choco Frito (fried cuttlefish), a local delicacy.
• Crossing the Sado Estuary by ferry to the magnificent beaches of the Tróia Peninsula
• Joining a dolphin watching tour, and searching for the pod of 35 bottlenose dolphins who reside in the Sado Estuary.
• The charming pedestrianised shopping streets around the Rua Álvaro Castelões and the old town
• Strolling through the Parque Urbano de Albarquel and along the water front
The busy Doca dos Pescadores fishing harbour of Setubal
If you have a rental car for the day trip, consider adding these to a day trip to Setubal:
• The scenic drive along the N379, through the hills of Serra de Arrábida
• Visit the Praia do Creiro, one of Portugal’s finest beaches.
• Wine tasting in the town of Azeitão, at Bacalhoa Vinhos or Jose Maria de Fonseca wineries.
• Exploring the castle of Palmela, located at the highest point of the region.
The ancient Castelo de Palmela
Setubal is a port and industrial fishing centre, and the city reflects the difficult working lives of many of its residents. There is a lot to see and do in Setubal, and the historic centre has been greatly improved, but there is an underlining toughness to the city, which is compounded by the industrial neglect of certain areas.
Setubal has yet to be fully discovered by tourism, which is surprising considering the variety of sights and the relative closeness to Lisbon. This means that you could easily be the only foreigner shopping in the Mercado do Livramento, while the seafood restaurants of the Doca dos Pescadores are inexpensive, as aimed for Portuguese customers.
The Mercado do Livramento
Here is our suggested itinerary for a day trip to Setubal.
• Discover the Mercado do Livramento (visit early as closes by 1pm – also, it is shut on Mondays)
• Visit the Convento de Jesus and the Museu de Setúbal, an unassuming church which is a great example of Portuguese gothic architecture.
• Explore the historic city centre (Praça de Bocage, Rua Álvaro Castelões, Largo da Misericórdia, and the Santa Maria da Graça church)
• Wander the Luisa Todi, the main avenue of Setubal, lined with classical buildings.
• Visit the Doca dos Pescadores
• Have a seafood lunch in one of the restaurants close to the Doca dos Pescadores or the Avenue José Mourinho
For the afternoon there is a choice of recommended activities to choose from (unfortunately, it’s not possible to fit them all in one day)
• Catch the ferry and visit the paradise beaches of the Troia Peninsula
• Join a dolphin watching and nature tour of the Sado Estuary
• Wander through the Parque Urbano de Albarquel to the pretty Praia de Albarquel beach
• Drive through the Serra de Arrábida (car required)
The car ferry heading back to Setubal from Troia
Later part of the day
Hike up (or catch a taxi) to the Fortaleza de Sao Filipe and admire the outstanding views. The Fortaleza de Sao Filipe is a highlight of the trip to Setubal so could be moved to the afternoon if you are short of time. This is a wonderful location to watch the sunset.
Setubal is connected to Lisbon by both bus and rail services. The railway is more relaxing and our preferred means of travel, but both options have similar journey times and prices.
In Lisbon the train departs from the Roma-Areeiro station and also passes through Sete-Rios and Entrecampos stations. None of these stations are directly connected to the metro, but the Sete-Rios station is the closest to the metro (Jardim Zoológico metro station on the blue line, and the 200m walk is clearly signed). A single ticket costs €4.35, and the journey takes 1 hour. The train service is operated by Fertagus, a private rail company and the latest timetable can be seen on their website:
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The bus to Setubal departs from the Praça de Espanha (blue metro line) and is the 561 route, operated by TST. A single ticket costs €3.95 and the journey takes approximately 50 minutes (but can be longer due to traffic). The ticket is purchased from the driver and the latest time table can be seen on the TST website:
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Both the bus and train station are to the north of the historic centre. The bus station is closer, on the Avenida 5 de Outubro (GPS: 38.52551, -8.88937), while the train station is 1km from the centre (GPS38.53031, -8.88557).
The water front of Setubal, with the castle in the background
Sesimbra is connected to Setubal by the number 230 bus service and a single ticket costs €3.65. The journey takes 40 minutes but unfortunately the route does not pass through the Serra de Arrábida.
The Sesimbra – Setubal bus departs from the main bus station in Sesimbra (GPS: 38.44580, -9.09983) and in Setubal terminates at the bus station. The number of daily departures between Sesimbra and Setubal is a surprisingly limited and the latest timetable can be seen on the TST website:
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The Fortaleza de Sao Filipe
The 16th century Fortaleza de Sao Filipe stands high above Setubal and its vantage point guarded the estuary from North African raiders and pirates. The fort was constructed under the direction of Dom Filipe I (when Spain and Portugal where united by the same king) and the design follows the highly defensive star shape layout.
Within the castle is a delightful Azulejos tiled chapel, impregnatable battlements, and one of the best views of Setubal. The castle has been skilfully restored since coming under the management of Setubal council and is now a first-rate tourist attraction. The walk from Setubal to the castle is up a steep hill and is challenging in the heat of summer, often it is better just to catch a taxi. The fort is free to visit and the café on the battlements has one of the best locations of Setubal.
The cafe of Setubal castle
The Mercado do Livramento
The Mercado do Livramento is lively and hectic covered market, with stalls selling freshly caught fish, locally grown fruit and vegetables and handicrafts. This is a wonderful place to immerse in typical Portuguese daily life and the items on sale are exceptional value. The building itself is adorned with Azulejos tiles depicting the history of Setubal. The market must be visited in the morning, as by 11am most of the fish is sold and by 1pm the stalls are closing, the market is closed on Mondays.
The fresh fish stalls in the Mercado do Livramento
Convento de Jesus
The Convento de Jesus, Setubal