10 powerful reasons why Setubal in Portugal is worth visiting 
Setubal is a spectacular area of Portugal. There are so many things to do in Setubal, from sightseeing to enjoying spectacular cuisine to relaxing at award-winning beaches. We have narrowed it down to the top 10 reasons to visit Setubal.
You want to avoid the hot summer in Lisbon, the crowd, the mess? Setubal is less than one hour away from Lisbon, it makes for the perfect day trip. But it’s also good for long term stay. Setubal is a not yet fully discovered holiday destination, keeping it authentic and untouched.
Being halfway between a small city and a big town, Setubal is a very complete city where you can still walk around the city center and explore on foot. The center of Setubal has pretty back streets, painted houses and friendly people. And just outside the city center, you find Parque Natural da Arrábida which is a beautiful natural park with some of the best beaches in the whole country.
Not convinced yet? Here are our top 10 reasons to visit Setubal or top 10 things to do if you have decided to take the leap:
1 – Avenida Luisa Todi
You cannot miss a stroll through Avenida Luisa Todi in the city center. Two lanes of busy traffic are separated by a pedestrian area in the middle. A shaded green belt from which to admire the finely balanced mix of historical constructions and modern structures of the main city buildings. Look down to admire the murals of typical Portuguese blue tiles. This long avenue has parks, restaurants, fountains, amusement, and shops making it an unmissable stop.
2 – Casa da Baía
Located next to Avenida Luis Todi, is the must-be-visited Casa da Baía. It is the city’s tourist office and cultural center. The building was built in the late 18th century and the inside of the mansion has some glass panels to display its old structures. The place is also a promotion center for regional goods. Inside you will find a wine shop with a cellar representing the region’s 36 producers and a gourmet store for Queijo de Azeitão and other delicacies.
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3 – Livramento Market
Livramento Market has been voted the best market in Europe! It’s a must-visit during your trip to Setubal. The market dates back to 1876, although the building was replaced in 1930. It is a real authentic Portuguese market, full of noise, life, and smells. There is a staggering variety of freshly caught fish piled high on the counters. Seafood is definitely the king here but you can also find local cheese, meat, and vegetables. A great idea is to bring a knife with you and buy stuff to make lunch.
On the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month, in the centre of Avenida Luisa Todi (near the Pingo Doce supermarket), there is a big antiques fair and flea market, well worth a visit if you are in Setubal then.
4 – Praça do Bocage
While walking around Setubal, make sure to stop at Praça do Bocage, a picturesque square in the heart of the town. Turn of Av. Luisa Todi at a beautiful fountain that will lead you to the tiled square full of outdoor cafés. It’s a charming spot to rest your tired feet having a café and Pasteis de Nata, a traditional Portuguese break.
5 – Go Dolphin Watching
If you make your way to Setubal port you will notice there are a lot of dolphins sculptures with cool colours. That’s because Dolphins are one of the most iconic symbols in Setubal. The waters around the Troia Peninsula are home to a school of bottlenose dolphins, so it’s very common to spot them. If you are lucky you might even see them on the ferry trip across the estuary and save yourself the money.
If not, from the marina you can join a dolphin watching and nature tour of the Sado Estuary. Onboard a glass-bottomed catamaran the experienced skipper will spot the dolphins while running a commentary. Dolphins are hardly respected and protected.
6- Eat the delicious food
Like in any Portuguese city, food is a main factor and in Setubal, the seafood is spectacular.
It comes under many forms, fried, grilled, stewed, fresh, and more. Our favourite dishes are:
- Choco Frito: fried cuttlefish, a typical dish of the area. It has nothing to do with chocolate, don’t be fooled. It is served with French fries, lemon and mayonnaise.
- Ostras do Sado: Oysters of an indigenous variety. They have recently been reintroduced in the Sado Estuary Nature Reserve and they have a peculiarly rich taste.
- Canja de amêijoas: Clam soup. Another recipe that you can find everywhere in Portugal but that always changes a little in every town.
- Camarão do rio: (Sado) river shrimps. They are famous for their size and flavour. It is sold already cooked at the waterfronts stalls without having to be a sit-down meal at a restaurant.
- Caldeiradas and Cataplanas de Peixe: Fish stews and fish cataplanas. A cataplana is a traditional copper cookware, it looks a bit like two clamshells that can be closed and sealed for cooking. It is used to cook seafood and it allows for unique flavours to be extracted.
After all this delicious seafood, don’t forget to try the famous Moscatel. Produced locally, it’s a fortified wine similar to Port. Freaking delicious!
7 – Troia peninsula – Comporta beach
When visiting Setubal, use one day to catch the ferry over to Troia peninsula. It offers beautiful beaches surrounded by pine forests and sand dunes. At one tip of the peninsula, you can find a modern resort, built around the marina. These beaches are the most crowded ones. The more you walk south the further you will get from the crowds.
