Best things to do in Brazil

written by
Olga Sitnitsa

updated 29.11.2023

The mighty rivers of the Amazon, the pulsing Carnaval rhythms, bone-white beaches and footballing flair: almost everyone on the planet knows something about Brazil. Yet South America’s biggest country still holds plenty of surprises. Discover the rich culture and stunning beauty of this destination with our Rough Guide list of the best things to do in Brazil and get inspiration for planning your trip.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Brazil, your essential guide for visiting Brazil.

1. Enjoy the views from the Corcovado in Rio

Climbing Mount Corcovado, where the image of Christ the Redeemer, with its breathtaking views over the whole of Rio and Guanabara Bay, is one of the things to do in Brazil you shouldn't miss.

The most famous of all images of Rio is that of the vast statue of Christ the Redeemer gazing across the bay from the Corcovado (hunchback) hill, and to visit Rio without making the tourist pilgrimage up the Corcovado is nigh on unthinkable, but do plan ahead, as you need to buy your ticket in advance.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Rio de Janeiro

Rough Guide tip: If you are planning your trip to Brazil and don't want to miss out on anything contact our local experts who will help put together a unique Brazilian itinerary to meet your expectations.

View of Rio de Janeiro and Sugarloaf Mountain from Corcovado view point, Brazil © galaro/Shutterstock

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil © galaro/Shutterstock

2. Witness the spectacle of capoeira

Step into a capoeira school, where you can watch the dance-like sparring of this distinctive martial art for free. Capoeira began in Angola as a ritual fight to gain the nuptial rights of women when they reached puberty; since then it has evolved into a graceful semi-balletic art form somewhere between fighting and dancing.

Displays of capoeira – often accompanied by the characteristic rhythmic twang of the berimbau – usually take the form of a pair of dancers/fighters leaping and whirling in stylized “combat”.


Capoeira dancers © Vladimir Gappov/Shutterstock

3. Take a stroll through Brazil's bustling markets

Walk through any market in Brazil to get a sense of the country’s natural abundance. São Paulo’s Mercado Municipal, crammed with produce from all over Brazil, is particularly impressive.

Apart from the phenomenal display of Brazilian and imported fruit, vegetables, cheese and other produce, the market is most noted for its enormous stained-glass windows depicting scenes of cattle raising, market gardening, and coffee and banana plantations.

The food stalls are particularly known for their especially tasty pastéis de bacalhau (saltfish pasties), and if you head up to the mezzanine, there’s a whole range of patio restaurants serving authentic food in a colourful setting.


Municipal market in Sao Paulo, Brazil © Thiago Leite/Shutterstock

4. Explore the wild beauty of the Pantanal

Increasingly known worldwide as the best place for wildlife spotting in South America, the Pantanal is fed by rivers and inhabited by rainforest bird and animal species from the Andes to the west and the Brazilian central plateau to the north.

The region is a stunning blend of swamp water with gallery forest, savannah and lakeside scrub forest, and it is dissected by around 175 rivers into roughly seventeen segments, each with its distinctive landscape and micro-ecosystem. If you are a fan of wildlife, visiting this place should be high on your list of things to do in Brazil. 

Discover the thrill of meeting jaguars in the North Pantanal! Join this trip for an extraordinary week filled with boat tours, trail rides, horseback riding and an unforgettable jaguar expedition. Our experienced guides will uncover the secrets of the amazing flora and fauna, guaranteeing an unforgettable wildlife experience.


Water lilies, Pantanal, Brazil © Uwe Bergwitz/Shutterstock

5. Take a tour of the Municipal Theatre in Rio

If you can’t catch a show inside Rio’s sumptuous belle époque theatre, be sure to stop for lunch or a drink in its lavish, Assyrian-inspired café. The Theatro Municipal opened in 1909 and a dramatic example of Neoclassical architecture was modelled on the Paris Opéra – all granite, marble and bronze, with a foyer decorated in the white and gold characteristic of Louis XV style.

Since opening, the theatre has been Brazil’s most prestigious artistic venue, hosting visiting Brazilian and foreign orchestras, opera and theatre companies, and singers. Tours can be booked at the box office at the back of the building.

Things not to miss: Theatro Municipal, Municipal Theatre, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Municipal theatre, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil © Catarina Belova/Shutterstock

6. Trekking in the Chapada Diamantina - one of the best things to do in Brazil for the views

Explore the dramatic terrain of this enormous national park, which includes mesas, forest, river beaches, waterfalls and a kilometre-long grotto. Chapada Diamantina's dramatic, untrammelled landscapes incorporate swampy valleys, barren peaks and scrubby forest, punctuated by dazzling waterfalls, rivers, streams and over fifty species of orchid.

