Only a 45 minute drive south of Portugal’s capital, Setúbal is one of the biggest cities in Portugal & with many things to do in Setúbal.
Setúbal is a rising tourism destination, mainly because of the broad range of ways to enjoy the Setúbal Peninsula, but let’s first check out a bit about its history.
The city of Setúbal has grown exponentially after the train connection implemented in 1900, connecting the city to Lisbon. Along with Lisbon and Porto, Setúbal represents a major industry market in Portugal.
In the case of Setúbal, the industry of salt and fish are the most important ones, obviously related to its geographical location on the northern bank of the Sado River estuary to the Atlantic Ocean.
In fact, Setúbal produces a lot of salt and the fish harbor is the most crowded and lively spots during the morning hours.
We definitely recommend you to visit the fish harbor if you are an early bird. Early in the morning, the first fisher boats come in, here you can see that Portugal still has a strong fishing culture.
For years, and still nowadays, the port of Setúbal is one of the busiest in Portugal and has one of the biggest fish fleets in Portugal.
Beyond fish and salt, Setúbal is notable for the industries of pulp, paper, cement, phytopharmaceutical products, thermal power, shipbuilding and ship repair.
The city center of Setúbal, Cidade Antiga (Old Town), is located at the back of Praça da República, next to the harbor.
To go to the old city center you have to cross the busy Avenida Luisa Todi. In the old city center you can find a few beautiful squares, courtyards and ancient streets with traditional shops. In general, the cityscape is still determined by modern neighborhoods with high-rises and modern shopping centers with trendy coffee shops.
In terms of accessibilities and transport, most sights in Setúbal are within easy walking distance of the pedestrianized center. The bus station is only about 150m north of the city center and the main train station about 700m north of the city center of Setúbal.
To go to Tróia, frequent ferries shuttle across the Rio Sado from terminals around Doca do Comércio.
Things to see in Setúbal
Setúbal has several churches, fortresses and monasteries that are worth a visit. For instance, the Igreja de São Julião (St. Julian’s Church), the main church (matriz) of the city, is an 18th-century church located on the Praça de Bocage in Setúbal.
Another place to visit if you like some local history is the Monastery of Jesus (“Mosteiro de Jesus” in Portuguese) which served a monastery of Poor Clare nuns.
It is one of the first buildings in the typical Portuguese Manueline style, the local version of late Gothic that includes details related to the ocean that played and still plays a big role in the Portuguese History.
We also like the “Forte de São Filipe de Setúbal” or Castle of Saint Filipe in English – a mandatory visit – located on a dominant position on top of a Hill, right next to Setúbal, on the left side of the estuary of the Sado River and the Atlantic Ocean.
Transformed into a guesthouse in the twentieth century, the panorama and feeling from the 16th century fortification is outstanding. The superb views over the town, the Setubal Bay, Troia Peninsula, the Sado River and the Atlantic are a must-see and we’re sure you’ll click a good amount of pictures there.
Also the “Santa Maria” Fort, located in the idyllic Portinho Arrábida, overlooking the sea, built in 1670, by order of King Pedro II, to protect the coastal zone, is surely worth a visit.
This Fort is nowadays the local Oceanographic Museum and a center for marine biology, part of the Arrábida Natural Park, definitly a nice thing to do in Setúbal.
Beyond the cultural things to see mentioned before, Setúbal has many other things to do, specialy for nature lovers and active travelers.
For ocean lovers, departing from the harbor of Setúbal, you have all kind of things to do. For instance, there are many boat tours from Setúbal. Most of the boat trips are related to dolphin observation since there is a resident dolphin pod or the Sado River (Natural Park).
[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PqTCvQmU_M[/youtube]
During the whole year round, there are boat trips to observe and watch these wild dolphins closely on several kind of boats. We recommend the lovely catamaran operated by a local tour operator with years of experience and that knows the dolphins better than no other.
During the summer months, you have many things to do in Setúbal, even do some snorkeling from these boat tours from Setúbal.
If you’re looking for a more romantic Thing to do on the water, we suggest the sunset boat tour. In fact, to see the sunset, the best way is really on the catamaran with a glass of champagne, next to the one you love.
No better things to do than seeing the resident pod of dolphins and enjoying the sunset at the same time.
For the ones who prefer the mountains than the ocean, there are also many day trips. grab a bike or put on your hiking shoes to explore the trails of Serra da Arrábida.
Either by bike or by foot (walking or running), you can get on a small-group, half or full-day tours to admire the breathtaking scenery of the Atlantic coast of the Tagus River south bank.
These outdoor activities will take you into the wild mountains that surround the city to breathe pure air while enjoying stunning views and flora.
There is a broad variety of tours, some more oriented towards nature and others more towards gastronomy and wine tasting, for example.
Eat. Yes, Setúbal is a great eating destination! The fish reeled the Romans to to the City back in 412, so it’s no surprise that seafood here is outstanding.
The Setúbal Peninsula is a true sanctuary of flavors, where the local gastronomic secrets are shared on every street corner in typical restaurants where the sea is expressed everywhere. When we visited the city, we tasted the best fish dishes and shellfish from Portugal.
The confectionery is an exquisite ancient art which, combined with the wonderful local wines promise to take you to heaven during the meal.
Some typical local dishes include “Choco frito à Setubalense” (Fried cuttlefish) and romantic N atural Oysters. Also, if you’re not fond of fish and wine, you won’t be disappointed by the meat meals and local beers 😉
Every year, you have a traditional and local festivities, called Feira de São Tiago . The Feira de São Tiago is celebrated in the last week of July and first of August.
Usually this festival takes 10 days and is full of fun, gastronomy and music.
For nature fans, every year, usually in October, Setúbal welcomes Observanatura, an event dedicated to ornithological tourism, with different points of bird watching in the Sado Estuary.
This yearly event is a true meeting point between nature tourism businesses, NGOs, publishing companies and optical material and nature tourists, around the values of biodiversity and it preservation.
Around the city
There is a broad variety of beaches surrounding Setubal, but all share one common feature which makes them unique: they are all part of the Arrabida Natural Park.
Our favorite is surely the Portinho Arrabida, selected as one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders. Its stunning surrounding involves an inlet that serves as a mirror of the green of the mountain. This beach is also a great spot for scuba diving, as the Natural Park is home to unique flora and fauna submersed into the clear waters of Portinho.
Another nice spot is the Beach of Figueirinha. As the ocean usually is calm sea and the beauty of the surrounding countryside breathtaking, Figueirinha is one of the most popular beaches in the region, making it quite busy during the high season.
The beach provides excellent conditions for swimming and the long golden sand beach invites for a long walk or run.
The quality of this beach is proven by the fact that it was awarded with the Blue Flag which guarantees excellent quality condition, both for enjoying the beach and also for the observation of marine species.
Beyond the intense nature experience you can live in Setúbal, either on the ocean, beach or mountain, you’re only 45 minutes away from Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, where you can live a profound cultural experience too.
So, why Setúbal?
- Get to know one of Portugal’s hidden pearls;
- Cheap flight to Lisbon airport, only 45 minutes away and affordable accommodation;
- Ideal for nature lovers since it’s is located in between the hills and ocean;
- Perfect for active holiday makers because there are amazing things to do like hiking tours and water sports;
- Great destination for food-tourists – great local wines and fresh fish and seafood;
- Silent beaches and absorbing scenarios if you need some time to relax.