Published February 2020
Brasília was born first on the drawing boards of urbanist Lúcio Costa, architect Oscar Niemeyer, and landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx, and then it became a reality. About to commemorate the 60th anniversary of its inauguration – on April 21, 1960 –, one of the world’s most famous planned cities is also establishing itself as a cultural and cosmopolitan destination for anyone who wants to explore Brazil. And if you’re planning to visit the Brazilian capital, here’s a list of what to do there:
The view from the top of the TV Tower announces the constructions aligned on the horizon under one of the bluest skies in the country. It also exposes the Pilot Plan – the metropolis’ design shaped like a plane. As such, in order to discover Brasília, it’s essential to explore the Monumental Axis until you reach its eastern end. In the aircraft’s “cockpit,” you’ll find several highlights of the bold project realized by the then-president Juscelino Kubitschek starting in 1956.
Symbolic, the two domes and twin towers of the National Congress share space in Praça dos Três Poderes with the Planalto Palace and the Federal Supreme Court. Attentive eyes will notice the similar and different characteristics of each building. In the late afternoon, the sunset illuminates the three structures, making the light even more special for photos. Make sure to contemplate this scenery at night as well, when the artificial lighting highlights the futuristic vocation of Brasília’s lines.
The experience is also a feast for the eyes of anyone exploring the interior of these places. Visiting the capital’s most famous structures is discovering details, like the blue and green halls in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, respectively. Public, these institutions are open to visitors, but you need to book your tour online ahead of time. In other words, just like the city itself, it’s essential to plan your visit.
In addition to the National Congress, among the most popular guided visits are the ones at the Planalto Palace and Itamaraty Palace – respectively, the seat of the Presidency of the Republic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter is impressive for its circular staircase and works of art scattered across the halls. Outside, tall arches are reflected on a reflecting pool with floating plants. As if it were floating in space, the sculpture Meteoro, by Bruno Giorgi, marks the main entrance.
National Congress: Praça dos Três Poderes
Itamaraty Palace: Zona Cívico-Administrativa Bloco H
Planalto Palace: Praça dos Três Poderes
A large part of the most important spaces in the city has Athos Bulcão’s characteristic tiles on their walls. Their multicolored geometric patterns precisely misaligned mark Brasília’s distinguished aesthetics. Designed by Niemeyer, the reinforced concrete ceiling of Igrejinha Nossa Senhora de Fátima resembles a nun’s hat, but it was Bulcão’s mosaics on the walls that made the church famous.
Igrejinha Nossa Senhora de Fátima: EQS 307/308, s/n, SHCS
Even though he was an atheist, Niemeyer created religious temples all over the world. Without a doubt, the most important is the Cathedral of Brasília. The self-sustained circular structure is filled with colorful stained-glass windows. Hanging from the ceiling, statues of angels seem to fly over visitors’ heads. Also with plenty of stained-glass windows, but with a different style, the Dom Bosco Sanctuary was designed by Alvimar Moreira as an homage to the capital’s patron saint. In 1883, Italian priest Giovanni Bosco supposedly prophesied the creation of a large urban center in the heart of Brazil.
Cathedral of Brasília: Esplanada dos Ministérios, lote 12
Multiple cultures came and turned Brazil’s federal capital into what it is today. And the city is still full of culture. Close to the Cathedral, also on the Monumental Axis, the National Museum captivates with its architecture. White, shaped like a dome and with an access ramp that resembles a Saturn ring, it’s an emblematic creation of Niemeyer. Inside, a revolving collection with exhibits of contemporary art, sculpture, and photography.
The circular design inspired by the huts of the Yanomami people invites visitors to the Memorial of Indigenous Peoples. On display, artifacts from dozens of tribes from all over the country, in addition to a patio used for rituals and celebrations to this day. Right across is the JK Memorial, a vast museum about Juscelino Kubitschek, the city’s founder who is buried there, with personal items and even a Ford Galaxie 1973. The bust of the former president outside is quite emblematic.
A space beloved by locals, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) attracts visitors for two reasons. The quality exhibitions and the gardens, with an interactive playground for children and gastronomic markets organized there regularly.
National Museum: Setor Cultural Sul, Lote 2 close to Rodoviária do Plano Piloto
Memorial of Indigenous Peoples: Zona Cívico-Administrativa across from the JK Memorial
JK Memorial: Zona Cívico-Administrativa Praça do Cruzeiro - Lado Oeste
Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB): St. de Clubes Esportivos Sul Trecho 2 Lote 22 - Asa Sul
Parque da Cidade is another spot popular among residents for picnics, just like the Botanical Garden, where they serve a scenic breakfast in the middle of the woods. In the far north, Brasília National Park – also known as Parque Água Mineral – is a treasure with natural pools, home to animals like anteaters and deer.
However, we can’t talk about outdoor activities in Brasília and not mention Paranoá Lake. Created artificially, these days it’s the perfect place for speedboat tours, stand-up paddling, and kayaking. Parque das Garças, in Lago Norte, has a great infrastructure to enjoy a beautiful sunny day – but don’t forget to bring snacks, as food areas nearby are scarce. A postcard sight and futuristic landmark in the city, the bridge Ponte JK has three white arches that were inspired by the movement of a stone skipping on water.
Parque da Cidade Sarah Kubitschek: Srp, Asa Sul
Botanical Garden: Smdb Conjunto 12 - Lago Sul
Brasília National Park (Água Mineral): Sman - Zona Industrial
Parque das Garças: St. de Habitações Individuais Norte QL 15 - Lago Nort
The capital has another feature that won’t let you down: good food. Some restaurants are true institutions in the city, like Tia Zélia, which serves homemade food in the owner’s house – feijoada and ham are the most popular orders. Opened in 2011, Taypá wins over diners’ taste buds with its Peruvian flavors and recipe fusions, which make it one of the most coveted restaurants in town. With a disciple of chef Alex Atala in its kitchen, Olivae serves sophisticated creations with a great cost-benefit ratio. An excellent option for vegans and vegetarians, Apetit Natural serves a vast selection of dishes with different origins adapted to the vegetarian diet, in addition to having its own bakery.
When night falls in the Brazilian Central Plateau, there’s no lack of good places to have well-prepared drinks. Located in the suggestive Setor de Diversões Sul, Birosca serves great craft beer and turns into a nightclub. Lastly, every month, Samba Urgente brings a lively and free samba session to a different region of the city, showing that Brasília has a place for everyone. And it’s been like this for almost six decades.
Tia Zélia: Vila Planalto Acamp Pacheco Fernandes
Taypá: St. de Habitações Individuais Sul QI 17 BI.G, Lj.208 - Lago Sul
Olivae: CLS 405, bloco B
Apetit Natural: Comércio Local Norte (CLN) 407, bloco B
Birosca: SDS, Centro Comercial Boulevard, Conic
Samba Urgente: Traveling event