Sometimes called “Brazilian Venice” due to the number of its islands and canals, Recife is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. The name comes from arrecifes, surrounding reefs that protect both the port and the sunbathers from high tides. Olinda, now part of the Recife metro area, was once the richest city in the Portuguese domain of Brazil, and it still preserves its colonial charm.
You may be taken aback by the sheer scale of the city, but the façade of skyscrapers and bustling avenues guards some precious secrets. It is recommendable to find lodgings in the calmer beach suburb of Boa Viagem or in Olinda and visit Recife proper during the day or pop in for its sassy nightlife.
Attractions and activities
A walk around Olinda’s steep streets is the best way to appreciate one of the few places in Brasil where its 500 years of history are so well preserved. You can start on Praça do Carmo and go in the direction of rua do Amparo, chock-full of museums, ateliers, restaurants and the Casa dos Bonecos Gigantes – where the giant figures used on carnival parades are stored. On Sundays, a handicraft fair awaits you on Largo do Varadouro.
The carnival of Pernambuco is by many considered the best in Brasil. Thanks to Paço do Frevo, a musical museum in the historic quarter, Recife Antigo, you can experience it all year long. The city is also home of the greatest living sculptor in Brazil - Francisco Brennand. His works are spread throughout the city – e.g. the most famous obelisk on Marco Zero square in the historic centre. For a deeper look into his work, visit the Instituto Francisco Brennand on the outskirts of Recife, located in an old sugar mill with a garden of impressive 15 thousand square metres, with lakes and promenades.
For the more active tourists, Recife promotes itself as the Brazilian capital of… shipwrecks. There are 18 vessels sunk on the shores of the city, some of them by purpose, for the sheer pleasure of exploring them. Some 170 species of fish, molluscs and crustaceans and warm sea temperature attract divers from the whole world. The best time to experience the hidden beauties of the seas is in the spring, when the waters are calm and clear.
What to eat and drink
A great place to experience local cuisine are the newly (re)created Armazéns do Porto - former port warehouses revitalised into an area of restaurants, bars, museums and craft shops. Most local dishes have seafood as the main theme. Among desserts, try cartola (fried banana with cheese and cinnamon) and bolo de rolo (a roll of very thin sponge cake with guava paste). A good spot for degustation is the charming rua do Amparo in Olinda. Also there, in the bars around Alto da Sé, you can find the best tapiocas in the region.
Nightlife concentrates in bohemian neighbourhoods of Recife Antigo and Boa Viagem. In the historical centre, the focus is on live music bars, from jazz to rock, such as Burburinho, Casa da Moeda, Confraria do Mar e Downtown Pub. On the seaside the style is rather happy hour, with beer served in Boteco Maxime and other beach pubs.
While searching for a bus ticket, it is important to pay attention to the bus stations.
Some destinations only have routes to one bus station and others more than one station. Depending on where you will stay in the city, it can make a difference in time and price if you have a choice in bus stations. Here is a brief summary of each station: