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11 Fun Things to do in Olinda & Recife, Brazil

11 Fun Things to do in Olinda & Recife, Brazil

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Here is your complete guide to the best things to do in Recife, Brazil as well as the cute neighboring town of Olinda. I’ve included fun day trips, must-visit tourist attractions, as well as some local secrets!

Recife is a city along the Northeast coast of Brazil. It is a great base for exploring this lesser-known area of Brazil boasting pristine beaches and tons of history. With a huge range of fun things to do in Recife, and of course, the small connected colonial town of Olinda, it’s no surprise that Recife is on most travelers’ list of places to visit in Northeast Brazil

Recife is a large city, whereas Olinda is a tiny town on the outskirts of Recife. For this reason, most tourists visit both places together choosing to base themselves in one or the other and simply travel between as needed on day trips.  

You can reach Olinda in only a 30-minute drive from the touristy area of Boa Viagem in Recife. So, if you’re in the area, be sure to explore both Recife and Olinda thoroughly, which is why I’ve listed the best things to do in both Recife and Olinda together below. 

I’ve also included some extra travel information for visiting Recife and Olinda to help plan your trip. This is information I wish I knew before I went, so I hope you find it helpful! 

Getting to Recife and Olinda 

You can reach Recife by bus or airplane. In Recife there is an airport that most commonly serves domestic flights, this is definitely your easiest option. You can also book a direct shuttle from the airport to the tourist area of Recife which is super convenient!

Alternatively, you can get to Recife (and Olinda) using Brazil’s network of intercity buses. This is what we did, heading down the coast from Pipa, Brazil.

Many travelers reach Recife by bus from Natal to the north or Salvador in the South. Both of these routes are common and you can choose from a huge range of bus companies and book your seat in advance on the website Busbud.com.

From Recife, you can just take a taxi or jump on a local bus to reach Olinda. From the main downtown area of Recife, Olinda is only another 30-minute drive away!

Note: The main bus terminal in Recife is about 30 km (18.6 mi) outside of the main tourist district of Boa Viagem. You will need to take a combination of the metro and public bus, or a taxi. If you arrive after dark, I recommend a taxi as the public route (which we took) is time-consuming and not very safe at night.

Related Read: Wanting to spend some long days by the water? Check out this guide to the best beaches in Salvador, Brazil.

11 Best Things to do in Recife and Olinda, Brazil

1. Wander the colorful streets of Olinda 

the colorful houses and cobblestone streets in Olinda, Brazil
It’s the cutest town ever!

Olinda is arguably the most colorful small town in all of Brazil. Just imagine, cobblestone streets lined with houses and little cafes painted every color of the rainbow – it’s so cute!

One of the best ways to enjoy Olinda is to just wander around aimlessly. Stop in cafes, restaurants, and little stores. There are often markets happening around Olinda as well as street performers. Be sure to also visit the beautiful Se Cathedral.

You’ll see a beach in Olinda as well, but in my opinion, it isn’t that nice. Enjoy Olinda for it being a lively and fun town – leave beach days to some of the ones I mention further on in this blog.

Olinda is well-known for its nightlife, so if you book a hostel or hotel in Olinda, you can easily have some fun after the sun goes down! Brazilians love to party, and Olinda is as much of a travel destination for Brazilians as it is for international visitors, so you’re likely to make some Brazilian friends out on the dancefloor over a caipirinha or four. Casbah is a good spot to start for a night out in Olinda.

We actually stayed in Recife and then just took the local bus to Olinda to visit for a day. It’s very easy and direct (bus number 910 goes straight there.) Once there, we just explored on our own. However, if you prefer a guided tour, you can book a tour from Recife too.

This Olinda and Recife Antigo Tour is a steal at only $16 USD and goes for the whole day (7 hours)! It offers pick-up from hotels in Boa Viagem, Recife. The tour lets you see the Praca do Arsenal square and the nearby neighborhood streets of Recife Antigo, Madre Deus Church, and the Paco Alfandega Palace before departing to explore Olinda.

Sights here include Do Carmo Square, the Monastery of Sao Bento, and Rua Bispo Coutinho which is in the heart of the city – there are many scenic attractions to see here. At the end, your guide will take you to take in the panoramic views from Olinda waterfront beach.

2. Enjoy the Olinda Viewpoint 

Alto Se viewpoint in Olinda, Brazil near Recife
What a view!

One of the best things to do in Olinda is to walk to the viewpoint called Alto Da Se. Here, there is a viewing platform that offers visitors the chance to see all of Olinda and Recife and the unique contrast between the old colonial streets of Olinda and the new skyscrapers in Recife.

