There are plenty of things to do in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, Brazil. Known as one of the greenest cities in the world and a "laboratory of urban planning," Curitiba features a combination of cultural attractions, architectural marvels, and innovative design that make it a great destination for travelers hoping to experience the urban culture of Brazil. From seeing a show at the unique Wire Opera House to sampling international foods and drinks in the Italian Woods (Bosque Italiano) neighborhood, you're sure to find a great activity during your trip to 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 an area that used to be a quarry and is 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 stage known as Espaço Cultural Paulo Leminsk—named for a Curitiba poet—which has a capacity of 2,400.
Curitiba's historic district is located within the São Francisco neighborhood and features a number of 19th-century constructions such as the Red House (1891) as well as older structures like the Church of St. Francis and the Romário Martins House, 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 its history but is a tourist information center 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 a bit of history and architecture any day of the week.
The Curitiba Botanical Garden is most recognizable for its greenhouse, which is made of iron and glass and was 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 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, which celebrates a pioneer urbanist who greatly contributed to the urban planning of Curitiba. Access to the Curitiba Botanical Garden is free and open seven days a week with varying hours in the summer and winter.
Curitiba's restaurant district has a strong Italian heritage. Known as Santa Felicidade and located northeast of the city, this district is centered around the Italian Woods (Bosque Italiano) Park, where the community hosts a variety of 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 tree, Araucaria angustifolia, a relative of the Monkey Puzzle Tree which is called araucária or pinheiro-do-Paraná (Paraná pine tree) in Portuguese.
Originally known as the New Museum (Novo Museu), 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. The museum occupies two buildings, both designed by Niemeyer: a sprawling construction in straight lines dating back to 1967 and the Annex, constructed in 2002 and known as the Eye.
The Eye is a stunning construction precariously placed atop a 60-foot yellow pillar that houses a collection of visual artworks from artists local to Paraná and various other parts of Brazil. Three of the rooms in the Eye are dedicated exclusively to photography, but the museum also focuses on paintings, sculpture, architecture, and design. Meanwhile, the adjacent older building serves as an educational institute as well as the home for 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 the city 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. For a small fee, climb to the top of the winding staircase and look out over the city; 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 that the Ukrainian immigrants had on the city, stop by the Ukrainian Memorial in Tingui Park 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 from Curitiba. The memorial also features a permanent exhibition of Ukrainian icons, embroidery, and pêssankas (hand-painted eggs) as well as a gift shop where you can pick up souvenirs to bring back to your loved ones at home.
Dedicated to Holy Mary, the Basilica—whose official name is the Cathedral Basilica Minor of Our Lady of Light (Catedral Basílica Menor de Nossa Senhora da Luz de Curitiba)—is located at the Praça Tiradentes, the city's 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 services throughout the week. Take a guided tour of the cathedral or 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 30 shopping malls, but if you only have time to visit one, choose Shopping Estação in the north-central Rebouças District. The name of the mall, "station," comes from the restored train station that houses it. Besides 180 stores, eateries, and a bowling alley, the mall also features a train museum, a pharmacy museum, a puppet museum, an interactive nature exhibit, and an interactive fragrance center. Stores and restaurants are open daily, but many of the museums and recreational activities are closed on Mondays and holidays throughout the year.
One of Curitiba's greatest attractions is the building known as the Avenue Palace in the Central District of the city. Covering nearly 200,000 square feet (18,000 square meters), this historic building once hosted a variety of shops, restaurants, offices, and the first exhibition hall in the city, 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), which can seat up to 250 spectators.
However, the best time to see the Avenue Palace is during the Christmas season when the bank-sponsored choir for underprivileged kids performs and the historic building is lit up with 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 thanks to the urban planning and environmentally-friendly policies initiated in the 1970s by Mayor Jaime Lerner that created a variety of parks and woods (bosques), 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 Grethel'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 walk on mosaics and among pillars which honor the Portuguese heritage at Parque de Portugal; 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 take in more sights of the countryside, the scenic Curitiba-Paranaguá train ride is an attraction in itself. Winding its way across the mountains of the Serra do Mar, the Curitiba-Paranaguá train ride covers 62 miles 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. Paranguá is also one of the departing points to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island), which is one of Brazil's most beautiful islands, and a great port city if you're looking for authentic Brazilian seafood dishes.