Located 270 miles from Rio and 365 miles from São Paulo, Beaga (BH), as its inhabitants affectionately call it, is the third largest city in Brazil, with 2.5 million inhabitants and one of its major productive centres. Its name (literally ” Beautiful Horizon “) was born from the exceptional beauty of the site, at an altitude of 2788 feet, in which the city was built to supplant the former capital Ouro Preto, enclosed in the mountains on the former gold road (caminho de ouro). Today, it is a great place to live. Its wide avenues, drawn with a chalk line, are bordered by many parks. The people are impressively hospitable and smiling spontaneously. Tourists are rare there. If a few get lost, in transit to Ouro Preto, they usually skip this step. Less steeped in history than the baroque cities of Minas, it is nevertheless very interesting. A metropolis with the charms of a provincial city, Belo Horizonte has been culturally and artistically on the rise for the past ten years. The latest rock bands (Jota Quest) and musical trends are born here. Of course, Belo Horizonte has many starred establishments that honour regional and international gastronomy, in the districts of Lourdes and Savassi. It has become one of the centres of nightlife in the country. So don’t hesitate to go out. It is necessary to stay in the heart of the nightlife, in the city centre, near the Praça da Liberdade or in the Savassi district, the most lively in the city.
Here are the best things to do in Belo Horizonte:
1. PARQUE MUNICIPAL AMÉRICO RENNÉ GIANNETTI
The park was an integral part of the city’s original project. Inspired by the French parks of the Belle Époque, it is located in the heart of Belo Horizonte and constitutes an ocean of invigorating greenery in the middle of towers and concrete. There is also the Francisco Nunes Theatre and the Palacio das Artes, with interesting temporary exhibitions.
2. PRAÇA DA ESTAÇÃO
Simply grandiose! The square is located in front of the central station of the Metrô de Belo Horizonte, part of which is now transformed into the Museum of Arts and Offices (Museu de Artes e Oficios), and the other part is still in use. The station serves in particular the city of Vitória, capital of the neighbouring state Espírito Santo, but also line 1 of the Belo Horizonte metro, which leads to Santa Teresa, the bohemian district of Belo Horizonte (as in Rio), which was also previously supplied by an aqueduct (such as that of Lapa) that can be seen from the square.
3. PRAÇA DA LIBERDADE
The Praça da Liberdade was inaugurated when the city was founded between 1895 and 1897 to house the power of the State of Minas Gerais. Influenced by the English naturalist wave, it is lined with huge palm trees and has a lot of trees in its centre. Transformed according to the fashion of French gardens in the 1920s, it then took on the appearance of a small Versailles, gaining in symmetry and pretty statues. The buildings that border it follow the trends of the time, with their neoclassical elements and grand eclectic style. The Palace of Governors (Palacio da Liberdade) is the most edifying example. Over the years, the square has been enriched with new buildings of different styles. In the 1940s, the Palacio Cristo Rei introduced Art Deco. In the 1950s and 1960s, more modernist buildings were incorporated into the complex, such as the Niemeyer building and the Luiz de Bessa public library or Casa Fiat. In the 1980s, the post-modernist building known as the Rainha da Sucata was inaugurated. This square has a real social role in Belo Horizonte, because it is the meeting place for all the inhabitants. On Sundays it becomes a real athletics stadium, where athletes of all ages come together to jog.
4. PALÁCIO DA LIBERDADE
Inaugurated in 1897 as the palace of the Governor of Minas Gerais State, its construction reflects the influence of the European style in the architecture of the young capital, just as in Rio at the same time, mixing neoclassicism and eclecticism. The interior decoration combines imperial French style and art nouveau. The lounges, gilded bronze candelabra, exotic parquet flooring, massive crystal chandeliers and allegorical wall frescoes are impressive. You can admire the Louis XV style banquet room, Antônio Parreira’s mural fresco and Paul Villon’s gardens. The metal structures were imported from Belgium, as were the magnificent main staircase and furniture.
5. CATEDRAL NOSSA SENHORA DA BOA VIAGEM
Its history is the same as that of the city. Since the beginning of the 18th century, there had been a small chapel on this site, a typical example of the colonial architecture of Minas Gerais. It was there that it was decided to build the cathedral, which was completed in 1932. In neo-Gothic style, the cathedral has superb stained glass windows. Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem is the patron saint of the city.
