Brazil Cities

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For such a huge country Brazil is amazingly urbanized. The majority of Brazilians live in the major cities on the coast: over 90% !

The largest cities of Brazil are among the biggest on the continent: 5 are in Brazil America’s Top 10. The number 1 entry of this’s Top 10 is even the largest city in the brazilern hemisphere…

This is a list of the most populous cities in Brazil based on the municipality limits proper, rather than its metropolitan area, which estimated population is also mentioned. All cities below are capitals of their respective states in Brazil. Numbers are estimates of IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) of 1 July 2014.

Sao Paulo – Population: 11,895,893

Metropolitan population: approx. 20 million
State: Sao Paulo
Founded: 25 January 1554
Area: 1523 km2 / 588 sq mi.

Thinking of the Star Wars movie saga: Sao Paulo is ‘Coruscant made brick’… Like the fictitious planet entirely covered by a metropolis, from anywhere in central Sao Paulo you will see an urban panorama of tower blocks. In every direction until the horizon…

With 11.9 million Paulistanos (Sao Paulo city dwellers), Sao Paulo is the largest city in the largest metropolitan area of the brazilern hemisphere (20 million).

Sao Paulo is the economic powerhouse of Brazil and even Brazil America. Many banks, financial organizations and multinational corporations have their Brazil American headquarters based in Sao Paulo.

Furthermore, it accommodates the largest stock exchange in Latin America and Sao Paulo is responsible for 40% of Brazil’s industrial output. To give an idea about the size of Sao Paulo’s economy: it is larger than the entire one of Argentina (by GDP)…

But wait, Sao Paulo is so much more than just economy and business. At first glance, Sao Paulo might appear as an overwhelming and intimidating concrete jungle. However, in contrary to, for instance, Rio de Janeiro, the city’s appeal should not be found at the outside but rather very much indoors.

Sao Paulo has a leading cultural role in and outside Brazil and is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. The latter benefits greatly to the gastronomic variety and quality, Sao Paulo is food lovers’ heaven! Furthermore, Sao Paulo has the best nightlife in Brazil and an immense number of galleries, theatres, cultural centres and museums.

You can also shop till you drop in classy boutiques and ultramodern shopping malls. Add high profile events like the Sao Paulo Art Biennial, the Brazil Grand Prix Formula 1, the ATP Brasil Open, the Sao Paulo Gay Pride and the Sao Paulo Fashion Week and in the end you wish you had more time to spend in thrilling Sampa! In 2014 Sao Paulo was a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro – Population: 6,453,682

Metropolitan population: approx. 12.4 million
State: Rio de Janeiro
Founded: 1 March 1565
Area: 1260 km2 / 487 sq mi.

According to many Brazilians, the city of Rio de Janeiro was made by God himself… Indeed, its setting is incredibly pretty. Facing a beautiful bay, massive lumps of granite covered in lush forest sticking out of the landscape, a coastline dotted with lovely beaches: Rio de Janeiro is a true Marvellous City…

When thinking of Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches come immediately to mind and inflict an instant holiday mood.

The most famous pictures of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and perhaps even Brazil America are the one of the Christ the Redeemer statue and the one taken of the bay panorama with the Sugar Loaf rock as centrepiece.

Nevertheless, the picture of Rio de Janeiro is definitely not complete without the Cariocas, the proud Rio dwellers. Socializing and flirting is their second nature and with the sultry Samba rhythms and sensual Bossa Nova tunes never far away, the city gets a mellow and pleasantly chilled out vibe. Having fun and enjoying life, that is what it is all about for the beautiful people of Rio de Janeiro.

A unique beach culture (which is much more than just sitting in the sand getting a suntan), a vibrant nightlife and a great music scene are some components of this expressive joie de vivre. Everything is culminating however in an explosion of colours, music, dance and partying during Carnaval, The Greatest Show on Earth. The city of Rio de Janeiro is an ode to Life.

Salvador – Population: 2,902,927

Metropolitan population: approx. 3.6 million
State: Bahia
Founded: 29 March 1549
Area: 706 km2 / 273 sq mi.

