Founded in 1549, with the name of São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, Salvador, capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, is the third largest metropolis in Brazil, right after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In this city of many contrasts, historic and modern, townhouses and monumental buildings sits along the modern and contemporary architecture of the city. Itapuã, the most northeasterly neighborhood of Salvador’s waterfront, is still today, in part, a fishing community inhabited by descendants of black slaves and native people, where various “root” cultural manifestations take place throughout the year.
The main attractions of the “old capital” are its fierce cultural background and its happy, hospitable, musical, mystical and creative people. Its tropical climate with clear and sunny days in all seasons, its many beautiful beaches with coconut trees, safe waters and very pleasant temperatures, such as the beaches of Porto da Barra, Farol da Barra, Piatã, Itapuã, Stella Maris, Aleluia and many others, makes the city a really good spot for vacations. Salvador is also always surrounded by an exotic aroma of palm oil, the fruit of the homonymous palm tree and the main ingredient of famous Bahian foods, such as caruru, vatapá, acarajé and abará.
Worldwide adored and recognized, Salvador is the birthplace of great poets and artists of Brazilian culture. You can experience lots of music, lots of ginga, lots of dengo, rhythms and vibrant celebrations in every corner of the city. The city hosts lots of parties and the huge Carnival of Salvador, recognized as one of the biggest and best in the world and, by far, the biggest event of public and cultural economy of the city. Numerous reasons make the city of Salvador a unique and absolutely incomparable destination. We’ve selected some unmissable experiences and we doubt you won’t start packing right after that!
In the Historic Center – Salvador Bahia
During the Portuguese colonial period, Pelourinho was considered the center of Salvador, the first capital of Brazil. There, slaves were publicly punished. This once gloomy part of the city has been restored and today it attracts more and more tourists due to the beauty of its baroque buildings and its historical importance. Built by black religious and slaves, the Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos Church stands out in the landscape of Largo do Pelourinho and is a symbol of the combination of the different religious beliefs of Bahia. Every week a mass is celebrated with African percussion instruments.
Largo Terreiro de Jesus
Entertainment, architecture and history mingle at Largo Terreiro de Jesus. Many capoeira groups perform at the venue, which also brings together artisans. In Largo, the Basilica Cathedral, inaugurated in 1657 and completely restored, impresses with its gold-leafed altars. To learn more about this beautiful and important African heritage, it is worth visiting the Afro-Brazilian Museum. The collection of more than 1,000 pieces includes African and Afro-Brazilian clothing, masks, ceramics and musical instruments.
Igreja e Convento de São Francisco
Continuing along Terreiro de Jesus, we pass by the Church of São Domingos Gusmão and enter Largo do Cruzeiro de São Francisco. In this region of Salvador, churches are the main attraction at every turn. The supreme highlight is the Igreja e Convento de São Francisco. Built between the 17th and 18th centuries, the church is considered by Historical Heritage Institute (Iphan) of Brazil as one of the seven wonders of Portuguese origin in the world. The relatively simple facade reveals the most beautiful interior of all the churches in the city. At the entrance, thousands of Portuguese tiles from the 18th century tells the story of São Francisco’s birth. But it is upon entering the great nave that the great revelation takes place: the interior is completely covered in gold, which has given rise to the nickname “Golden Church”. So much ostentation once had a purpose: the church of São Francisco was the one frequented by members of the Portuguese nobility in the colonial period.
Rio Branco Palace
Former headquarters of the government of Bahia, this building with imposing architecture currently houses a museum. Taking a guided tour is a great option to discover this palace, which was destroyed in a bombing in 1912 and rebuilt seven years later. Furniture, panels, floors and decorative objects are well preserved and tell part of the history of Bahia.
Mercado Modelo e Elevador LAcerda
The region known by outsiders as ‘Cidade Baixa’ is called simply ‘Commerce’ by locals. The Mercado Modelo, in its original format, was one of those responsible for this: it functioned as an authentic market where the city bought fruits, vegetables, meats, live animals and Candomblé items. The original building, from 1912, was completely destroyed by a fire in 1969. It was located in the place where the sculpture by Mário Cravo Neto exists today, which, with the Lacerda Elevator in the background, composes the classic view of the Lower City of Salvador.
The market had a ramp through which goods brought by sloops from the Recôncavo Bahiano flowed. With the transfer to the current building — also historic, built to house the customs of Salvador — the Mercado Modelo gradually ceased to be a supply point for the city to become what it is today, a popular mall with handicrafted goods from the city artisans.