6. PALÁCIO DAS ARTES – FUNDAÇÃO CLÓVIS SALGADO
The Palácio das Artes, managed by the Fundação Clóvis Salgado, is an interesting cultural centre located on the wide Avenida Afonso Pena, but adjacent to the municipal park. Designed by the modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, its facade stands out in the landscape. Although it was inaugurated in 1971, it was commissioned in 1941 by Governor Juscelino Kubitschek to be the municipal theatre of Minas Gerais, but, like Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the cursed building suffered intermittent work and remained unfinished for years. Until its final realization by the architect Helio Ferreira Pinto, who had to adapt Niemeyer’s project to the reality of the late 1960s and who still took 4 years to achieve the current result. Its construction was so long that a temporary theatre was created in parallel next to the building: the Teatro Francisco Nunes, which was not finally destroyed after the inauguration of the Palácio das Artes. Struck by bad luck, the main theatre hall went up in smoke in 1997, but has since been rebuilt by contemporary architects. Today, the latter is mainly dedicated to the performing arts: opera, plays, symphonic concerts, dance and folk music concerts, screenings of auteur films, debates and conferences, artistic training… It has four fairly large exhibition rooms dedicated to contemporary art. The exhibitions are changing, quite varied and of high quality.
7. CASA FIAT DE CULTURA
Recently moved to the Palacio dos Despachos (the administrative palace) on the Praça da Liberdade, this cultural space has actually existed since 2008. A patronage institution, like its neighbour the CCBB, it is nevertheless a quality exhibition space, presenting prestigious collections from international and Brazilian museums. Check the program to find out about its cultural content during your stay.
8. CENTRO CULTURAL BANCO DO BRASIL (CCBB)
Here is the latest museum of the praça da Liberdade, not to be missed. Inaugurated in 2013, this six-storey building was built by Luiz Signorelli, founder of the Minas School of Architecture, in 1930. Initially dedicated to the Secretariat of the Interior and Justice, it is now dedicated to art. In total: nearly 12,000 sqft of exhibition space, including two rooms dedicated to the permanent collection, but also a theatre and a conference room. The museum is so huge that there are still 40,000 sqft left to operate and open to the public! It is one of the most important cultural centres in Brazil due to its size. The CCBB organizes many events (performing arts, auteur film screenings, concerts, etc.) whose programming is quite eclectic, but it is mainly the temporary exhibitions that are exceptional for tourists. Many are dedicated to photography and contemporary art. Very recommended.
9. MEMORIAL MINAS GERAIS VALE
If you only have to visit one, it is this museum that you will have to discover. Housed in an eclectic building erected by José de Magalhães (like its neighbour the Museu das Minas e do Metal), this building was inaugurated in 1897 as the State Department of Taxation and Finance. It summarizes in 31 rooms the identity and history of a people born of the mixing (according to researchers) between European white settlers, black slaves deported from Africa and Brazilian Amerindians. In particular, we discover the rural interior of the State, so well described by the writer Guimarães Rosa through the works of Drummond and the “neo arte” of Lygia Clark. Also a magnificent photo exhibition of Sebastião Salgado. The exhibition is interactive and quite surprising, notably a room with a noisy atmosphere and objects that move on their own! The highlight is a rather long documentary film that takes shape through the projection of animated faces on relief sculptures. Thus, the white, black and Indian people take turns speaking to explain the origin of each population, their cultures and traditions. Exciting.
10. MUSEU DAS MINAS E DO METAL
Housed in an 1895 building designed by the architect José de Magalhães in a French neoclassical style, this museum is a small wonder not to be missed. Even if you are not immediately seduced by the discovery of the mining world, you should know that the exhibition is exciting, fun, interactive and really well presented. You discover all the minerals that are exploited in the region. 3D projection of the stones, touch screens that transform the raw stone into a carved jewel, interactive chests to open to discover colored and sparkling stones, explanatory films… You will leave it erudite and delighted after a tour of 44 attractions divided into 18 rooms. The must is the attraction of the Mina de Morro Velho, where Emperor Don Pedro and Empress Teresa Cristina went. A virtual elevator takes you down 8,000 feet deep with the famous monarchs.