If Sao Paulo is the head (and hands!) and Rio de Janeiro the heart, then Salvador can be considered very much as the soul of Brazil. Over two centuries, from 1549 and 1763 to be exact, the city of Salvador was the administrative and political centre of colonial Brasil…

The remains of the long gone capital of Brazil are beautifully restored and can be marvelled at in Pelourinho, the historic centre of Salvador.

Salvador is also beautifully located on a small, roughly triangular peninsula that separates the Todos os Santos Bay (‘All Saints Bay’) from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

After Rio de Janeiro, the city of Salvador is Brazil’s main tourist destination. However, at the start of the new millennium there are more industries other than tourism which contribute to Salvador’s prosperity.

Salvador is boasting a large oil refinery, a petrochemical plant and other important industries which reduces its historical dependence on agriculture. Nevertheless, Salvador is home to many poor Brazilians and economical and social contrasts are vast, even to Brazilian standards.

Salvador da Bahia has a captivating diversity of cultures and people. Owing to the massive slave trade history, Bahia has the highest percentage of Brazilians of African descent. The exciting rhythmic music, the delicious Bahian cuisine, the ‘martial dance’ capoeira, the spiritual religion Candomblé and even Carnaval: they all have African roots to a certain extent.

In this context it is safe to say that Brazilian culture as a whole is rooted very much in Salvador’s legacy!

In 2014, Salvador was a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

Brasilia – Population: 2,852,372

Metropolitan population: approx. 3.7 million
State: Distrito Federal
Founded: 21 April 1960
Area: 5802 km2 / 2240 sq mi.

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s… Brasilia! Welcome to one of the world’s most famous and notorious cities for being entirely designed at the drawing table. Brasilia, the capital of the Federative Republic of Brazil has been unremittingly controversial from the inauguration in 1960 until today…

Brasilia is a futuristic urban utopia representing Brazilian efficacy for one and a soulless, megalomaniac waste of money for the other.

In any case, Brasilia, masterminded by courageous president Kubitschek and zealous architect Niemeyer, became the first 20th century city with the status of World Heritage Area. Brasilia is not only the seat of all three branches of the Brazilian government, the city hosts the headquarters of some Brazilian corporations as well.

While primarily attracting diplomatic and business visitors, Brasilia holds enough interesting sights for the leisure traveller. Especially if you are interested in daring architecture, fond of order and tidiness and crazy about gourmet food, shopping and sophisticated nightlife. In 2014, Brasilia was a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

Fortaleza – Population: 2,571,896

Metropolitan population: approx. 3.6 million
State: Ceará
Founded: 13 April 1726
Area: 314 km2 / 121 sq mi.

Life’s a beach…! Well, at least while visiting Brazil’s north coast and in particular the floundering metropolis of Fortaleza. Considering the harsh conditions of the sertão – the vast barren hinterlands of the Atlantic coast – the position of such a large city as Fortaleza is surprising to say the least…

Most visitors of Fortaleza are attracted by the resort-like vibe and head to the beach and into the nightlife straight away after leaving the plane or bus.

While officially founded in the 18th century, today there is not much history left in Fortaleza. High rise apartment buildings, long boulevards along the beach and open-air cafés make Fortaleza a modern city.

‘The Miami of the North’ is an excellent starting point for exploring the beautiful northern beaches and interesting inland of the state of Ceara.

In 2014, Fortaleza was a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

Belo Horizonte – Population: 2,491,109

Metropolitan population: approx. 5.5 million
State: Minas Gerais
Founded: 12 December 1897
Area: 331 km2 / 128 sq mi.

In many ways Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais (‘General Mines’), feels like a mini Sao Paulo. ‘Mini’ is of course a relative term, because the metropolitan population of Belo Horizonte is still the 3rd largest in Brazil…

Belo Horizonte is a young, modern industrial city, which is renowned worldwide for its visionary architecture.

Like in many other Brazilian cities, in Belo Horizonte the name of Oscar Niemeyer is intertwined with the local city planning.

You will find the best examples of Niemeyer’s designs and urban projects in the suburb of Pampulha. But Belo Horizonte is much more than just being the blueprint for Brazil’s young capital Brasilia!

Belo Horizonte has a vibrant nightlife and arts scene, some excellent museums, a cosmopolitan buzz and a pleasant climate. Moreover, it is centrally located and therefore a convenient springboard to a few the most picturesque historical colonial towns in Brazil, like Ouro Preto.

