Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Salvador da Bahia
Warm waves and slow tides make the picturesque shores of Ilha dos Frades—a star-shaped island accessible only by boat—one of Salvador’s most popular family destinations. Visitors can enjoy one of the tropical beaches where white sand meets turquoise blue waters, or hike to the remote waterfalls or nearby hilltops, which offer incredible views of the idyllic bay.
Ponta de Nossa Senhora is the most famous beach on the island. Travelers will find cold beers, freshly fried fish, dozens of umbrellas and public showers that make spending a day under the sun here feel like a true island escape. Paramana Beach offers access to a natural swimming pool during low tide amid a scenic backdrop of natural forest. Visitors looking to truly get away can head to Viracao beach—a deserted and wild escape where coconut plantations and rocky crags protect the quiet shores.
This incredible Salvador city highlight has been beautifully restored to its original art deco wonder and as a result, has become a destination for travelers to this Brazilian town. Lacerda Elevator uses four distinct elevators to link Comercio with Cidade Alta. Visitors to this towering icon can travel 72 meters in under 30 seconds—a major improvement on the rope-and-pulley elevator first used by Jesuits on this same site back in the early 1600s.
Travelers love that Lacerda Elevator connects the low city to the high city and provides stunning picture-perfect views from its apex. Visitors can look out over the historical houses and old school churches that dot the landscape, as well as the arches of the Camara Municipal building—a 17th century structure that often plays host to local cultural events.
Perched proudly at the end of the Barra peninsula and housed inside an ancient Portuguese fort, Barra Lighthouse (Farol da Barra) is a prime spot to view the spectacular sunsets and views across All Saints Bay (Todos os Santos).
Explore inside the lighthouse and you’ll find a small museum filled with maps, charts and artifacts – many of which were recovered from sunken European galleons that plied the seas transporting goods and slaves during the colonial days.
Admire the splendid fort (Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra), built in 1534 to defend the capital from indigenous and Dutch advances, then lie back against its old stone walls to take in the sunset over the bay.
When the Portuguese Navy captain Theodozio Rodrigues de Faria and his crew survived a brutal storm at sea, the international explorer vowed to honor the saint who saved his life once he arrived on the shores of his destination. Today, the gilded halls of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church, home to a replica image of an original Portuguese statue of Christ, still stand as homage to one captain’s survival.
Travelers venture to the top of Sacred Knoll in search of similar modern miracles, making it a point of pilgrimage for visitors from across the globe. Services at Nosso Senhor do Bonfim blend old world Catholic traditions with the worshiping practices of West African slaves, making for a memorable and uniquely Brazilian Sunday morning.
In a city that’s filled with crowds of people, bustling commercial districts and an energy that can be described as nothing short of kinetic, the quiet out-of-the-way sidewalks of Dique do Tororo provide a welcome escape. Located near the south entrance of the stadium that housed the World Cup, Dique de Torro offers travelers city skyline views, easy access to some of Salvador’s most iconic African statues and plenty of historical information about the traditions of West African slaves. Plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars line the perimeter of this man-made lake, making this an ideal spot to grab a cold beer or tuck into a warm plate of traditional Brazilian cuisine. It’s possible to cross the lake by boat and travelers warn that while the place is relatively safe during daylight hours, it’s best to avoid Dique de Tororo at night.
Travelers who approach the relatively plain exterior of Francisco Church and Convent will be amazed by the ornate artwork, fine details and gilded ceilings upon entering this iconic colonial monument. Built in the early 1700s, the church took decades to complete. Its unique interior includes three aisles, rather than the more typical two, as well as some of the most impressive pillars, vaults and golden woodwork in the country. The classic Baroque style of Sao Francisco Church and Convent showcases one of the most spectacular examples of religious architecture and artwork, making it a destination for traveler seeking to experience the history, beauty and artistry of another era.
Mercado Modelo is a lively place stocked full of arts, crafts and touristy trinkets.
Located across the street from the restored art deco elevador lacerda (elevator) in a replica of the city’s old customs house, the market is a fun way to spend an hour or two and maybe pick up a bit of tourist tack for the folks back home.
