13 can’t-miss activities in the historical cities in Minas Gerais

Leonor Macedo

Gui Machado

There are a lot of options on the historical cities route in Minas Gerais. We have made a list of can’t-miss activities in Tiradentes, Prados, Mariana, São João del-Rei, Coronel Xavier Chaves, and Ouro Preto.


In Tiradentes

Listening to an organ concert at Igreja Matriz de Santo Antônio

We already know that the historical cities in Minas Gerais are home to many churches. But they are not just part of religious tourism: the spaces are museums that reveal a lot about the art and customs in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.


Matriz de Santo Antônio: Rua Padre Toledo, 2, Centro

A way to explore Igreja Matriz de Santo Antônio, whose frontispiece was designed by Aleijadinho (one of the main artists of the Brazilian Baroque period), is attending an organ concert that’s held on Fridays at 8 p.m. You need to arrive early, because once the concert starts, you’re not allowed to enter the church.


Organist Elisa Freixo plays around eight classical music songs from different periods on an organ with 630 pipes. The instrument was made in the city of Porto, in Portugal, between 1785 and 1788 and brought to Brazil on a ship, to the port of Rio de Janeiro. Then it was transported to Tiradentes on the back of a donkey, when the village was still called São José del Rei.


Watching the sunset in front of Capela São Francisco de Paula

One of the many hills in Tiradentes will lead you to Alto São Francisco, as the grass area in front of Capela São Francisco de Paula is known. When the sky is blue, it’s worth going up there to say goodbye to the sun, which gradually paints the city in different shades. A show of colors.

Morro São Francisco, Centro


Tour on the Maria Fumaça train

The Maria Fumaça train, which connects the cities of São João del-Rei and Tiradentes, started operating in 1880 and has never stopped. The trip lasts around 40 minutes in rustic cars, and the coolest part is when you enter the urban area of São João. Many fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers bring children to wave at the train, while the passengers wave back. The tradition to welcome the arriving Maria Fumaça is passed on from generation to generation. To learn about the train times and fares, click here.



Participating in a tasting session of coffee grown in the Minas Gerais mountains

After the Minas Gerais gold was depleted, many people decided to plant coffee in the state. It’s no coincidence that Minas Gerais is the largest coffee producer in Brazil, and there are several places to have a good cup in Tiradentes. One of them is Café Maffort, which offers tasting sessions and is close to the starting point of Estrada Real (where you’ll also find a waterfall).


In Prados

Buying handicrafts in Bichinho

The rural area of Prados, some 6 miles [10 km] from Tiradentes, is home to Bichinho, a community filled with handicraft shops and studios. It all started when artisan Toti arrived in the region with the objective of teaching people to earn a living from handicraft. In total, he has taught 70 people, and 15 are still working with him at Oficina de Agosto. The rest opened their own establishments. The project Oficina de Agosto also has a shop in São Paulo, in the neighborhood of Vila Madalena.


In Bichinho, you can buy everything from beautiful furniture pieces to décor items, at a very accessible price.


Oficina de Agosto in Bichinho: Rua São Sebastião, 107


Casa Torta: Rua Moisés Pinto de Souza, 446

Reconnecting with your inner child at Casa Torta

Casa Torta is an excellent playful space for children, but it’s also a great place for adults to reconnect with their long-gone childhood. Set up by a couple of actors to be a theater space, it has become a cultural center with several games, toys, performances by artists, and even a luncheonette.


In Mariana

Exploring an abandoned mine

There are several mines open for visitation in the historical cities in Minas Gerais. The coolest is Mina da Passagem, located in Mariana, some 9.5 miles [15 km] from Ouro Preto.


Visitors take a car and go down 395 feet [120 m]. The 45-minute tour includes explanations about the rocks that were found in the Minas Gerais mountains and the life of miners at the time.



Inside Mina da Passagem there’s also a lake with crystal-clear waters, where you can’t go swimming, but can go scuba-diving with the proper gear and accompanied by an instructor.


In São João del-Rei

Watching a new film in a 1947 movie theater

While Tiradentes is known for hosting one of the most important film festivals in Brazil, São João del-Rei is home to one of the oldest operating movie theaters in the country. Opened in 1947, Cine Glória is in the city center and screens current movies.


The screen is very big, but inside it still maintains an old structure, when movie theaters had capacity for over 1,000 people. These days, there aren’t so many available seats, even though Cine Glória is still huge.


After watching a movie, you can walk to the luncheonette that’s right next to the theater and try a cigarrete, a salty snack that’s typical of São João del-Rei. It’s a breaded and fried treat with cheese filling.

Avenida Tiradentes, 390 - Centro


Having a cheese and guava paste ice cream across from the station

At the entrance to the São João del-Rei train station is the ice cream shop Monte Bianco. It’s a very simple establishment that sells a very traditional combination in the region in ice cream form: cheese and guava paste.


Monte Bianco usually sells these two flavors to several luxurious restaurants in Tiradentes, but in São João del-Rei they are cheaper.

Rua Maria Tereza, 22 - Centro


São João del-Rei train station

In Coronel Xavier Chaves

Visiting the oldest distillery in Brazil

Cachaça is a traditional Brazilian product, and the oldest distillery in the country is located in Coronel Xavier Chaves, some 12.5 miles [20 km] from Tiradentes. Engenho Boa Vista was founded in 1717 by the youngest sister of rebel Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes.


Engenho Boa Vista: Rua João XXIII, 443

The business is still in the family, run by the 9th generation of the descendants of Antônia da Encarnação Xavier, and master distiller Nando Chaves produces the cachaça named Século XVIII.


On Saturdays, they offer snacks to visitors, like sausage, fried manioc, and other Minas Gerais treats.


In Ouro Preto

Museu da Inconfidência: Praça Tiradentes, Centro

Sitting across from Museu da Inconfidência to watch the sunset

At the end of the day, people bring chairs or beach towels and seat at Praça Tiradentes, across from Museu da Inconfidência, to watch the sunset. And, if you’re lucky, you will be able to enjoy the performance of a street artist there.


Having cheese with dulce the leche while enjoying a beautiful view

Ouro Preto has its own “Urca wall,” located in the city center. Across from Queijaria Tesouros da Canastra there’s a wall where people usually seat to have some cheese and craft beer in the late afternoon.


On weekends, cultural events are held there, with samba, forró, or Carnaval music sessions.


Tesouros da Canastra: Rua Getúlio Vargas, 26, Centro

Enjoying samba, jazz, or forró music at Bar da Nida

After seeing the city from above, from Morro São Sebastião, go up to Bar da Nida. At this meeting spot for the city’s young, you’ll find the best samba session in Ouro Preto, in addition to jazz and forró concerts and ice-cold beer.