Tips For — And Pics From — A Day In Brasilia (Without a Car!)

you may remember my excitement in visiting the planned capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, and the amazing architecture there. well, the similar city that’s been on my list even longer (for as long as i remember even keeping a list) is Brasilia, the planned capital of Brazil. why? the retrofuturistic architecture (i call it mid-century futurist, some may call it ’60s Jetsons).

brasilia backgrounder

(i’m completely fascinated by this part; feel free to skip down to the pictures if you want)

[click on a photo to get a larger version]

the amazing thing is that the core of Brasilia was built in 41 months, formally founded in April of 1960. prior to groundbreaking, there really was nothing here. NOTHING. as part of (beloved) President Juscelino Kubitschek’s “50 years in 5” plan (which modernized Brazil very rapidly), he made good on a promise to move the capital from Rio to a central location. by the way, he’s so revered in this country people just call him “JK”.

the city was planned (the “Pilot Plan”) in the shape of a bird (or a plane), with the body of the bird being the Monumental Axis, which is where all the major sites are. the wings of the bird are the residential areas, broken up into very urban-planned residential superquadrants and sectors dedicated to various types of buildings and uses. the main hotel sector is at the heart of the city and is a very convenient place to stay.

getting around

i was really worried for a while about not having a car, thinking i would need to book some sort of private tour, but as it turns out, if you don’t mind a bit of walking, seeing the major sites on the Monumental Axis is totally doable without a car or tour — via a combination of walking, city bike share, and Uber (or cabs).

if want to go to the CCBB (the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil), a free modern art museum, they offer a free shuttle that makes continuous rounds with pickup/dropoff points along the Axis; the schedule is here (note that “CCBB” on the schedule is when it leaves from the museum).

city bike share

conveniently located up and down the Monumental Axis (and elsewhere) are orange city bike share stands. you will need to download the iOS or Android app (everything is done via the app, there’s no kiosk), but once you do, it’s easy to sign up, though i think you will need a local Brazilian phone number (or make one up?) which is used as your username to log in. you will also need a CEP number (their national ID number), but i used 11 zeroes. a R$10 hold is placed on your credit card, and it took my American MasterCard. easy-peasy. the app takes care of all the functions, from registration to unlocking a bike at a station — and it’s in English! bikes have three gears and can be used for up to one hour for free (which is longer than you’ll ever need it, i would imagine) — just return and borrow another if you need to use a bike for a longer period of time.

remember, when you return to make sure the bike is locked back into place to make sure you’re not going to get charged for exceeding an hour. if you check the app again after you return it, your account should be green and say “Status Available“.

blue stations on the map indicate those that are completely full and not able to accept returns.

TIP: the Axis slopes downwards as you continue eastward. use a bike going east but UberX it going west. trust me, i discovered this the hard way.

some sightseeing hints

the city is known for its modernist architecture, so i assume if you’re going to visit, you are already a fan of that and i don’t need to go on about it.

DO DO DO go on a (free) tour of Itamaraty Palace, especially if you are a fan of modernism or minimalism in interior design (though there are some great antique objets d’art as well). i was lucky enough to get in on a Portuguese tour (get there early to sign up) thanks to remembering French from college and high school (that’s what the guide spoke, though the tour was in Portuguese and she got me signed up). if you want a tour in English, call them to confirm a time (there is no set schedule): (061) 20 30 8051.

i managed to get on a tour of the Supreme Federal Court by accident, in Portuguese only; i suspect they happen at regular intervals — just hang out in the lobby until it starts.

tours of the National Congress are only on weekdays (and in non-Portuguese according to a schedule), so i wasn’t able to make one. 🙁

the pictures

behold the tear-inducing beauty (ok, maybe that’s just me) of Oscar Niemeyer‘s work:

the cultural complex of the republic

the national library

the national museum

the cathedral of brasilia

the national congress

itamaraty palace

palace of justice

supreme federal court

three powers plaza

national theater

jk memorial

palácio do buriti

sarah kubitschek park

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