You can find Alto Da Se viewing platform’s location on Google Maps and can easily walk to it from anywhere in Olinda.

Although just a quick stop, it is a really spectacular view and one you shouldn’t miss while you’re in either Recife or Olinda, Brazil!

3. Relax at Boa Viagem 

Boa Viagem boardwalk in Recife, Brazil
Walking along the boardwalk in Boa Viagem is one of the best things to do in Recife!

Boa Viagem is an area in Recife that lines the coast and boasts a vibrant boardwalk. You can visit some of the beachside restaurants and relax with a drink in hand, or you can find your own spot of sand and just have a nap.

One thing I will warn you about though, is the sharks! It is widely known in Brazil that Recife has a lot of sharks in the ocean, so many that most Brazilians will not swim here. So, enter the water at your own risk!

We personally didn’t swim at Boa Viagem in Recife and just enjoyed the views, fresh ocean breeze, and ample amounts of seafood!

Boa Viagem is the most touristic district of Recife and most likely where you’ll book your hotel or hostel. We stayed at a nice hostel there called Apartamento Compartilhado in the area, but there are plenty of others to choose from including some luxury hotels like the Grand Mercure. It is the safest area in all of Recife and also pretty close to Olinda when you choose to venture there.

4. Go shopping! 

shopping for souvenirs at Centro de Artesanato de Pernambuco Unidade Recife
Shopping for souvenirs at Centro de Artesanato de Pernambuco Unidade Recife.

For those who love to shop, Recife is the place to be! So much so, that many Brazilians will agree that shopping is definitely one of the best things to do in Recife.

In Recife, you can visit large shopping malls that have fancier shops, brand names, and luxury stores that you probably wouldn’t expect to see in Brazil. The most popular shopping complex in Recife is Shopping Rio Mar.

However, if you want some souvenirs or handicrafts then you need to head to Centro de Artesanato de Pernambuco Unidade Recife. Honestly, Dan and I aren’t really “shoppers”, but we did enjoy visiting this place and just looking at all of the unique things for sale.

If you’re a serious shopper, you can actually book this shopping tour of Recife where your guide will take you to the best local spots with the best deals!

Since transport is included it’s a super convenient and efficient method to get around for $50 USD. Plus you won’t have to walk far distances lugging around heavy bags if you end up buying a lot.

5. Explore the “Brazilian Caribbean” at Maragogi Beach 

Aerial View Of Natural Pools Of Maragogi, Alagoas, Brazil. Fanta
The natural pools of Maragogi are stunning! Photo Credit: Cristian Lourenco on Bigstock

Yep, you read that right, the “Brazilian Caribbean” is a thing, and it is located only a short drive from Recife. In fact, the town of Maragogi is a tourist destination of its own, and people from all over the world book luxurious hotels or guesthouses here to enjoy some of the best beaches in all of Brazil.

Remember how I mentioned lots of sharks at the beach in Recife, well this isn’t a problem at Maragogi as the reef protects the beach and keeps sharks out. In fact, one of the most popular things to do in Maragogi is to take a boat out to one of the natural pools created by reefs at low tide.

At Maragogi, the sand is fine and white and the water is crystal clear. It is a gorgeous beach destination and one of the best things to do in Recife for any beach lover!

If you have time, I recommend spending a couple of nights in Maragogi to really relax and unwind. Although most places to stay are on the pricier end, Maragogi Hostel is actually really cheap and has amazing reviews! Pousada Tapitanga is a great mid-range option with luxurious touches.

Alternatively, if you just want to visit Maragogoi on a day trip, that is possible too. From Recife, you can book this tour which includes return transport and a guide. Just do beware, it is a bit of a drive at around 2.5 hours each way.

It is the ultimate beach day tour for just $48 USD. You will spend 4 hours on Burgalhau’s Beach and eat lunch at a wonderful local restaurant on the beach before the boat portion of the tour starts where your captain will guide you to another one of Maragogi’s stunning beaches.

Related Read: We’ve compiled a guide of everything you need to know before backpacking in Brazil.

6. Snorkel and swim at Porto de Galinhas

eating shrimp at Porta de Galinhas on a day trip from Recife, Brazil
Us enjoying some shrimp at Porto de Galinhas!

This is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Recife! Taking a day trip to Porto de Galinhas is so much fun and something we thoroughly enjoyed during our time in Recife.

Located only an hour from Recife, Porto de Galinhas beach is where you can enjoy your beach day! Like the beaches in Maragogi, Porto de Galinhas is protected by a reef keeping the sharks away! There are also small natural pools that are formed at low tide which are perfect for snorkeling.

