Arrábida National Park in Portugal

The Arrábida Natural Park, located between Setúbal and the town of Sesimbra, offers a unique beauty where the blue sea blends with the soft tones of the limestone cliffs and the dense greenery covering the mountains, making it one of the most visited natural parks in Portugal.

The plant diversity is one of the main attractions of the park. It houses one of the few examples of Mediterranean maquis in Portugal, being considered an international scientific relic. To preserve its integrity, some areas require the guidance of an expert authorized by the Park. You can also enjoy activities such as spelunking, diving, and climbing, organized by certified companies.

To explore the flora and fauna, the Oceanographic Museum in the Fort of Our Lady of Arrábida, next to Portinho Beach, offers an enriching experience. Nearby, the Pedra da Anixa constitutes an underwater zoological reserve.

In addition to the Arrábida Mountains, the Park includes other elevations like the Risco Mountains, with the highest point on the Portuguese coast. From its 380 meters height, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Atlantic.

The intersection between the mountains and the sea gives rise to a series of fine sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters such as Figueirinha, Galapos, and Portinho da Arrábida.

The area was chosen by Franciscan friars, who inhabited the Convent during the 16th to 19th centuries, meditating in the chapels scattered throughout the mountains. Arrábida is also known for its agriculture and grazing, which produce high-quality products, especially the wines and cheeses of the region, accessible by following the Blue Coast Wine Route, leading to the charming village of Azeitão.

History of Arrábida Natural Park

The unique characteristics of the Arrábida massif led, since the 1940s, to various attempts to protect the region, culminating in the creation of the Arrábida Reserve by Decree 355/71 on August 16, 1971, covering the southern flanks of the mountains and the Risco cliffs. Recognizing the need for stronger protection for the area, on July 28, 1976, Decree 622/76 was approved, establishing the Arrábida Natural Park (PNArr).

This classification aimed to protect the geological, forest, wildlife, and landscape resources, as well as the cultural and historical resources within the area. Subsequently, Regulatory Decree 23/98, approved on October 14, 1998, further restructured the natural park, expanding its coastal zone and establishing the Arrábida-Espichel Marine Space. This space was created to support the park’s objectives, especially regarding the marine environment, including the diverse marine flora and fauna of the region and the protection of areas such as the discontinuous zone of Cabo Espichel. This inclusion aimed to preserve the coastal cliffs, endemic plant species, seabird nesting areas, and the conservation of rudimentary fossils.

Recommended Excursions and Activities

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What to See and Do in Arrábida Natural Park

In the Arrábida Natural Park, there are mighty beaches like Creiro and Galapinhos, panoramic viewpoints on the Estrada da Escarpa road, and options for hiking and cycling. You can also get to know the local culture through activities and excursions, such as visiting the Livramento Market and exploring historical places like the Commandery Palace and the ruins of the Seventh Battalion of the Coastal Artillery Regiment.

Here is the map with the location of the main points of interest and, subsequently, a description of what each site in the natural park represents and what you can do at each recommended place.

Creiro Beach/Portinho da Arrábida Beach

Located as the last stop of bus 4472, Creiro Beach/Portinho da Arrábida Beach offers some amenities such as cafes, bathrooms, sunbeds, and the option to rent pedal boats. However, to reach the beach from the bus stop, you will have to descend a steep path that you will then have to climb back up on your return. Despite this, the beauty of the place makes the effort worthwhile.

Creiro Beach

On the beach, there are less crowded areas, especially around the sunbeds, where you can enjoy more tranquility. It is recommended to explore the cove until you reach the nearby restaurants and the castle, which adds an additional attraction to the visit.

Galapinhos Beach

Galapinhos Beach

Galapinhos, previously recognized as the best beach in Europe, captivates with its stunning beauty, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and a natural atmosphere that feels untamed, with green trees lining the coast. Accessing this beach is relatively easy; from the bus stop, you can follow the signposted paths that lead directly to the beach. Near Praia dos Galapos, there are stairs that further facilitate access, located on the east side near the main facilities. During low tide, you can even walk to Praia dos Galapinhos, adding another dimension to the exploration experience of the area.

Viewpoints on the Estrada da Escarpa Road

Along the N379 road, which leads to the top of the cliffs of Arrábida Natural Park, also known as the Estrada de Escarpa road, you will find the best views of the national park. Along its 14 kilometers of winding road, there are several viewpoints where you can stop and enjoy the stunning vistas. The three main viewpoints are Miradouro do Norte, Miradouro do Portinho da Arrábida, and Convento da Arrábida.

