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Recife Old Town | © fgmsp / Pixabay
Recife Old Town | © fgmsp / Pixabay

The Top 10 Things to See and Do in Recife, Brazil

Picture of Harry Stewart
Updated: 15 February 2018

Dubbed the “Venice of Brazil” for the abundance of picturesque waterways that sliver throughout the city, Recife is a touristic and commercial powerhouse in northern Brazil and a must for travelers traversing the region. From a crazy carnival parade to pristine beaches and thumping nightlife, here are the top 10 things to see and do in this vibrant tropical city.

Go crazy at carnival

Give the tourist throngs of Rio a miss and go a little loco Brazilian-style at Recife’s world-class carnival. Try to arrive on Saturday to witness the Galo da Madrugada, an epic parade that follows a giant route across a bridge and attracts some two million revelers. It’s the biggest street party in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Check out neighboring Olinda

A sister city just a short drive from Recife, colorful Olinda is famous for its pastel-colored houses and quaint colonial churches. Culture vultures will adore this open-air living museum, especially considering the entire historical center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

Olinda, State of Pernambuco, Brazil

Hang out on the beach

Bumming by the beach is a quintessential Brazilian pastime and Recife is certainly no exception. Most make a beeline for the expansive Boa Viagem, the city’s central stretch of sand, which is surrounded by upmarket restaurants, shops, and bars.

Boa Viagem, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

Shop till you drop

Retail therapy is another popular pastime in this affluent city, with numerous glitzy designer stores to tempt the frivolous spender. For the best selection, head to the massive RioMar Recife, considered to be among the best shopping centers in Brazil.

Visit the Culture House

After some shopping of a more traditional kind? Then pay a visit to the Casa da Cultura, a stunning artisanal marketplace that has been converted from a notorious prison. Live performances of traditional and contemporary music are common in the evenings.

Casa de Cultura, R. Floriano Peixoto, 141 Santo Antônio, Recife PE, 50020-060, Brazil, +55 81 3224 0557

Wander around the old city

Although clearly not as quaint as neighboring Olinda, Recife’s old town is jam-packed full of imposing architecture and colorful markets. Highlights include Praca da Republica, Teatro Santa Isabel, Catedral de Sao Pedro dos Clerigos, and Mercado do Sao Jose.

Praca da Republica, R. Imperador Pedro Segundo, s/n Santo Antônio, Recife PE, 50010-240, Brazil

Explore a majestic castle

Okay, it might not be medieval, but the stunning estate of the Instituto Ricardo Brennand is home to a castle full of swords, suits of armor, and plenty of other knightly paraphernalia. Expect to find fantastic Brazilian and European artwork plus other historical artifacts.

Instituto Ricardo Brennand, Alameda Antônio Brennand, s/n Várzea, Recife PE, 50791-904, Brazil, +55 81 2121 0365

Marvel at some incredible pottery

Brazil’s finest ceramicist set up shop on the outskirts of Recife, converting his family’s abandoned tile factory into a whimsical array of immaculately crafted artworks. It’s within a short distance of Instituto Ricardo Brennand, so be sure to combine a trip to both.

Oficina Ceramica Francisco Brennand, Propriedade Santos Cosme e Damião, Rua Diogo de Vasconcellos, S/N Várzea, Recife PE, 50740-970, Brazil, +55 81 3271 2466

Learn to dance frevo

The official dance of Recife’s feverish carnival, all things frevo can be found in the central Paço do Frevo museum. Expect to find exhibits of former carnival floats, live performances, and dance schools which welcome foreigners eager to learn a few moves.

Paço do Frevo, R. da Guia, s.n. Recife, PE, 50030-360, Brazil, +55 81 3355 9500

Head out for an unforgettable evening

The thriving city of Recife has no shortage of excellent dining and entertainment options, with many of the most happening spots lining the upmarket Boa Viagem.