By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Everyone seems to have an opinion about Brasília, whether they’ve actually been there or not. Contrary to popular belief, the city has a vibrant cultural and gastronomical scene, as well as plenty to explore; and compared to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, the public security and traffic are markedly better.
Visit the Central Landmarks
As a planned capital, Brasília has received a lot of criticism for its uniform structure. However, this planned aspect has resulted in nearly all of its major landmarks being located within close distance to one another.
Visitors can go up the ‘Torre de TV de Brasília’ (Brasília TV tower) and see panoramic views across the entire city, while picking up some trademark ‘pipoca rosa’ (pink popcorn) on the way. They can then head down the ‘Eixo Monumental’ (Monumental Axis) to the iconic ‘Museu Nacional’ (National Museum), which stages artistic and cultural events inside its stark dome structure.
Across the way from the ‘Museu Nacional’ is the ‘Catedral Metropolitana de Brasília’ (Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasília), also designed by Niemeyer, and famous for its cavernous interior featuring modern sculpture and abundant stained-glass.
Finally, there is the ‘Praça dos Três Poderes’ (Three Powers Plaza) where visitors can see the ‘Palácio do Planalto’ (Presidential Palace), ‘Congresso Nacional’ (National Congress) and the ‘Supremo Tribunal Federal’ (Supreme Federal Court), as well as the famous sculpture ‘Os Candangos’ (The Warriors) by Bruno Giorgi and the world’s largest continuously flying flag.
Picnic at Lago Paranoá
‘Lago Paranoá’ (Paranoá Lake) is an artificial lake in Brasília with a circumference of around 50 miles (80 kilometers). All along its shores are places to rent boats, kayaks or jet skis. The ‘Parque Rural e Estação Biologica’ (Rural Park and Biological Station) is an excellent spot to have a picnic and bathe in the refreshing pools.
For those not in the picnicking mood, there are also plenty of upscale restaurants on the lake such as Coco Bambu, which serves excellent seafood, or Taypá, a top-rated Peruvian place specializing in Ceviche.
Explore the City’s Cultural Centers
The ‘Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil’ (Bank of Brazil Cultural Center) is located in between the ‘Eixo Monumental’ and the shores of ‘Lago Paranoá.’ Another Niemeyer architectural gem, it has a sweeping design reminiscent of a space-age train carriage, while inside hosts contemporary art, film screenings and an elegant cafe.
With the ‘Teatro Nacional Cláudio Santoro’ (Cláudio Santoro National Theater) closed for renovation, the ‘Complexo Cultural Funarte’ (Funarte Cultural Complex) is a popular go-to for modern dance, theater and musical shows.
Sample the Gastronomy
Brasília has a surprisingly varied restaurant scene, with everything from imaginative buffet-a-kilo restaurants to upscale cuisine. Popular with the locals, Mangai serves up North-Eastern Brazilian dishes in a stunning location with views of the ‘Ponte Juscelino Kubitschek’ (Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge).
Olivae restaurant offers haute cuisine cooked by award-winning Brazilian chef Alex Atala. They specialize in Kobe beef, spaghetti with Brazilian ‘Palmito’ (Heart of Palm) and often host live jazz during the week.
Check out the bar and music scene
For those looking to extend their day out into the evening, or even staying for a weekend visit, resident of Brasília and psychologist Eduardo Lemgruber recommends ‘Victrola,’ “This is a great bar where they only play vinyl.” The place is known to allow clients to choose a record and often organizes themed nights around particular genres and groups.
Outro Calaf is a fun locale in which to sample Brasília’s burgeoning independent music scene. For a quieter drink, Bar Brasília serves up ‘choppe’ (draft) beer in an old-school setting more reminiscent of the classic Botecos of Rio or São Paulo.
For traditional live music, there is no better place than ‘Clube de Choro Brasília’ (Brasília Choro Club). This huge hall hosts live ‘chorinho’ (traditional Brazilian instrumental music similar to samba) bands while spectators drink beer and snack on tasty appetizers.