Known as one of the greenest cities in the world and a "laboratory of urban planning," Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, Brazil, features a combination of cultural attractions, architectural marvels, and innovative design that make it a great destination. Travelers can experience the culture of Brazil by seeing a show at the unique Wire Opera House, sampling international foods and drinks in the Italian Woods (Bosque Italiano) neighborhood, taking a walking tour of the historic district, catching views of the city from a lookout tower, and enjoying other great activities in Curitiba.
Designed by architect Domingos Bongestabs, the striking Wire Opera House (Ópera de Arame) is a round structure constructed with steel and covered with transparent polycarbonate. Located in the middle of an artificial lake in Parque das Pedreiras, the opera house is surrounded by lush vegetation and waterfalls in a former quarry area only accessible by a small footbridge.
The Wire Opera House hosts a variety of operatic and other musical performances throughout the year as well as several cultural events and festivities. Performances take place on the open-air, 5,175-square-foot (481-square-meter) stage known as Espaço Cultural Paulo Leminski, named for a Curitiba poet.
Curitiba's historic district in the São Francisco neighborhood features a number of 19th-century constructions such as the Red House (1891) as well as older structures like the Church of the Third Order of São Francisco das Chagas and the Casa Romário Martins, which date back to the 18th century.
Casa Romário Martins is considered the oldest building in Curitiba, and it has served as a residence, butcher shop, and a dry and wet warehouse throughout history but is a cultural space today. The nearby Memorial de Curitiba, a cultural center that houses art exhibits, plays, and musical presentations, contrasts sharply with the historic buildings around it, including the Red House to which it is connected.
Every Sunday, the Curitiba Historical Sector hosts an Art and Craft Fair featuring local creations and food. However, taking a walk down the main roadway in the district (Dr. Claudino dos Santos Street) is a perfect way to see some history and architecture any day of the week.
The Botanical Garden of Curitiba is most recognizable for its iron and glass greenhouse inspired by London's Crystal Palace. However, the garden is also home to a treasure trove of native plants and a variety of other attractions including the Gerdt Hatschbach Botanical Museum, the Garden of Sensations, and a cultural center with works donated by artist Frans Krajcberg.
The garden's official name is Jardim Botânico Francisca Maria Garfunkel Rischbieter, honoring a pioneer urbanist who greatly contributed to the urban planning of Curitiba. Access to the garden is free and it's open daily with varying hours in the summer and winter.
Curitiba's restaurant district has a strong Italian heritage. Santa Felicidade is located northeast of the city and is centered around the Italian Woods (Bosque Italiano) Park, where the community hosts celebrations such as the Grape Festival, the Latin American Festival, and the Chicken, Polenta, and Wine Festival.
While you're in Santa Felicidade, eat well and enjoy a glimpse of early Italian immigration in a district dotted with vintage homes such as the Culpi House, the Geranium House, and the House of Paintings, which has original frescoes on the walls. Santa Felicidade is also a great place to see Paraná's symbol pine tree, Araucaria angustifolia, which resembles an ancient group of related conifers that lived in forests over 145 million years ago.
A little further southeast, the Batel district is also known for its authentic Brazilian restaurants and bars, including the award-winning Batel Grill, a top choice for churrasco (grilled meat).
The Oscar Niemeyer Museum (Museu Oscar Niemeyer) is set against the verdant Pope John Paul II Woods in the northern part of the Civic Center (Centro Cívico) district of Curitiba. Occupying two buildings designed by Niemeyer, the museum is a sprawling construction in straight lines dating back to 1967 and also has the Annex, constructed in 2002 (known as the Eye).
The Eye is a stunning construction placed atop a 60-foot (18-meter) yellow pillar that houses a collection of visual artworks from artists local to Paraná and various other parts of Brazil. Some of the Eye's rooms are dedicated exclusively to photography, but you will also see paintings, sculpture, architecture, and design. The adjacent older building serves as an educational institute and home to several pieces of Niemeyer's art and design sketches.
The 360-foot (109-meter) tall lookout tower known as the Panoramic Tower (Torre Panorâmica) rises high above the Mercês District and features a pristine observation deck with uninterrupted views of Curitiba. Although its primary function is a telecommunications tower, it is also the highest point in the city and houses the Telephone Museum on the ground floor. Buy tickets onsite and climb to the top of the winding staircase to glance at the city from above, then stop by the museum to see the history of cellular service in Curitiba on your way out.
At the end of the 19th century, more than 20,000 Ukrainians immigrated to Paraná and integrated with the people there to become a vital part of the cultural identity of Curitiba. To learn more about the history and impact the Ukrainian immigrants had on the city, stop by the Ukrainian Memorial in Parque Tingui where you can see a Byzantine-style wooden house and a replica of the St. Michael the Archangel Church in Mallet, a town about 143 miles (230 kilometers) from Curitiba. The memorial also features a permanent exhibition of Ukrainian icons, embroidery, and pêssankas (hand-painted eggs), as well as a gift shop.
Dedicated to Holy Mary, the Basilica, whose official name is the Catedral Basílica Menor de Nossa Senhora da Luz, is located at the Praça Tiradentes, the historic plaza that features a marker for the geodesic center of Curitiba. The cathedral was built between 1876 and 1893 on the site of an earlier church and still hosts mass throughout the week. Take a monthly guided tour of the cathedral, attend a Holy Mass any day of the week (hours vary), or stop by the Parish Shop on Monday through Saturday to pick up a souvenir from this elaborately decorated Roman Catholic cathedral.
Curitiba has numerous shopping malls, but if you only have time to visit one, choose Shopping Estação in the north-central Rebouças District. "Station," the name of the mall, comes from the restored train station that houses it. Besides about 170 stores, one of the city's biggest food courts, and a train museum, the mall has a puppet theater. Stores and restaurants are open daily, but museums and recreational activities are closed on Mondays and holidays throughout the year.
One of Curitiba's greatest attractions is the Avenue Palace in the Central District. Covering nearly 200,000 square feet (18,000 square meters), this historic structure created in 1929 once hosted a variety of shops, restaurants, offices, and the city's first exhibition hall, but it fell out of use in the 1960s when it was purchased by the Bamerindus Bank. The ground floor now serves as the headquarters for the Bradesco Bank, and its terrace houses the Avenida Theater (Teatro Avenida).
However, the best time to see the landmark is during the Christmas season when the bank-sponsored choir for underprivileged kids performs and the building has twinkling lights and holiday decorations. Listening to the children, live or on TV, as they sing Christmas carols standing at the building's many windows has become a holiday tradition in Brazil.
Curitiba is a green city with various parks and bosques (woods), the best of which celebrate the city's multicultural heritage.
At the German Woods (Bosque Alemão) in the northern Pilarzhino district, don't miss the Philosophers' Tower for a great view of Curitiba or the Hansel and Gretel's House, which features live storytelling inside the adjacent library. Meanwhile, the Parque Tingui, named for the area's original indigenous people, has a Ukrainian church memorial. Additionally, visitors can see Polish wooden houses at Bosque João Paulo II, visited by Pope John Paul II in 1980, and relax with local families at Parque Barigui.
Whether you're ready to leave Curitiba behind and continue exploring Brazil or you'd like to take a quick day trip from the city to enjoy more of the countryside, the scenic Curitiba-Paranaguá train ride is an attraction in itself. Heading across the mountains of the Serra do Mar, the ride covers 62 miles (100 kilometers) and takes just over an hour to complete, but you can also continue onto the small 18th-century town of Morretes on any day except Sunday. Paranaguá is also one of the departing points to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island), one of Brazil's most beautiful islands, and a great port city if you're looking for authentic local seafood dishes.