The park is one of Brazil’s major trekking destinations but also offers plenty of opportunities for canoeing and climbing.

A visit to Diamantia promises not only active holiday opportunities but also insight into the local community and cultural enrichment. With our 5-day Brazilian Folk Art tour, you'll immerse yourself in the intense journey of learning, exchanging and discovering alongside a cultural mediator and the ceramics masters the empowerment of the communities.

Chapada Diamantina cave, Brazil © Alekk Pires/Shutterstock

Chapada Diamantina cave, Brazil © Alekk Pires/Shutterstock

7. Have a feast in churrascarias

Churrascarias are traditional Brazilian steakhouses where meat is cooked on skewers over an open flame, also known as the "rodizio" style. They typically offer a wide variety of meats, including beef, pork, chicken, and lamb, as well as a salad bar and various sides.

The servers, known as "gauchos," come to the table with the skewers of meat and carve portions directly onto the diners' plates. Churrascarias are popular in Brazil, particularly in the southern regions where the gaucho culture originated.

Fresh vegetables, crispy roasted Churrasco © TMON/Shutterstock

Fresh vegetables, crispy roasted Churrasco © TMON/Shutterstock

8. Gaze at the breathtaking natural spectacle of Pedra Azul

This massive stone mountain is renowned for the shade of blue it seems to turn at dawn and sunset. Some 45km west of Domingos Martins the Belo Horizonte Highway passes the most remarkable sight in Espírito Santo, a towering, bare granite mountain shaped like a thumb and almost 1000m high – the Pedra Azul, or “blue stone”.

During the day sunlight does strange things to it – it does look blue in shadow – but the time to see it is at either dawn or sunset when it turns all kinds of colours in a spectacular natural show.


Watching the stunning views of Pedra Azul is one of the breathtaking things to do in Brazil © Eduardo Menezes/Shutterstock

9. Become a witness of Candomblé celebrations

Candomblé, a popular Afro-Brazilian blend of Christian and African religious beliefs pervades all of El Salvador. Its followers often dress in white clothing and worship together in ecstatic dance rituals and make offerings to the Orixás spirits - personal protectors and intermediaries between humans and their creator god Olorum.

A candomblé cult house, or terreiro, is headed by a mãe do santo (literally “holy mother”) or pai do Santo (“holy father’”), who directs the operations of dozens of novices and initiates. The usual objective is to persuade the spirits to descend into the bodies of worshippers, which is achieved by sacrifices, offerings of food and drink, and above all by drumming, dancing and the invocations of the mãe or pai do Santo.


Candomble, Brazil © Alf Ribeiro/Shutterstock

10. Go on a hike in Parque Nacional Chapada dos Veadeiros

The Parque Nacional Chapada dos Veadeiros in the north of Goiás is the heart of the planalto, its stunning natural scenery is among the most beautiful and distinctive in Brazil. Hiking the hundreds of square kilometres of wild and sparse vegetation, extraordinary geological formations, cave systems, waterfalls and hiking trails make this one of the best things to do in Brazil for ecotourism.

A few hours north of Brasília and easily accessible by bus, the park has good local support for tourism, and apart from the occasional holidaying diplomat up from the capital, it is still remarkably unknown as a destination to foreign tourists.

The Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park is in the state of Goias, in central Brazil © Luiz Antonio Nasser Jr/Shutterstock

The Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park is in the state of Goias, in central Brazil © Luiz Antonio Nasser Jr/Shutterstock

11. Take a trip to Paraty

About 300km from Rio is Costa Verde’s main attraction, the town of Paraty. The town centre’s narrow cobbled streets (closed to cars) are bordered by houses with inner courtyards full of brightly coloured flowers and hummingbirds. The cobbles of the streets are arranged in channels to drain off stormwater, allowing the sea to enter and wash the streets at high spring tides.

Although businesses in the historic centre are overwhelmingly geared toward tourists, the wider community has not been engulfed by wealthy outsiders. It’s a great place to wander around, each corner bringing another picturesque view, small enough that there’s no danger of getting lost, and safe at any hour of the day or night.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Paraty

Embark on the adventure of a lifetime with our Extraordinary Brazil - Paraty and Iguaçu trip. Explore the charming streets of Paraty and marvel at the breathtaking wonders of Iguaçu Falls. This journey promises an unrivalled blend of culture and nature, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Paraty, Brazil © LucVi/Shutterstock

Paraty, Brazil © LucVi/Shutterstock

12. Relax at Florianópolis beaches

Head to the island capital of Santa Catarina state, where kilometres of beaches include treacherous surfing spots and calm waters for safe swimming. Beyond the city of Florianópolis, Ilha Santa Catarina is noted throughout Brazil for its beaches, Mediterranean-like scenery and traditional fishing villages. The fishing boats, lacemakers, folklore, cuisine and colonial architecture add to the allure.

