Across the strait at the mouth of Guanabara Bay lies Niterói, founded in 1573, and until 1975 the capital of the old state of Guanabara. Though lacking the splendour of the city of Rio, Niterói, with a population of half a million, has a busy commercial centre, an important museum and lively nightlife.
Cariocas have a tendency to sneer at Niterói, typically commenting that the only good thing about the city is its views back across Guanabara Bay to Rio. While it’s certainly true that the vistas are absolutely gorgeous on a clear day, Niterói has more to offer, not least for admirers of the work of the architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Most visitors to Niterói head for the Oscar Niemeyer–designed Museu de Arte Contemporânea, or MAC as it is more commonly called. Opened in 1996, and located just south of the centre on a promontory by the Praia da Boa Viagem, the flying-saucer-shaped building offers a 360-degree perspective of Niterói and across the bay to Rio. The museum boasts a worthy, though hardly exciting, permanent display of Brazilian art of the second half of the twentieth century and also hosts temporary exhibitions, although these are rarely of much interest. Instead, the real work of art is the building itself, which even hardened critics of Niemeyer find difficult to dismiss out of hand. The curved lines of the building are simply beautiful, and the views of the headland, nearby beaches and Guanabara Bay as you walk around inside it breathtaking.