What to do in Brasília: architecture, nightlife, and nature

Unless you’re an architect, if you’re planning a trip to Brazil, it’s unlikely that you’ve considered a stop by Brasilia, the futuristic capital of the country. Most tourists who travel to Brazil choose to visit our main postcard landscapes, such as Rio, Salvador or the extensive coastline of the northeast region. But who would blame them? Indeed, Rio makes for an unforgettable experience of Brazilian culture, energy, and nature. And the stunning northeast is not only a natural paradise but also the cradle of our history.

But why visiting Brasília might be a good idea?

Brasília has much more to offer than its imposing buildings designed by world-famous architect Oscar Niemeyer, or its unusual urban planning created on the shape of an airplane, by Lucio Costa. Those features definitely make the city an interesting destination, though. Once you land in this vast expanse of dry plains in the heart of Brazil, you’ll probably feel like you’ve never seen such a cold, retro-modern city (yes, these two words actually go together to qualify Brasília). Sober straight lines, with a curve here and there are the signatures of Oscar Niemeyer. And you can easily see the white buildings looking like spaceships everywhere in the central “Pilot Plan”, where the government and administration are located.

However, what makes Brasília such a special place, are actually the people who helped to build the “Brazilian dream” 59 years ago, and their offspring. During its construction in the 50s, the city has attracted immigrants from all over the country to work on the new capital. This rich cultural mix has boosted creativity and biased the population’s lifestyle. This is why visitors can feel an artsy atmosphere anywhere they go. From the “botecos” (bars and bistros that are located in basically every residential block) to theater companies, samba hot spots, and local garage bands, Brasília has it all. Below, are my personal highlights that should not be missed in case you visit the young Brazilian capital.

Architecture

National Museum with the Metropolitan Cathedral on the background

One cannot go to Brasília and don’t see Niemeyer’s work of art. A tour of the “Esplanada dos Ministérios” is mandatory. It’s the heart of the city. It’s also the main axis of the airplane that shapes Brasília and divides the city in the South and North wings. The wings are residential and commercial areas, while downtown is home for the administrative buildings, museums and different sectors that concentrate the main services on the same neighborhood, such as the hotel’s sector or the banks’ sector. Don’t miss out:

Praça dos Três Poderes (Three Powers Square):

The concentration of the three branches of Brazilian government: the Planalto Palace (where the president works); the Federal Supreme Court and the National Congress.

Honestino Guimarães National Museum:

The modern round shape building is impossible to be dismissed. It holds exhibitions of international contemporary artists and music festivals on the external area.

The Metropolitan Cathedral:

The Cathedral was Brasília’s first monument. From inside out, it’s considered a complete work of art, which earned Niemeyer the biggest international architectural prize, the Pritzker Prize, in 1988. Must do!

The Itamaraty Palace:

The headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is my own personal favorite building in Brasília. This imposing monument was 100% built with national material. Its beautiful collection of works of art is composed exclusively of Brazilian artists.

Nightlife

The night scene is very diverse in Brasília. Most locals like to start the night in one of the traditional bars before heading to a club, a party or a live music spot. A nice sample of Brasília’s nightlife experience could be:

Start by visiting Brasília’s most famous bar: “Beirute Bar and Restaurant”

This is one of the oldest and most traditional bars in Brasília, gathering a big and diverse crowd of locals and tourists every night. It’s also famous for being LGBT friendly and for the nice staff (some of the waiters have been working there since its opening, 53 years ago). The cuisine is mostly Lebanese, but you can also find some Brazilian dishes and the famous bar snacks, which make for great appetizers to go with the cold Beira beer (the brewery from Beirute).

Head to a concert at “Clube do Choro”

If you’re interested in Brazilian classical music, this place is for you. Chorinho is a traditional music genre from Brazil, which has revealed great Brazilian musicians to the world, such as Pixinguinha. Clube do Choro is a concert hall and also a music school that holds beautiful concerts and festivals every weekend in the city. It’s an authentic experience of high-quality Brazilian music.

Choose your music style and finish your night on the dance floor:

Whether you like rock’n roll, samba or funk, you’ll always find a place to dance in Brasília. The country’s capital is indeed very musical (it might have something to do with that cultural mix I mentioned before). And because of its unusual urban planning, bars and clubs are not concentrated in only one area. They are spread all over the city and might be difficult to be found if you don’t know any local. You can’t just tell a cab driver: “take me to the bar’s neighborhood”. That won’t work for this city. So I’ll name a few bars and you choose where to finish your night according to your musical taste:

Live music venue: UK Club, O’Rilley Irish Pub

Samba: Outro Calaf (traditional roda de samba with feijoada, every Saturday afternoon)

DJ/night club: Club 904, Velvet Pub

Nature

Due to its location, 1000km away from the nearest beach, there’s a famous saying among the locals that “the sky is Brasília’s sea”. And indeed, the sky over there is deep blue and clear. And Brasília’s plain geography offers a wide range of spots to contemplate infinite shades of sunset.

Surrounded by a huge artificial lake, but also waterfalls and springs, Brasília is a great outdoors destination. If this is your thing, forget the concrete of the city’s architecture to explore its beautiful nature.

Precious tips:

Do some water sport at the lake (stand-up paddle, wakeboard, swimming);

Watch the sunset at Ermida Dom Bosco;

Bike tour at the city’s park;

Brunch in the Botanical Garden on Sunday morning;

Explore the waterfalls and springs (água mineral, poço azul, the neighbor town Pirenópolis).

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