This is the most famous beach in Recife. Boa Viagem goes from the Pina, in the north, to the beach of Piedade, in the south; from end to end, Boa Viagem is about 7 km long and is the longest stretch of urbanized seafront in Brazil.
As you'd expect of a city of islands, Recife was once covered with beaches, but they were swallowed up by industrial development, leaving only Boa Viagem within the city's limits. There are others a short distance away to the north and south. The seafront Avenida Boa Viagem has posh hotels and a typically Brazilian promenade of palm trees and mosaic pavements.
The beach itself is longer and according to a lot of people better even than Copacabana, with warm natural rock pools to wallow in just offshore when the tide is out. It's also rather narrow, however, and more dominated by the concrete culture around it than most in the northeast. It gets very crowded at the weekends, but weekdays are relatively relaxed.
The heart of the action emanates from Praça Boa Viagem. Close to here are some of the liveliest restaurants and bars. At weekends there's a thriving and colorful food and craft fair in the Praça Boa Viagem, busiest on Sunday evenings. The usual cautions apply about not taking valuables to the beach or leaving things unattended while you swim. There have also been a small number of shark attacks over the years, but they have almost always involved surfers far from shore.
Casa da Cultura:
The Casa da Cultura de Pernambuco was once the city's prison and is now an arts and crafts center with the cells being converted into little boutiques and one or two places for refreshment. It's smartly designed, with 3 wings radiating out from a central point, so that a single warden could keep an eye on all 9 corridors. The Casa da Cultura is also the best place to get information on cultural events in the city.
Museu da Cidade:
Recife's most central museum is located in the star-shaped fort, the Forte das Cinco Pontas. Built in 1630 by the Dutch, the fort was the last place they surrendered when they were expelled in 1654. The building is actually far more interesting than the museum itself, which is dedicated entirely to the history of the city, with old engravings and photographs.
Museu de Arte Moderna and the Forte do Brum:
The Museu de Arte Moderna Aloisio Magalhães, located in Boa Vista, houses prestigious changing exhibitions of mainly Brazilian modern artists, many amongst Pernambuco's best.
Housed in the 17th century Forte do Brum at the northern end of Recife island, the museum displays weapons, photographs, World War II artifacts and some local ethnographic pieces. The fort, a prominent, white-walled four-pointed structure, also puts on occasional modern art exhibitions.
Museu do Estado:
This is a fine 19th century mansion with inside some fine engravings of Recife as it was in the early part of the last century, all of them English, and upstairs there are good paintings by Teles Junior, which give you an idea of what tropical Turners might have looked like. On the last Sunday of the month there's also a busy little antiques fair held at the museum.
This is a combined zoo and botanical gardens. The gardens are the best part, with outdoor cafes and shady paths to walk along; the zoo, like most in Brazil, is shockingly bad, with the animals confined in concrete boxes far too small for them, where they're constantly taunted by children and adults who ought to know better.
Museu do Homem do Nordeste:
This museum was assembled by anthropologists and is one of Brazil's great museums and the best introduction there is to the history and culture of the northeast. It's quite a way out of central Recife.
The museum is split into several galleries, each devoted to one of the great themes of northeastern economy and society: sugar, cattle, fishing, popular religion, festivals, ceramics, and so on. The historical material is well displayed and interesting, but the museum's strongest point is its unrivalled collection of popular art; there are displays not just of handicrafts, but also of cigarette packets, tobacco pouches and, best of all, a superb collection of postwar bottles of cachaça (rum). The first floor of the museum is largely devoted to the rich regional tradition of clay sculpture and pottery that still flourishes in the Agreste and Sertão, especially around Caruaru.
Museu do Trem:
Located in the center of Recife, this museum tells the history of the railways that played a vital role in opening up the interior of the northeast. British visitors can wax nostalgic over the exploits of the Great Western Railway of Brazil Limited, some of whose engines and wagons decorate the forecourt between the museum and the metro terminal. The fine station, lovingly restored in 1997, is a relic of the days when British companies dominated the Brazilian economy.
Perhaps the most attractive of the buildings in central Recife is the 17th century Franciscan complex known as the Santo Antonio do Convento de São Francisco. It is a combination of church, convent and museum.
Built around a beautiful small cloister, the museum contains some delicately painted statues of saints and other artwork rescued from demolished or crumbling local churches. But the real highlight here is the Capela Dourada (Golden Chapel), which has a lot in common with the churches in the old gold towns of Minas Gerais. Like them, it's a rather vulgar demonstration of colonial prosperity. Finished in 1697, the Rococo chapel is the usual wall-to-ceiling-to-wall ornamentation, except that everything is covered with gold-leaf.
If you look closely at the carving under the gilt you'll see that the level of workmanship is actually quite crude, but the overall effect of so much gold is undeniably impressive. What really gilded the chapel, of course, was sugar cane: the sugar trade was at its peak when it was built, and the sugar elite were building monuments to their wealth all over the city.
The church of São Pedro is situated on the Patio de São Pedro. The impressive facade is dominated by a statue of St Peter that was donated to the church in 1980 by a master sculptor from the ceramics center of TracunhaÃ©m in the interior. Inside the church there's some exquisite woodcarving and a trompe l'oeil ceiling.