Brasília, the modern capital of Brazil, boasts a plethora of iconic attractions, landmarks, and renowned buildings that captivate visitors with their striking architecture and cultural significance.
From religious edifices like The Cathedral of Brasília and the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Fátima to grand palaces such as Palacio da Alvorada, Palácio do Planalto, and the Itamaraty Palace, each structure showcases a unique blend of architectural styles.
The city’s political heart is represented by the Three Powers Plaza, flanked by the imposing National Congress Palace and the Tancredo Neves Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom. Meanwhile, the Cláudio Santoro National Theater stands as a prominent cultural center offering a diverse array of performances.
For those with an interest in astronomy, the Brasilia Planetarium offers an enriching experience, while the Convention Center Ulysses Guimarães serves as a hub for events and exhibitions. Additionally, the city’s contemporary design is exemplified by Praça dos Cristais, an urban oasis adorned with modern sculptures.
Join us as we embark on a captivating journey through the architectural marvels and cultural gems that define the captivating cityscape of Brasília. Also, don’t forget about museums. We have here an article about the Brasília museums you should visit.
The Cathedral of Brasília
The Cathedral of Brasília, officially known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Aparecida, is a magnificent Roman Catholic cathedral located in the capital of Brazil.
Designed by renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and engineered by Joaquim Cardozo, this architectural marvel was completed and dedicated on May 31, 1970. The cathedral’s striking hyperboloid structure comprises 16 concrete columns, each weighing a staggering 90 tons, symbolizing hands reaching towards the heavens.
At the cathedral’s square entrance, visitors are greeted by four bronze sculptures representing the four Evangelists, skillfully crafted by sculptors Alfredo Ceschiatti and Dante Croce in 1968.
Adjacent to the cathedral stands a 20-meter tall bell tower housing four grand bells donated by Spanish residents of Brazil. A 12-meter wide reflecting pool surrounding the cathedral’s roof contributes to its cooling, providing a serene ambiance to the area.
Upon entering the cathedral through a dark tunnel, visitors emerge into a bright space adorned with a magnificent glass roof. Beneath this roof lies a stunning 2,000-square-meter stained glass work by Marianne Peretti, showcasing a captivating display of blue, green, white, and brown hues.
Inside, the cathedral can accommodate up to 4,000 people and features a baptistery with striking ceramic-tiled walls painted by Athos Bulcão in 1977. Suspended over the nave are three angel sculptures by Alfredo Ceschiatti, symbolizing an ethereal presence within the space.
Under the main altar lies a small chapel accessible from either side, adding to the cathedral’s spiritual ambiance. The Cathedral of Brasília stands as a testament to architectural ingenuity and a significant place of worship, drawing visitors from around the world to admire its remarkable beauty and sacred significance.
Palacio da Alvorada (Alvorada Palace)
The Palácio da Alvorada serves as the official residence of Brazil’s president. Designed by the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer and completed in 1958, the palatial structure stands as a testament to modernist architecture.
Situated on a peninsula along the picturesque Paranoá Lake, the building’s unique hyperboloid design comprises 16 concrete columns, each weighing an impressive 90 tons.
The name “Palácio da Alvorada,” which translates to the “Palace of Dawn,” originates from a quote by former President Juscelino Kubitschek, who described Brasília as the dawn of a new era for Brazil. The building’s historical significance is further solidified by its status as a National Historic Heritage Site.
The Palácio da Alvorada serves as both a residence and a venue for official receptions, with the president’s primary workplace located at the Palácio do Planalto. The extensive restoration project in 2004, led by First Lady Marisa Letícia, revitalized the palace’s interior to its original style, with private funds donated by private corporations for tax-deduction purposes.
The interior of the Palácio da Alvorada is a display of opulence and artistry. State rooms on the ground floor, including the Entrance Hall, Waiting Room, State Room, Library, Dining Room, Noble Room, Music Room, and Banquet Room, exude grandeur with a blend of contemporary and antique furnishings, elegant tapestries, and priceless works of art. The second floor houses the residential section, comprising the presidential apartment and guest rooms.
The palace complex is staffed by approximately 160 employees, ranging from secretaries and assistants to cooks and security personnel, ensuring the smooth functioning of the residence. The Presidential Guard Battalion is responsible for safeguarding the entire palatial area.
