Yes, there’ll be plenty of Rio de Janeiro on our post. Yet, as a continent-sized country, Brazil has so much more to see! The Brazilian landmarks we’ll cover here include the unspoiled shore of Fernando de Noronha, the exuberant churches of Ouro Preto, and — of course — the quintessential statue of Christ the Redeemer and the jaw-dropping Iguazu Falls.
Tag along to discover 28 of the most beautiful and exciting Brazilian landmarks! As a Brazilian myself, I’ll be thrilled to guide you through the remarkable sights of my country. Vamos!
The Best of the Brazilian Coast
It’s no wonder almost 60% of locals live within 200 km (124 mi) from the sea: some of the more breathtaking Brazilian landmarks are along its Atlantic coastline.
1. Lençóis Maranhenses
Let’s start off with an alien heaven. If you watched “Infinity War” or “Endgame”, though, you’ve already come across Lençóis Maranhenses. That’s planet Vormir!
While it may look like a coastal desert, the thousands of saltwater lagoons between the park’s dunes say otherwise. And thank God there’s plenty of rain around, because that’s exactly what creates the gorgeous seasonal lagoons. Words can hardly describe the scenery, honestly!
2. Fernando de Noronha
This archipelago off the coast of northeastern Brazil is among the easternmost points of the country’s territory. It’s also where the rich and famous Brazilians honeymoon and vacation.
Dois Irmãos Hills, pictured above, is Fernando de Noronha’s best-known landmark, whereas secluded Baía do Sancho has been consistently ranked one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
In case you’re searching for an off-the-beaten-track destination (not so much for Brazilians, that’s true), Jeri is the place to go.
The northeastern state of Alagoas, where you’ll find tiny Maragogi, has “Brazilian Caribbean” as one of its nicknames, and for good reason.
Boasting coconut-tree-lined beaches with incredibly white sands, Maragogi is — besides, obviously, the closest you’ll get to paradise within your lifetime — a trail-running hotspot as well.
5. The beaches of Rio de Janeiro
These really need no introduction. From trendy Ipanema to classic Copacabana and from Prainha, a surfers’ haven, to naturist Abricó, Rio has it all when it comes to beaches.
And the best thing is the majority of them are literally across the street from the hustle and bustle of the city. If there’s one place where you should beach hop, that’s definitely Rio.
6. Ilha Grande
Turquoise waters anyone? Off the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro you’ll find Ilha Grande (i.e. “large island”) and its jagged coastline, which offers plenty of that. Both isolated and conveniently located, it was once notorious for housing a jail for political prisoners that is in shambles today. (Good riddance!)
Highlights on Ilha Grande include Lopes Mendes, one of the best-rated beaches on the planet on TripAdvisor, and Aventureiro, with its tidal pool and iconic bent coconut tree.
Florianópolis is one of three Brazilian state capitals (primarily) on an island. This one is actually an archipelago, although, except for big Ilha de Santa Catarina, almost all the other 30 are islets.
That means boat tours, some of which will let you jump straight into the sea, are the greatest way to explore around. Surfers are known to love Florianópolis too.
Historic Brazilian Landmarks
From the simple architecture of the first colonial structures to the sumptuous churches of the 18th century, Brazil is brimming with 500 years’ worth of centuries-old landmarks.
8. Ver-o-Peso in Belém do Pará
Belém, or the gateway to the Amazon, stands at the mouth of the Amazon River. Ver-o-Peso Market is where you can head to get the region’s countless spices, vegetables, folk medicines, and more.
While the current Art Nouveau building didn’t open till 1901, the emblematic market has had the same location for about 400 years now.
9. Pelourinho in Salvador
Salvador da Bahia is the blackest city outside of Africa. The first capital of Brazil (1549-1763) is also home to an imposing historic ensemble around the square where enslaved people used to be punished — or the Pelourinho. That’s why Salvador has been fittingly nicknamed “Black Rome”. The city’s pristine beaches, unique culture, and charming people add to Salvador’s magic.
10. The Quadrado in Trancoso
If the only former-hippie-mecca-turned-trendy-party-town you’re familiar with is Ibiza, let me introduce you to Trancoso. Trancoso is centered on a huge lawn where colorful houses occupied by shops and bistros contrast with the 17th-century church pictured above.
Even Beyoncé fell for Trancoso (2m41s), so how wouldn’t you? Oddly, quadrado means “square” — the geometric shape —, as plazas are called “praças” in Portuguese. Yet the Quadrado is more like a rectangle. Go figure!
11. The cobbled hills of Olinda
The richest town in Brazil between the late 1500s and the early 1600s lost much of its grandeur when the Dutch briefly took over the area and favored neighboring Recife as their capital. But its churches, colorful houses, and superb views are still a must-see. Visit during Carnival for an epic experience.
12. The Baroque churches of Ouro Preto
Around 1693, prospectors discovered gold near this town. Ouro Preto in fact translates as “black gold”, which is what the unpolished nuggets allegedly looked like. Over the next century, the output was so vast that it allowed for the construction of the first lavishly ornate churches and palaces in Brazil.
13. Paraty, or the town that was designed to flood
The gold from Ouro Preto had to be sent away to Portugal — cue in Paraty. But because it was founded on top of tidal mangroves, early planners came up with an intriguing trick: they built V-shaped streets, so that water would come into and out of the city every day.
In the late 19th century, railroads began to link the gold-mining regions with Rio. Then Paraty faced stagnation and decadence. Yet that’s the one reason why it survived virtually intact!
