I returned to Recife 18 years after my first visit to the capital of Pernambucoin northeastern Brazil. Time for the city to modernize, take better care of its historic center (the so-called Old Recife); and remove some of the insecurity I felt at the time.
This time, and despite the main objective being to explore Fernando de Noronha (in particular the Noronha beaches), I chose to dedicate a few days to revisit Recife, with an epicenter in the old part of the city, and Olinda, which I love!
I did not go, therefore, to visit geographically distant places like the Ricardo Brennand Institute and Ceramic Workshop Francisco Brennandboth magnificent. I didn't even have time to discover good and cheap cafes and restaurants, or other secrets of the Pernambuco capital.
Anyway, here's a short list with Things to do in Recife, based on the region of Recife Antigo. These are almost always obvious things, of course, but linked to Pernambuco culture and whose reference is worth doing here. Let's do it.
Historic Center of Recife
#1 Cais do Sertão Museum
Cais do Sertão was my first stop in Recife Antigo, after I was slip into the slopes of Olinda. In his memory he had a somewhat careless and insecure area of the city, with buildings in need of care and a very vibrant nightlife. But what I found upon arrival in the historic center of Recife was something different.
The streets were better manicured, there were many families walking around and some cultural facilities I did not know, the result of the renovation of the warehouses of the Port of Recife, which was intended to give new valences. The bold architectural project of the Cais do Sertão Museum is one such case.
Built in the year of 2018, it is an interactive museum about the hinterland - the interior of northeastern Brazil -, with an emphasis on the life and work of artist Luiz Gonzaga. It is a kind of tribute to the “King of Baião”, the greatest icon of the popular culture of the Pernambuco hinterland.
It is worth visiting, touching, experimenting. If only to make a bad appearance in the cabins of karaoke Trying to sing country songs. Me and my daughter have fun…
#2 Paço do Frevo
Arsenal Square concentrates two attractions of Recife whose visit I recommend. First of all, the Paço do Frevo, a cultural space “dedicated to the diffusion, research, leisure and training in the areas of frevo dance and music, aiming to propagate its practice for future generations”. And that launches a challenge: “to experience Pernambuco Carnival all year long”.
This is because frevo, recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage of Humanity, is the main rhythm to animate Carnival in the State of Pernambuco; naturally including the cities of Recife and Olinda.
Now, even though I did not dance frevo, I did not misuse the time to go through the different rooms of Paço do Frevo, in Recife Antigo. Even more so because the entrance was franchised free of charge.
Just next door is another Arsenal Square attraction to visit without reservation: the Mamulengo Theater.
#3 Mamulengo Theater
Every day, around 17: 00 (information given on site), there is a small theater with traditional dolls outside the Espaço Teatro Mamulengo Restaurant.
Now, being fond of differentiating cultural manifestations, Mamulengo Theater caught my attention when researching alternative things to do in Recife. The dolls, the theatricality, the associated tradition seemed to me good reason to attend one of the events.
Unfortunately, by incredible luck, the very day I visited Recife Antigo the Mamulengo Theater group was performing elsewhere; so there was no show. You will have to stay for a next visit to Recife, who knows on the way to the backlands!
#4 Ground Zero
Taken as the foundation of the city, Marco Zero is the point from which to measure distances from Recife. It is in Rio Branco Square, in Recife Antigo.
During the weekend - especially on Sunday - it is an area with a lot of people, taking advantage of the adjacent handicraft fair (at Domingos José Martins Street, which connects to Arsenal Square); street rehearsals of maracatu groups; or the cold beer from the bars of Cais do Porto.
It is not, of course, a spectacular attraction. But it is worth for the symbolism.
#5 Francisco Brennand Sculpture Park
Located on the Recife Harbor estuary, in front of Ground Zero, Francisco Brennand Sculpture Park was built in the year 2000 as a commemorative landmark of the 500 years of Brazil's Discovery. It is almost a hundred sculptures by Pernambuco artist Francisco Brennand, accessible by boat from the small pier at Marco Zero.
It is, say, a somewhat unusual installation, worth for symbolism and creativity. Here's the tip.
From Portugal, the most direct way to get to Recife is TAP flights that connect Lisbon with the capital of Pernambuco. See my tips for getting buy cheap flights Date flexibility is the number one rule. Enjoy!
Transport in Recife
Buses are a good way to get around Recife, although they can be uncomfortable (very crowded) and lead to long waits.
Alternatively, in Recife - as in most major Brazilian cities - Uber is one of the most used transports by locals, due to its excellent value for money. It was the most used mode of transport in Recife. This makes it easy to have a local SIM card, otherwise you will be dependent on Wi-Fi networks - and saves money if you have one. Revolut card associated with app.
Where to stay
For a more detailed opinion see the text where to stay in Recife, where I explain the best regions and hotels to stay in the city (or in Olinda).
In any case, most tourists choose to stay in the big hotels of Boa Viagem. It is the safe and well-kept coastal strip of Recife, excellent for its proximity to the “boardwalk” and the urban beach of the Pernambuco capital. If that's your choice, I recommend well-regarded hotels like the Fity Hotel or Radisson Recife - which, with the current price of the Real, are excellent value for money.
And historic center of Recife, will be an alternative to consider? In theory yes - that's where cheap options are like Recife Antigo Hostel; but I honestly do not advise. The area is nice to visit during the day; but I am not so sure that it is ideal to stay.
Finally, if you prefer a more traditional setting, consider sleeping in Olinda, a neighboring city of Recife. That's where I stayed - in the cozy house of Yolanda and Sebastian, which they simply called Bed and Breakfast Olinda. For other lodging options in Recife, search using the link below, down, beneath, underneath, downwards, downhill. Surely you will find a hotel within your taste and budget.
A World Nomads offers one of the best and most complete travel insurance recommended by National Geographic and Lonely Planet. Other excellent and cheaper option is IATI Seguros, which has no age limit and allows multivariate insurance (including long-term travel) to any destination in the world. It's the insurance I use in my travels.