As a symbol of Brazil’s rich history and architectural prowess, the Palácio da Alvorada stands proudly as the iconic residence of the nation’s leaders and continues to welcome dignitaries and visitors from around the world.
Three Powers Plaza
The Praça dos Três Poderes in Brasília, is a public square symbolizing the three branches of the Brazilian Republic: the Palácio do Planalto (Executive), the palácio do Supremo Tribunal Federal (Judiciary), and the palácio do Congresso Nacional do Brasil (Legislative).
Designed by Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, the square measures approximately 120 x 220 meters. Lacking traditional features like trees, it showcases imperial palms and the Bosque dos Constituintes with trees planted by deputies in 1988.
The strategic arrangement of the buildings creates an impressive sculptural effect, illuminated at night for a suspended appearance. The square features sculptures like “Os Guerreiros” by Bruno Giorgi and “A Justiça” by Alfredo Ceschiatti, representing Brazilian symbols.
The Mastro da Bandeira, a 100-meter-tall monument by Sérgio Bernardes, displays the national flag and is ceremoniously replaced monthly.
The nearby Pombal, a Niemeyer concrete sculpture, and the Casa de Chá serve as a Tourist Information Center. The Espaço Lúcio Costa and Espaço Oscar Niemeyer exhibit architectural works.
The square attracts tourists, hosting civic events, guard changes, flag-raising ceremonies, and public demonstrations.
The National Congress Palace
The National Congress Palace, also known as Palácio do Congresso Nacional in Portuguese, stands as the prominent meeting place for the National Congress of Brazil in Brasília. Constructed in 1960, it holds historical significance as the home to the nation’s legislature and as a remarkable architectural masterpiece.
Before its establishment in Brasília, the Brazilian National Congress was housed in separate buildings in Rio de Janeiro, the former capital. The construction of the new Congress in Brasília, designed by the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer, marked the beginning of a new era for the country’s legislative operations.
The Congress building is a harmonious combination of two semi-spheres, representing the respective seats of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. These are flanked by two vertical office towers, and additional office buildings surround the central structure, interconnected by a tunnel. Positioned along the Monumental Axis, the main street of Brasília, the Congress enjoys a strategic and symbolic location.
In December 2007, the Institute of Historic and Artistic National Heritage recognized the Congress building as a historical heritage of Brazil. Additionally, it is part of Brasília’s original urban buildings, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
The architectural marvel of the National Congress Palace lies in its structural elements, featuring elliptical concrete pillars spaced in a grid pattern. The exterior of the building is clad in white marble, enhancing its modern and elegant appearance.
The Congress comprises several halls and rooms, each adorned with exquisite art pieces from renowned Brazilian artists like Athos Bulcão, Marianne Peretti, Alfredo Ceschiatti, Di Cavalcanti, and Burle Marx.
The two iconic domes, each with its unique design and symbolism, add a profound significance to the building. The Senate dome, a concave structure, signifies reflection, balance, and experience, while the larger convex dome, representing the Chamber of Deputies, symbolizes openness to the diverse ideas, ideologies, and aspirations of the Brazilian people.
The Congress towers, with their distinctive diagonally faced facades, house 28 floors each, making them some of the tallest structures in the city. These towers accommodate offices and administrative spaces for the members of both houses.
The National Congress Palace is not just a legislative institution but also a work of art and a symbol of Brazil’s progress and unity. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a cherished national landmark, it continues to inspire awe and pride in the hearts of Brazilians and visitors alike.
The Itamaraty Palace
The Itamaraty Palace, also known as Palácio dos Arcos, is the seat of Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations in the capital city, Brasília. An architectural masterpiece by Oscar Niemeyer and Joaquim Cardozo, it features exceptional use of exposed concrete, an impressive free-span design, and a helical staircase.
Inaugurated on April 20, 1970, by President Emílio Garrastazu Médici, the palace’s first reception was on March 14, 1967. The complex comprises three buildings: the main Palácio, Anexo I, and Anexo II, popularly known as “Bolo de Noiva.” The palace boasts Latin America’s largest column-free hall, spanning 2,800 square meters, and is esteemed for its artistic richness and excellent preservation.
Originally named “Palácio dos Arcos” due to its arched facade, the tradition of “Itamaraty” prevailed, derived from the former ministry headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Inside, it houses artworks by renowned artists and features Roberto Burle Marx’s landscaping, including the striking “Meteoro” sculpture by Bruno Giorgi.