Hiking and Biking Trails

Within the Arrábida Natural Park, there are numerous marked trails inviting you to explore this enchanting landscape on foot or by bike. These trails offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, surrounded by pines and wildlife, while enjoying the fresh air and breathtaking views. Additionally, you can venture to climb the highest point, located in Serra do Risco, which rises to a height of 380 meters, providing a spectacular panoramic view from the top.

Livramento Market

Livramento Market, considered one of the best fish markets in the world, is a must-visit in Setúbal. The hustle and bustle and the speed at which everything happens in this old commercial center are captivating. It’s a place that awakens the chef within, with its variety of fresh and local products.

Livramento Market

Although famous for its fish, Livramento Market offers much more than that. From fresh fruits and vegetables to artisanal cheeses and sausages, you will find a wide range of culinary delights that will inspire you to prepare an unforgettable picnic in Arrábida. You will surely appreciate this tip later!

Outside the Livramento Market

Comenda Picnic Park

Comenda Picnic Park is a place worth visiting, not only to enjoy a picnic but also to explore the beach and admire the enigmatic Comenda Palace from the outside. Even if you are not hungry yet, stopping here will allow you to enjoy the views and the unique atmosphere of this place.

Palace of the Commandery

The Palace of the Commandery, for many years, was a symbol of European aristocracy and a setting for glamorous summers. Personalities such as Truman Capote and probably Jacqueline Kennedy, after the death of her husband, walked through its halls. For a time, it was abandoned, becoming a popular destination for urban exploration enthusiasts.

Palace of the Commandery

The views from the property are simply stunning. However, today, the palace is no longer accessible to the general public, as it was acquired by a wealthy couple and access is restricted. Despite this, it is worth taking a walk along Praia da Comenda to contemplate one of the most iconic buildings in Arrábida.

Ruins of the Seventh Battalion of the Coastal Artillery Regiment (7th Battery)

Ruins of the Seventh Battalion of the Coastal Artillery Regiment (7th Battery)

The ruins of the Seventh Battalion of the Coastal Artillery Regiment (7th Battery) offer one of the best views of the Serra da Arrábida coastline. From this point, you can enjoy the horizon with the Tróia peninsula in the distance.

The Seventh Battery was deactivated in 1998, allowing visitors to now walk through the old space and even visit the abandoned bunkers and artillery pieces. Even if you are not a big fan of urban exploration, you will surely enjoy this experience. If you want to know more, there is a magnificent article that explains everything. Additionally, right next door, you can also visit the ruins of Forte Velho do Outão without spending a penny.

Miradouro do Portinho da Arrábida

Portinho da Arrábida Viewpoint

Miradouro do Portinho da Arrábida is known as the most "Instagrammable" spot in Arrábida, and rightly so. The landscapes it offers are truly impressive and captivating. It’s a place where nature unfolds all its beauty, with panoramic views that will leave you breathless. Undoubtedly, it is a perfect destination to capture spectacular photos and share the stunning beauty of Arrábida with the world.

Convent of Nossa Senhora da Arrábida

Convent of Nossa Senhora da Arrábida

The Convent of Nossa Senhora da Arrábida, once belonging to the Franciscan Order, is now owned by the Fundação Oriente. Currently, you can only visit its interior on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and you must make an appointment in advance. This former monastic residence is a place full of history and charm, offering visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the past and explore its fascinating spaces.

Lapa de Santa Margarida

Lapa de Santa Margarida

Lapa de Santa Margarida is one of the most surprising places in Arrábida Natural Park. This natural cave, located by the sea and near Portinho da Arrábida, houses an almost unreal chapel inside. However, accessing the cave is a challenge, as you can only reach it on foot via a narrow path with more than 200 steps descending the mountainside to almost sea level. For this reason, it is not suitable for people with reduced mobility.

The most practical way to visit Lapa de Santa Margarida is to park near the holiday home Casa do Gaiato, on Rua do Portinho da Arrábida (GPS coordinates: N 38° 28.234′ W 008° 59.272′), and then continue on foot along the aforementioned path, which is approximately 500 meters long.

Beaches of the Serra da Arrábida

Beaches of the Serra da Arrábida

The beaches of the Serra da Arrábida offer a unique combination of blue waters, white fine sand, and lush mountainous vegetation, giving them a paradisiacal appearance that is hard to match. These beaches are renowned worldwide for their beauty, some famous and others practically wild and secret.

Start your tour with a visit to Portinho da Arrábida, one of the most famous beaches in Setúbal and chosen as one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal. This small bay features a charming fishing village and crystal-clear waters in emerald or turquoise tones. Take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a lunch at one of the excellent restaurants in the region or have a picnic with fresh products from the Livramento Market. The setting couldn’t be better.

