Brasilia Tourist Attractions Museu Nacional

Brasília: Sights & tips for the capital of Brazil

Aktualisiert am: 11/03/2024

Brasília is probably one of the most extraordinary capital cities in the world. I’ll show you which sights make Brasília so special and which highlights you should see on a trip there! And at the end there’s a little bit of Brasília’s history: how Brasília was built and when Brasília became the capital of Brazil!

The main attractions in Brasília

Planned on the drawing board by Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa in the 1950s, Brasília’s architecture is still unique today. The first time you drive through the center of Brasília, called Plano Piloto, you will notice the unusual urban planning with its long streets and perfectly divided blocks of houses. Don’t miss out on these sights:

#1 Catedral Metropolitana

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Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!

The Catedral Metropolitana is quite small for a cathedral. At the same time, it is the perfect starting point for sightseeing and a good first impression of how architecture works here in Brasília. Lots of white, many clear lines and despite its age (Brasilia and thus all the buildings from the founding phase are almost 60 years old) still hypermodern.

Speaking of white: everything seems even whiter in Brasilia than anywhere else – the sun shines brighter, it always seems that way to me. The city is situated at an altitude of 1200m on a plateau and with so many sunny days, dark sunglasses are a good constant companion. Otherwise you almost become a little snow-blind. Only without snow, at an average temperature of 28 degrees.

Brasilia Sights Brasilia Cathedral Oscar Niemeyer Architect
Brasilia Cathedral is one of the city’s landmarks.

The entrance to the cathedral is hidden, with an underground staircase leading inside. And then, through the colorful glass mosaic windows, which seemed so inconspicuous from the outside, the full splendor of the cathedral unfolds. The acoustics in the church are also special: if you stand very close to the round wall as a couple, you can even hear quiet whispers, even if the other person is standing on the other side!

You can find out more about my second home Brazil in my Brazil blog!

#2 Esplanada dos Ministerios & Praca dos Tres Poderes

The Esplanada dos Ministérios is home to all the country’s ministries and ends with the Praca dos Tres Poderes, where the most important government buildings are located. All the politics of the huge country of Brazil in one place – and nothing else. No stores, no restaurants, no cafés. This is the Brasília concept: everything is neatly arranged according to purpose, with the most important buildings of a capital city right in the middle.

Brasilia Sights Congresso Nacional Praca dos tres Poderes
Big decisions are made here: Brazil’s Senate and Parliament sit in the Congresso Nacional.

It’s worth taking a look at the map of Brasília: The Plano Piloto, the center of Brasília, looks like an airplane. The wings contain residential areas, while the fuselage houses government buildings and economic sectors such as hotels and banks. Arranged in order of importance: At the front of the cockpit, the Congresso Nacional (Congress consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives), the Palácio da Alvorada (seat of the President) and the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Court) meet at the Praca dos Tres Poderes (Square of the Three Powers). All three powers gathered in one place. Very well thought out!

Plan Brasilia airplane Lucio Costa Oscar Niemeyer
The development plan of Brasília: Looks like an airplane from above.

The Palácio da Alvorada, the seat of the Brazilian president, is not open to the public. What is interesting, however, is the built-in platform that protrudes from the palace and is specially designed for speeches to the people. The palace is guarded by the Dragões da Independência, a special unit of the Brazilian military, and with a bit of luck you can still observe a changing of the guard.

Brasilia Sights Palacio da Alvorada Presidential Palace
Seat of the president: The Palácio da Alvorada on the Praça dos Três Poderes.

Directly opposite the Palácio da Alvorada is the Supremo Tribunal Federal, the supreme court. The Praca dos Três Poderes is also a good example of the architectural concept: lots of space, straight lines and plenty of light.
What you should definitely visit: the Museo Histórico de Brasília and the Panteao da Patria. Admission to both buildings is free and both provide very interesting insights into the history of Brazil.
Tip: On the first Sunday of every month, the flag is ceremoniously changed on the huge flagpole with much fanfare, an event that many Brazilians also use as a family outing.

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#3 Torre de TV / TV tower

From the Brasília TV tower you have the best view over the Esplanada and the entire Plano Piloto – and the best thing is: the view is free. Around the TV tower is the Feira da Torre, a permanent market with arts and crafts and street food. Since Brasília’s history has always made it a melting pot of all regions of Brazil, you can traditionally find the most exotic specialties from all over the country here, from tacacá from Pará to empadas from Goiás. The Feira da Torre is open every day, but on Sundays there are more stalls in addition to the regular ones and then it’s a funfair atmosphere!

#4 Memorial JK

JK (pronounced dschotta-kaa) is something you come across again and again in Brasília: it is the initials of the Brazilian president who got the long-dreamed-of Brasília project rolling in the first place. Unusually for a politician in Brazil, he is still revered like no other, especially in Brasília. Originally a doctor, Juscelino Kubitschek was known for being very close to the people and for his integrity – my aunt still talks with glazed eyes full of admiration about the day when she was allowed to meet JK for a brief moment as a young girl. JK brought about an economic boom not only in Brasília, but throughout the country, and lost all his political rights during the subsequent military dictatorship (1964-1984) because he was critical of the military. He died in 1976 in a traffic accident under circumstances that remain unexplained to this day.

After long negotiations and political pressure, the military finally gave in and granted the construction of the Memorial JK as a mausoleum and museum about JK’s life in 1981. The exhibition, which also contains a lot about the fascinating history of Brazil’s origins, is also recommended for non-Brazilians.

#5 Museo Nacional & Biblioteca Nacional

The Museo Nacional Honestino Guimarães and the Biblioteca Nacional de Brasília together form the Complexo Cultural da República João Herculino.

Brasilia Sights Museo Nacional
Another example of Brasília’s futuristic architecture: the Museo Nacional in Brasília.

