The first settlers in what is now Belo Horizonte (map), Brazil‘s sixth largest city, were so in awe of the horizon, with the peaks of mountains in all directions, that they called the city Belo Horizonte or ‘Beautiful Horizon’. It was the first thing I looked out for when I arrived there: views of the horizon. Alas, the hilly landscape and urban sprawl made it difficult to catch a glimpse of the horizon. I was in ‘Bey-aga’ (as the locals call it) to speak at a conference but fortunately, I had some time to explore bits of this big city. What I found was a fascinating city with leafy parks and squares, broad tree-lined boulevards, eclectic architectural styles and laid-back people who love the little pleasures in life (like great beer and food!). Here are my suggestions for things to do in Belo Horizonte:
Things to do in Belo Horizonte
Admire the breathtaking panoramic view
To truly appreciate the vastness of Belo Horizonte and to see the horizon, head to the viewpoint at Mirante do Mangabeiras. The view is simply phenomenal!
Discover the works of Oscar Niemeyer
Oscar Niemeyer is arguably Brazil’s most famous architect. His works include the civic buildings in Brasilia (the capital of Brazil), the United Nations headquarters in New York and the Centro Niemeyer in Spain. I’m a big fan of his futuristic, curvy designs so I was thrilled to learn that he had designed various buildings in the city, including the museum where I had my presentation.
The conference I attended was held at the Museum of Modern Art in Pampulha, a leafy district north of the city centre with a massive lake in its middle. This man-made lake and the surrounding buildings was the first big project for Oscar Niemeyer, who went on to design the country’s capital, Brasilia, and countless other buildings around the world. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak at this illustrious venue, which was originally meant to be a casino.
Explore the Mercado Central
I love markets so the Mercado Central (Central Market) was one of my highlights in Belo Horizonte. Listed as one of the best in the world, this market is a wondrous maze of little stores and bars. Foodies are in for a treat as there are countless stores selling all sorts of Brazilian meats, cheeses and candy. Drop by at one of the bars for a beer and some delicious bar food!
Dive into the night life in Savassi
Savassi is a vibrant district where many hotels, restaurants and bars are located. In the evenings, the district is a magnet for locals who gather at outdoor terraces for drinks and food. Check out the Penguim bar/terrace and Albanos (which serves their own delicious brew!).
Stroll around the Praça da Liberdade
The Praça da Liberdade (or Liberation Square) is one of the main squares in Belo Horizonte. What makes this square particularly interesting is that it’s lined by palaces which have been turned into museums and cultural centres. The architecture, ranging from neo-classical to Art Deco, is eclectic and a joy to see. The park in the middle of the square was inspired by the gardens at the Palace of Versailles and is a favourite haunt for locals, especially in the weekends. Add a visit to the Palácio da Liberdade – the former seat of the government of Minas Gerais (the state in which Belo Horizonte is located) – to admire its grand interior.
There are many more things to do in Belo Horizonte but I didn’t have the time unfortunately. However, I left the city charmed by its beauty, vibrancy and wonderful architecture and I wondered why it’s still relatively off-the-beaten-path for visitors to Brazil. I, for one, would love to return one day and experience more of BH!
More tips: if you’re a fan of nature strolls and modern art, plan a visit to Inhotim park, about an hour’s drive from BH. Read more about Inhotim on Velvet Escape. If you love culture and history, be sure to plan a road trip along the Estrada Real from BH to Rio de Janeiro!
Belo Horizonte can easily be reached by air from all major cities in Brazil. From Rio de Janeiro, it’s a short 45-minute flight. From the airport, it can take more than an hour to reach the city (depending on traffic). Use only official taxis!