Take a deep breath as you enter to prepare for the onslaught of vendors that’ll attempt to coax you towards their stall. It’s all pretty light-hearted so with a smile and a bit of friendly bartering, you’ll enjoy your visit here.
Built in the late 1500s, Forte de Monte Serrat was once known as Castelo de Sao Felipe and today still serves as one of the most iconic military structures in all of Brazil. Its traditional architecture, inspired by Italian traditions, originally housed three working cannons, and later was renovated to contain nine more. During times of war, soldiers were able to protect the whole of Port Salvador from Monte Serrat’s circular interior, although in the mid-1600s, Brazilian military was unable to hold off Dutch forces and ultimately had to surrender the fort.
Travelers in search of history will find the halls of whitewashed Monte Serrat steeped in military tradition. And those less interested in the nation’s past will still enjoy the picturesque views and incredible sunsets found atop this iconic fort.
More Things to Do in Salvador da Bahia
Travelers agree that the impressive sports structure is worth checking out. A positive police presence has increased security, making it relatively safe and easy to move around the sports Mecca. While there are few places of interest beyond the gates of Fonte Nova, guided tours—which include a behind-the-scenes look at the locker rooms and playing field where some of the world’s top soccer players have already stepped foot—make it worth a visit for soccer fans and sports fanatics alike.
The Carlos Costa Pinto Museum takes visitors back in time to the everyday lives of the aristocracy from Bahia’s sugarcane-producing days in the 1600s – 1800s. Carlos Costa Pinto was a descendant from one of Bahia’s old, affluent families and collected pieces from centuries past. When he passed away, his wife decided to donate his collection and inaugurated the museum in his honor in 1969.
Housed in a mansion in the upscale neighborhood of Vitória, the museum is home to pieces that demonstrate the luxurious, decadent lifestyle of Bahia’s aristocracy. This includes jewelry made of pure gold and precious stones, crystal, porcelain and nearly 1,000 pieces of silver. The museum is also home to portraits and paintings that portray these times, as well as well-preserved pieces of furniture. Outside the museum there’s a lovely green garden, with manicured lawns and hedges and a pond, surrounded by leafy tropical trees.
The Museo Afro-Brasileiro is one of the few museums of its type in Brazil exclusively dedicated to African cultural heritage and its influence on contemporary Brazilian culture.
The museum’s collection of African artifacts ranges from maps (depicting the original slave trade routes), masks, jewelry and clothing to musical instruments, traditional games and pottery.
The candomblé exhibit is particularly fascinating as it explains the roots, icons and rituals of this colorful religion. Don’t miss the impressive wooden tablets sculpted by noted Bahian artist Carybé that depict the candomblé orixás of Bahia with their weapons and liturgical animal. Make sure you ask for an English translation booklet at the entrance.
This tropical island, which once played host to the Sul America Tennis Open, is home to some 40 kilometers of white sandy beaches, thick green forests and stunning ocean views. Travelers used to the typical Caribbean beach scene will find that the island of Itaparica offers a more rural escape, where tiny villages, scenic waterfronts and old school churches take the place of colorful beach umbrellas, pushy vendors and tourist-filled stretches of sand.
The tropical town of Mar Grande is home to bustling markets, shopping and plenty of restaurants—though visitors agree the food on Itaparica is not much to write home about. Those looking for a more traditional island getaway should head to the north coast, where the beaches are scenic and the ocean views are beautiful.
Travelers who want to experience the local and international performing arts scene flock to Teatro Castro Alves, Salvador’s largest theater. This old-school architectural icon was recently redesigned and refurbished, giving it a much-needed update with some contemporary flare. And while the look has certainly changed, the global all-stars Teatro Castro attracts to its main stage remain constant.
In addition to an impressive calendar of classical music performances, international plays and world-class operas, travelers will find galleries dedicated to Salvador’s long-standing artistic history and colorful culture in the halls of Teatro Castro Alves, too. Whether it’s catching a concert by Bahia’s Symphonic Orchestra or taking in the beauty and talent of Castro Theater’s Ballet Company, a visit to Teatro Castro Alves is sure to be a memorable part of any trip to Salvador.
Praia do Forte is an area of spectacular biodiversity less than two hours by bus from Salvador.
