By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – There is an old joke which says that the best thing about Niterói is the view of Rio, but a good many feel that it is neither funny nor true. While Rio’s sister city certainly enjoys panoramic vistas from the other side Guanabara Bay, there is much more to Niterói than just its outlook.
With a small, wealthy population of close to half a million people, Niteroi has the highest human development index of any city in Rio de Janeiro state. Many of the people who live there commute to Rio by boat or across the famous Rio-Niterói road bridge which, at over eight miles long, is the longest in the South Hemisphere.
One of the first things those coming from Rio see from the bridge is the futuristic Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC). Designed by Brazil’s foremost architect, Oscar Niemeyer the spaceship-shaped building garners as much attention as the exhibitions it holds. At the moment the museum is undergoing renovations but it is due to reopen soon.
Along the coast, Niterói is blessed with endless, often empty beaches. Cleaner and less crowded than Copacabana or Ipanema, Niterói’s shores attract a loyal number of families, students and sports enthusiasts. As well as surfing and stand-up paddle boarding, extreme water sports such as wakesurfing, wakeboarding and skimboarding are increasingly popular.
Flyboarding is one sport that is really taking off. Relatively new on the scene, flyboarding propels people up to 15 meters into the air thanks to a water jetpack attached to their feet. Green Sports Rio, opened in December 2015 specializing in outdoor activities, offers customers the chance to be launched into the air and, for a little bit extra, to have a photo taken, perhaps for the perfect social media profile picture.
On land, Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem, or the Church of Our Lady of Safe Travel, reopens to the public this week having been closed for twenty years and recently restored. It is an eighteenth century chapel that sits on top of Ilha da Boa Viagem looking out to sea. Priests used to bless sailors there before they set out on voyages. Behind it is a small fort that was built around 1700 and which was used as a defensive look-out point.
“A year ago we started to develop the work so Niteroienses and tourists could know this corner, which is one of the most beautiful places in Niterói. There are many city residents who have been here for decades and have never had the opportunity to see this wonder,” the city’s mayor Rodrigo Neves told O Globo newspaper.
Though Niterói has its fair share of high-end restaurants, it has many delicious and well-priced little local dining spots too. For top-notch kebabs, visit Ney do Churrasco. There they serve all kinds of quality meat, from fillet to chicken hearts, on a skewer.
Soup is the speciality at Mania de Caldos Icaraí, which has over seventy different flavors but serves just six different ones each day, as well as the traditional caldo verde (green soup) and bobó de camarão (prawn stew). And at Escritório Bar, fresh pasteis (pastels) filled with meat, prawn or cod are made daily and served up to the waiting hordes.
To get to Niterói, take the Rio-Charitas catamaran ferry from Praça XV in Centro to the far side of Guanabara Bay, near the outcrop known as Morro de Pico. From here one can walk around to the markets and a shopping mall, and find buses or taxis to the next destination. The return ferry leaves from the center and arrives back at Praça XV in around 15 minutes.
If bus travel is preferred, or, if Praça XV is inconvenient for the final destination, then one can take a bus over the Rio-Niterói bridge, from which, on a clear day, the views are spectacular. The more modern, air conditioned ‘1001’ buses (761D, 751D and 741D) make stops all over Rio and cost R$5. However, during rain storms or rush hour, the bridge can become extremely congested, making the ferry the best option.