The island has a subtropical climate, rarely cold in winter and with a summer heat that is tempered by refreshing South Atlantic breezes. Nevertheless, don’t expect an untouched paradise. The island is peppered with resorts and holiday condos, and is surprisingly built up, with its mostly narrow roads often clogging up with local traffic regardless of tourists – this is one of the richest parts of Brazil and it looks it.

Explore the diversity of Brazil's beaches with our guide to the best beaches in Brazil.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Florianópolis

Matadeiro Florianopolis beach Armacao, Brazil © Gustavo Testo/Shutterstock

Matadeiro Florianopolis beach Armacao, Brazil © Gustavo Testo/Shutterstock

13. Visit the enchanting colonial Ouro Preto

The most enchanting of all the colonial towns in Minas Gerais, Ouro Preto lies 100km southeast of Belo Horizonte at the central hub of the Estrada Real, its narrow, cobbled streets straddling impossibly steep hills topped with Baroque churches and lined with an assortment of candy-coloured eighteenth-century homes and mansions.

Unsurprisingly, the town is also the most visited in the region, but it’s far from becoming a giant museum. Touristy shops and restaurants dominate the centre, but this remains a working town with a population of over 70,000. Get up early on a weekday and you’ll see locals drinking coffee on the way to work, smell smoke from wood fires and hear church bells ringing for the faithful.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Ouro Preto

Top view of the center of the historic Ouro Preto city in Minas Gerais, Brazil © Fred S. Pinheiro/Shutterstock

Top view of the centre of the historic Ouro Preto city in Minas Gerais, Brazil © Fred S. Pinheiro/Shutterstock

14. Explore the Northeast and its beaches

Long regarded as one of Brazil’s poorest areas, the Northeast is now a region with a modern economy and a continuously growing tourism business. There are major cities along the coast: some, such as Recife, Olinda, São Luís and Fortaleza, have a deep colonial heritage; others, such as Maceió and Natal, have developed mostly in recent decades.

All of these cities have their city beaches plus more idyllic and deserted resorts hidden up and down the coast. The Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, hundreds of kilometres offshore, is one of the finest oceanic wildlife reserves in the world – expensive, but perfect for ecotourism.


Jangada fishing boat at beach Natal, Brazil © marchello74/Shutterstock

15. Go birdwatching in Parque Nacional da Tijuca

This impressive expanse of Mata Atlântica is crisscrossed by shaded trails and features refreshing waterfalls and spectacular views across Rio. Looking up from the streets of Zona Sul, you’ll see that the mountains running southwest from the Corcovado are covered with exuberant forest. This is the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, an area of some 120 square kilometres.

Today the park serves as a remarkable example of the potential for the regeneration of the Mata Atlântica. Fauna has also gradually been reintroduced, making the forest once again home to insects, reptiles, ocelots, howler monkeys, agoutis, three-toed sloths and other animals. Most successful of all has been the return of birdlife, making Tijuca a paradise for birdwatchers.

Rio de Janeiro Sugar Loaf, Botafogo beach and Corcovado mountain, Tijuca, Brazil © Dmitri Kalvan/Shutterstock

Rio Tijuca, Brazil © Dmitry V. Petrenko/Shutterstock

16. Visit Museu de Arte Contemporânea in Niterói

Oscar Niemeyer’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea, more commonly just MAC, opened in 1996 on a promontory south of central Niterói by the Praia da Boa Viagem. The flying-saucer-shaped building offers a 360-degree perspective of Niterói and across the bay to Rio. It also hosts a worthy, though not very exciting, exhibition of late twentieth-century Brazilian art, as well as temporary exhibitions, which are rarely of much interest.

Instead, the real work of art is the building itself, whose curved lines are simply beautiful. The views of the headland, nearby beaches and Guanabara Bay as you walk around inside are breathtaking.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Niterói

Things not to miss: Oscar Niemeyer, Niteroi, Brazil ©  Juliano Galvao Gomes/Shutterstock

Niteroi, Brazil © Juliano Galvao Gomes/Shutterstock

17. Appreciate the impressive Brazilian architecture

If you are looking for things to do in Brazil for your cultural experience then take a tour of the many contemporary architectural monuments. Whether it looks like a futuristic dream or a modern-day nightmare, Brazil’s contemporary architecture is often otherworldly. There are many notable examples of contemporary architecture in Brazil. Some examples include:

  • SESC Pompéia: designed by Lina Bo Bardi features a mix of traditional and modern elements, and its design is inspired by the surrounding landscape;
  • Casa do Penedo: designed by architect Ruy Ohtake is made of four large stone blocks and features a minimalist design with a focus on natural light and views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Edifício Copan: Designed by Oscar Niemeyer is known for its modernist design and its curving, sculptural form.
  • MASP: Designed by Lina Bo Bardi, the Museum of Art of São Paulo is known for its use of steel and glass, and its innovative design.

