Algarve, Lisbon and Porto are what normally springs to mind when planning to visit Portugal. It’s true to say that these locations have much to offer, from good weather and beaches to history and culture, but very few travelers fail to head off the standard tourist trail. Looking closer you’ll find that many other cities and regions also contain all the ingredients for a fantastic holiday and a memorable trip. This brings us to the city of Setubal, Portugal, and all the “Luso” charm that it brings with it.
Setubal is located approximately 30 miles south of the capital Lisbon, making it a great place to pop to with your car hire from Lisbon. The city is nestled between the Natural Park of Arrábida and the Sado River estuary, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. From its humble beginnings as a small fishing village, it has since become the municipalities’ capital and grown in population to approximately 120,000 inhabitants. With a dolphin colony, the nearby Tróia peninsula (with Flamingos), castles and great sea food, this largely unspoilt destination has become more popular of late with tourists. Here are Auto Europe’s things to see and do whilst visiting:
A Hiddem Gem: Palmela Castle & São Filipe Fort
High above and overlooking the city of Setubal is Palmela Castle and the São Filipe Fort, with the penultimate one being the older of the two. The castle dates back to the 8th century but the area derives its name from its much earlier Roman founder Cornelius Palma. São Filipe Fort dates back to 1582 and was originally derived to protect the city against invaders from the sea. Both the castle and the fort have unique beautiful views over the city, Atlantic Ocean, Sado Estuary, the Natural Park and the whole region. You are able to book a stay in both locations and also wander through much of the castle and fort. We highly recommend having a coffee on the forts promenade with spectacular views over the river and beaches.
A Hidden Gem: City centre & Sea Food
The city centre has a lot of charm mixed with tradition and modern architectural twists. With its numerous restaurants, in which you can buy the local delicacy of “Choco Frito” fried cuttlefish, to endless cafes, where you can pick up a Pastel de Nata and an espresso, the city is full of places to eat and relax. It is also of no surprise that being next to the sea means the city is famous for seafood, from fried sardines, sword fish to bream and sole. Crabs, muscles, lobsters and oysters are never far behind. The main avenue every afternoon and evening has a vibrant family atmosphere and is full of smoke from the sheer number of barbecues in use.
If history is your forte, then we recommend a visit to the 1490 monastery, a unique place full of 15th century charm. Alternatively, numerous other historical sites and museums are scattered around the city and dedicated to local famous artists, painters and the region’s history. One such artist being Lady Luisa Todi, that became a world renowned singer and actress with performances in the UK, France, Germany and Italy from 1777 until her death in 1811. At the height of her career she even performed for Beethoven in 1790. Near the city hall you’ll also find the statue of local poet Bocage, another 18th century famous poet from the city, who was involved in the Neoclassicism literary movement.
A Hidden Gem: Setubal Beaches
Setubal has some of the best beaches in Portugal and was voted as having Europe’s Best Beach in 2017. All the beaches compose of golden sand, clear blue water and blue flag awards. They are well equipped with sun beds, butterfly paddle boats and lifeguards during the bathing season. On some you will also find restaurants and cafés. Figueirinha Beach is the biggest and has a car park together with many facilities. The other beaches are Galapinhos, Portinho da Arrábida (voted best European beach in 2017), Galapos beach, Coelhos beach, and many more. If you’d like to stay closer to the city centre, then Albarquel beach is only a short walk away from the main avenue. On the beaches you have the opportunity to take part in many water sports such as paddle, kayaking, banana boat rides, etc. Great fun for the whole family! A free open top bus is available to ferry people from the city to the beaches, although it doesn’t operate out of bathing season.
A Hidden Gem: Dolphin Colony
Setubal’s river is called the Sado. Even though it is one of the main all-year round seaports into Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula, it still presents you with beautiful blue and in some places crystal clear waters. So much so, that a whole colony of dolphins lives in the river, with local dolphin tours available should you want to pay them a visit. If you’re lucky you may even see some whales!
A Hidden Gem: Arrábida Natural Park
The Arrábida National Park is a 27.88 square mile reserve nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the city. Due to its location the climate is similar to the Mediterranean with temperatures during the summer similar to that of tropical regions. The park has an array of flora not seen anywhere else, a mix of Mediterranean and Atlantic vegetation. With plenty of golden sandy beaches, crisp blue water, cliffs and historical palaces and a monastery along the way, this park is a perfect place to disconnect from the world. A total detox from technology event is even held yearly for those interested. If you’re looking for a more active getaway, you can also do plenty of sports here, such as paragliding and hiking.
A Hidden Gem: Tróia Peninsula
Situated on the southern side and only a short ferry ride away is the Peninsula of Tróia. This vastly unspoilt region although not part of Setubal is well worth a mention. Here you will find the foundations of the original slightly submerged Roman settlement, loads of flamingos and of course plenty of sandy dooms. A recent addition has been a casino, hotel and marina, together with a golf course.
Overall the city and its local area has lots of things to entertain and create lasting memories for any visitor – unfortunately too many to list here. If you’re planning to visit somewhere less known, then you can be assured that this location will pleasantly surprise you. We would recommend picking up a car hire in Lisbon and exploring Setubal with its surrounds at leisure. Auto Europe has experience in working with many local car hire agents to provide you with a great hassle-free quotation.
If you have been to Setubal, we would welcome your thoughts in the comments below.