Once at the beach, you can jump on a boat to the pools, rent snorkel gear, go scuba diving, or even just grab a beach lounger at one of the beachside restaurants. These restaurants will charge you for the chair if you don’t order anything from their menu, but my advice is to eat some fresh seafood and try some Brazilian cocktails – that’s what we did and it made for a fun day!

You can easily book a shuttle from Recife that includes hotel pick-up to visit Porto da Galinhas, or you can book a hotel there and spend a night or two. We personally just visited on a day trip and it was just fine! The drive is only an hour each way which isn’t too bad for a full-day trip from Recife!

Alternatively, if you are coming from the nearby city of Maragogi you can book this full-day tour for only $17 USD which gives you 8 hours to enjoy the area with a guide who will be there to assist you. A boat out to the pools is not included in this option so you will need to buy that separately in person.

7. Take in the scenery at Praia dos Carneiros 

Praia dos Carneiros
Such a beautiful beach – and so relaxing!

This is the third, and final, beach on this list of things to do in Recife. Praia dos Carneiros offers views of palm trees, warm water, and fine white sand. Like the other beaches around Recife, you can swim safely here and snorkel with tons of fish!

One thing that sets Praia dos Carneiros apart though, is the historic little white church found there, São Benedito. It is a tradition to make a wish here!

This beach is also much less touristic and built up than the others near Recife. It is the place to go for some serious relaxation!

Praia dos Carneiros is located about an hour and a half from Recife making it possible on a guided day trip. This particular tour costs $28 USD and also stops for pictures at the iconic small church in São Benedito before arriving at the pools. You’ll get around 5 hours to enjoy the beach.

Alternatively, there are hotels and guest houses in the area that you can book too!

8. Party at Carnival 

dancers for Canirval in Olinda, Brazil
Some dangers performing at pre-Carnival celebrations in Olinda.

Brazil boasts the biggest Carnival celebration in the world. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Brazil during their annual Carnival celebrations (typically at the end of February) then you can really enjoy the festivities in Recife and Olinda.

Many people think you need to be in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival or other big cities such as Salvador, but this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, Olinda boasts some of Brazil’s most vibrant and authentic Carnival events and displays in all of Brazil!

We were in Olinda only a few days before Carnival was set to officially start, and let me tell you, the atmosphere was already electric – I can’t imagine how awesome it would be during actual Carnival.

The Northeast of Brazil also has some of its own unique Carnival traditions that you won’t find in the South such as large “doll” type costumes parading about and African-influenced music and dancing.

Hot Tip: Since Olinda is such a popular place to celebrate Carnival, accommodations are always fully booked. Be sure to secure your place to stay months in advance to avoid missing out!

9. Eat at Beijupira 

shrimp dish from Beijupira in Recife, Brazil
Delicious!

Beijupira is easily the best restaurant in all of Recife and Olinda, and as such, a place you need to check out while you’re there!

Located in Olinda, Beijupira is unique because it is set amongst a garden and with beautiful views. You must take an elevator down to the restaurant, which really adds to the overall experience.

But besides all of that, the food is delicious! I had the Camarão Folia and it was to die for! But I must say, you do pay for quality here and most dishes are upwards of $60 BRL ($11 USD). With that said, to me, it is totally worth it.

Beijupira can be quite busy especially during peak dinner hours and on the weekends. Consider visiting for lunch or an early dinner to miss the rush, or call ahead and reserve your table in advance. You can find their contact information on Bejiupira’s Facebook page.

10. Visit Ricardo Brennard Institute 

Ricardo Brennard Institute in Recife, Brazil
Doesn’t it look like a castle?!

Last, but certainly not least, is a trip to Ricardo Brennard Institute in Recife. For those interested in history and culture, this a must-do activity in Recife as you’ll find a museum, library, and art gallery here!

Ricardo Brennard Institute is a cultural center with tons to offer visitors. It is also in a historic castle-like building that is worthwhile checking out on its own and located within a large park.

Inside the museum is also the world’s largest collection of weapons with over 3,000 different historic pieces!

You can buy your entrance tickets to the museum online in advance for $22 USD and visit on your own, or, you can buy a combo ticket that includes transport from Recife for $40 USD and entrance fees.

There is also the longer full-day tour option for $85 USD which hits all the main sights in Olinda including the Igreja do Camo, the Embaixada dos Bonecos Gigantes and the Rua do Ampar after you’re finished going through the museum.

