Belo Horizonte: the best of Minas Gerais capital city


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Belo Horizonte as seen from the Praça do Papa square

Belo Horizonte is often a transit route to more famous destinations in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, such as Ouro Preto, Tiradentes or Inhotim. But the capital of Minas Gerais deserves a two-day stop or a whole weekend just for itself.

I’ve been to Belo Horizonte, or BH for those in the know,  three times and, in my opinion, this is one of those cities that are underrated by travelers and that deserves more attention than it gets. Okay, I won’t say it’s hugely amazing or anything, but it’s a big city with a chill vibe, ideal for those who, like me, want to escape the madness that is Sao Paulo, for example, but without going to the middle of the woods.

One of its advantages is that Belo Horizonte is much cheaper than Sao Paulo or Rio, so you should definitely consider it if you’re looking to stop by Brazil or have a few days to kill around here. It also offers a wide variety of tours: from museums to parks, and bars to churches (and the offer of these last two is huge, alright?).

You can also choose to make of BH a base to go to other places in the region, such as Inhotim and Ouro Preto, two major tourist destinations in Minas Gerais as we said before. To get a picture, an Uber ride from BH to Inhotim costs R$90 and takes just under an hour and a half. But let’s get back to the city info:

Fun fact: at Confins Airport there’s a Snoopy Café, really cute and a paradise for fans of the character

Arriving

The city’s bus station is located right in the downtown area, and from there it’s easy to take a bus or taxi anywhere. If you choose to use Uber, for instance, look for the stop on the parking lot where the app drivers pick up passengers.

Pampulha Airport hardly ever operates commercial flights anymore, so the sure way to get to the city by plane is from Tancredo Neves Airport in Confins. From there, an Uber ride to downtown Belo Horizonte costs about R$70 reais and takes about an hour. The “Conexão Aeroporto” bus line will take you to either the bus station, Avenida Álvares Cabral (both downtown) or Pampulha Airport. The trip costs R$12.70 by conventional bus, without air conditioning, or R$27.70 by executive bus with AC.

If you’re leaving from Vitória or Governador Valadares, you can also choose to go by train. The trip takes longer, but what is striking is the allure of using one of the few passenger lines still active in Brazil. The route to Vitória is also the longest one made by train in Brazil.

The Praça da Liberdade square gets crowded on the weekends, both from families and young people

Things to do – day 1

On the first day, focus on the central region. Start the day at Praça da Liberdade, or Freedom Square, which has recently been revitalized and is surrounded by museums. They occupy historic buildings that used to house government agencies. The main ones are the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), which hosts temporary exhibitions, cinema, theater, and two cafes, and the Memorial Minas Gerais Vale, which has exhibitions that unite both the past and present of Minas Gerais. Admission is free for both. In Praça da Liberdade is also the Niemeyer Building, designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer himself, and one of the most famous in the city.

As in commonplace with countryside towns, Praça da Liberdade has its gazebo, facing the CCBB

Head to the Edifício Maletta, or Malleta Building, for lunch. The place, a secret of the locals, is a gastronomic jewel and a very pleasant stop. I’d already been to Belo Horizonte twice before, and only during my third time there have I discovered this place, because I was taken by my cousin who lives in the city. Maletta is very reminiscent of the Galeria Metrópole in São Paulo, which is sort of like a little shopping center amidst the historical center. In this case, it’s a residential building whose ground and first floors are chock full of restaurants and bars. The Cantina do Lucas is very famous and one of the oldest establishments in the capital. I grabbed a bite at the Graffica Bar on the first floor, and couldn’t have been more pleased. The food, speaking frankly, isn’t all that special, but the ambiance makes it all worth it. It’s also a great place for a happy hour.

Maletta is close to Mercado Central de Belo Horizonte, the city’s Central Market, to which you should head next. There you’ll be delighted with the dulce de leche, guava and cheese tastings, and it’s the best place to buy this kind of food souvenir. Many people also suggest having lunch there, but my cousin, who guided me through the days I spent in the city, said it wasn’t the best option and I followed his recommendation, so I can’t really evaluate on my own.

At night, go to the Savassi region. The bohemian neighborhood is full of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs that get crowded, especially at night. One of the most famous establishments is the Café com Letras, which despite its name also serves food. I had dinner there and highly recommend it. A nice atmosphere, delicious food, and fair prices. Café com Letras, by the way, is one of two cafes inside the CCBB we mentioned before.

Lagoa da Pampulha, or Pampulha Lagoon, with the Mineirão and Mineirinho stadiums in the background

Things to do – day 2

On the second day, the attractions are farther apart, making it impossible to get from one place to another on foot. Start at Lagoa da Pampulha, an ideal stroll for a Sunday morning. It’s kind of like strolling on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Rio, or Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, meaning a place for a nice walk, a bike ride, and fresh coconut water. At the edge of the lagoon is the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, designed by Niemeyer and one of the city’s main postcards. The church is beautiful on the outside, but until June 2019 the interior is closed for renovations.

From there, time for lunch! You can choose to stay in the lagoon region (see here our experience at the Xapuri restaurant, which serves typical “mineiro” dishes) or take some sort of transportation and go to another neighborhood. Some options are the Savassi region, again, or the Santa Teresa neighborhood, another of those regions full of bars and restaurants. One of the most famous is Bolão, which is very simple and serves all kinds of food. If you want typical food from Minas Gerais, which we Brazilians call “mineiro”, Dona Lucinha restaurant is another reference. It’s located in the São Pedro neighborhood and has a complete buffet of all that Minas Gerais has to offer. The restaurant works on an all-you-can-eat basis and costs R$ 58,00 per person, without drinks.

After lunch, a stroll in the Praça do Papa, or Pope’s Square, which has a beautiful view of the city, is a good option. If you want, also visit the lookout that is right nearby.

For those who are driving, taking a spin through Rua do Amendoim, or Peanut Street, is a must! There, – a very characteristic slope of BH – when you stop the car, without using the hand brake, and start to release the brake pedal, you have the impression that the car is going up instead of down. Some crazy stuff!

Even though it doesn’t look like it, it’s also possible to enjoy some cool shades and drink coconut water in the Praça do Papa square

To end the day, head to Rua Sapucaí. Facing the train line and Praça da Estação square, this street offers a beautiful view and is full of tasty bars to end a day full of tours.

Bonus: secret for the party people

This tip is no secret to those who are from Belo Horizonte, but it’s worth its weight in gold to outsiders. Do you know when you go clubbing up to the wee hours and all you need before you fall into bed is a bite to eat? In BH there’s an ideal place for this: the Chopp da Fábrica.

Don’t you go thinking it’s just a hot dog stand or a bar that sells dubious food. Chopp da Fábrica is a well-groomed restaurant that has a huge menu and is open until about 6 am. And no matter what time you arrive, anything can be ordered. I, for example, ate a spaghetti parmigiana (!!), consisting of breaded steak, topped with spaghetti bolognese, topped with cheese. The most famous dish of the early morning is the mexidão, or stir, but don’t be alarmed as there are some more normal options, too.

The so-called spaghetti parmigiana

 

In short: Belo Horizonte can be a super interesting tourist destination, and we think that on your next trip to Minas Gerais or when you have a few extra days when in Brazil, you should try and stop by!

Are there any tips from BH that we didn’t include here? Share it with us in the comments!

 

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