Most travelers decide to visit multiple cities and resorts when they are in Brazil. This makes perfect sense because the country is absolutely full of nice destinations. In this article, we are taking a closer look at the best ones.
However, people might have different priorities. Some prefer beaches and natural attractions, while others prefer cities and cultural sights. We will try to include a wide variety of Brazilian travel destinations so that everyone can get inspired in one way or another.
Rio de Janeiro
The most famous Brazilian city is certainly Rio de Janeiro. When people think of Brazil, they often think of Rio. The city contains many of the things that Brazil is famous for – the Christ Redeemer statue, the Maracanã stadium, the Copacabana beach, the sugarloaf mountain, the carnival, the downtown district, and the original favelas.
It is the second-largest city in Brazil and the most visited by tourists. The sheer number of great attractions alone make Rio worth a visit, and on top of that you can enjoy great weather for most of the year as you spend time on the beach.
Rio is a must if you ever come to Brazil. There is no way around it – and fortunately, it is relatively easy to get there, since Rio has a large airport with connections to all major Brazilian cities and routes to many international cities as well. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are not too far from each other. The air route between those two cities is by far the busiest in Brazil. A high-speed train route between these two cities has been suggested, which would open up for even easier access.
Ilha Grande is another major tourist spot in Brazil. It is an island located a bit west of Rio de Janeiro. It is rich in nature since it contains remains of Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. If you decide to visit Ilha Grande while you are staying in Rio, you can enjoy the beaches, the hills and the small rainforest.
Aside from the natural attractions, Ilha Grande has an interesting history. It was once a leper colony, and later it was home to a notorious prison. The prison was shut down in the 90s. Nowadays, the majority of the island is without modern constructions, although it does have some coastal villages of which Vila do Abraão is the most populated one.
The entire island of Ilha Grande is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It gets a decent number of tourists every year. Most tourists go there to hike and to experience the rainforest. You’ll likely need to protect yourself from mosquitoes. To get to Ilha Grande, you need to take a bus and then a ferry from Rio de Janeiro.
Salvador was the first capital of Brazil, and it was one of the first cities founded by the Portuguese colonialists. That alone makes it one of the most interesting Brazilian cities. It still has a lot of architecture and monuments dating back to colonial times. The city centre of Salvador is very impressive, and that is one of the main reasons why it is one of the most visited cities in Brazil.
Another reason would be the carnival. The yearly carnival in Salvador is the largest party in the world – it is even larger than the one in Rio and in other Brazilian cities. So if you are wondering what time of the year it is best to visit Salvador, it would certainly be during carnival which is early in the year.
Salvador is is also the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture since many African slaves were brought to this part of the country. The entire state of Bahia is full of African influences, and that naturally includes its capital Salvador.
Aside from experiencing the culture and potentially the carnival, Salvador also gives you easy access to great beaches. You should be careful while visiting – Salvador is one of Brazil’s most dangerous cities – but with some basic precautions you should have a great trip without any issues.
São Paulo is the main destination for business travelers coming to Brazil. This city is basically the New York of Brazil. São Paulo, or Sampa as the locals call it, is not the capital but it is by far the largest city of the country. In fact, it is the largest city in South America and also the largest on the entire Southern Hemisphere.
It offers a lot of culture. Countless museums, churches, football clubs, parks, and much more. São Paulo also offers great shopping – try going to Avenida Paulista – and it has some amazing restaurants. Around 60% of São Paulo’s inhabitants have Italian ancestry. For this reason, you’ll find many Italian restaurants, but there are also many Arab and Japanese restaurants, as well as traditional and modern Brazilian cuisine.
Sampa is a great destination if you love being in a big city. If you want to be around lots of people, if you want to shop, eat out and party – it is a perfect location. São Paulo is relatively safe. It is considered to be the safest capital of all the Brazilian states, likely due to the strong presence of police and private security in public.
Despite all the attractions, it is rarely the main destination for tourists coming to Brazil. Perhaps this will change over the next decade. Tickets to São Paulo are often more affordable than to other Brazilian cities, so it is actually a great place to begin your Brazilian journey.
Santos is situated on the coast in the state of São Paulo. It is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, founded by the Portuguese in 1546. Santos is a cool city that isn’t too big, and it still has plenty of things to do.