From Portinho da Arrábida, head to Praia dos Coelhos, one of Arrábida’s best-kept secrets. This wild beach is located in a small cove and is perfect for those seeking a corner of pure nature. Keep in mind that there is no road access or signage, so the only way to reach it is on foot, following a small path in the Serra da Arrábida.

Continue your day exploring the wonderful beaches of Galapos and Galapinhos, the latter voted the best beach in Europe in 2017 by European Best Destinations. Surrounded by the stunning landscape of Arrábida, these beaches offer crystal-clear waters and white sands, creating a truly Instagrammable setting.

End your afternoon at Praia da Figueirinha, the longest stretch of sand between Setúbal and Sesimbra. With magnificent views of the Tróia peninsula and Portinho da Arrábida, this beach is ideal for windsurfing during low tide, when it forms a perfect cove.

Medieval Village of Palmela

Medieval Village of Palmela

The medieval village of Palmela offers a charming experience worth exploring leisurely. If you arrive late, it’s a good idea to reserve the visits for the next day so you can fully enjoy everything this enchanting place has to offer. This way, you can stroll its cobbled streets, visit its historic castle, admire its panoramic views, and immerse yourself in its rich history and culture without rushing. Get ready to enjoy an unforgettable experience in the beautiful medieval village of Palmela!

Flora of Serra da Arrábida

The Serra da Arrábida hosts a rich diversity of flora, with over 1,000 species of vascular plants recorded in the Arrábida Natural Park. From winter with the water narcissus to spring with a wide variety of flowers, the region offers an impressive natural spectacle in every season.

Shortly after Christmas, the water narcissus (subspecies obesus) begin to bloom, along with the curious friar’s hood, Barbary nut, and western peony. As spring progresses, the sand crocus Romulea bulbocodium, the palm-leaved anemone, the pink garlic, the wild tulip, and the green and purple bellflowers of Fritillaria lusitanica appear.

March is the month of orchids, with a wide variety of species blooming, such as the champagne orchid, conical orchid, naked man orchid, man orchid, and giant orchid, as well as the Ophrys species, including opaque, bumblebee, yellow, mirror, and sawfly orchids that mimic insects. In April, wild and field gladioli and Spanish irises appear, along with pink butterfly, insect, and tongue orchids.

The dense vegetation flanking the N-379-1 road offers an impressive variety of Mediterranean shrubs, such as Phoenician juniper, holm oak, mastic tree, sea buckthorn, strawberry tree, myrtle, shrubby hare’s ear, wild jasmine, and laurustinus, among others.

The shaded corners along this road host unique species, such as Narcissus calcicola, the most famous plant of Arrábida, as well as other plants like the western peony, Iberian vetch, and Spanish bluebell.

The south-facing cliffs host their peculiar flora, including Portuguese endemic species like Arabis sadina and Iberis procumbens ssp. microcarpa, as well as other common species adapted to coastal conditions, such as sweet Alison, Sedum mucizonia, bordered rue, and cut-leaved lavender.

Fauna of Serra da Arrábida

The Serra da Arrábida hosts a significant amount of fauna, with 213 vertebrate species recorded in this Portuguese natural park, along with a remarkable population of 300 species of Blue Rock Thrush. Among insects, the order Lepidoptera includes species such as the swallowtail butterfly, Spanish swallowtail butterfly, Spanish festoon, marsh fritillary, and Lorquin’s blue butterfly.

The dense Mediterranean scrub is particularly favored by bird species such as the Sardinian warbler and the Dartford warbler. It also provides habitat for various reptiles, including the ocellated lizard, large psammodromus, and Bedriaga’s Iberian wall lizard, as well as ladder, Montpellier, and horseshoe snakes. Surprisingly, amphibians like the Iberian painted frog and western spadefoot toad are also found in this habitat.

The forest formations, including Lusitanian oak groves and cork oak and holm oak woodlands, host breeding species such as the goshawk, cuckoo, long-eared owl, common owl, bee-eater, hoopoe, wryneck, nuthatch, common shrike, and hawfinch. Iberian rabbits and hares inhabit these areas, while predatory mammals like the European polecat, weasel, beech marten, stoat, European badger, common genet, and Egyptian mongoose also roam here. The open areas between the woodlands provide suitable habitat for ocellated and Iberian wall lizards, Spanish psammodromus, and three-toed skinks.

