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If you are curios about Brazilian history and Rio de Janeiro culture, passing through its former capitol is a true lesson. Taking a walk in downtown Rio de Janeiro is like going back in time with high concentration of beautiful antique architecture telling the tale about Rio de Janeiro culture and history from it’s origin by the Portuguese in 1502 until today.

Biblioteca Nacional

Inaugurated in 1910, the National Library is the largest in Latin America, with a collection of over eight million titles, including many rare books and manuscripts. The building is in neo-classical style, with Corinthian columns, and was designed by Souza Aguiar. The stairway was decorated by some of the most famous names of the 19th century, such as Rodolfo Amoedo, Eliseu Visconti, Henrique Bernadelli and Modesto Brocas. Av. Rio Branco, 219

Avenida Rio Branco

This hectic thoroughfare in Centro may bear little resemblance today to the elegant Parisian boulevards it was modelled on, but take time to glance upwards as you dodge the crowds and you’ll spot some seriously impressive architecture. The rushing traffic and crush of bodies makes it a little difficult to navigate at times, but try to take a slow stroll down here to appreciate what was once Rio’s most celebrated street. Entre Praça Mauá e Avenida Beira Mar (Centro)

Igreja da Candelária

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Candalaria , or the church of our lady of Candalaria, to give it the English name, is without doubt Rio’s most imposing church. The church has a long tradition of hosting events for high society Rio, and many celebrity weddings still take place here, with prestigious guests gathered in the marble interior. The church was built on the site of a chapel founded in 1610 by the Spaniard Antonio Martins Plam, who arrived in Rio after surviving a terrifying sea storm. He built the chapel in homage to Nuestra Senora de Candelaria, the patron saint of is home in the Canary Islands. The Church is modeled on the Basilica da Estrela in Lisbon, and indeed the tiles in the dome are from the Portuguese city. The marble is Italian, from Verona, and the heavy bronze doors were shipped from France. A snobbish attitude among high society meant that all these fine European finishings were shipped across at great expense in the late 18th Century, despite such materials being readily available in Brazil – at much lower prices. The church does not lie in a particularly illustrious location, however, standing on an island amid a sea of traffic, some 500 meters from Praca XV de Novembro. Praça Pio X

Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro

This beautiful baroque church was built in 1714, and has a peculiar figure-of-eight shaped nave and choir. Dom Pedro II was married here and his daughter, Princesa Isabel, was baptized here also. The main features are the ornate tiles and the altar carved by Mestre Valentim. If you happen to be in Rio on August 15, you can join the festa of Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro, where you will get a taste of Brazilian religious celebrations. There is a small sacred art museum as well. Ladeira Nossa Senhora da Glória

Museu Histórico Nacional

The place for anyone looking for a good overview of Brazilian history from Cabral’s arrival in 1500 to the present. Housed in the former national armory, the National History Museum features seven permanent exhibits on themes such as early exploration, coffee plantations, and modernism, each of which is illustrated with abundant maps and artifacts. Even better, much of the Portuguese signage comes with often very opinionated English translation. Keep in mind that Brazilian museums haven’t bought into the „interactive learning“ idea. Instead, displays consist of glass cases and explanatory text. They’re carefully curated — one case shows a mattock used in an 18th-century peasant rebellion juxtaposed with a bright red banner of the modern Sem-Terra movement, a telling evocation of the land distribution problem that has plagued the Brazilian countryside for 400 years and counting. Allow 2 hours (longer if you’re a serious history buff).??????

