Belo Horizonte is the sixth largest of Brazil’s cities, a sprawling metropolis with a wealth of culture dating back to the early 18th-century. The city as you see it today was planned and constructed in the 1890s, based on the gold-diggers settlement of Curral del Rei, to replace Ouro Preto as the capital of Minas Gerais.
The new city’s name translates as beautiful horizon, named both for the surrounding ring of mountains and its own incredible mixture of architectural delights. Designed to be both functional, with a modern grid system of roads and avenues, and beautiful, with architects embracing Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles of building. The architectural heritage of the city as a place for the finest contemporary architecture continued into the 20th-century, with famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer designing several of his first buildings in Belo Horizonte in the 40s.
A truly beautiful and fascinating South American city, embracing modernity whilst never forgetting its heritage, there are many amazing sights and so many incredible things to do in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Here we present our guide to 10 of the best.
1. Natural History Museum and the UFMG Botanic Gardens
The Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) is a must visit for any traveller wanting to experience the rich cultural heritage of the city. The Natural History Museum will delight all visitors young and old, and the beautiful green space will give you peace and quiet in glorious surroundings.
The Natural History Museum contains a very important treasure of folk art – the Nativity of Pipiripau. Created in the 20th-century, this artwork, across 45 scenes and with 586 figures, tells the story of Jesus to incredible effect.
Natural History Museum and the UFMG Botanic Gardens
Address: Belo Horizonte, Brazil
2. Circuito Cultural Praça da Liberdade
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Found in the heart of Belo Horizonte, the Circuito Cultural Praça da Liberdade is an absolute cultural highlight of the city, containing eleven museums and cultural spaces, celebrating the history, art, architecture and history of the city. There’s something for everyone here, including the Minas Gerais Public Archive, Luiz de Bessa State Public Library, Cemig Center of Popular Art, UFMG Knowledge Space, Minas Gerais Memorial, Mines and Metal Museum, Minas Gerais Museum and Liberty Palace.
Circuito Cultural Praça da Liberdade
Price: Free or small admission charges
Address: Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Website: Circuito Cultural Praça da Liberdade
3. Pampulha Modern Ensemble
This incredible architectural project became a World Cultural Heritage Site in July 2016. It is part of the garden city project first imagined in 1940, and holds four beautiful buildings designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, collaborating with innovative artists, all arranged around an artificial lake.
The buildings are the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Casino (now the Pampulha Art Museum), the Casa do Baile (now Center of Reference in Urbanism, Architecture and Design of Belo Horizonte) and the Yacht Golf Club (today Yacht Tennis Club). The entire ensemble creates a beautiful and stunning landscape of bold architecture and natural surroundings in the city’s Pampulha region.
Pampulha Modern Ensemble
Address: Pampulha, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Website: Pampulha Modern Ensemble
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4. Pampulha Art Museum
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Part of the Pampulha Modern Ensemble, the Pampulha Art Museum is a perfect location to relax, unwind and take in some of the best in art from Brazil and around the world. The building was designed by Oscar Niemeyer, with the beautiful grounds designed by landscaper Roberto Burle Marx. You’ll find sculptures by Ceschiatti, Zamoiski and José Pedrosa, and over 1,400 works by artists such as Guignard, Burle Marx, Volpi, Iberê Camargo, Portinari, Amilcar de Castro, Rivane Neuenschwander, Eder Santos, Ernesto Neto, Vik Muniz among many others.
Pampulha Art Museum
Address: Av. Otacílio Negrão de Lima, 16585, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Facebook page: Pampulha Art Museum
The Abilio Barreto Historical Museum allows visitors a glimpse into the past of Belo Horizonte. Local journalist Abilio Barreto was commissioned in the 1940s to gather together and organize the city archives and through centuries of historical artifacts, paintings, photos, and documents, he developed this museum telling the story of the city through fascinating exhibits and archive documents. The museum is housed in the Fazendo do Leitão, itself a restored piece of Belo Horizonte’s history, the colonial farmhouse building is the sort of building erected by the first settles of the city.
The museum offers an oasis of calm in the bustling city, with extensive grounds holding a stagecoach, cable car and 19th-century steam train in a beautiful tropical garden.
Belo Horizonte City Tour in Pampulha 2017
Address: Avenida Prudente de Morais, 202 in the Cidade Jardim neighborhood, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
6. The International Theater Festival of Belo Horizonte
Taking place every two years, in January and February, FIT BH, The International Theater Festival of Belo Horizonte, is a fabulous celebration of theatre attracting artists from Brazil and worldwide. The festival includes shows large and small, seminars, workshops and courses. Over 50% of the activities involved are held free in the open air spaces of the city.
The International Theater Festival of Belo Horizonte
Price: Variable depending on event, but over 50% of events are free
Address: Belo Horizonte, Brazil
This more intimate tour has your knowledgable local guide leading you through the city for five hours of discovery. Taking in all of the main sights including Liberty Palace and Pope Plaza this tour also takes you into the less known parts of the city. You’ll learn about the local culture, art, cuisine, and history as you visit the architectural complex of Oscar Niemeyer and Casa do Baile, the church of São Francisco, Mineirão Stadium, Casa de JK, the ex-president of Brazil, and the Museum of Modern Arts. The tour finishes at the cultural delight of the central market, where you’ll be spoilt for choice for souvenirs and food. This morning or afternoon tour includes 1pm lunch at a local restaurant.
Belo Horizonte Private Half-Day City Tour with Liberty Place
Duration: 240 to 360 minutes
Taking you out of Belo Horizonte, this 5-hour trip to nearby Congonhas will give you an insight into this city full of artistic and architectural delights.
The tour takes you via air-conditioned tour bus to Congonhas, just 90 km (56 miles) from Belo Horizonte. First stop is the spectacular Twelve Prophets, a collection of 18th-century sculptural masterpieces by Aleijadinho, one of the most famous Baroque style artists in the world. Made from soapstone and multicolored woodwork, these twelve sculptures of the old testament prophets are his finest work. After this, you move to the Congonhas Basilica, the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Matosinhos, also created by Aleijadinho.
Lunch is included in the tour, where you can relax in one of the local restaurants.
Belo Horizonte to Congonhas Sightseeing Tour Including Lunch
Duration: 4 to 5 hours
An eight hour, fully guided trekking tour through the spectacular and beautiful natural surroundings, that have been described as “The Garden of Brazil”, this is an adventure that will bring you back to nature after the experiences of Belo Horizonte the city.
Accessible on paved roads from either Confins Tancredo Neves International Airport or Belo Horizonte, this trekking tour takes you to the most beautiful landscapes Brazil has to offer, part of the “Espinhaço - Biosphere Reserve” by UNESCO. The trekking tour will include spectacular scenery, waterfalls, rivers, canyons, caves, and a perfect beach to relax on during the day.
Serra do Cipó National Park Trekking Tour
Duration: 8 hours
This five hour tour concentrates on the beautiful Pamphula district of the city, where you’ll discover much of the city’s cultural highlights. Your professional tour guide will introduce you to the city’s best known landmarks including the Church of St Francis of Assisi, Museum of Modern Art and the Mineirão stadium and educate you along the way in the unique Brazilian architectural style. This includes some of the first works of the internationally aclaimed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Transportation to Pampulha is provided in an air-conditioned vehicle from your hotel.
Pampulha Belo Horizonte City Half-Day Sightseeing Tour
Duration: 3 to 4 hours
Belo Horizonte - a truly unique Brazilian city, full of architectural delights
With its stunning contemporary architecture nestling in delightful green spaces, Belo Horizonte is a city you’ll fall in love with.