One of Arrábida’s most notable features is the rugged limestone cliffs, which are nesting sites for various bird species, including a solitary pair of Bonelli’s eagles, peregrine falcons, rock pigeons, alpine swifts, and large colonies of pale swifts. The limestone caves also host large breeding colonies of Schreiber’s bats, along with a smaller number of hibernating Mehely’s horseshoe bats. Other bat species like the greater mouse-eared bat, the Mediterranean horseshoe bat, and the European free-tailed bat have also been recorded in the park.

Geography of Serra da Arrábida

The Arrábida Natural Park takes its name from the main geomorphological unit that covers the entire area, known as the Arrábida massif or mountain range, consisting of three subareas:

  1. An area of small elevations around Sesimbra, associated with the Serra do Risco and Serra da Arrábida, between Outão and Setúbal.
  2. A zone between the Serra de São Luís and Serra dos Gaiteiros.
  3. A zone formed by the Serras do Louro and Serra de São Francisco.

This massif extends from east-northeast to west-southwest, spanning about 35 kilometers in length and 6 kilometers in width, with a maximum altitude of 501 meters at the Anticlinal de Formosinho. The formation of Arrábida occurred over four successive rifting phases, resulting in the fragmentation of Laurasia and the formation of the North Atlantic. Geologically, the mountainous region was formed during the Jurassic and Miocene epochs, while the plains were formed during the Pliocene and Quaternary periods.

The massif is composed of three lines of dislocation and is dotted with karst cavities. Notable points include the Morro de Palmela, the Montes de Azeitão, and the Serra de São Francisco. On the coast lies the Serra da Arrábida, with cliffs and karst caves such as the Gruta do Frade.

The waterways in Arrábida are divided into watercourses that flow only during the winter months and perennial streams. The park’s hydrology is divided into two large basins, with the Ajuda stream being the most abundant watercourse, maintaining its flow throughout the year.


Arrábida has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, influenced by its exposure to the Atlantic Ocean. During the colder months, moist air masses from the Atlantic clash with the mountains, causing abundant precipitation in November and December. In summer, upwellings around Cabo Espichel reduce sea temperatures and increase the frequency of fog, which generally appears in the morning or late in the day.

In August, the warmest month, temperatures range between 24 and 28 °C during the day, and between 16 and 17 °C at night. Conversely, in January, the coldest month, average temperatures range between 13 and 15 °C during the day, and between 5 and 8 °C at night. These temperatures are determined by altitude and proximity to the sea.

How to Get to Serra da Arrábida Natural Park

It’s important to note that traffic between Setúbal and the Arrábida beaches is restricted during the summer months, specifically from June 3rd to September 17th.

If you plan to visit Arrábida during these months, you will need to use public transportation and take some walks to reach some of the most beautiful beaches in the area, such as the award-winning Galapos and Galapinhos, or the wild Praia dos Coelhos. Therefore, I recommend adding an extra day to your itinerary to fully explore Arrábida.

For more information on traffic conditions and to discover the best alternatives for reaching Arrábida’s beaches, I suggest consulting the official website of the municipality of Setúbal.

Public Transport

Public transport in the Arrábida region offers several options for accessing the beaches and other popular destinations:

  • Regular services (hourly) with routes 723, 723A, 725, and 727 connecting Setúbal and Azeitão with Figueirinha and Creiro beaches. These routes are covered by the "Passe Navegante" and the onboard cost is 4.15 euros for a round trip, with discounts for children under 12 and advance tickets.
  • Transport service with routes 722 and 726 connecting Parque da Secil and Setúbal with Figueirinha beach and Albarquel beach respectively. The boarding fee is 1 euro for route 722 and 1.40 euros for route 726, both for a round trip.
  • Shuttle Figueirinha – Creiro offering a free connection from Figueirinha beach with stops at Galapos, Galapinhos, and Creiro beaches, in both directions. The service runs continuously every 20 minutes between 08:00 and 20:00.

These options provide a convenient and accessible way to reach the beaches and other destinations within the Arrábida region.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Serra da Arrábida largely depends on your interests, as it can be visited year-round for different types of activities.

If you enjoy sun and beach, summer is the best option. But if you prefer hiking and spending more time outdoors, exploring the mountains and enjoying the scenery, spring is the best time to visit as it is less hot and the hikes will be more pleasant. It is also possible to visit in autumn to enjoy milder temperatures.

Since it is a coastal area, the mild climate allows for pleasant walks even during the colder months like December and January, when maximum temperatures hover around 15°C. Although you may encounter some rain, you can always take refuge in a café or restaurant to enjoy the excellent local cuisine. The food in this area is truly delicious.

We also recommend visiting the Peneda-Gerês National Park.