The majority of tourists to Setubal visit as a day trip either from Lisbon or Sesimbra, and the city makes for an enjoyable excursion. Setubal offers a range of varied activities, interesting sights and historic monuments, and the city has a very different atmosphere from dynamic Lisbon, or peaceful Sesimbra.
Setubal is the ideal location to immerse into typical daily Portuguese life, either in the lively Mercado do Livramento, the social cafes of the Praça Bocage or the fishing harbour’s delicious seafood restaurants. Setubal has the added advantage of being off the common tourist routes, and it never feels overrun with coach loads of tourists or plagued by gimmicky tut-tuk tours.
A typical day trip to Setubal would visit the market, the old town, the waterfront, the fishing harbour and then climb up to the castle. It is hassle-free to travel to Lisbon to Setubal, as there is a direct and inexpensive train service (or bus from Sesimbra.
The best tourist attraction of Setubal is the Fortaleza de Sao Filipe and the wonderful panoramic views from the imposing battlements and solid walls. The castle dates from 1580, when King Philip II, decreed a fort be built to guard the important Sado Estuary against pirate raiders and possible attack. The fort was constructed around an irregular star layout, with walls that could withstand heavy ballistic bombardment. The fort is perched high above the city, and the main draw are the outstanding views over Setubal.
The Mercado do Livramento is one of the best-covered markets in Portugal. The market has a wide range of stalls, selling fresh produce through to local handicrafts but the main speciality is the large fish section. The fish market is a chaotic and lively affair, where stall holders and fishwives call out their stock to savvy early morning shoppers.
The fish as is fresh as can be, being pulled from the sea the during the previous night, and is often destined to be served expertly in one of the seafood restaurants that line the waterfront. Visiting the market is a morning activity as by lunch all of the fish is sold and stalls are closing.
During the summer many Portuguese visitors pass through Setubal, on their way to the glorious beaches of the Troia Peninsula. This low-lying sandbar headland separates the Sado Estuary from the Atlantic Ocean, and comprises of pristine beaches and exclusive tourist developments, catering for the super-rich.
The town of Troia is a chic resort, with five-star hotels, gourmet restaurants and even its own casino, and is the complete opposite to hard working Setubal. The paradise beaches of Troia are reached by the ferry which departs from Setubal and cross the estuary.