Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s Bahia state, is rich in history, culture, and Afro-Brazilian heritage. For those pondering things to do in Salvador, exploring the Pelourinho, the city’s historic center with its colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets, and attending a traditional capoeira performance, a blend of martial arts, dance, and music, are top activities.
The city’s São Francisco Church and Convent is a baroque masterpiece adorned with intricate gold leafing and azulejos (ceramic tiles). Nearby, the vibrant Mercado Modelo offers a plethora of handicrafts, local foods, and live music, capturing the essence of Bahian culture.
Beyond its historical and cultural landmarks, Salvador is renowned for its lively festivals, particularly Carnival, where the rhythms of samba and axé music fill the streets. For those seeking the best places to visit in Brazil, Salvador’s blend of African influences, colonial charm, and coastal beauty makes it a unique and captivating destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Salvador, Brazil
The heart of Salvador’s historic district, Pelourinho, is a vibrant and colorful area known for its colonial architecture and rich cultural heritage. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is bustling with musicians, artists, and performers, embodying the essence of Bahian culture.
Travel Tip: While Pelourinho is generally safe during the day, it’s advisable to be cautious after dark. Stick to well-lit areas and avoid showing off expensive jewelry or gadgets.
2. Elevador Lacerda
Connecting the lower city (Cidade Baixa) to the upper city (Cidade Alta), the Elevador Lacerda offers breathtaking views of All Saints Bay. Initially built in the 19th century, it’s both a functional means of transport and an iconic city symbol.
Travel Tip: The elevator is a tourist attraction and a means of local transportation. Therefore, be prepared for queues during peak hours.
3. Igreja de São Francisco
This 18th-century church is one of Salvador’s most wealthy and renowned for its stunning Baroque interior, boasting intricate golden detailing. A testament to the influence of Catholicism in Brazil, the church’s woodwork and paintings are among the finest in the country.
Travel Tip: When visiting religious sites in Salvador, wearing modest clothing covering shoulders and knees is respectful. Some churches may provide wraps or cloaks for visitors.
4. Mercado Modelo
Located in the lower city, Mercado Modelo is Salvador’s principal market and offers a variety of Bahian crafts, food, and souvenirs. The historic building also hosts cultural events and traditional dance performances.
Travel Tip: Always haggle when buying souvenirs, as vendors often inflate tourist prices. And don’t forget to try the local delicacies at the food stalls!
5. Farol da Barra (Barra Lighthouse)
Perched on the tip of the Barra peninsula, this historic lighthouse offers panoramic views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean. The adjacent museum showcases nautical history and artifacts.
Travel Tip: Visit the lighthouse at sunset for a mesmerizing view. The surrounding area also has some lovely beaches and restaurants to explore.
6. Festival da Lavagem
One of Salvador’s most celebrated events, the Lavagem do Bonfim Festival, combines Catholic and Candomblé traditions. It involves a procession to the Church of Bonfim, where the stairs are washed in a symbolic gesture of purification and gratitude.
Travel Tip: If you plan to attend the festival, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for large crowds. Participating in the event can offer a unique cultural immersion.
7. Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (MAM)
Nestled in a colonial building on the shores of Baía de Todos os Santos, this museum showcases contemporary and modern art from Bahian and Brazilian artists. The serene setting and stunning views add to the museum’s allure, perfectly blending culture and nature.
Travel Tip: The museum hosts jazz concerts every Saturday evening. Check their schedule beforehand and perhaps align your visit for a musical treat.
8. Rio Vermelho
Rio Vermelho is the bohemian heart of Salvador, famous for its nightlife, music scenes, and vibrant street art. The district is also known for the Yemanjá Festival, where devotees offer gifts to the sea goddess and celebrate with music and dance.
Travel Tip: It’s best to explore Rio Vermelho in the evening when the district comes alive. However, always stay alert and watch your belongings in crowded areas.
9. Praia do Porto da Barra
One of Salvador’s most famous urban beaches, Praia do Porto da Barra, is known for its calm waters and golden sands. It’s a favorite among locals and tourists for sunbathing, swimming, and watching sunsets.
Travel Tip: Weekends can get quite crowded, so if you prefer a quieter experience, try visiting on a weekday. Remember always to keep an eye on your belongings, as beaches can attract pickpockets.