Like many beach towns in Brazil, Praia do Forte was once a small fishing village that became known for its beautiful stretches of coastline, diverse ecosystems, and wildlife. Now a bustling eco-resort, Praia do Forte’s stunning beach and surrounding ocean and jungle is the main drawcard for visitors who come to relax and take advantage of the many adventure activities and whale & turtle watching. Praia do Forte's high reef is well exposed at low tide, leaving warm pools of colorful fish and natural baths to loll about in. The area’s wide variety of marine life makes it an ideal spot for snorkeling and diving. Over seven different species of sea turtle live in the surrounding waters. It's worth visiting the TAMAR project to see them in their natural environment and learn more about the project’s conservation work.
This tropical paradise ranks high among the most popular destinations in and around Salvador. Located in the traditional fishing village of Jandaira, the sandy shores of this rural spot became famous after a Brazilian soap-opera was filmed here. Today, travelers flock to Mangue Seco, where fewer than 300 residents have been known to warmly welcome visitors from across the globe. Pristine beaches, rolling sand dunes and an off-the-beaten-path vibe make this a perfect stop for visitors to the state of Bahia. The boat trip from the mainland offers picturesque views and travelers are greeted by towering coconut trees that line stretches of untouched beach. While a trip to Mangue Seco will definitely lighten tourists’ pocketbooks, visitors agree that it’s one of the best places in Brazil to experience unspoiled tropical wonder.
A small colonial town set on the banks of the Paraguaçu river, Cachoeira is both the capital of Reconcavo and an important vestige of Brazil’s colonial past, and makes a popular day trip from nearby Salvador. Cachoeira’s colorful colonial buildings remain its most charming asset and the central Praça da Aclamação square is the obvious starting point for a walking tour, home to striking landmarks like the 17th-century City Hall and the baroque-style Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Rosário church.
Additional highlights of a visit to Cachoeira include taking a boat trip along the Rio Paraguaçu; crossing the bridge to neighboring São Félix where it’s possible to tour the Dannamann Cigar Factory, one of Brazil’s most popular tobacco brands; and discovering the region’s rich Afro-Brazilian heritage by watching a live candomblé show.
Cidade Alta (Upper City) contains Salvador’s largest concentration of sights. Perched on an escarpment and affording great views over the bay (Todos os Santos), it is here where you’ll find Pelourinho, Brazil’s original and restored colonial capital, Museo Afro-Brasiliero, and the São Francisco Church and Convent of Salvador.
Cidade Alta’s historic center, Pelourinho is also a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Spread over several blocks, its cobbled streets contain many notable brightly-painted colonial buildings and the area is a magnet for visitors.
You could spend all day gazing at the colonial architecture and chocolate-box exteriors, but make some time to go inside a few of the more notable buildings here. A must-see is the ‘golden church’ (São Francisco Church and Convent). Its gold interior adorned with gilt woodwork and paintings is considered to be one of the best examples of Portuguese-Brazilian Baroque.
Bahia not relaxed enough for you? Then try Morro de Sao Paulo, the ultimate island getaway.
The complete opposite to its big city namesake Sao Paulo, Morro (as it's better known to the locals) is only accessible by plane or boat. And once you're there, there's no transport (unless you include wheelbarrows, tractors and buggies!) - you'll have to use foot power to propel you from one gorgeous beach to the next.
There are four main beaches (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th!) with distinct flavors on Morro de Sao Paulo. Second Beach (Segunda Praia) is the liveliest and most popular at night for beach parties, while Third Beach (Terceira Praia) offers the largest range of accommodation options and some of the island's best diving (thanks to a large coral reef). Fourth Beach (offers a chance to find some solitude and experience the island's natural beauty uninterrupted.
Five rural villages and plenty of quiet sandy beaches make up the tiny island of Tinhare, located in Cairu in the state of Bahia. Its palm-lined streets, tropical bars and traditional samba clubs make it a destination that’s as perfect for sun worshipers as it is for night-life lovers.
Most travelers prefer to explore the island on foot, but a single tractor provides “taxi” service around Tinhare. Scenic boat trips, ocean sailing, dolphin trekking and general beach bumming prove the main draws to this tropical island. Visitors agree that the quiet breeze, friendly locals and easy access to hammocks make Tinhare the perfect place to escape and unwind.
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