11 Epic Reasons to Visit Ouro Preto, Brazil at Least Once

The world's largest gold mine open to the public in Mariana, just outside of Ouro Preto
The world's largest gold mine open to the public in Mariana, just outside of Ouro Preto | © Pedro Vilela/MTur / Flickr
Photo of Sarah Brown
8 May 2018

A small colonial town in Minas Gerais, an inland state that borders Rio de Janeiro, Ouro Preto is known for its Baroque architecture, its rustic food, and for its central role in Brazil’s late 17th century Gold Rush. It may not have the beach, but Ouro Preto is a cultural and historic wonderland, providing a fascinating glimpse into a different side of Brazil. Here are 11 epic reasons why you should visit Ouro Preto at least once.

It has spectacular architecture

Whether building design gets you in a spin or not, almost everyone will appreciate the spectacular architecture in Ouro Preto from charming colonial houses to impressive Baroque-style churches.

The incredible architecture and dramatic scenery of Ouro Preto | © Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr

Its rich history

After the Portuguese colonizers discovered gold in Minas Gerais in the late 17th century, Ouro Preto soon became one of Brazil’s wealthiest and largest towns. Its a place rich in history marked by events such as slavery, the Gold Rush, an attempted revolution, and the birth of Aleijadinho, one of Ouro Preto’s – and indeed, Brazil’s – greatest sculptors and artists.

Religious figurines and artefacts in Ouro Preto | © Rosino / Flickr

Its churches

Ouro Preto has a huge number of churches, many of which are intricately designed and heavily decorated with gold inside. During the Gold Rush, the Portuguese would try to export a large portion of the gold back to the royal family and to Portugal, with the exception of gold used for religious monuments. The locals, not wanting to see their native gold leaving Brazil, constructed several churches embellished with gold as a way of keeping their riches in the country.

One of the many churches in Ouro Preto, Brazil | © Antonio Correa / Flickr

The museums

With such a deep and complex history, it’s unsurprising that Ouro Preto has several fascinating museums. Among them are the Casa Guignard museum dedicated to the life of Alberto da Veiga Guignard, a Brazilian painter and designer from the 20th century; the Pharmacy museum which explores medicine used between the 19th and 20th century; and the Inconfidência museum which tells the story of the unsuccessful revolution for Brazilian independence in 1789.

The Inconfidência museum, dedicated to the lives lost during the unsuccessful revolution in Ouro Preto for Brazilian independence | © knnth andrade / Flickr

Ouro Pretos’s carnival

While Rio de Janeiro and Salvador are globally-known for carnival, everyone in Brazil knows Ouro Preto also has an unforgettable carnival. With the town’s large university student population, Ouro Preto’s event promises all-day street parties and late-night live shows.

Costumes and music are fundamental parts of the Brazilian Carnival | © Marcello Nicolato / Flickr

Its gold mines

Although Ouro Preto’s gold sources have been depleted, you can still visit the Minas de Passagem gold mine and take a guided tour on an old cable car while learning about its history. Opened in 1719, today it’s the largest gold mine open to the public in the world. Located in Mariana, a small town on the outskirts of Ouro Preto, it’s close enough to take a day trip there.

The world's largest gold mine open to the public in Mariana, just outside of Ouro Preto | © Pedro Vilela/MTur / Flickr

Minas Gerais food

The food in Minas Gerais is the comfort food of Brazil. Loaded with carbs and fat, it’s not light but that’s exactly what makes it so delicious. Foods to try include tutu de feijão (beans mixed with bacon, sausage, and tapioca), frango ao molho pardo (chicken cooked in a chicken blood sauce, which is far nicer than it sounds), and the famous Minas cheese, a soft white cheese best served with guava paste.

Food from Minas Gerais is Brazil's comfort food | © Sabrina Ferreira / Flickr

Ouro Preto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Thanks to its incredible architecture and intriguing history, Ouro Preto was the first town in Brazil to be awarded the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The charming colonial architecture in Ouro Preto | © Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr

The surrounding national park

Known for its mountainous landscapes and incredible views, the Itacolomi National Park sits on the outskirts of Ouro Preto and is a popular destination for hikers who can enjoy a varied network of treks and dozens of waterfalls to visit. Among the most challenging yet rewarding hikes is the Itacolomi peak, one of the highest points in the area.

The Itaolomi national park in Minas Gerais, Brazil | © Osvaldo Vasconcelos / WikiCommons

Its huge collection of Aleijadinho’s artwork

Aleijadinho is considered one of Brazil’s greatest sculptors and artists, and many of Ouro Preto’s stunning architectural designs were his masterpieces. Although his work can be found all throughout the city, especially the churches, you can see a collection his sculptures in the Museum of Aleijadinho.

Sculptures by Aleijadinho in Ouro Preto | © Ricardo André Frantz / WikiCommons

There are several nearby attractions

Ouro Preto is a great base point to explore other nearby attractions too. As well as Belo Horizonte, the state’s thriving capital known for its lively bar and pub culture, and Inhotim, an interactive outdoor art gallery set in an exotic botanical garden, there are also dozens of small towns nearby that each have their own unique characteristics. Culture Trip complied a list of Minas Gerais’ most beautiful towns which you can find here.

Inhotim, an interactive art gallery set inside a botanical garden in Minas Gerais, Brazil | © Vinicius Depizzol / WikiCommons