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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 touristic 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 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 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.
10 Best Things to do in Recife and Olinda, Brazil
1. Wander the colorful streets of Olinda
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 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 Brazilians 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.
2. Enjoy the Olinda Viewpoint
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 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 Pirates da Praia Hostel 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!
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!
5. Explore the “Brazilian Caribbean” at Maragogi Beach
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 od 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.
6. Snorkel and swim 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, 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!
7. Take in the scenery at Praia dos Carneiros
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 relaxing!
8. Party at Carnival
Brazil boasts the biggest Carnival celebration in the world. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Brazil during their annual Carnaval 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 their 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, accommodation is always fully booked. Be sure to secure your place to stay months in advance to avoid missing out!
9. Eat at Beijupira
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 of it’s setting 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 for R$60. 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
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!
Where to Stay in Olinda & Recife, Brazil
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!
Piratas da Praia Fit Hostel (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!
Fity Hotel (Modest Budget)
This hotel is as modern as it gets! Located in Boa Viagem, it is 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.
Hostel Canto dos Artistas (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. Breakfast is included in the room rate and all of the shared communal spaces make for a social atmosphere.
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.
Before you go…
Overall, Recife and Olinda were interesting places to visit. 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: