10 Top Tourist Attractions in Salvador

As the capital of the state of Bahia and the largest city in northeastern Brazil, Salvador was the first city in Brazil’s colony. Founded in 1549, the early town sat on a bluff reachable only on steep climbing tracks from the harbor almost directly below on the large bay called Baía de Todos os Santos. Today, this ancient city is still filled with colonial buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries that have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find the most beautiful churches and monasteries of Salvador, which are among the main tourist attractions.

Salvador was the capital of Brazil until 1763, when it was succeeded by Rio de Janeiro, and for three centuries it was the main port for slaves arriving from Africa. People of African descent still make up the majority of the population, and African influence is evident in Salvador’s music, festivals and cuisine, as well as religious groups such as Candomblé and Umbanda.

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1 pillory

Pillory
 

Salvador’s Cidade Alta (Upper Town), the center of government and housing when the city was the capital of Brazil’s colony, sits 85 meters above the coast on a slope. At its heart, in the district known as Pelourinho, lies the most beautiful ensemble of 17th and 18th century colonial buildings in Latin America, so remarkable that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Rua are Gregório de Matos the Museu da Cidade (City Museum), with life-size figures of Candomblé used in ceremonial dances, and the Abelardo Rodrigues Museum , with sacred and folk art, housed in a mansion built in 1701. Prédio do Senacis a school of gastronomy where you can taste typical Bahian dishes; In the evening, you can often find dance performances and other folkloric events here. Also in the Pelourinho district is the Casa de Benin , dedicated to the culture of the ancient kingdom of Benin (now southern Nigeria), most of whose slaves were shipped to Bahia.

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2 San Francisco

San Francisco
San Francisco
 

In a city known for its strikingly ornate churches, São Francisco stands out as the most highly decorated, the interiors awash in gold-covered carvings. The gilding of the main altar is so ornate that it took two years to complete. Mixing Mannerist and Baroque styles, the church was built between 1708 and 1750. The ceiling is painted in scenes and themes related to the Virgin Mary, and the choir combines detailed carvings with azulejo (tiling) pictures. The walls of the adjoining square cloister are also faced with beautiful Portuguese azulejo images.

Right next to the church is the impressive carved facade of the Igreja da Terceira Ordem de Sao Francisco , church of the Franciscan Third Order. Statues of saints and angels and other sculptural decoration covering the face of the church, along with the lavish furnishings of the interior, surpass the Portuguese and Italian Baroque, resembling the Spanish Churrigueresque style so popular in colonial Mexico.

Adres: Cruzeiro de Sao Francisco, Salvador, Bahia

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3 Elevador Lacerda (Elevator to Upper Town)

Elevador Lacerda (Elevator to Upper Town)
Elevador Lacerda (Elevator to Upper Town)
 

The upper and lower towns are connected by steep streets and a number of lifts, including the Plano Inclinado de Gonçalves (a funicular railway) and the Elevador Lacerda, an impressive free-standing lift that has become a Salvadoran landmark. Built in 1930, the Art Deco elevator connects Praça Cairu in the port area with Praça Tomé de Souza in the historic old town. From the terrace formed by the upper square, Praça Tomé de Souza, there is a beautiful view of the lower town and the port. Praça Tomé de Souza features a number of 17th-century buildings, including striking white Palácio Rio Branco , one of Brazil’s most historic palaces and formerly the seat of the Bahian government.

Address: Praça Tomé de Souza, Salvador, Bahia

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4 cathedral

Cathedral Rosino / photo modified
Cathedral Rosino / photo modified
 

Op de Terreiro de Jesus, aangrenzend Praça da Sé, is the cathedral, originally the church of the former Jesuit college, which was built between 1604 and 1656. The facade was faced with stones brought from Portugal as ballast and the interior was decorated in the Baroque style in the 18th century. The side chapels of the nave are especially interesting for the variety of art in the altarpieces, which date from the late 16th century to the mid-18th century. The sacristy is richly furnished and decorated in the Baroque style, with 17th-century azulejos (Portuguese picture tiles) and painted ceiling panels. Formerly the Jesuit seminary was the largest of its kind outside of Rome, and it is interesting to tour for its monasteries and quarters. Also on the Terreiro de Jesus are the 1709 Church of São Pedro dos Clérigos andSão Domingos de Gusmão , a 1731 Dominican church with a Rococo facade.

