Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Southeast Brazil
About 36,000 people call the Portuguese colonial town of Paraty home. Its quiet streets, colorful homes, European influence and historic roots attract visitors from across the globe. But it’s Paraty’s easy access to lush forests, untouched coastlines and pristine mountains that make it a true travel destination. Stationed on the Bay of Ilha Grande, Paraty is the southernmost city in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Visitors can kayak or cruise through placid waters and explore the tiny islands scattered throughout the bay. And land lovers can check out nearby Serra da Bocaina National Park and Serra do Mar State Park, for a look at indigenous plants and wildlife.
Keeping a watchful eye over the people of Rio de Janeiro, the Statue of Christ the Redeemer (or Cristo Redentor) sits atop Corcovado 2,300 feet (700 meters) above the city. It was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
The largest art deco statue in the world, it is 130 ft (39 m) tall and the arms measure 98 ft (30 m) across. Made of reinforced concrete and sandstone the statue was unveiled in 1931.
On a clear day the views from the base of the statue are fantastic. At night the statue is lit up and seemingly hovers over the city as the mountain it stands on is dark. If it is cloudy the clouds light up and the effect can be quite spectacular and ethereal.
Sao Paulo’s version of NYC’s Central Park, leafy Ibirapuera Park was opened on the 400th anniversary of the city, in 1954, and it’s known as much for its museums and music hall as it is for its jogging and cycling paths by the lake.
The park buildings were designed by the modernist Oscar Niemeyer, known for designing Brasília’s public buildings. Covering 2 square km, Ibirapuera is the largest park in central Sao Paulo and the second largest in the city. Designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, there are 13 playing courts and playgrounds on the lawn. Come on a Sunday morning to enjoy a free outdoor concert in the Praça da Paz. Another nice Sunday touch is the Bosque de Leitura — a free outdoor lending library where you can borrow books and magazines (many of which are in English) to read in the park for the day.
One of the most expensive strips of real estate in Latin America, Avenida Paulista is São Paulo’s most iconic thoroughfare. What started out as a residential street lined with the ornate neoclassical mansions of 19th-century coffee barons has, in a little over a century, turned into an urban canyon of glass and steel and a modern hub of business, culture and entertainment.
Anchored on one end by busy Shopping Paulista mall and on the other by multi-use architectural standout Conjunto Nacional—vaguely reminiscent of the famed congress building in Brasília—, Avenida Paulista serves as the address for many of the city’s most important cultural institutions, including the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), lush Parque Trianon and the Casa das Rosas arts center (located in one of the last mansions remaining on the street).
At the Santos Coffee Museum visitors experience the world’s favorite caffeinated-beverage through history and of course, taste. The Coffee Museum is housed in what used to be the Coffee Stock Exchange, where Brazilian coffee was weighed and traded before being sent through the Santos Port and overseas.
The Coffee Stock Exchange closed in the 1960s and fell into disrepair, but after decades of restoration efforts, in 2005 the beautiful colonial building re-opened as the Coffee Museum. The building’s architecture is a highlight of a visit to the museum. High ceilings with stained-glass skylights lie above ornately designed marble floors on the Exchange’s main trading room. The museum’s exhibition rooms explain the historical and cultural significance of coffee in Brazil, and worldwide, through photos, paintings, antique coffee-farming tools and more.
Far from a typical church, the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral is a tall, cone-shaped building that’s distinctive to the downtown Rio skyline. The unusual design was inspired by the Mayan pyramids and was built in the ‘60s and ‘70s by architect Edgar Fonseca. One of the most important contemporary religious structures in Rio, the cathedral is dedicated to St Sebastian, the patron saint of the city, and has received three papal visits.
Standing at 315 feet (96 meters), the hollow interior is undeniably the most impressive part of the building. Massive bronze doors give way to the circular nave, nearly 350 feet (106 meters) in diameter, fit to accommodate 20,000 churchgoers on foot. Four panels of floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows surround the structure, and a skylight in the shape of a cross at the top allows for natural light to flood into the interior. This unique cathedral is a must-see for those interested in contemporary architecture.
Situated grandly atop downtown São Paulo’s Vale do Anhangabaú like a concrete wedding cake, the century-old Theatro Municipal still shines as an example of the city’s place at the vanguard of art in Latin America. Opened in 1911, the ornate showplace—styled in the tradition of the great European opera houses—has welcomed Maria Callas, Isadora Duncan, Duke Ellington, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Ellington to its stage. A recent multimillion-dollar renovation has restored the grandeur of the structure, which serves as the official home of the São Paulo Municipal Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo City Ballet, among other artistic organizations.