National Congress by Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil © Thiago Fernandes BHZ/Shutterstock

18. Take a boat trip down the Amazon

Take a slow boat along the Amazon for close-up views of the mighty river and its wildlife. In Amazônia, rivers have been the main highways for centuries, and the Amazon itself is navigable to ocean-going ships as far west as Iquitos in Peru, nearly 3000km upstream from Belém. In all the large riverside cities of the Amazon – notably Belém, Manaus and Santarém – there are hidroviárias, ferry terminals for waterborne bus services.

Amazon river travel is slow and can be tough going, but it’s a fascinating experience. On bigger boats, there are several classes; in general, it’s better to avoid cabinet, where you swelter in a cabin, and choose primeiro (first class) instead, of sleeping in a hammock on deck. Segundo (second class) is usually hammock space in the lower deck or engine room.

Embark on an extraordinary journey on the exclusive Pure Wilderness - Northern Pantanal and Amazonia itinerary, designed to capture the quintessential Amazonian experience. Experience the unrivalled beauty of these natural wonders for a truly unforgettable adventure.

Crocodile on the river surface, animal in the water with evening light in nature habitat

Yacare caiman crocodile, Brazil © Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock

19. Appreciate the legacy of Colonial Rio

Colonial Rio refers to the period in Rio de Janeiro's history during the 18th and 19th centuries when the city was a colony of Portugal. During this time, the city's architecture was heavily influenced by the Portuguese colonial style, which is characterized by the use of simple geometric forms, white-washed walls, and tile roofs. Some examples of colonial architecture in Rio de Janeiro include:

  • The Church of Nossa Senhora da Candelária: this church is one of the most prominent examples of colonial architecture in the city. The church features a simple, white-washed exterior with a tile roof and a distinctive bell tower.
  • The Convent of Santa Teresa: this former convent is now a cultural centre and museum. The building features a mix of colonial and baroque architectural elements, including a tile roof, white-washed walls, and a central courtyard.
Church of Santa Rita de Cassia in central Rio de Janeiro, Brazil © Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock

Church of Santa Rita de Cassia in central Rio de Janeiro, Brazil © Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock

20. Encounter marine life in the Aquário Natural

Snorkel among some thirty-odd species of fish in the crystalline waters of this marine sanctuary, or spy on them from above in a glass-bottomed boat. The Aquário Natural complex is justifiably Bonito’s next most popular attraction. Located at the source of the Baia Bonita, the Aquário is an incredibly clear spring that is full of fish.

Visitors are encouraged to put on a floating jacket, mask and snorkel, and get into the water with the 35 or so species of fish – mainly dorado and 35cm piripitanga fishes – a ticklish experience with no danger from piranhas, which never swim this far upriver.

Aquario Natural, Brazil ©  Vanessa Rung/Shutterstock

Snorkelling around the coral reefs in the Aquário Natural is among the most fascinating things to do in Brazil © Vanessa Rung/Shutterstock

21. Have the perfect beach holiday at Rio’s beaches

Looking for relaxing things to do in Brazil? Then head to the amazing Rio beaches. The most renowned of Rio’s beaches, Copacabana Beach was originally an isolated area, cut off from the city by mountains until 1892 when the Túnel Velho link with Botafogo was inaugurated. Copacabana is amazing, the over-the-top atmosphere apparent even in the mosaic pavements, designed by Burle Marx to represent images of rolling waves.

West of the Forte de Copacabana, the lively waters of the Praia do Arpoador are popular with families and the elderly as the ocean here is slightly calmer than at Ipanema beach, which is further along, with Leblon beach beyond that. The beaches here are stupendous, and much more tranquil than in Copacabana.

With our tailor-made trip to Breathtaking Brazil, you'll have the opportunity to explore the vibrant city of Rio de Janeiro, home to Ipanema and Copacabana beaches; visit the stunning Foz do Iguaçu National Park and see the world's largest waterfall system.

Things not to miss: Palms and Two Brothers Mountain on Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil © Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

22. Be amazed by the magnificent views of Iguazu Falls

The power and beauty of the falls are quite simply astonishing, only rivalled by the tranquillity of the Mata Atlântica behind. The Iguazu Falls are, unquestionably, one of the world’s great natural wonders.