Since it is only about 30 kilometers away from São Paulo, you can easily visit both of these cities on your trip.
Historically, Santos was mostly known for its port where coffee was exported to the rest of the world. In the beginning of the 20th century, tourism became the focus of the city, and many Brazilians saw Santos as a great place to go on holiday.
Football fans will take interest in the city since Santos FC was the club where Pelé spent the majority of his career. Santos has a memorial for Pelé, which attracts many tourists, but the crowds are undoubtedly also coming for the nice beaches of Santos.
In the state of Paraná we find the Iguaçú Falls. This is certainly one of the top locations in Brazil, as the falls are considered to be a natural wonder.
If you love nature, this should be on top of your list. Iguaçú Falls are located on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and also near Paraguay. Most of the falls are on the Argentine side, but you get the best view from the Brazilian side, and you can easily stay in Foz do Iguaçú, a relatively large city by the falls. The city has a good infrastructure with several nice hotels where you can stay as a tourist.
You can fly directly to Foz do Iguaçú from several Brazilian cities and from Buenos Aires. You can also take a bus from São Paulo. There are many options.
This is arguably the most popular city in the south of Brazil. Florianópolis is partly located on Santa Catarina Island, partly on other islands, and partly on the mainland. It is the second-largest city of Santa Catarina, and tourism is one of the main industries of the city.
Lots of surfers visit Florianópolis, but also regular beach-goers. The city has over 60 beaches so you have easy access to the water. Aside from all the nice beaches, Florianópolis is famous for its nightlife, its restaurant scene, and its colonial architecture in the historic centre.
Most travelers consider Florianópolis to be more comfortable than other Brazilian destinations. It is a medium-sized city, smaller than other coastal cities such as Rio, Recife and Salvador, but still big enough to offer plenty of attractions and entertainment. A half million people inhabit Florianópolis, but many wealthy Brazilians (especially Paulistas) and Argentines own property in the city and go there frequently for vacation. Florianópolis is also one of the most popular Brazilian destinations among European travelers.
We will stay in the south, because Curitiba is another highly interesting Brazilian city to visit. It is the largest city of the state of Paraná. During the 19th century, huge numbers of European immigrants arrived in this area and put their influence on the local culture.
Curitiba has some fascinating European-style infrastructure in the historical areas. The Botanical Gardens are located in Curitiba – this venue has become the symbol of the culture of Southern Brazil.
This is primarily a city to visit for culture and sightseeing. You can easily spend a week in Curitiba and have lots of things to do. Other people visit it briefly as a day trip or a weekend trip while staying in São Paulo or Florianópolis. The German-Brazilian city of Blumenau is located right between Curitiba and Florianópolis and is also worth a visit.
A great reason to visit Curitiba is that the crime rate is much lower than in other Brazilian cities, and that makes it more comfortable.
As one of the biggest cities in the south, and as the capital of the state Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre certainly deserves to be mentioned. It is the southernmost state capital in Brazil.
Founded in 1769, Porto Alegre has plenty of historical attractions. It is a multicultural city – first founded by the Portuguese, then it received immigrants from various European countries, and over the last century, people from all over Brazil have moved to Porto Alegre.
The Catholic Cathedral, the Piratini Palace, the City Hall, and Arc de Triomphe are some of the attractions you’ll find here. It also has numerous malls, museums, and football stadiums – in case you need more things to do. It is certainly one of the most fascinating cities of Brazil, and it hosts many events all year round. Many famous Brazilian artists have lived in Porto Alegre.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of violent crime in Porto Alegre, but this has improved in recent years. If you visit, you will need to take some precautions (don’t wave your phone, don’t walk alone at night) but almost all tourists do just fine in the city, since the crime is typically between local gangs. The nightlife is good, there are many good venues and beers are cheap, but don’t go out alone. If you are traveling alone, try to make some friends before you go out to experience the nightlife.
One of the wildest and most interesting cities in Brazil is undoubtedly Recife. Located on the northeastern tip of the country, Recife is famous for its beaches and its skyscrapers standing right at the coastline.
While Recife was founded by the Portuguese, it was also controlled by the Dutch during the 17th century. During this era, Recife was the capital of New Holland, under the name Mauritsstad. The Portuguese later reclaimed control of the city, and now it is one of the biggest metropolises in Brazil.