In other news, Paraty is the Brazilian capital of craft cachaça (the national liquor). So I guess it actually misses nothing; it’s simply flawless.
What to See in the Brazilian Countryside
While the majority of these natural wonders are less famous abroad than the country’s pristine beaches, you’ll find stunning Brazilian landmarks amid the country’s wetlands, savannas, shrublands, and evergreen forests.
14. The meeting of waters in the Amazon River
When the muddy waters of the Amazon meet dark-colored waterways along its course, a miles-long spectacle occurs, as the waters of both rivers don’t immediately mingle.
Although that happens in a handful of locations along the way, the most monumental meeting of waters takes place right outside the city of Manaus (the biggest in the Amazon).
Before a wildly popular soap opera put Jalapão on the map, it was a lucky few’s private paradise.
16. Chapada Diamantina
I’m something of a sunset hunter, and the one I watched from atop Morro do Pai Inácio, pictured above, is definitely on my top 3. But the vista of the main canyon isn’t the only attraction on Chapada Diamantina, that’s for sure. The area is complete with waterfalls, hundreds of trails, hippie villages, and historic towns.
17. Serra da Capivara
The northeastern state of Piauí might have mere 66 km (41 mi) of coastline — the shortest in the country — yet it makes up for that with the biggest prehistoric sites in the Americas (including the rock art you see above) and the breathtaking gorges at Serra da Capivara National Park, which are portrayed at the top of our post.
18. The Pantanal
Think of a miniature Amazon, except flooded. The largest wetland on Earth boasts amazingly diverse flora and fauna. And since the Pantanal’s been suffering with deforestation and droughts in the last few decades, you’d better hurry in case you want to get a glimpse of it.
19. The caves of Bonito
Not far from the Pantanal, you’ll find the town of Bonito (which appropriately means “pretty”). A privileged location for ecotourism, it’s home to flooded grottoes like Gruta do Lago Azul (above) and crystal-clear rivers where you can snorkel.
20. Iguazu Falls
The Paraná River is as majestic as it is important to southern South America. So are its major tributaries such as the Iguazu (or Iguaçu in Portuguese).
The largest waterfall on the planet, which Brazil and Argentina share, is on one of the Iguazu’s bends. It was rightfully voted one of the world’s seven natural wonders in 2011. Unmissable to the very least!
Brazilian Landmarks from the Last 100 Years
Brazil is a colorful and often overwhelming country, one encompassing elegant Art Deco and modern constructions, an ever-evolving art scene, and vibrant and resilient self-build communities.
21. Oficina Brennand in Recife
In 1971, artist Francisco Brennand turned an abandoned brickworks that his father owned into a huge ceramic studio. There, he crafted a sort of total artwork, one where his striking sculptures (and paintings) merged into the environment.
Even though Brennand passed in December 2019, his lifetime creation is as worth a visit today as it has been for the past 50 years.
22. The Monumental Axis of Brasilia
Brasilia showcases late-1950s Brazil, a time when Brazilians were obsessed with ideals like “development” and “modernization”.
The Monumental Axis, or the body of the airplane it’s been master-planned after, is where most government agencies, as well as the city’s stunning cathedral, are located. In 1987, Brasilia went on to become the only modernist city designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
23. Avenida Paulista in São Paulo
Avenida Paulista is São Paulo’s main stage. It’s where folks go to see and be seen. Consequential demonstrations, unforgettable concerts, and thought-provoking street performances always take place here.
It’s also the location of MASP, or the São Paulo Museum of Art (the building enveloped by red columns pictured above), the finest of its kind in Latin America.
Little known by the majority of Brazilians, Inhotim Institute is a heaven for art aficionados of every stripe. Installations by the likes of Yayoi Kusama, Chris Burden, and Vik Muniz are spread across its 7.86 km2 (1,942 acres) of lush forest.
Located within a 70-minute drive from Belo Horizonte, in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, Inhotim’s a seamless and arguably unmatched combo of nature and contemporary art.
25. The Pampulha Church in Belo Horizonte
Dedicated in 1943, the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi is the crowning jewel of the elegant Pampulha Modern Ensemble, a forerunner of the local breed of modern architecture that Brasilia would make Brazil famous for.
The tile mural on its façade was created by Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari, Within the complex, you’ll find Mineirão, the stadium where Germany infamously beat Brazil 7-1 in 2014.
26. Etnias mural in Rio de Janeiro
Etnias, by renowned graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra, was briefly (2016-2018) the biggest outdoor mural on Earth. It’s the leading attraction on the waterfront boulevard that Rio opened for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
A dazzling tribute to indigenous communities from the whole world, it depicts five faces, each from a different continent.
In stark contrast with São Conrado, the high-end neighborhood that a highway separates it from, Rocinha is home to 100,000+ low-wage workers, That means it’s the largest favela (slum) in Brazil.
With all kinds of businesses and a subway station of its own, Rocinha is a fascinating maze of sorts. Initiatives like FavelaTour.org are a perfect way to discover it through a community-based tour.
28. Christ the Redeemer
Apart from a powerful religious experience for many, the shrine-like overlook around the tallest Art Deco statue in the world provides for commanding views of Rio’s harbor and chain of dramatic cliffs.
That’s not entirely surprising: builders had that very goal in mind when they determined the eventual location of the statue. Christ the Redeemer’s been Rio’s ultimate symbol since its opening in 1931.
Not too shabby, or is it?! We did have to leave out a few Brazilian landmarks that are worth visiting as well, but these should be a great start. Now that we hyped you up, don’t stop here and learn a little about all the awesome drinks you’ll be able to try in Brazil!