But it’s not the falls alone that make Iguaçu so special: the vast surrounding subtropical nature reserve – in Brazil the Parque Nacional do Iguazu, in Argentina, the Parque Nacional de Iguazú – is a timeless haunt that even the hordes of tourists fail to destroy.

This tailor-made trip to Paraty & Iguazu starts in the colonial town of Paraty, Costa Verde's main attraction. Jeep rides, beaches, and a lot of cultures are part of the program. Afterwards, fly to Foz do Iguaçu and see the falls from both Argentina & Brazil.


Iguazu Falls, Brazil © Attila JANDI/Shutterstock

23. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Brazilian Carnaval

For a memorable experience, take in the most important of Brazil’s festivals, celebrated in notably grand style in Rio, Salvador and Olinda. Carnaval is celebrated in every Brazilian city, but Rio’s party is the biggest and flashiest of them all. From the Friday before Lent to the following Tuesday, the city shuts up shop and throws itself into the world’s most famous manifestation of unbridled hedonism.

Carnaval’s greatest quality is that it has never become stale, thanks to its status as the most important celebration on the Brazilian calendar, easily outstripping Christmas and Easter. In a city riven by poverty, Carnaval represents a moment of freedom and release. And at the end of the very intense long weekend, there’s a brief collective hangover before attention turns to preparing for the following year’s event.


Carnival in Rio, Brazil © Gustavo Ardila/Shutterstock

24. Spend some time in São Paulo

São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state and home to its biggest city, is Brazil’s economic powerhouse. As well as being responsible for nearly half the country’s industrial output, it also has an agricultural sector that produces, among other things, more orange juice than any single nation worldwide. Ibirapuera Park, southeast of Jardins, is the most famous of São Paulo’s parks and the main sports centre for the city.

Oscar Niemeyer designed most of the buildings and Roberto Burle Marx produced impressive designs for landscaping. Inside the park, attractions include the peaceful and unusual Bosque de Leitura (reading woods). Here on Saturdays and Sundays you can borrow Portuguese books from a small outdoor library and sit among the trees reading them – and several of the city’s museums.

Also, you might find some attractive accommodation options in our expert guide to where to stay in São Paulo.

Sao Paulo, Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge © Shutterstock

Sao Paulo, Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge © Shutterstock

25. Go diving to Fernando de Noronha

The staggeringly beautiful and environmentally protected archipelago of Fernando de Noronha lies in the equatorial Atlantic some 545km from Pernambuco and 350km from Natal and should be on your list of things to do in Brazil for diving and snorkelling.

Boasting sixteen stunning beaches, it’s also hard to beat for snorkelling and scuba diving. Its clear water stretches down to a depth of 40m in places, with a white sandy sea bottom, plenty of coral, crustaceans, turtles, dolphins and a wide range of fish species and shoal types. There’s just one small catch – visiting Noronha is extremely expensive.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil © Kcris Ramos/Shutterstock

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil © Kcris Ramos/Shutterstock

26. Explore the Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande comprises 193 square kilometres of mountainous jungle, historic ruins and beautiful beaches, excellent for some scenic tropical rambling. The island is a state park and the authorities have been successful at limiting development and maintaining a ban on motor vehicles. The main drawback is the ferocity of the insects, especially during the summer, so come equipped with repellent.

Ilha Grande offers lots of beautiful walks along well-maintained and fairly well-signposted trails, but it’s sensible to take some basic precautions. Be sure to set out as early as possible and always inform people at your pousada where you are going – in writing if possible.

Embark on a fascinating journey with our Islands and Falls: Ihla Grande and Iguazu tailor-made tour. This adventure promises a harmonious blend of the tranquillity of the islands and the breathtaking spectacle of the cascading waterfalls.

Ilha Grande, Brazil © Shutterstock

Ilha Grande, Brazil © Shutterstock

Planning your trip to Brazil

Discover the beauty of Brazil with the guidance of our local Brazil travel experts. We handle every detail of the planning and booking for your adventure. 

Whenever you're ready to set off on your journey, contact us, and we'll create a tailor-made itinerary to suit your desires.

Explore our existing Brazil itineraries for inspiration, knowing that each one can be adjusted to meet your specific preferences.

For more travel inspiration see our Rough Guide to Brazil

We may earn commission from some of the external websites linked in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Olga Sitnitsa

written by
Olga Sitnitsa

updated 29.11.2023

Online editor at Rough Guides, specialising in travel content. Passionate about creating compelling stories and inspiring others to explore the world.

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