The Top Things to See and Do in Florianópolis, Brazil

Public markets are at the core of daily life in Florianopolis
Public markets are at the core of daily life in Florianopolis | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Robinson

Welcome to the capital of Brazil’s Santa Catarina state: the city of Florianópolis, often shortened to Floripa. A 90-minute flight south of Rio, it’s a winner for a weekend – or longer. While it’s got one foot on the mainland, the other is on a connected island – also called Santa Catarina – with plenty of small outcrops adjacent. Here you’ll find tons of fun in the form of sun-baked beaches, snorkeling, excellent seafood and romantic sunset wanders.

1. Learn to surf at Praia Mole

Natural Feature

Surfers at Praia Mole (Mole Beach) - Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil
© Diego Grandi / Alamy Stock Photo

The Atlantic beaches of Santa Catarina Island aren’t merely beautiful. The long, broad stretches of golden sand framed by rocky capes are known for some of Brazil’s best surfing – and with so many beaches, conditions suit all, from absolute beginner to expert. Praia Mole, a small bay in the center of the island hosts championship tournaments and has two-point breaks and a beach break. Floripa Surf Club, based at the beach, rents boards and has classes.

2. Scoff seafood

Restaurant, Seafood

Squeezed between Galheta mountain, a seemingly endless golden beach and shimmering Santa Catarina lagoon, Barra da Lagoa is a low-key fishing village with some damn fine views over the forested hills behind the beach. Everyone knows it as the go-to for an evening drink or meal – keep your eyes peeled for menus doing freshly caught robalo (bass) or badejo (sea bream) – ideally served with salad and a side order of sunset view. For a failsafe, there’s Rancho de Canoa, where the tapas-like petiscos are delicious and plentiful.

3. Lie back on Lagoinha da Leste Beach

Natural Feature

Florianopolis’s wildest shore, this strand of soft sand is framed by imposing mountains coated in a subtropical forest. It’s a trek to get here – literally. The only way in is over the mountains on a steep jungle trail running from Praia do Matadeiro beach, immediately to the north. It’s a sweaty, hour-long walk and as there are no facilities at Lagoinha do Leste, you’ll need to bring your own water. But you’ll be so thrilled you came.

4. Slurp sunset cocktails

Bar, Pub, Nightclub, Brazilian, Pub Grub

Not all Florianopolis’s best bars are on the beach. The Roof is way up in the Majestic Hotel, high over the city’s skyscraper skyline. On the menu: fruity sunset views over the ocean, Ibiza chill-out sounds and cocktails. Enjoy the giddy feel of your first citrus-sweet caipirinha as the night descends. DJs pump up the music and the bar turns from low-key lounge to Florianópolis’s swishest club. Book a table for the best views – or risk disappointment.

5. Paraglide at Lagoa De Conceicao

Natural Feature

At the heart of Santa Catarina island, the main attraction is a series of salt-water lakes. With almost no waves, they’re the business for wind- and kite-surfing and the surrounding mountains have a series of launch ramps for paragliding. A flight over the beaches and rainforests, dropping low over the lagoons, is spectacular, with a handful of local clubs offering tandem flights suitable for all ages, as well as classes leading to full paraglide certification.

6. Hike Trilha do Morro das Aranhas

Natural Feature

Rear view of a woman walking on a trail in a subtropical rainforest in Southern Brazil. Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil.
© Ricardo Ribas / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s not the arachnids you need to worry about on the trail up Spider Mountain. Despite the name, there are precious few. The challenge is the precipitous path, which rises over this rocky headland in the island’s south, hugging a steep cliff face that falls into a pounding ocean. In places, you need to clamber over boulders and there’s little shade. But the views are magnificent: over the forest and bottle-green ocean to the ragged Spider-Island archipelago just offshore.

7. Public Market

Market, Brazilian

To visit now you’d never think it began life as a few tents where local vendors rubbed shoulders with those from beyond, or abroad. European traders loved the spices like cinnamon, vanilla and cocoa, unknown in Europe and very lucrative. Today, the market is an elegant architectural affair, gently reminiscent of London’s Covent Garden with its parades of neoclassical arches and canteen-dense tables where friends gather for lunch. Aromas range from fish to spices – a sensory experience indeed.

8. Fortaleza de Santo Antônio de Ratones

Historical Landmark

In the bay north of Santa Catarina Island is the small outcrop of Ratónes Grande – and the reason you come here is to admire this fortress. Built by the Portuguese in the 18th century to uphold the occupation of southern Brazil, it did time as a quarantine station for maritime voyagers. After centuries left to the forest’s slow embrace, renovation projects have made it fascinating for a day trip today. Come and wander the eerily quiet, gently crumbling structures made of island granite, keeping your eyes peeled for aged cannons.

9. Santa Catarina History Museum


Museu Historico de Santa Catarina (MHSC), Historical Museum of Santa Catarina, Palacio Cruz e Sousa, Florianopolis, state of Santa Catarina, Brazil
© Andre M. Chang / Alamy Stock Photo

The city isn’t short on places brimming with treasures – but if you only have time for one, our top tip is the Santa Catarina History Museum (MHSC), in the Palace Cruz e Souza. The building alone is a major event, with its balustrading in homage to Florence and its ice-cream-pink facade. Step in and you’ll be swept up by the contents: a floor displayed to its best advantage, revealing intricate 19th-century marquetry; dreamy paintings of Desterro, the original town; even the first domestic light bulb used in Florianopolis, in 1910. You’ll be wowed.

10. Cathedral Metropolitana

Building, Cathedral, Church

As the saying goes, great oaks from little acorns grow. Entering this galactic place of worship today, you’d never think its first incarnation was a humble chapel. In 1675 it was raised for the small population of what was then a village, Nossa Senhora do Desterro. Evolving steroidally over the centuries as congregations grew, today it’s a spectacle of stained glass, golden statues – even an organ, from Germany. Most visitors love it for the exterior steps – perfect flopping territory after sightseeing. But many extravagant religious celebrations take place or check the official website to see what’s coming up.

This article was originally written by Ricarda Reininger and has since been updated.

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