Both buildings were only constructed in 2006 and yet fit seamlessly into the unusual 1960s architecture of Brasília. The Museu Nacional occasionally hosts exhibitions by contemporary artists and admission is free.

Brasilia Sights Biblioteca Nacional
Brasilia Sights Biblioteca Nacional

#6 Parque da Cidade

Those who have had enough of architecture can relax next door in the Parque da Cidade. Basically, it is no longer a park, but a huge leisure area that can only be crossed by car. Like everything in Brasília, the Parque da Cidade is very extensive, a bit like in the USA: you can’t do anything without a car. Even at weekends it never gets crowded here, although half of Brasília flocks here.

Brasilia sights Parque da Cidade
City of motorists: The Parque da Cidade (city park) in Brasilia is so huge that it can be accessed by car.

Helpful information for your stay: tips for your trip to Brasília

Arrival/departure from/to Brasília

If you are making a detour to Brasília as part of a longer trip to Brazil, traveling by plane is a good option. All major Brazilian airlines such as Latam, GOL, Avianca and Azul fly to Brasília. There are remarkably few international flights for a capital city; there are a few direct flights to the USA and neighboring countries such as Paraguay and Chile. As far as safety standards are concerned, I have never had any concerns with any of the airlines mentioned – certainly some things work differently than with European airlines, but I wouldn’t advise against any of them. The in-flight service and seat pitch have been reduced in recent years, but many Europeans are still surprised by the in-flight services offered by airlines that are considered low-cost carriers in Brazil, such as GOL. Tickets can also be purchased at short notice at reasonable prices – provided it is not the peak travel season (Christmas to Carnival or Easter week).

Brasilia sights Rodoviaria bus station
From the Rodoviária in Brasilia, the central bus station, buses travel to all parts of Brazil from Belém to S ã o Paulo.

Although there is a well-developed bus network within Brazil with buses in every conceivable configuration (there are even pure sleeper buses with real beds), the journey can drag on like chewing gum. The roads are not always good and the distances are long. From Sao Paulo alone, it takes a good 20 hours to get to Brasília, and sometimes a day and a half to get up to the northeast. The security aspect should not be ignored: buses are occasionally robbed en route.

Train travel is not an alternative: the rail network in Brazil is virtually non-existent, and there are only a few freight train connections.

Getting around Brasília – public transport or car?

  • Unfortunately, public transportation within Brasilía is not recommended. Brasília is not a pedestrian-friendly city and public transport is poorly organized. To the delight of the Brazilians, two metro lines were added to the bus network a few years ago, connecting satellite towns such as Samambaia, Guará and Taguatinga with the Plano Piloto. These are not very suitable for visitors. The general rule for public transportation in Brasília is: if you can afford it, take the car because it saves a lot of time.
Brasilia Sights Eixo Plano Piloto
Wide streets, lots of concrete: Brasilia was designed for motorists. Pedestrians were somehow often forgotten in the planning.
  • I would recommend renting a car: As far as traffic is concerned, Brasília’s traffic is much more civilized than in other large Brazilian cities due to the size and space on the roads, so that even Europeans can manage there.
  • It often takes some getting used to the lack of street signs (this has improved somewhat, but not enough, with the hosting of the 2014 World Cup) and the fact that only the larger streets are named.
  • In residential and commercial districts, only the respective blocks of houses are numbered according to a specific system that varies from district to district or from city to city.
  • In Brasília, it can be quite difficult to get by in English. It’ s best to rent your car here in advance from Germany*!
  • Please note: In Brazil, you used to have to carry an international driving license in addition to your German driving license. This is no longer necessary, a valid German driver’s license (+passport) is now sufficient in Brazil: https://infraestrutura.gov.br/carteira-internacional.html
  • If you don’t feel confident enough to drive yourself, you can now use Uber as well as regular cabs in Brasília.

Staying overnight in Brasilia

As everything in Brasília is neatly divided into different uses, most of the large hotels are located in the so-called Setor Hoteleiro (hotel sector) near the Esplanada. The majority are bed castles of larger chains without any real atmosphere.

So here are 3 tips for somewhat more unusual accommodation that matches the flair of Brasilia:

Brasilia Palace Hotel* Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brasilia. You will also find the typical tile patterns of Athos Bulcao here – typical Brasília! Located directly on the lake near the Palacio da Alvorada.

Hotel Nacional* Brasília’s first major hotel, opened in 1961, and once hosted all high-ranking state guests. Those days are long gone, but you can still get a feel for the flair of Brasília in those days.

Hotel Diplomat* Also one of the oldest hotels in Brasília, almost a relic. Simple, but very central.

You can find a range of rooms in private accommodation on Airbnb, so look for accommodation in the Asa Norte or Asa Sul districts in typical older residential buildings in Brasília. You can also experience real Brasília flair there.

The retort city Brasilia: history and construction of the Brazilian capital

Brasília is a city planned on the drawing board. Through and through. Not much has changed to this day. Over the years, new so-called satellite cities have sprung up around Brasília proper, the Plano Piloto – but all of them follow their own specific urban planning scheme. In 1960, after only five years of construction, Brasília was inaugurated as the capital – quite a feat when you consider what had previously stood on this vast land: nothing. Nothing but Cerrado, the Brazilian savannah.

Life was concentrated in cities like Rio and Sao Paulo, with nothing at all happening in the center of Brazil. That should change with Brasília. The architects Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer planned a visionary place right in the geographical center of the country. And to this day, I don’t know of any city that even remotely resembles Brasília. The architecture is unique and the reason why Brasília will always have a special place among all Brazilian cities and probably also among all retort cities in the world. Brasília has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

Are you interested in Brazil even more? You can find more articles about my second home here:

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