Things to do and what to see in Recife, Brazil

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Looking for the best things to do in your trip to Recife? So you ended up in the right place! Check out these 5 must-do tours of Pernambuco state´s capital and enjoy your trip to Brazil!

Recife is a jewel of northeastern Brazil. The destination is already a pretty consolidated tourist destination in our country, but it often ends up being seen only as a transit route to the famous beaches in the region, such as Fernando de Noronha and Porto de Galinhas. However, truth is that Recife, the state capital of Pernambuco, isn’t far behind from Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s world-famous Bahia, for example, and deserves your attention.

I’ve been to Recife three times, at very different times in my life, and I can’t remember having a bad time in the city. For those who’ve never been there, I recommend staying at least three days there, leaving two full days to the city and the third one to know Olinda, a neighboring town famous for its historic vibe and Carnival. If you want to get to know every single thing and still enjoy the beach without rushing, it’s worth planning to stay a fourth day in the city.

Do outro lado do rio, que está em primeiro plano, vê-se construções históricas em Recife, e um barco atracado.

View from the Capibaribe River and the Marco Zero, in Recife.

When to go to Recife?

As is typical of the northeast of Brazil, Recife is hot all year round, so if you intend to go to the beach, there’s no bad weather. The months of December and January are usually more crowded and more expensive, and during July and August, the rains can hinder the trip a little. If you have some flexibility, it’s best to go in more intermediary months, such as March and September, for example.

Carnival: for those who want to enjoy the carnival of Recife/Olinda, one of the most famous in the world, the tip is to plan ahead, because deciding to go at the last minute will certainly mean paying very high prices on flights and accommodation- if you find them at all!

Nas ruas de Olinda, estão destacados 4 bonecos: o de Jô Soares, Tim Maia, Neymar e Mussum.

The famous “bonecos de Olinda”, handmade giant puppets that bear resemblance to national and international celebrities, pop up on the streets during the traditional Carnival.

Beaches: the beach is not the main attraction in the capital. Although it’s worth the visit, it really pales when compared to other paradises in the same state, Pernambuco (oh, and remember to avoid sea bathing on Boa Viagem beach due to the sharks). Recife draws more attention due to its museums and local culture, which is very strong in the city.

Check out the city’s main attractions:

1- Marco Zero, Parque das Esculturas, and Recife Antigo

Recife’s Marco Zero, or Ground Zero, is the center of tourism in the city. The square that marks the birthplace of the city is in the area called Recife Antigo, which stands for Old Recife – the city’s historic center. You can spend at least half a day walking around the area, where you’ll pass some of the city’s main tourist attractions. This is where the Madre de Deus Church, the Malakoff Tower, the Paço Alfândega Shopping Mall and the Federal University of Pernambuco’s Recife College of Law are located, to name a few.

Around Marco Zero, in front of the Capibaribe River, the port has been modernized and now has a variety of bars and restaurants with the same vibe of Puerto Madero, in Buenos Aires – but not so expensive.

Also just in front of Marco Zero is the Parque das Esculturas Francisco Brennand, a sculpture park holding works by Francisco Brennand, a famous Brazilian sculptor from Pernambuco. The park can be observed from afar or, if you’d like, you can take a ride on a little boat and go there to see the artist’s works up close.


2- Cais do Sertão and Paço do Frevo

Also located in the Recife Antigo region, these two museums are absolutely a must-go for those visiting the city. Both with impeccable productions, these places present very interesting aspects of northeastern culture and traditions, with many multimedia features and some interactive options that appeal to children and adults alike.

Pessoas caminham dentro de museu que tem 3 janelas grandes com uma decoração vermelha em cima.

The Paço do Frevo is one of the most interesting attractions of the Recife Antigo region.

Heads up: Cais do Sertão is free on Tuesdays, closes on Mondays, and is only open during the weekends in the afternoon. Paço do Frevo doesn’t offer a free day and has similar opening hours.

3- Oficina Brennand and Instituto Ricardo Brennand

If you dedicated a whole day of your stay to Recife Antigo, I recommend dedicating the second day to the cousins ​​Francisco and Ricardo Brennand, who have the Oficina Brennand and the Instituto Brennand, a Workshop and an Institute, respectively.

Francisco Brennand is a plastic artist most known for his work as a potter. His Francisco Brennand Ceramics Workshop has a museum and a workshop in a huge complex that is well worth a visit. We already talked more about the Brennand Workshop tour in this post here.

Ricardo, in turn, is a collector and founder of the Ricardo Brennand Institute. The property brings together a multitude of artwork and objects such as armor and knives, for example, in a castle surrounded by a breathtaking green area.

The structure of the Ricardo Brennand Institute is impressive and makes the visit well worth it.

The two tours are close to each other, in the northern area of ​​Recife, in the Várzea neighborhood. In this blog post from Viaje na Viagem (in Portuguese), there are tips on how to visit the two cousins’ establishments on the same day, and also include the Gilberto Freyre Foundation in the same tour.

4- Mercado São José and Casa de Cultura de Pernambuco

I personally love to visit markets, but if you are not a fan of good old street food (not the hipster type), you might want to skip the São José Market. That’s because it’s a very traditional market, full of boxes selling souvenirs, of course, but also full of the most common, typical food of local cuisine. In the best open market style, with that awesome mess.

On the other hand, the Casa de Cultura de Pernambuco, or Pernambuco House of Culture, offers a similar and quite different experience at the same time. It’s a craft trade center housed in a building that was a house of detention in the past. The place is well maintained and the cells were kept (some for visitation and others turned into small shops). Inside, there are some stalls selling local handcrafts, stands with the traditional Rendeiras, Brazilian artisan women, and many others stops with a variety of typical souvenirs (don’t forget to buy your traditional Bolo de Rolo, a Brazilian dessert from Pernambuco, on your way out).

While the São José Market offers a very local experience, the Culture House is tidier and slightly more touristy. Both are amazing tours, so you can choose either one or visit both, and draw your own conclusions.

5- Olinda

De um lugar alto, se vê o céu e o mar ao fundo e, em primeiro plano, casas com telhados vermelho/amarronzado entre copas de árvores verdes.

The view from the Alto da Sé, in Olinda

Last but not least: Olinda. This little town known for its traditional carnival shouldn’t be forgotten at other times of the year. Listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, Olinda is located a mere 7km from Recife, so it’s usually included in the itineraries of those visiting it. Olinda is easily reached by car, taxi or bus.

In Olinda, the tip is to go to the Alto da Sé, in the historic center of the city, and get lost on its hills surrounded by super charming colorful houses. From up above, the view is breathtaking. And for those going outside the Carnival period, it’s also worth visiting the Casa dos Bonecos Gigantes de Olinda, a museum dedicated to those giant puppets that pop up in the city during Carnival season, to get to know a bit more of this characteristic tradition.

Ready yourself to get tired on Olinda’s slopes.

If you get hungry for a quick bite, the Oficina do Sabor restaurant is a spot on recommendation. The most traditional one in the city, it has won several awards and is worth the stop. Another good option is the Beijupirá restaurant, which is excellent and also has units in other regions in Pernambuco, such as Porto de Galinhas, Carneiros, Noronha and Reserva do Paiva.

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

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