Bonde de Santa Teresa

Once home to Rio’s wealthiest inhabitants, the charming hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa began to fall into disrepair during the 1960s and 70s, when the emergence of favelas nearby drove the rich towards the city’s beaches. Artists and musicians moved into the abandoned mansions, and today Santa Teresa is known as Rio’s most bohemian neighborhood. Vintage clothes stores, artists workshops and wonderfully laid-back bars and restaurants make the neighborhood well worth a visit, and the iconic yellow tram that clatters its way along the twisting streets is a joy to ride. Despite its close proximity to the city centre, Santa Teresa has preserved a charming small-town atmosphere, and there is a real community atmosphere to the place. Santa Teresa is well-policed and its reputation as a dangerous area to visit is largely undeserved , however, do take the usual precautions, and take taxis between here and Santa Teresa at night. Ladeira de Santa Teresa

Convento de Santa Teresa

In the middle of the 18 century two sisters began to build the convent, where the chapel of Desterro formerly existed. The nuns belonged to the order of Saint Clara, but in 1777 adopted the severe rules of the Teresianas, and so they started a life of seclusion; only their superior is allowed to communicate through an ingenious device on the wall of the vestibule. One cannot visit the closure, but in the vestibule there is a fine work in Portuguese tiles, depicting Bible scenes. The tiny drawing room is the only place where the nuns can get in touch with the outside world, through a window with iron bars. To reach the church the visitors pass through a rough iron gate and after climbing a slope they arrive in front of the austere building, with its white washed walls and stonework windows, some of them with huge spikes, turned outside out, to show the isolation of the order. Access to the church is strictly limited to moments during the religious services. In t he vestibule there is a reproduction of the superior’s room with her few personal belongings.

Arco do Teles

Linking Rio’s port with Centro’s bustling shopping streets, this 17th Century archway leads to a wealth of hidden charms. Head through the arch and you’ll find the Travessa do Comércio and Beco do Teles – historic alleyways, closed to traffic and flanked by handsome colonial buildings that now house restaurants and bars. With tables and chairs on the flagstones and ornate lanterns hanging overhead, this is one of the most pleasant spots in the city centre to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat. The alleyways are also home to several good book/record stores and small galleries. Praça XV de Novembro

Igreja e Mosteiro de São Bento

This old church offers everything for the visitor: interesting history, colonial architecture and a richly decorated interior. Located in the city centre, it was built in the early 17th century by Benedictine monks as a place for worship and study. The façade is simple yet pleasant, while the baroque interior abounds with gold and silver, from the wood carvings of the altar to the spiral columns. On Sundays at 10a, a special attraction: the celebration of a Gregorian chant mass. Rua Dom Gerardo, 68, Centro

Ilha Fiscal

Looking rather incongruous on a concrete island in Rio’s slightly shabby docklands, Ilha Fiscal is a bright green palace that looks like it has been lifted straight out of a fairy tale. The elaborate neo-gothic construction was built for the less than glamorous purposes of customs verification, but secured its place in history when, in 1889, it was the venue for the Portuguese empire’s last ever ball – Brazil was declared a republic just three days later. Beautiful stained glass windows depict Dom Pedro and Princess Isabel, and there are fantastic views over Guanabara Bay from here. Baía de Guanabara

Confeitaria Colombo

Relax with a frothy coffee or tangy fruit cocktail and soak up the opulence at this antique coffee house and restaurant.The sprawling building is full of historic charm, and was the favored meeting point of carioca high society during Brazil’s Belle Epoque.
There’s formal dining in the upstairs restaurant, light meals and snacks below and, front of house, a stand-up snack bar selling tasty sweet and savory pastries and expressos to office workers on the go. Rua Gonçalves Dias, 32, Centro

Casa França-Brasil

This cultural centre, Brazil’s first neo-classical building, was built in 1820. Designed by French architect Grandjean de Montigny, it started as an indoor market. Today, it is home to different exhibitions reflecting the cultural relationship between France and Brazil, through exhibits that include painting, photography, prints and sculpture. Entry is free. There is also a restaurant on the premises. Rua das Palmeiras 55, Botafogo

Fortaleza de São João

Formerly known as Forte São Teodósio, the current name became official in 1618 when the elaborate stone gate was built. In 1872, the fortress was remodeled and modern weapons were installed among which were 15 cannons. It was later renovated, and only the old gate and some ruins remain of the original structure. Additionally, there is a private beach for use by the military staff. From the fortress there is a superb view of the Guanabara Bay. Av. João Luis Alves, Urca