11. MUSEU DE HISTÓRIA NATURAL E JARDIM BOTÂNICO DA UFMG
Permanent exhibition of paleontology, archaeology and anthropology. The museum also houses the Little Palace (palacinho), the former summer residence of the governors. The neighbouring botanical garden covers more than 6,000,000 sqft and contains a large number of tropical plant species, which can be discovered during pleasant walks.
12. CENTRO DE REFERÊNCIA DA MODA
It is one of the few neo-Gothic buildings in the city, of Portuguese influence. Built in 1914, it now houses the Centro de referência da Moda, dedicated to the traditional clothing styles of Minas Gerais, reflecting the culture and customs of the region. Until 2012, it housed the Centro Cultural de BH, which moved to Praça da Liberdade.
13. MUSEU MINEIRO
The museum has three collections that reflect the evolution of Minas Gerais culture and art: the 18th and 19th century sacred art collection, the Minas Public Archives collection and the State Gallery collection. The building, of neoclassical architecture, is the seat of the former Mineiro Senate, which has now been abolished. The permanent exhibition is not exciting, unless you are a fan of sacred art.
14. MUSEU DE ARTE DA PAMPULHA (MAP)
This is Niemeyer’s very first project for the large architectural complex in Pampulha. It operated initially as a casino until the ban on gambling in 1946, and was transformed into a museum in 1957. The façade is largely inspired by Le Corbusier and his functionalist principles, while the interior refers more to an interpretation of the baroque mineiro through the interplay of mirrors, curves and ramps. The gardens of Burle Marx display sculptures by José Pedrosa and Ceschiatti. The museum now has a collection of nearly 1,500 works, but only a few of them are on display, and not the most exceptional. What a pity!
15. CASA DO BAILE
Originally, this Niemeyer building integrated into the Pampulha complex was intended to become a popular dancing venue. It quickly became an obligatory meeting point for the good Belorizontine society, and today small exhibitions (urban planning, design, architecture…) are presented there, because it is a single room. The large bay windows offer a superb view of the lagoon. The landscape is signed by Burle Marx. Note the richness of curves and the visual effect of a change of position.
16. IGREJA SÃO FRANCISCO DE ASSIS
Commonly known as Igreja de Pampulha, this church represents one of the symbols of contemporary Brazilian architecture. An integral part of the architectural ensemble of Pampulha, it is the result of a collaboration between Oscar Niemeyer, Portinari, Ceschiatti and Burle Marx. It was in 1943 that the project was implemented at the request of the then mayor, Juscelino Kubitschek. The ecclesiastical authorities were shocked by the result, which was certainly too avant-garde for the time, and the church was not actually recognized until 1960. The figure of Saint Francis is built with the rigour and balance of a statue. It respects a subtle balance. Portinari also produced the paintings of the sacred way and some of the azulejos.
17. FUNDAÇÃO DE PARQUES MUNICIPAIS E ZOOBOTÂNICA DE BH
More than 1,200 animals of 240 different species are to be discovered (but in cages…), on the edge of the Lagoa de Pampulha.
18. PARQUE DAS MANGABEIRAS
Designed by landscape architect Burle Marx, it is one of the most important urban parks in the country. It is located at the foot of the Serra do Curral and has an Atlantic forest reserve. As you walk through it, you will be able to appreciate the impressive vegetation as well as the small animals – monkeys, squirrels, etc. – that populate the area. The park also has sports fields, an open-air theatre and a space for the shows that regularly take place there. It is from the viewpoint that we have one of the most beautiful views of the city.
19. MUSEU HISTÓRICO ABÍLIO BARRETO
This former 1883 fazenda, the only remnant of Curral del Rey, the village that was razed to make space for Belo Horizonte at the end of the 19th century, presents the history of the village and the birth of BH, together with a fine collection of period photos.
20. SERRARIA SOUZA PINTO
This magnificent building located on the Praça da Estação is typical of the industrial area, with a metallic architecture reminiscent of the Eiffel style at the back, and a rather neoclassical façade. Inaugurated in 1912, the Serraria (sawmill) was a manufacturer of building materials to meet the urban growth of the city at that time. Partly destroyed in 1981 and restored in 1997, it is now part of the heritage of the Fundação Clóvis Salgado, as are the Palácio das Artes and the House of Photography. This fantastic space of 50,000 sqft is now a conference room dedicated to the city’s exhibitions, shows and major events and can accommodate 4,000 people.