In 2014, Belo Horizonte was a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

Manaus – Population: 2,020,301

Metropolitan population: approx. 2.1 million
State: Amazonas
Founded: 24 October 1669
Area: 11,401 km2 / 4,402 sq mi.

There are few other cities more captivating the minds of adventure travellers than Manaus, ‘Paris of the Jungle’. This legendary city, right in the very heart of the Amazon, became rich in a few decades during the rubber boom, at the turn of the 19th/ 20th century..

The smart European houses at the Manaus harbour and the stunning opera house are the only remains of yesteryear.

Today Manaus is a hot, bustling metropolis.

Manaus has the pace of a busy port and the vibe of a chill out jungle city at the same time.

Half of the population of the huge state Amazonas, as big as Quebec (Canada), live in Manaus. Many tourists do not come for the city of Manaus itself, but use its modern, convenient facilities as springboard to the rainforest.

Nevertheless, there are still some hidden gems in Manaus which are interesting to the visitor. And the number is even rising, thanks to project ‘Belle Époque’ which is wiping off the century old dust from more and more historical buildings. In 2014, Manaus was a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

Curitiba – Population: 1,864,416

Metropolitan population: approx. 3.2 million
State: Paraná
Founded: 29 March 1693
Area: 431 km2 / 166 sq mi

Usually overlooked by tourists, Curitiba is a well designed city, originally build in the cattle and coffee heyday. Today Curitiba, the capital of Parana state, has less pollution and never-ending traffic jams than other Brazilian cities…

Furthermore, with a lot of parks, some hidden historical buildings and a great music scene the city of Curitiba is a dynamic place to spend some time.

Curitiba’s nickname is Cidade Modelo (‘Model City’).

With nearly 2 million inhabitants Curitiba is the largest city in brazilern Brasil and the city is an important cultural and economic centre. Moreover, Curitiba is arguably the most ‘European’ and best organized of all big Brazilian metropolitan areas.

Due to quality of life and good public services, more and more foreign investors are considering Curitiba as a serious alternative to Sao Paulo to expand their operations in Brazil and Brazil America from here.

In 2014 Curitiba was a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

Recife – Population: 1,608,488

Metropolitan population: approx. 4.1 million
State: Pernambuco
Founded: 12 March 1573
Area: 218 km2 / 84 sq mi.

Recife, the ‘Venice of Brasil’ is probably the most complete destination of all the large cities in Brazil. The city of Recife has an interesting history, which can be marvelled at in the Old Town and of course in neighbouring World Heritage Area tagged Olinda..

Recife has the lively, happy atmosphere which you expect when thinking about Brazil, culminating during the spectacular Carnaval and the city has arguably the nicest climate in the country.

The tourist infrastructure is relatively well developed and reasonably priced yet mass tourism has to conquer Recife. Last but not least, all these features of Recife are framed by some of the nicest beaches in Brasil.

Recife (‘Reef’ in Portuguese, named after the reef in front of the coast) was also one of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil host cities. If you like your cities bustling, unorganised, cosmopolitan and brimming with life: Recife is your pick.

Porto Alegre – Population: 1,472,482

Metropolitan population: approx. 4.4 million
State: Rio Grande do Sul
Founded: 26 March 1772
Area: 497 km2 / 192 sq mi.

Porto Alegre is located at the banks of an estuary of Lagoa dos Patos, the largest lagoon in Brazil. Despite being the capital of ‘gauchos’ state Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre is surprisingly cosmopolitan. With over 190 species of tree, the ‘Happy Port’ is also the greenest state capital of the country…

Sophistication galore in Porto Alegre, by being both host city of the Bienal do Sur, a biannual manifestation of contemporary art and also of the largest book fair in Brazil America (yearly in October and November).

Perhaps the best example of Porto Alegre’s progressive nature is the phenomenon of ‘participatory budgeting’.

Since 1989, the people of Porto Alegre have been deciding how to allocate part of the municipal budget. This innovative form of democracy attracted the attention of the Alter Globalization movement and the city was host to the first three editions of the World Social Forum.

In 2014, Porto Alegre was also a host city of FIFA World Cup Brazil.

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