Museu do Açude

Hidden among the mountains and jungle of Tijuca National Park, this 18th Centutry former mansion home looks somewhat at odds with its jungle surrounds.
Outside, waterfalls and sculptures make eye-catching displays, while inside this colonial building houses some impressive exhibits of clothing, jewelry and other artefacts that once belonged to the wealthy coffee plantation owners that lived in the area. Estrada do Açude, 764, Alto da Boa Vista

Praça XV de Novembro

Just a stone’s throw from the ferry terminal that links Rio with the city of Niteroi and the island of Paqueta, Praca 15 de Novembro is a lively square that hosts a bustling flea market each Saturday. With vendors selling everything from antique furniture to vintage vinyl, clothes, and accessories, it’s easy to while away an entire Saturday morning browsing the stalls. Midweek, the square is quieter, but the Espaco Cultural da Marinha – a museum dedicated to Rio’s seafaring history – is well worth a visit, and there are numerous good lunch spots nearby. Praca 15 de Novembro

Museu Villa-Lobos

This small, slightly quirky museum is dedicated to the life of Heitor Villa-Lobos, Brazil’s greatest composer, noted for including Brazilian instruments and sounds in his compositions and for using Brazilian folklore in his work. The collection includes musical instruments used by the composer, and some of his personal effects. The English signage is excellent, but even so, expect to spend no more than half an hour. For real fans, the museum library has musical scores, letters, monographs, records, tapes, and movies. The museum website has sound bites of Villa-Lobos’s most famous pieces and a comprehensive list of links with resources on Brazilian music. Rua Sorocaba 200, Botafogo


Petrópolis is a very attractive mountain retreat about 60 kilometers from Rio. Built by German immigrants, it has a distinct European flavor. Petrópolis‘ main annual event is the Festa do Colono Alemão, which takes place in June. The best way to see Petrópolis‘ attractions is on foot. It takes about two hours to walk around the city. Buses from Rio to Petrópolis leave daily from 5am every 30 minutes. The trip takes approximately an hour and 30 minutes. Petrópolis

Convento de Santo Antônio

Easily the oldest church in Rio, Convento de Santo Antônio was finished in 1620, and was one of the most powerful religious centres in colonial times. It is known as „Saint Anthony of the rich,“ as opposed to „Saint Anthony of the poor,“ in another part of town. It consists of the convent itself and two churches. Inside the church of the Ordem Terceira de São Francisco da Penitência, the wood nave and ceiling frescos depict the glorification of St. Francis. Inside St. Anthony’s, the marble and tile sacristy pictures the miracles he performed. Largo da Carioca, 5


Nested inside the Paço Imperial, the emperor’s first residence in Brazil, this restaurant is known for its sophisticated ambience. The colonial stone floor goes well with the modern paintings that decorate its walls. The menu is also a mixture of tradition and creativity. As starters, a good pick is the pastrami carpaccio with arugula. Suggested entrées: funghi risotto with slices of filet mignon, shredded duck with pepper rosé sauce and hazelnut rice, and berry filet-filet mignon with berry sauce. To finish in style, devil’s cake, an unbeatable choice in the menu. Praça Quinze de Novembro, 48

Paço Imperial

It may look unassuming, but this pretty whitewashed building was the site of many an important political happening during Portuguese rule. Built in 1973 as the seat of the Portuguese government, the former palace building was the spot in which Portuguese king w Dom João VI established his court in 1808; where his son Dom Pedro V publically refused to return to Portugal in 1822; and where Princess Isabel announced the abolition of slavery in 1888. Today, the cool whitewashed walls house a bistro serving delicious, fresh light lunches and good wines, as well as a small cultural centre that doubles as a book and CD store. Avenida Presidente Vargas 392

Travel Guide Museums, Theaters and Monuments travel Guide and tourism information such as festivals, maps, activities and attractions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Brazil Travel Guide

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