Olinda is a historic city in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco founded in 1535 by the Portuguese. It is located on the country’s northeastern Atlantic Ocean coast, just north of Recife and is one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Brazil. Legend suggests the city’s name can be interpreted as an exclamation regarding the beauty of its setting (“Ó, linda!” is Portuguese for “Oh, beautiful!”).
Because of the historic importance of the city, Olinda earned the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. It is picturesque, full of history, character and tropical charm. It seems that everywhere you look there is a church. They date from the 16th century as Olinda is one of the oldest cities in Brazil.
In addition to the history Olinda, being a hill-top town has the advantage of fantastic views. This has attracted many artists who’s studios can be found in several streets. In addition it is home to one of the most important carnivals, and several other major cultural festivals, both classical and popular.
A Short History
The settlement of Olinda was founded in 1535 by Duarte Coelho Pereira; it was elevated to a town in March 12, 1537, and became the capital of the Portuguese hereditary Captaincy of Pernambuco. Many of the early settlers were New Christians (Jews) who came with the Portuguese, and had the money and expertise to invest in the large-scale production of sugar, the commodity that made Northeast Brazil the most important in early colonial Brazil. Other early settlers were many religious orders, encouraged to make christians of Brazilian Indians and African slaves.
In the 17th century, taking advantage of a period of Portuguese weakness, the area around Olinda and Recife was occupied by the Dutch, who gained access to the Portuguese sugarcane plantations. During their invasion of Olinda in 1630, they destroyed much of the city by fire. After the Portuguese regained control in 1654 they began restoring Olinda to it´s former glory.
Do Not Miss
The whole city is worth exploring in detail and, because of it´s size, this is possible in 3-4days, or less if you have a guide. The highlights are the Franciscan monastery, the fantastic panoramic views from Alto Sé, the São Bento church, and it´s stunning baroque altar and the Praça do Carmo, a nice gardens with the iconic church of the Carmelites, the first church of the order in Brazil. Also, do not miss the opportunity to explore the restaurants in Olinda, serving a mixture of regional and international cuisine of the highest quality.
Other Top Attractions
Olinda is a great base from which to spend time in the region. With it´s great restaurants and charming historic pousadas (guesthouses), it is a good place to stay and take day trips from. You can discover more of the region´s history in Recife (20 mins by taxi), at Iguassu and Itamaraca, or into the interior where the historic sugar plantations (engenhos) are. Alternatively, you may want to explore the many fantastic beaches, north or south, along the coast. For visitors interested in art there are also the works of important artists like sculptor Francisco Brennand to see, or the collections of Ricardo Brennand.
Accommodations in Olinda are either budget, or moderate in terms of infrastructure and service. In terms of location and ambience just one, Hotel 7 Colinas may be described as luxury, nestled as it is within palm trees and tropical gardens, and with it´s large pools. Generally accommodations are pousadas (guest houses) with a limited number of rooms. Several are within old historic houses and are very charming. To find accommodations in Olinda follow one of the following links: Budget Accommodations, Moderate Accommodations or Luxury Accommodations.
Recife Guide´s partners have developed a Walking Tour of Olinda. They are operated by carefully selected companies who employ professional guides, trained and accredited to deliver the tour. The carefully researched and designed tour will give you a very good insight into the history and development of the city. The route and it´s highlights can be seen on the map we created. You can also see images of the tour highlights in a Youtube video.
From Olinda we also offer several other tours, each of which has been similarly researched, designed and developed; and are operated by licensed operators who employs the professional guides who we have trained and accredited. Our tours include other Walking Tours, Day Tours and Short Adventures (tours of 2 or more days, including accommodation). Follow the link for details of all Tours
Bars & Cafes
There are several bars and cafes in Olinda. They are the focus of nightlife in the town. Several spill out onto the streets at busy times, and in many you can hear live music, often impromptu and improvised. definitely worth a visit is Bodega de Veio, a typical old bar that also sell “everything except the kitchen sink”. Click the link to see our full listing of Bars & Cafes
In olinda there are an excellent choice of restaurants serving regional and international cuisines. They vary in price considerably. for recommendations see our listing under Budget, Moderate, Luxury.
Nightlife in Olinda is focused on bars and cafes. There are no nightclubs to speak of. Nearby Recife Antigo has more bars and a few nightclubs, but other clubs are in the Boa Viagem are of Recife and gay and lesbian nightlife is focused around the Boa Vista area. For details see Nightlife in Recife.
The biggest event in Olinda is Carnaval, one of the most important, and authentic, in Brazil. It stems from a Portuguese tradition, with the addition of African influenced dances. Carnival here is not something to be watched as a spectator in a stand, but to take part in. And, unlike carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, carnival in Olinda is free of charge. Carnival groups (blocos) practice the year-round, but things get serious after Christmas when rehearsals can be seen in the street most weekends. For details see Carnival
In addition to carnival there are several other annual and one-time events in Olinda. They are a mix of musical, artistic and cultural events; both popular and classical. Details of upcoming events can be found in the Recife Guide Agenda
When you are travelling as an independent traveller you are going to need a lot of information. Recife Guide will give you as much as we can in two seperate A-Z Lists : Basic Information and Advice (coming soon). Olinda is so close to Recife so, thather than duplicate everything, the links go to the Recife Info pages. See also the “10-Step Guide for Independent Travellers to Brazil” on the Pearl Travel Guides main site.
If art, antiques and souvenirs are what you are looking for then you will find plenty of all of these in Olinda. The shops are mostly those of artists and ateliers, with a few galleries and souvenir shops. The nearest shopping center with a 15min taxi ride. Shopping Tacaruna is a small modern mall with the store types you might expect at such places anywhere in the world. Shopping Centre Recife, is a much larger version of the same thing (40mins from Olinda, and 10mins from Recife International Airport, by taxi).
How To Get There
From Recife International Airport, Olinda is approximately 40mins by Taxi. Most hotels and pousadas will arrange a transfer on request, but this will be at an additional charge, with a commission. This is not necessary if you are arriving at a reasonable time, but perhaps advisable if you are going to be a late arrival. The alternative is a licensed airport taxi which operates to a list of standard charges. It is not advisable to take an un-licensed taxi. There are no direct busses from the airport Terminus to Olinda.
From the Interstate Bus Station (TIP), it is possible to take a taxi to Olinda, but as the bus station is far out-of-town, the cost will be around R$40. Inter-State you can take any metro to the final stop in central Recife. From there you will get a taxi to Olinda for around R$15.