Back in May we were at a restaurant in Setúbal deciding which fish to order when I heard someone say: “I haven’t seen you in a while”.
Her face didn’t look familiar, but I knew what she meant. This was one of the many restaurants my dad used to take me when I was little.
For over 30 years, he has been commuting to Setúbal to work at a paper factory. Since I was 4 years old and whenever I was off school, I used to join him in the car, cross the bridge to “the other side” and waited eagerly in his office for lunchtime, when I would eat some delicious grilled fish. Sardines, sea bream, mackerel and the famous fried cuttlefish, I tried them all there.
To this day, fish is one of the things that draws people to this city. In fact, in the early 20th century, Setúbal was one of Portugal’s main fishing ports! The city has a major connection with water, on one side you have the Atlantic Ocean on the other the Sado river. If you’re lucky you can spot some dolphins swimming around the bay, although most of them are found near the Tróia Peninsula*.
I remember frequenting a lot of the restaurants downtown, where the fish is displayed outside so you can see how fresh it is. I would often ask my dad why one of them was better than the other, I can’t remember what he said, but I knew we were close to one when the staff started calling out his name.
At the time it felt like I was the daughter of a movie star and not an engineer. It was nice to be remembered every time I walked into one of those restaurants. If I go back today without him I’m sure they wouldn’t be able to tell who I was.
It was Nick’s first time in Setúbal and I was surprised when my dad took us to Tasca do Toninho, it wasn’t near the docks and it didn’t have a glass box with fish outside. Instead, it was a simple restaurant located in a small neighbourhood called Bela Vista. I had no recollection of this place, but it did of me. We ordered sardines and my dad got a big mackerel, all cooked to perfection.
With a full and happy stomach, we drove to the Albarquel beach. Summer hadn’t arrived yet, so there weren’t many people there. The water was calm, the beach chairs were empty, I’m sure it would have been a completely different setting if we had come a few months later.
Then we headed to the city center. We passed by the docks and stopped to capture some street art, we saw boats waiting to be sailed and played around like children at the Engenheiro Luís da Fonseca Garden.
A craft market had taken over the city’s main avenue, Luísa Todi, and while my parents decided to find a bench to relax, I wanted to show Nick as much as I could. After looking through pretty much every single stall, we crossed the road and wander around for a bit. Some of the streets were decorated with colorful hearts, an initiative called “Amar a Baixa” (Love Downtown) that aims to draw more people to the city’s local shops.
I’m sure I’ve walked around these places a thousand times before but it felt like I was rediscovering them all over again.
Before heading back to Lisbon, we had a coffee by the park and I took a moment to look through all my photos, thinking how long would it be before I came back to this city of memories.
Where to eat in Setúbal?
What to see in Setúbal?
- São Domingos Viewpoint aka São Sebastião Viewpoint – from here you can get one of the best views of the city. In front you can see the Setúbal docks, on the right side you can catch a bit of the Arrábida mountain, one of Portugal’s best natural sites. The viewpoint itself is decorated with beautiful tiles and during the Spring the trees give it a nice colorful touch.
- Luísa Todi Avenue – the city’s main avenue, this is where you will find the most restaurants and shops in town. It’s named after a Portuguese singer that was born in Setúbal in the 18th century.
- Livramento Market – if you’re looking to buy fresh fish and seafood to cook at home, this is the place to go. The market is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 7:30AM to 2PM.
- Convent of Jesus – a great example of Manueline architecture that is also home to the Setúbal Museum.
- Arrábida Natural Park – where the water meets the hills of the Arrábida Mountain, if you like hiking you should definitely plan a trip here. Serra do Louro is a great place to start!
- Palmela Castle – the castle was established around the 9th century and part of it has now been converted into a hotel. Its high location makes it the perfect place to snap a picture with the mountains in the background!
- Sado Estuary Natural Reserve – birdwatching and dolphins spotting are a few of the activities you can do along this natural reserve.
- *Tróia – take the ferry-boat from Setúbal to this small Peninsula, where you will find beautiful long beaches, golf courses and plenty of hotels. The journey takes around 45 minutes, you can find the schedules and price tickets here.