Olinda’s sights are easy and enjoyable to visit on foot, although highly random opening hours make it impossible to look in on everything in one day. There are a lot of churches! A good place to start is Praça do Carmo, where most buses arrive. The square is overlooked by the restored Igreja NS do Carmo, built in 1580. Climb up to Alto da Sé, which affords superb views of both Olinda and Recife. The area is peppered with food, drink and craft stalls.
Festivals & Events
Olinda’s Carnaval celebrations last a full 11 days and have a spontaneity, inclusiveness and great irreverence that you don’t get in big-city Carnavals. 'Pre-Carnaval' events get going the Sunday before Carnaval weekend, with the parade of the Virgens do Bairro Novo, a bloco of more than 400 ‘virgins’ (men in drag) who are joined by up to 900,000 revelers. They start out at noon from Praça 12 de Março.
There are organized Carnaval events, including balls and gatherings of maracatu (Afro-Brazilian music with a slow, heavy beat) and afoxé (based on the rhythms and spirit of Candomblé) dance and music groups, but everything else happens in impromptu fashion on the streets, where endless groups of fabulously costumed musicians and dancers work their way through packed throngs of revelers, who often dance along to the rhythms of frevo, samba, maracatu, caboclinho or afoxé. The euphoric atmosphere and the sheer fun have to be experienced to be believed. Another famous feature of Olinda's Carnaval is the bonecos gigantes, huge puppets representing historical, cultural and other figures. A Carnaval high point is the parade of the top-hatted Homem da Meia-Noite (Man of Midnight) boneco, who emerges on Largo do Bonsucesso at midnight on Carnaval Saturday night.
Olinda has many charming accommodations including several pousadas set in historic buildings in the narrow streets of the center. Book several months ahead for accommodations during Carnaval and be prepared for massive price hikes.
A variety of good restaurants are tucked away among the old town’s cobblestone streets. A great way to start an evening is with a tasty tapioca snack and a beer or caipirinha from the myriad tapioca stands and food stalls overlooking Recife from Alto da Sé.
Drinking & Nightlife
Alto da Sé bustles in the evenings as locals and visitors buy drinks and snacks from the street vendors, watch capoeira and savor the view and the breeze. There's usually live samba, chorinho or other Brazilian rhythms somewhere in Olinda Wednesday to Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons – tourist offices have information. On Friday nights from 9pm, strolling musicians circuit through town, joined in song by onlookers, in what's known as the serenata or seresta.
Olinda is full of small shops and galleries selling a plethora of art and artisanry such as ceramics, textiles, and wood and stone carvings. Much of the work is incredibly colorful, and browsing these places is one of Olinda's great pleasures. The hub of the creative scene is Rua do Amparo, where many of the best artists and artisans have their homes, workshops and galleries.