The foundation stone was laid by President Juscelino Kubitschek on September 12, 1960, but due to technical challenges, it was officially completed and inaugurated on April 20, 1970. The palace serves as a ceremonial space where heads of state and foreign dignitaries are received, with distinguished visitors like Pelé and Queen Elizabeth II attending events there. However, it also fulfills its bureaucratic functions effectively, designed with separate buildings for protocol and daily activities.
During its 50th anniversary, the palace’s extensive art collection was documented, featuring 580 artworks, including 450 engravings and 92 paintings, collages, and drawings.
The collection includes iconic Brazilian designs like Bernardo Figueiredo’s “Bahia” and “Arcos” chairs. The interior combines antique and modern elements, preserving its 1970 charm, while Roberto Burle Marx’s gardens add to its allure.
Palácio do Planalto
The Palácio do Planalto, serves as the official workplace of the President of Brazil. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer and inaugurated on April 21, 1960, it has been the workplace of every Brazilian president since Juscelino Kubitschek.
Situated at Praça dos Três Poderes (Three Powers Plaza), opposite the Supreme Federal Court and to the east of the National Congress of Brazil, it is one of the official palaces of the Presidency, alongside Palácio da Alvorada, the official residence.
As a part of the Brasília World Heritage Site, designated by UNESCO in 1987, the Palácio do Planalto showcases modernist architecture with fine lines and waves composing the columns and exterior structures. Its façade features a prominent ramp leading to the hall and the parlatorium, where the president and foreign dignitaries address the public at the Three Powers Plaza.
The palace encompasses four floors above ground and one underground, with its area measuring approximately 36,000 square meters. Notable rooms on the second floor include the East Room, where the president signs decrees, the Noble Room for significant ceremonies, and the West Room, used for events related to international themes.
The third floor houses the president’s office, senior staff offices, and waiting rooms decorated with modernist Brazilian furniture and artwork.
Furthermore, the fourth floor contains a large lounge area and offices for senior government officials. The Palácio do Planalto is guarded by the Presidential Guard Battalion and the 1st Guards Cavalry Regiment of the Brazilian Army.
While access to the building is mainly restricted to authorized personnel, the palace is open to the public for visitation on Sundays. Guided tours lasting 20 minutes offer insights into its history and significance.
The ramp in front of the palace is reserved for special occasions like presidential inaugurations and state visits by foreign dignitaries, making encounters with the president rare due to restricted access and security measures.
Tancredo Neves Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom
The Tancredo Neves Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom, situated in Brasília, is a cenotaph dedicated to honoring national heroes. Unlike traditional pantheons, it does not contain tombs, but it serves as a symbol of remembrance for those who have contributed significantly to Brazil’s history and freedom.
Designed by the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer, the pantheon’s modernist structure symbolizes a dove and spans three floors, covering an area of 2,105 square meters.
The foundation stone was laid by French President François Mitterrand on October 15, 1985, following the national mourning after the death of Tancredo Neves, the first civilian president elected after two decades of military rule. The Pantheon was inaugurated on September 7, 1986.
The exhibition area, dedicated to Tancredo Neves, was reopened in 2013, showcasing copies of documents, films by Silvio Tendler, and interactive technologies.
The Livro de Aço, or the Book of Steel, on the third floor, holds the names and biographies of the honored heroes. Each time a new name is inscribed in its metal pages, a ceremony is held to celebrate the honoree’s memory.
Notable figures honored in the Pantheon include Tiradentes, Zumbi dos Palmares, Dom Pedro I, and Alberto Santos-Dumont, among others. The pantheon also houses two sculptures commemorating the martyrs of the Inconfidência Mineira, created by renowned artists Athos Bulcão and John Hall and Son.
The Pantheon of Fatherland and Freedom stands as a poignant monument to those who have shaped Brazil’s history and fought for its liberty. Through its innovative design and commitment to honoring national heroes, the Pantheon pays tribute to the country’s rich and diverse heritage.
Cláudio Santoro National Theater
The Cláudio Santoro National Theater (Teatro Nacional Cláudio Santoro) is a captivating pyramid-shaped theater located in Brasília. Situated on Via N2 of the Monumental Axis, it resides in the North Cultural Sector, Asa Norte, Plano Piloto.