After a stroll through Mercado Modelo, cross the street towards Elevador Lacerda. This is one of Salvador’s main postcards and the oldest urban elevator in the world. Take the ride to see Salvador from above in all of its glory! It’s worth having an ice cream at Cubana, right next the elevator, and enjoying the breathtaking view of the Baia de Todos-os-Santos.
The cuisine Salvador Bahia
Bahian cuisine is one of the most delicious in the world and in Salvador Bahia you can eat like a god. Masters in the art of improvising and creating their own styles, soteropolitanos (inhabitants of Salvador) innovate in music, arts and even in their way of speaking. Such characteristic gave Bahian cuisine its own charm, a mixture of traditions. From Africa came palm oil., a trademark of dishes such as moqueca, bobó, caruru, vatapá, acarajé and an infinity of typical varieties. The former slaves still brought with them a taste for peppers, which the inhabitants of Salvador made it an almost essential ingredient in most dishes.
Tucked away in a little street in Rio Vermelho where almost no one passes by, Dona Mariquita is one of the most interesting restaurants in Salvador. If you only have room in your schedule for a Bahian meal, make sure it’s here. Chef Leila Carreiro rescues what she calls ‘heritage Bahian cuisine’, collecting recipes threatened with extinction (and adding authorial touches).
Sorveteria da Ribeira is also an unmissable stop in the city, ideal for those who want to enjoy the Bahian heat with a natural flavor and a privileged view of the sea. With almost a century of existence, this artisanal ice cream created by an Italian family became a tradition among soteropolitanos and is part of the tourist itinerary of the city, becoming a delicious souvenir of the flavor of Salvador. There are more than 60 options on the menu, with many flavors of tropical fruits, and an enchanting landscape.
Other interesting points in Salvador Bahia:
Solar do Unhão is an architectural complex on the shores of the Bay of All Saints. From there you will have a beautiful view of the sunset. Also, visit the Parque das Esculturas, an open-air museum, and the MAM – Museum of Modern Art, which always has great exhibitions. Solar do Unhão has free admission and is located on Avenida do Contorno.
Festas de Largo (“square parties”)
In Salvador Bahia it is possible to experience religious syncretism during the numerous popular festivals that take place throughout the year, the so-called Festas de Largo. The first of the year is the Lavagem do Bonfim, held on the second Thursday after Three Kings Day (January 6th). The washing of the steps of the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is the second largest popular event in Salvador, second only to Carnival. On February 2nd, the Festa de Iemanjá (a Candomblé orixa) takes place in Rio Vermelho. Participating in the “Queen of the Sea” party is an unforgettable experience.
Igreja do Bonfim
Often referred to simply as the ‘Sacred Hill’, the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is the epicenter of the Bahian faith. In syncretism, Senhor do Bonfim is Oxalá, the orixa responsible for creating the world. Friday is his day — and, therefore, the day to wear white and go to Bonfim to ask for a blessing. Going up the stairs and reaching the railing decorated with thousands of Bonfim ribbons is thrilling even for the unbelievers.
Sunset at Barra lighthouse
Built in 1696 to guard the entrance to the Baía de Todos-os-Santos, the Forte de Santo Antônio received its first lighthouse in 1698. The lighthouse was installed in 1839 (and renewed on three more occasions), since then composing the most photogenic postcard of Salvador. During the day, the lighthouse fort makes Farol da Barra beach more beautiful — and there are guided tours in its interior. The lighthouse also serves as a viewpoint, and the fort houses the Nautical Museum of Bahia, with a collection of military relics, nautical instruments and replicas of miniature boats. At dusk, it attracts tourists and lovers to see (and applaud) the unbelievable sunset.
Carybé Arts Space
Located in Forte São Diogo, it is another precious and incredible space in Salvador Bahia. The experience is, to say the least, surprising in this fortress from the times of Colonial Brazil, where you can expect to find physical works by the great Argentinian artist born in Bahia (Hector Julio Páride Bernabó); however, it is a collection that can be visited through multimedia and, as strange as it may sound, this is what makes all the difference in this space. Carybé’s works are not displayed on the walls, but in a virtual universe created for the experience makes an immersion in prints, drawings, illustrations, ceramics, sculptures and murals in an ultra interactive way. In the space it is possible to see part of his work, sketches, notebooks, photos and drawings, enter the garden of the painter’s residence and visit his studio.