10. São Joaquim Market
A bustling marketplace where you can experience Salvador’s daily life, São Joaquim Market offers everything from fresh produce and fish to religious artifacts and souvenirs. Its raw and authentic ambiance gives visitors a deep dive into the local culture.
Travel Tip: Be prepared for a sensory overload and haggle when purchasing. Also, it’s advisable to go in the morning when it’s less crowded and more relaxed.
11. Candomblé Ceremonies
Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion with deep roots in Salvador. Visitors can witness its vibrant ceremonies, where priestesses, dressed in colorful costumes, enter trance-like states and channel orixás (spirits).
Travel Tip: These ceremonies are sacred. Always approach them with respect. Attending with a local guide or someone familiar with the customs is advisable to ensure you understand the etiquette.
12. Solar do Unhão
A picturesque colonial-era complex, the Solar do Unhão houses the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (mentioned earlier), offering art and a deep dive into Salvador’s history. The location overlooking the bay ensures a splendid view, especially during sunsets.
Travel Tip: There’s a lovely restaurant within the complex. Consider timing your visit to coincide with lunch or early dinner to enjoy art and culinary delights with an ocean view.
13. Dique do Tororó
This freshwater lagoon in the middle of Salvador is known for its eight large sculptures of orixás, the gods of Candomblé. It’s a peaceful spot, ideal for a leisurely walk, and offers a beautiful juxtaposition of nature amidst urban life.
Travel Tip: While the area around Dique does Tororó is relatively safe, staying alert and avoiding visiting after dark is still wise.
14. Morro do Cristo
Located at the end of Barra Beach, Morro do Cristo offers a panoramic view of Salvador’s coastline. The main attraction here is a statue of Christ, similar to the more famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, but on a smaller scale.
Travel Tip: Sunsets here are spectacular. Pack some light snacks and enjoy the serene atmosphere as the sun dips below the horizon.
15. Itapuã Beach
Known for its lighthouse and the famous song “Tarde em Itapuã,” this beach is a haven for relaxing and soaking up Salvador’s sun. It’s less crowded than Porto da Barra and offers a more laid-back vibe.
Travel Tip: Local kiosks sell delicious coconut water and Bahian snacks. Treat yourself while you enjoy the waves and melodies of local musicians serenading beachgoers.
16. Afro-Brazilian Museum (MAFRO)
Located within the Federal University of Bahia, this museum offers an insight into the African heritage of Brazil. With artifacts, photographs, and exhibits on African culture, it showcases Africa’s profound impact and influence on Bahian and Brazilian culture.
Travel Tip: The museum is more than just exhibits. Check for any workshops or lectures during your visit, as they offer a deeper understanding of Afro-Brazilian history and culture.
FAQ About Things to Do in Salvador, Brazil
What is Salvador best known for?
Salvador is renowned for its rich history, vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture, colonial architecture, and beautiful beaches. It’s also the birthplace of many Brazilian music styles, including samba and axé.
Are there any UNESCO World Heritage sites in Salvador?
Yes, the Historic Center of Salvador, often called the Pelourinho, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It boasts colorful colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, and historic churches.
Which beaches are a must-visit in Salvador?
Some of the most popular beaches in Salvador include Porto da Barra, Farol da Barra, and Flamengo Beach. Each offers a unique ambiance and beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Can I experience the local culture in Salvador?
Absolutely! Salvador is the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture. You can experience this by attending a Candomblé ceremony, watching a capoeira performance, or joining the festivities during Carnival.
Are there any local dishes I should try in Salvador?
Salvador is famous for its Bahian cuisine. Dishes like “moqueca” (a fish stew), “acarajé” (deep-fried ball of black-eyed pea dough filled with shrimp), and “vatapá” (a creamy dish made from bread, shrimp, coconut milk, and palm oil) are must-tries.
What museums can I visit in Salvador?
The Afro-Brazilian Museum and the Museum of Modern Art are two of the most notable museums in Salvador. They offer insights into the city’s history, culture, and art.
Is it safe to walk around Salvador at night?
Like many cities, some areas of Salvador can be unsafe at night. It’s always recommended to stay in well-lit areas, avoid deserted streets, and be aware of your surroundings. If unsure, ask locals for advice or opt for a taxi.
Can I attend a local music or dance show in Salvador?
Yes, Salvador is a hub for Brazilian music and dance. You can find live performances of samba, axé, and other local rhythms in various venues throughout the city, especially in the Pelourinho area.