With a design inspired directly by Milan’s Teatroalla Scala, the theater was erected during the height of São Paulo’s wealth and influence as the center of Brazil’s coffee industry, though the location of the structure is called Morro do Chá—Tea Hill.
Lording over the heart of the city, the immense Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption—abbreviated to Catedral da Sé in reference to its status as the seat of the local Roman Catholic archbishop—almost seems out of place with its mid-century Modernist neighbors. In fact, the current neo-Gothic structure is the third incarnation of the cathedral, the first church having been established in 1589. Designed by German architect Maximilian Hehl in 1912, construction on the current church began the following year, only coming to full completion in 1967, a full 50 years after Hehl himself died and 13 years after the cathedral was inaugurated for São Paulo’s 400th anniversary in 1954. One of the largest neo-Gothic structures in the world and certainly the largest in Brazil, the cathedral’s massive dimensions include a length of 364 feet, a 98-foot dome, and a height of 301 feet from ground level to the tip of the twin spires.
More Things to Do in Southeast Brazil
Copocabana Beach, or Praia de Copacabana, is the Rio de Janeiro of the tourist brochures and deservedly so. It’s a breath-taking 2.5mi (4.5 km) stretch of bright sand that’s filled with people luxuriating in the sun and soaking up the atmosphere.
As night descends the lights go on and football is played until the wee hours. Other groups start singing and dancing and still others are just there to check each other out. The busy sidewalks can get seedy at night so take care.
Behind it rise the Sugarloaf and Morro de Leme and in between is one of the world’s most densely populated residential areas.It is possible to visit Rio and never leave Copacabana, many hotels are situated here and there are plenty of restaurants and bars and some decent shopping.
Standing 130 meters tall in the heart of São Paulo, the Martinelli Building was the city’s first skyscraper. Built in 1929 with 12 floors to begin with, the remaining 18 floors you see today were completed by 1935.
A beautiful building that would look right at home in Chicago, the Martinelli Building was built by Italian immigrant-turned-business tycoon Giuseppe Martinelli, who arrived in Brazil in 1889. To prove to a skeptical public that the skyscraper was actually safe, he and his family actually lived in the top four floors until the Great Depression forced Martinelli to part with the building and let it come under control of the Italian government, who then sold it to the state of Brazil.
A lush Atlantic rainforest, Tijuca National Park is an absolute wonder it is the world’s largest urban forest which covers 12.4mi² (32km²) and was a result of incredible forward thinking by Emperor Dom Pedro II.
In 1861 he saw the deforestation of the land around Rio and ordered that Tijuca be replanted to secure the water supply for future citizens. It was replanted over ten years ago and still plays a key role in making sure Rio has fresh water.
The national park includes the Corcodova which offers stunning views from its summit where the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer is situated. It also offers fantastic picnic areas, many waterfalls and some great walks.
Wildlife in the park includes insects, ocelots and howler monkeys. The reintroduction of birdlife has been particularly successful and it is a birdwatchers heaven.
The stunning beach gets divided up depending on the interests of the beachgoers. There is the family section, the gay section, the ageing-intellectual section and so on; you’ll soon find where you feel comfortable.
At night the beach is lit up and families come to the beach with their barbeques and cook dinner while others come down to watch the sunset.
Ipanema means “bad, dangerous waters” in Indian and it is indeed a good idea to only swim in the designated areas where the locals are swimming as the waves can be big and the undertow strong.
Barra da Tijuca, often referred to simply as Barra, is one of Rio’s newest neighborhoods — evident by its mega malls and glass-towered condominiums. As one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, it’s also among the safest. Brazilians often refer to the neighborhood as the Brazilian Miami for its wide, palm-lined roads and upscale shopping.
What brings visitors to Barra is the 10-mile (17-kilometer) long stretch of beach fronting the neighborhood. It’s the largest stretch of beach in a city famous for them and a popular place for surfing, kite surfing and body boarding. It’s also a shopping hotspot in the city, thanks to the BarraShopping and its 700 stores and restaurants and about a dozen other shopping malls.
Barra da Tijuca will host several of the venues for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Whether you’re here for the surf, the golden sands, or to soar in the skies above, visiting Sao Conrado Beach is a highlight of Rio de Janeiro. Here in this affluent, oceanfront neighborhood that’s sometimes called Praia Pepino, visitors will find an eclectic combo of surfers, paragliders, wealthy elite, and the poorest residents in Rio. Just up the hill from Sao Conrado is the infamous Rocinha favela, which is one of the city’s poorest areas and also its largest slum. The juxtaposition of social classes is evident out on the streets—yet everyone seems to equally enjoy the combo of sunshine and surf. When strolling the sands of Sao Conrado, be sure to look up and scan the skies for hangliders circling above. The beach is a popular landing spot for groups of paragliders and hangliders, most of whom have launched from the slopes of neighboring Pedra Bonita.
