New year, new decade, new home.
Yes, I’ve moved, for the third time in 14 months, from Almada just across the Tejo River from Lisbon to a small city called Setúbal about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Lisbon.
Setúbal is experiencing somewhat of a low-key renaissance.
Known as the seat of Portugal’s fishing industry in the early 20th Century, Setúbal’s reputation suffers a bit from its industrial past. But wander the historic pedestrian zone, nearby parks and bairros (neighborhoods), and riverfront promenade, and you’ll enjoy a picturesque town of friendly people, great restaurants, and buildings that feature the iconic Portuguese tiles known as azulejos.
With a population of about 120,000 spread over five parishes and about 90,000 in the city proper, Setúbal is ranked as the sixth-largest city in Portugal (depending upon your source).
Setúbal is situated on the north bank of the Sado River, a protected estuary, that empties into the Atlantic. The estuary is home to a diversity of wildlife—river dolphins and birds both native and migratory (hello, flamingoes!).
Take a short drive out of town to the exquisite beaches of the Parque Natural da Arrábida that are rimmed by verdant vegetation and the chalk cliffs of the small mountain range. So much nature just a few minutes from town—and in summer there’s a beach bus—so no parking hassles!
The Nine Reasons
The above should give you an idea of why I chose Setúbal, but as promised, here are the nine reasons why I made this choice:
- Greenspaces. My flat is next to a park with a pond inhabited by a swan and her duck friends. An ideal place to walk my dog; a plant- and tree-filled space that I was missing in my former neighborhood.
- Walkability. Setúbal is mostly flat and walkable/bikeable, unlike other towns nearby (ahem, Lisbon). Perfect for a wanderer like me.
- Plentiful cultural and arts activities and events. There are several cultural spaces and a performing arts venue (Luisa Todi Forum) that even shows free movies on Mondays. The Forum hosts music, dance, and theater from all over the world.
- Easy to be car-free. Setúbal has an excellent transportation network with trains and buses that go all over Portugal and beyond.
- Close-in nature. Including the local parks, Arrábida, and beaches, there’s the Tróia peninsula (settled by the Romans, where ruins are still in evidence), a short ferry ride across the river.
- Housing costs. Prices are increasing and rentals can be hard to find, yet housing is still affordable—especially when compared to Lisbon, Cascais, Porto, and the Algarve.
- A still-local area. I like living around locals and getting to know my neighbors; I don’t want to be in an ex-pat community. This doesn’t mean I don’t have English-speaking friends (I do). Still, I moved to Portugal to immerse myself in the culture and to learn new things—not to find a little America.
- A city on the up. Setúbal is a city on the rise and living here I get to witness the transformation. I like being part of a growth phase, rather than the late-stage development of a city, like Lisbon. Especially when the influx of people causes displacement of locals and fosters unchecked mass tourism.
- Quality of life. All the above lead to a lifestyle that is beyond anything I could afford in Lisbon or Southern California. I shop local fruit and veg markets, sip coffee for 80 cents, and stroll around the parks and waterfront with the Portuguese sunshine to light my way. I love it here and I bet you would, too.
For a video conversation about this topic and my move to Portugal, see the video on my dear friend Andrew’s YouTube channel called Moving from USA to Portugal – ONE YEAR ON.