If you have a car, drive the short distance to Comporta beach. Located at the other end of the peninsula, this is a paradisiacal beach, one of the best in Portugal. Sheltered from the ocean currents, this sandy beach has calm, transparent water. It also has nice little restaurants overlooking the dunes where to take shelter. It can get busy on summer weekends but it will only take a small walk until you find some privacy.
8 – Go to the beach
There are so many beaches in the Setubal municipality. While they are pretty much all stunning, there are some worth a visit more than others.
- Galapinhos Beach: By far the most popular and even awarded, it was elected as the best European beach in 2017. With clear blue water, golden-white sand, and dense vegetation sheltering it, this pristine beach is hard to beat. Don’t expect to find a sign for the beach, you will have to ask around for directions or rely on Maps. Access is through a steep, uneven and narrow path which helps limit the number of visitors. If you time your arrival and departure right, you can also walk in from Galapos beach using the rocks exposed by the low tide.
- Portinho da Arrábida Beach: also a popular alternative. You will need a car as it’s about 30 min away from Setubal. Or you can catch the shuttle bus operating in summer from the town center to Galapos beach and walk 20 min from there. It’s a tranquil little beach with crystal clear waters. It has steep access so make sure to have walking shoes on.
- Praia dos Coelhos: a stunning wild beach. It has no infrastructure whatsoever, it is still completely untouched and unspoiled. Because of that, it has been the scene for several ads campaigns. Even if it isn’t a secret anymore, it is not crowds-affected because it’s quite hard to get to it. The trail is unmarked, it starts on the side of the road after Galapinhos beach and it’s a steep downhill walk of 10 minutes.
9 – Arrabida Natural Park
Arrabida nature park in Portugal, has so much to offer, from pristine beaches to rewarding hikes and historical sights. We have just talked about three of the best beaches in Arrabida: Galapinhos Beach, Portinho da Arrábida Beach, and Praia dos Coelhos. To explore more of the area we strongly recommend taking the time to go on a hike through the pine-covered hills. Most routes depart from Palmela town or the Arrabida convent, including our favourite, the demanding Trilho das Serras e Moinhos (mountain and mill trail).
Even if you don’t want to get your trekking shoes dirty, you should put aside a day to visit the Arrabida NP. Take the Estrada de Escarpa (N379-1), one of the most scenic routes in Europe. All of the 15 km of this twisting route offer spectacular sights. While you can admire them from the car, you will want to stop at the viewpoints to take in the breathtaking scenery.
On your way to the Estrada de Escarpa, make a stop to visit the Forte de São Filipe. The back-then king personally attended the laying of the cornerstone for this fort, so important it was to defend the city against the Barbary pirates and their raids. Take fantastic photos of the view of Setúbal and the Tróia Peninsula and don’t forget to visit the chapel before you leave. Its barrel vault is completely covered in azulejos, the traditional Portuguese painted tiles.
10 – Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado
The Sado River runs through Portugal for 180 km; its estuary is a rich and fertile place where vegetation and fauna thrive. The reserve comprises more than 23 thousand hectares and, since being established, it has greatly improved and it now counts several colonies of birds including storks and flamingos.
The location has become a famous birdwatching destination, an activity you can enjoy even if you don’t know much about it, by taking a boat tour or driving up to a viewpoint. Wisely, the organised tours leave at high tide, the best time to see these birds up-close.
These are the same waters where you can see the bottlenose dolphins. There are about thirty wild dolphins that roam the waters of the river and make this their habitat, being one of the three colonies residing in estuaries, across Europe.
Other activities, and different ways to enjoy this special place, are trekking, canoeing, horse riding, cycling or MTB, and more.
In short, is a short gateway to Setubal worth it? YES! But a longer stay there is even more worth it.
What about you, what are your thoughts about Setubal? Let us know in the comments what you think of the town and if there is something that can’t be missed in this article.
How can I get around Setubal?
Setubal is a very walkable town. You don’t need a car to visit the town or the sights nearby as there are plenty of busses to take you there.
How far is Setubal from Lisbon?
By air, it’s only 30 km away. The average travel time is 1 hour.
How to get from Lisbon to Setubal?
By car, the 50 km of roads take about 1 hour to travel.
By public transport, you have two options, bus or train. They are of a similar price, around €4.50, and take the same time, about 1 hour.
Is Setubal safe?
Setúbal is considered a generally safe area. All the tourist spots are and, even if there are some parts of the city you might want to avoid, their shabby appearance will give them away and won’t be attracting you.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matilde & Miguel are a Portuguese couple who combined the passion for traveling with entrepreneurship and became Digital Nomads. They created the TravelB4Settle brand in late 2017 and since then they focused on Content Creation and Digital Marketing. Their main goal is to inspire and educate others to become Digital Nomads and help businesses all around the world to grow their presence online.