Related Read: If you want a budget destination in Brazil then I’m happy to inform you there are lots of cheap and free things to do in São Paulo.

11. Underwater Boat Hitchhiking

You’ve probably never heard of underwater boat hitchhiking until now and while it sounds a bit confusing it’s actually quite straightforward.

On this tour out of Recife, you essentially grab onto the handles of an underwater hydrodynamic board and hitchhike behind the boat that’s pulling you.

The whole point of this activity is to see more of the underwater world in a smaller amount of time! You will really get to sense many wonders that the sea of Fernando de Noronha has including being pulled over a shipwreck that many different types of sea creatures call home. As you “hitchhike” you are most likely to see fish, stingrays, and turtles as you go.

This exact experience lasts between 2 to 3 hours and includes your ride to and from Recife. If you want a BBQ lunch provided you can upgrade for a small fee.

Note: Entry tickets to the Marine National Park are not included in this tour and will need to be purchased separately. It costs $36 USD for non-Brazilians and only 198 BRL ($18 USD) for locals.

Where to Stay in Olinda & Recife, Brazil

the colorful streets of Olinda, Brazil near Recife.
I loved visiting Olinda on a day trip from my hostel in Recife!

Since Recife and Olinda are so close together, you can choose to stay in one or the other and just day trip as needed. Below I have listed the best places to stay in both Olinda and Recife for every budget! All of the listed hotels have been hand-selected to ensure they have the most ideal location for doing all of the things to do in Recife included in this blog!

Recife

Apartamento Compartilhado (Budget Hostel)

This hostel is conveniently located in Boa Viagem just a short walk from the beach boardwalk and the public bus stop to Olinda. We actually stayed here and it was really nice with plenty of common areas to hang out!

You can check availability and book on Booking.com.

Fity Hotel (Modest Budget)

This hotel is as modern as it gets! Located in Boa Viagem, it is within walking distance from the beach and lots of shopping. It has some of the best reviews out of all of the hotels in Recife and seems to be a top choice for many travelers.

You can check the price and book Fity Hotel on Booking.com.

Grand Mercure Boa Viagem (Luxury)

This luxury hotel is located right on the beach in Boa Viagem, Recife! Most rooms offer ocean views and there is an outdoor pool. The hotel is only a short walk from lots of restaurants and shops including the handicraft market.

You can secure the lowest price possible for the Grand Mercure Boa Viagem on Booking.com.

Olinda

Hostel da 13 e Suítes (Budget Hostel)

This hostel is located right in the historic center of Olinda, the ideal location to stay! They offer both dorm beds as well as cheap private rooms. A breakfast buffet is included in the room rate and all of the shared communal spaces make for a social atmosphere.

You can book this hostel on Booking.com.

Hotel Costeiro (Modest Budget)

This is a comfortable hotel located just a 10-minute walk from the historical part of Olinda. There is a courtyard with an outdoor pool and all rooms come with air conditioning, a mini-fridge, and breakfast included. It’s great value for money!

You can check the prices and book Hotel Costeiro on Booking.com.

Hotel 7 Colinas (Luxury)

This hotel is as luxurious as it can get while staying in the historic area of Olinda. Rooms come equipped with air conditioning and breakfast is included. The hotel has a gorgeous outdoor pool surrounded by gardens and most rooms have balconies.

You can get book Hotel 7 at the lowest price on Booking.com.

Related Read: Worried about safety in Brazil? Read about my best South America safety tips so you can be as prepared as possible.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey posing with carnival decorations in Olinda, Brazil
Thanks for reading our blog and I hope you have as much fun in Recife and Olinda as I did!

Overall, Recife and Olinda were interesting places to visit in Brazil. With beautiful scenery and rich culture, as well as a ton of fun things to do, these destinations are well worth a visit!

If this blog helped you out, be sure to check out all of our other Brazil blogs as well as some of our personal favorites below:

Top Brazil travel highlights

10 Things to KNOW Before Going Scuba Diving in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Things to do in Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil

Complete guide to Ilha Grande, Brazil

latitude Adjustment

Saturday 15th of April 2023

Awesome information. Thank you. Head to NE Brazil in July for 5 weeks.

jing

Thursday 26th of January 2023

Thanks for your post! It is very informative. I am looking to get to Olinda via public bus as well. Can you share how did you pay (cash on board?) and how much was the bus trip?

Thank you!

destinationlesstravel

Thursday 26th of January 2023

Hey Jing,

Cash is required and the journey is ok. You will pass through some dangerous areas but stay on the bus and you should be fine.

Thanks