Recife has some very beautiful architecture in the older parts of the city, and there are many nice attractions. We recommend you to see the Capela Dourada, Convento de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, the Marco Zero Square, and the university building. Recife is one of Brazil’s most colorful cities. And don’t forget about the beaches. They are super beautiful. You do need to be careful though, since there are sharks in this area.
Near Recife we find other cities such as Olinda and Boa Viagem. This area is extremely popular among domestic tourists as well as foreign visitors.
Don’t go to Recife from April to July – it gets very rainy during this time of the year. Any time between September and February is ideal. In these months, it rains significantly less, there are many sunshine hours, and temperatures are almost always comfortable.
Another popular city in the northeast of Brazil is Natal. It is the capital of the Rio Grande do Norte region, and it is the closest Brazilian city to Africa and Europe.
Natal and Recife are located relatively near each other, so many tourists decide to visit both cities. Natal has amazing beaches without the risk of sharks that there is in Recife.
The history is also interesting. The name Natal literally means Christmas in Portuguese. Founded in 1599, the city is old, but it was a relatively small city up until the 20th century. During the last hundred years, the population of Natal has grown from 30,000 to about 900,000 inhabitants. This is primarily due to the fact that Natal has become a popular tourist resort, but also because of the fruit and salt industries. Furthermore, Natal is home to several military bases. The Air Force has a particularly strong presence in the city due to the great location.
Fortaleza means fortress in Portuguese. The area was settled in 1603, although Fortaleza didn’t get status as a town until the mid 18th century. The Dutch colonists were the ones who built a fortress at this location, but as we know, it was later handed over to the Portuguese, and now Fortaleza is a typical Brazilian city.
It serves as the capital of Ceará. Tourism is extremely important for the city, as Fortaleza is the fourth most visited place in the country. It is not as rainy as Natal or Recife, and there are several urban beaches. Actually, the entire Ceará region is highly worth exploring for its nature, and staying in Fortaleza is the perfect base for this purpose.
There is plenty of entertainment in Fortaleza. The city has a rich nightlife, several theme parks, some decent museums, and several sporting events every year. Brazilians love going to vacation in this city, and Europeans also consider Fortaleza to be one of the top destinations in Brazil.
This national park is absolutely stunning. The beach at Jericoacoara is as beautiful as it gets.
Jericoacoara is much-visited by domestic tourists from other regions of Brazil, but not yet that popular among foreigners. This will certainly change at some point, so try to visit Jericoacoara while it’s still a gem. It has an airport, with connections to many other Brazilian cities, and just like Fortaleza, it is located in the state of Ceará.
In Bahia we find Chapada Diamantina, which means the diamond plateau. It is a beautiful natural area within a mountain range. Chapada Diamantina has been named as a natural park. It is very rugged terrain, but it is incredibly impressive.
Chapada Diamantina isn’t as accessible as other Brazilian destinations, but if you plan it in advance, you can have some great days there. We would recommend joining a tour. If you are visiting Salvador, the main city of the Bahia state, you should also look into Chapada Diamantina.
Last – but not least – we have the capital. Brasília is a very modern city: It wasn’t founded until 1960, which makes it one of the newest-founded capitals in the world. Brasília is located inland and it prior to the official foundation, the urban planning was developed by Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and others. It has already been inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List for its modern and artistic architecture.
In just over a half century, Brasília has also grown from a mostly uninhabited area to become the third most populous city in the country. Brasília is one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil. In fact, it has the highest GDP per capita of all major Latin American cities, which is an impressive feat.
Obviously, Brasília is home to Brazil’s government. Most countries also have their embassies in Brasília, whereas São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro mostly just have consulates.
Brasília is generally not famous for tourism, but some people like to visit it, simply to see the modernist architecture and to be in the very centre of Brazil’s political life. The city has a large airport, so it is no problem to get in. A visit to Brasília can be very interesting, although we would say that you don’t need to stay longer than 2-3 days to experience the essence of it.
To conclude, Brazil has a lot of interesting places. It is a massive country where we find everything from big cultural cities to wonderful resorts. The top destinations in Brazil are certainly Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and the Iguaçú Falls. But don’t miss out on the other major cities or the hidden gems of the country. To learn more about Brazil, feel free to read our other articles!