Designed by Oscar Niemeyer with structural engineering by Bruno Contarini, the theater boasts three prominent halls—Martins Pena, Villa-Lobos, and Alberto Nepomuceno—hosting numerous cultural performances throughout the year.
Noteworthy for its unique design, the theater stands around 46 meters tall, resembling a pyramid without its apex, drawing inspiration from pre-Columbian architecture. The west and east façades measure 45 and 95 meters, respectively, with the pyramid covering an area of approximately 43,000 square meters, complemented by a semi-subterranean annex.
Aesthetically enhanced by Athos Bulcão’s artistic touch, the theater features a concrete panel on its lateral sides named “O Sol faz a festa” (“The Sun Celebrates”). Comprising five different shapes, the blocks create a play of light and shadow, exemplifying Niemeyer’s concept of solidity and lightness.
The interior of the Cláudio Santoro National Theater includes three main halls and two foyers, alongside the annex. The Sala Villa-Lobos, named after Heitor Villa-Lobos, serves as the primary venue with 1,407 seats, accommodating opera and ballet performances.
The Sala Alberto Nepomuceno, seating 95 people, offers a more intimate setting, paying tribute to the musician Alberto Nepomuceno. Additionally, the Sala Martins Pena, named in honor of the dramatist Martins Pena, seats 407 people and houses a dedicated foyer with exhibitions and performances.
Over the years, the theater has welcomed renowned artists like João Gilberto, Maria Bethânia, Caetano Veloso, and international ballet companies such as Bolshoi and Kirov. Despite being under renovation since 2014, the Cláudio Santoro National Theater continues to be an iconic cultural venue with a rich history of artistic excellence.
Praça dos Cristais
The Praça dos Cristais, also known as Praça Cívica, is a captivating landscape designed by renowned artist Roberto Burle Marx and his assistant Haruyoshi Ono. Located in the Setor Militar Urbano, in front of the Army Headquarters, in Brasília, the plaza was inaugurated in 1970 after five years of construction, boasting an expansive 102,000 square meters of space, perfect for relaxation and leisure.
Burle Marx found inspiration for the creation of this geometric garden during a visit to the municipality of Cristalina, where he and his assistant were captivated by the abundance of rock crystals.
To pay homage to the riches of the Brazilian Central Plateau, they designed concrete pieces that now adorn the main water mirror in the plaza. Additionally, various “islands” accessible through concrete trails and numerous gardens contribute to the scenic allure of the place.
Burle Marx initially incorporated 53 plant species, most native to the Cerrado biome, but while some couldn’t survive, others continue to grace the landscape. Notably, a majestic 12-meter-tall buriti palm has stood there for almost four decades.
Despite its beauty, the Praça dos Cristais remains relatively unknown to many Brasília residents due to its secluded location, surrounded by silence in front of the Concha Acústica and the Army Headquarters.
However, those who do discover this hidden gem find a well-maintained space, as it underwent restoration in 2009 and is currently cared for and patrolled by the Army Headquarters.
The restoration project was initiated for two reasons: the area was designated as a historical and artistic heritage site by the Brazilian Institute of National Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), and in 2009, Brazil celebrated the centenary of Roberto Burle Marx, the mastermind behind the plaza’s design.
The restoration efforts revitalized the water mirrors, which had been nonfunctional for two decades, now teeming with diverse fish species. Additionally, the plaza received nighttime illumination, enabling visitors to appreciate its beauty after dark, while the vigilant military patrols ensure its safety.
While the original project did not include benches, the plaza now provides seating for visitors to rest and enjoy the peaceful ambiance. The Praça dos Cristais stands as a testament to Burle Marx’s artistic brilliance and continues to enchant those who venture to this lesser-known yet beautifully preserved site.
Convention Center Ulysses Guimarães
The Ulysses Guimarães Convention Center is a prominent venue designed by Sérgio Bernardes and inaugurated on March 12, 1979. An extensive renovation in 2005 tripled its original size, making it one of South America’s largest convention centers.
With a spacious 37,000 square meters of constructed area and an exhibition space of 11,400 square meters, the Ulysses Guimarães Convention Center can host around 9,400 attendees simultaneously.
Until 2018, it was managed by the Government of the Federal District, later handed over to Capital DF Administração de Centro de Convenções.