This historic church is built on the exact spot where the famed city of Sao Paulo was founded. Constructed in 1554, Pateo do Collegio Chuch once served as a home, school and church for Jesuit priests. Today, the original structure includes a museum, café, library in addition to an operational church. Visitors can explore the church’s seven halls that showcase sacred artifacts, indigenous art and a model of the city in its earliest state. Travelers should be sure to check out the famed Peace Bell—known by locals as Sino da Paz—which serves as a reminder of the need for peace, justice and empathy in Sao Paulo and across the world.
Decorated with over 2,000 brightly colored tiles in the colors of the Brazilian flag, the Selarón Staircase (Escadaria Selarón) is one of Rio’s most vibrant and striking landmarks, marking the boundary between the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. The brainchild of Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, the iconic steps have become one of the world’s most famous pieces of street art, drawing millions of visitors and gaining exposure in international commercials, pop music videos and magazines all around the globe.
Selarón started work on the staircase in 1990 as a tribute to the Brazilian people and his beloved adopted city, covering the 250 steps with an elaborate mosaic of tiles and updating the artwork over the years to include newly inspired tiles donated by visiting artists. Operating a gallery from his home, the artist lived nearby for more than 20 years, but tragically, he was found dead on the steps in 2013, leaving his memory to live on through the unique landmark.
Home to the world’s largest Japanese population outside Japan, the Sao Paulo district of Liberdade is a densely-populated neighborhood that’s a popular spot for locals and tourists looking to get a taste of Japanese culture and cuisine in Brazil.
Liberdade was settled in the early to mid-20th century by Japanese immigrants brought to Brazil to work in the coffee plantations around Sao Paulo. Since 1970, many people of other Asian ethnicities, especially Chinese and Koreans, have also moved into the area.
Marked by the nine-meter tall red Torii (Japanese Shinto arch) on Rua Galvão Bueno, and lined with Japanese-style street lamps, Liberdade offers a similar feel to other little Tokyo’s around the globe. It’s a particular draw to young Paulistano manga and anime enthusiasts, who are often seen dressed up as cosplay characters almost any day of the week, but especially on weekends.
In Sao Paulo’s downtown, the Monastery of Sao Bento is known for its Gregorian chanting, exceptional bakery, and beautiful frescoes.
To catch the medieval chants of the monks, head to the 10am Sunday mass — get there early for a good seat. If you come for Sunday service, you’ll also get to hear the 6,000 pipe organ being played. For cake, jams, cookies, and breads prepared and blessed by the monks, look for the bakery to the left of the main hall. It’s a little more expensive than regular bakeries, but the quality is excellent and there’s a wide range of baked goods to choose from. Try the pão de mel — honey bread filled with jam and dipped in chocolate.
Surrounded by skyscrapers today, the Monastery of Sao Bento was built from 1910-1922, and it stands in the place of the original 17th-century chapel. Home to 40 cloistered monks, the monastery was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for his stay during his first official visit to Brazil in 2007.
The gigantic Maracanã Stadium was built to open the 1950 World Cup. It holds the record for the largest attendance at a World cup final as 199,854 paying spectators crammed into the stadium and many more besides.
If you’re after the intense Brazilian football experience complete with the drums, flares, and chanting, then get to a game; otherwise the sports museum inside the stadium with photographs, cups, and Pele’s famous no. 10 jersey is a more sedate experience (enter at Gate 18).
Its official name is 'Mário Filho Stadium' but it's called 'Maracanã' after the small river that runs alongside. In the 1990s it was modified to become an all-seated stadium and now holds under 100,000.
The four main teams of the city play here and it will host the opening of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies. It is being renovated for these events (scheduled to reopen in 2012) and will finally hold around 103,000 spectators.
At Carnival time the Sambadrome is the heartbeat of Rio de Janiero. A 3,000ft (700m) stretch of road designed as a 90,000 capacity parade area with stadium seating rising on each side of the road.
Samba schools have 80 minutes to parade through the center of the Sambadrome performing their samba school anthem impressing the crowd with their music, dancing and floats. it is an incredible spectacle; seven teams compete each night in a concert that lasts over ten hours.
During the rest of the year the Sambadrome hosts the occasional music concerts. Some of the more famous names to play include the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton and Coldplay. If its not Carnival and there's no concert then the Sambadrome can be very empty and quiet but it is still a fascinating piece of Rio’s culture and there is a small museum that showcases its history.
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