Picturesque Olinda, set around a tree-covered hill 6km north of Recife, is the artsy, colonial counterpart to the big city's hubbub. It’s an artist colony full of creative types and brimming with galleries, artisans’ workshops, museums, lovely colonial churches and music in the streets. With twisting streets of colorful old houses and gorgeous vistas over trees, church towers and red-tile roofs, this is one of the best-preserved and prettiest colonial towns in Brazil. The historic center has some lovely pousadas and good restaurants and bars, and makes a much more tranquil base than the bigger neighbor that stands towering in the distance.
Olinda was the original capital of Pernambuco, founded in 1535. Sacked and burnt with all its Catholic churches by the Calvinist Dutch in 1631, it was rebuilt but finally lost its ascendancy when Recife’s merchants eclipsed Olinda’s sugar barons in a bloody 18th-century feud called the Guerra dos Mascates. Although many Olinda buildings were originally constructed in the 16th century, most of what you see today dates from the 18th century and after. The whole picturesque historic center was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1982.