Located at the heart of Brasília in the Setor de Divulgação Cultural (SDC) of the Eixo Monumental, the Ulysses Guimarães Convention Center enjoys a strategic position perpendicular to the central avenue, just a 15-minute drive from Brasília International Airport and conveniently close to hotels.
The center is renowned for its versatility in hosting events, such as conferences, lectures, fairs, shows, and congresses. It features five auditoriums, including one with a capacity of over 3,000 seats, along with 13 modifiable rooms equipped with retractable acoustic partitions, allowing for multiple configurations.
Divided into three wings, the West Wing, designed by Sérgio Bernardes, offers a 2,000-square-meter open space on the ground floor and four multi-functional auditoriums named after symbolic landmarks in Brasília: Alvorada, Planalto, Águas Claras, and Buriti.
The South Wing, spanning 10,200 square meters, is a climate-controlled area specially designed for exhibitions and fairs, with ample booth spaces and essential amenities on the ground floor and mezzanine level.
The North Wing houses the prestigious Master Auditorium with seating for over 3,000 people. Equipped with cutting-edge sound technology and accessibility features, it is complemented by 13 modifiable rooms, a multi-use area, dressing rooms, a VIP lounge, and a press room.
The Brasilia Planetarium
The Brasília Planetarium is the only fixed public planetarium in the Federal District, Brazil. Inaugurated in 1974 and affiliated with the Secretaria de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação do Distrito Federal, it forms part of the Associação Brasileira de Planetários.
Designed by Sérgio Bernardes, the building features a unique design resembling a landed flying saucer. After a prolonged closure, it underwent extensive renovations and was reopened in 2013.
Originally envisioned to include 16 aquariums alongside the planetarium, aiming to blend the themes of the sky and the sea, this concept was later discarded due to structural challenges, leaving only the space-themed aspect of the building intact.
The planetarium comprises three floors and covers an area of 3,000 square meters. The main level houses the dome theater with seating for 82 visitors, offering simulations of night skies and space-related films using two projectors, the analog Space Master, and the digital Power Dome VIII, both from the German brand Zeiss.
The other floors feature exhibitions related to space, including photographs from the European Southern Observatory, telescopes from the Clube de Astronomia de Brasília, replicas of astronaut suits, panoramic glass tunnels (originally intended for the aquarium concept), interactive displays, and an auditorium with 60 seats, along with a workshop area in the basement.
The planetarium is open for visitation from Tuesday to Friday, 9 am to 9 pm, and on weekends and holidays from 8 am to 8 pm, closing on Mondays for maintenance. Admission is free, but tickets are required for the dome theater sessions.
Despite its cultural relevance and prime location among other famous attractions, the Brasília Planetarium remains relatively unknown due to limited promotion, investment, and competition from iconic structures in the city.
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Fátima
The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Fátima, also known as “Igrejinha” (the little church), holds a significant place in the architectural and historical heritage of Brasilia. It stands as the city’s first masonry temple, officially inaugurated on June 28, 1958.
The church’s construction was a remarkable feat, completed within a mere one hundred days, driven by a promise made by the first lady, Sarah Kubitschek, to heal her daughter suffering from tuberculosis.
Designed by the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer, with the structural project by Joaquim Cardozo, the church’s architecture evokes the image of a nun’s hat. Three pyramid-shaped concrete pillars support the triangular roof, giving the building a distinct and striking appearance.
Originally, the interior featured an abstract mural by Alfredo Volpi. However, in 2009, Francisco Galeno adorned the church with new paintings. One notable artwork portrays Nuestra Señora de Fátima without a face, holding comets in her hand, while colorful columns and comets represent the children who witnessed the apparition of Nuestra Señora de Fátima in Portugal.
Additionally, ceramic tiles by Athos Bulcão embellish both the exterior and interior, with an inverted dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit.
The “Igrejinha” has earned its nickname due to its reduced size, which captures much attention and makes it one of Brasilia’s most visited tourist attractions. Recognizing its cultural significance, the church was designated as a heritage site of the Federal District on April 28, 1982.
As part of the celebration of Oscar Niemeyer’s centennial, the chapel was included in a group of 23 architectural works cataloged in honor of the renowned architect. Carlos Madson Reis, the superintendent of IPHAN-DF (Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage in the Federal District), acknowledged the church’s architectural importance to the region.