Address: Terreiro de Jesus, Salvador, Bahia

Jesuit College Map
Jesuit College Map
 

5 Church of the Third Order of Carmo (Carmelite Church)

Church of the Third Order of Carmo (Carmelite Church) | Photo auteursrecht: Stillman Rogers Photography
Church of the Third Order of Carmo (Carmelite Church) | Photo auteursrecht: Stillman Rogers Photography
 

The original Carmelite church on this site was built from 1580 but burned in 1788 and was rebuilt forty years later. Its architecture is classic baroque, with elegant lines and twin bell towers, but it is best known for its magnificent sacristy, a chamber almost entirely clad in gold. It now houses a museum of sacred art, the most notable of which is the cedar wood statue of Christ in chains is by Francisco Manuel das Chagas, known as O Cabra, a slave who became a notable sculptor in the 18th century. Carved in 1710, the statue is encrusted with more than 1,000 rubies, each representing a drop of Christ’s blood. The architectural and decorative features of the large and beautiful cloister next to the church have been carefully preserved as a luxury hotel.

Address: Largo do Carmo, Salvador, Bahia

6 Church of Senhor do Bonfim

Church of Senhor do Bonfim
Church of Senhor do Bonfim
 

One of Bahia’s most popular churches is the Igreja do Senhor do Bonfim, built in 1745-54. It is also the scene of a colorful festival. The ex-voto room of the church contains thousands of votive offerings and gives thanks to Senhor do Bonfim for miracles performed. At the end of January, a huge procession of people from Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia makes their way to the Church of Senhor do Bonfim, where they wash the steps leading to the entrance. On the Monday following this wash, the Festa do Bonfim is celebrated with typical local food and drink, samba de roda dancing and performances of capoeira, a unique Brazilian martial art that combines acrobatics and dance.

Address: Praça Senhor do Bonfim, Salvador, Bahia

7 the beach

the beach
the beach
 

Salvador is located on a peninsula that separates the large natural harbor of Baía do Todos Santos (All Saints Bay) from the Atlantic Ocean. Both the bay and ocean shores are lined with white sand beaches where locals go to hang out, picnic, surf and swim. The beaches on the bay are protected and good for swimming, while those on the open ocean offer plenty of waves for surfers.

Closest to the city center is Porto da Barra , the site of Bahia’s first European settlement and a popular meeting place for locals, and Praia do Farol da Barra , with rocky pools at the lighthouse and good surfing conditions at the far end. In a lively area with many restaurants near the beach, Praia do Rio Vermelho is popular. South of the city are three coastal islands, of which Tinharé and Boipeba have long palm-fringed beaches sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean. Praia do Farol de Itapoa, near the beautiful lagoon of Abaté, has huge dunes and wide protected beaches with white sand. As everywhere, it is advisable not to leave anything of value unattended on the beach.

8 Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Blacks

Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Blacks
Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Blacks
 

Construction of this beautiful Baroque church began in 1704, when the King of Portugal gave the land to the Irmandade dos Homens Pretos (Brotherhood of Black Men). Because many of the workers were slaves and could only work at night after their normal labor was completed, the building progressed slowly for nearly a century. It was not until 1870 that the façade (which is now painted sky blue) and the towers were started. The church was for the black population, both slaves and freed slaves, who were not allowed to worship in the other churches of the city. Inside, you’ll find 18th-century statues of black saints and a slave graveyard behind the church.

Address: Largo do Pelourinho, Salvador, Bahia

9 Cidade Baixa (Lower Town)

Cidade Baixa (Lower Town)
Cidade Baixa (Lower Town)
 

At the foot of the Elevador Lacerda, Salvador’s commercial and business center stretches along the harbor, from which you can take a boat to visit Forte São Marcelo , built in 1623. Near the elevator is the imposing baroque church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia , built between 1739 and 1765 from pedra de lioz, a marble-like stone brought from Portugal as ballast in the sailing ships that carried Brazilian products back to Europe. The ceiling painting in the nave, executed by José Joaquim da Rocha in 1773, is a masterpiece of trompe-l’oeil. Inside the church is a museum of sacred art.

Browse the Mercado Modelo for local handicrafts and the labyrinth of stalls in Feira de São Joaquim to see the ingredients and flavorings for local dishes, or try some at the lunch counters. Several museums are in this neighborhood, including the Museu de Arte de Bahia ; the Carlos Costa Pinto Museum exhibiting 17th-19th century shop windows and jewelry; and the Solar do Unhão, a colonial building housing the Museum of Modern Art . The Palácio da Aclamação , the former residence of the governor of Bahia, has beautiful gardens and a luxurious interior that is open to the public as a museum.

10 Santa Teresa and the Museum of Sacred Art

The Church of Santa Teresa was built from 1666 to 1697, modeled on the Gesó Church in Rome. The adjoining former convent of Discalced Carmelites now houses the Museum of Sacred Art, with an important collection of 17th- to 19th-century portrait sculpture in clay, wood, ivory, soapstone and lead. Particularly impressive are the carved figures and reliquaries of the Benedictine monk Agostinho da Piedade, particularly the reliquary chest of St. Lucia circa 1630, one of the earliest examples of silver portrait sculpture in Brazil. The museum also contains works by the sculptor-monk Agostinho de Jesus and paintings by the school of Cuzco and works by the great colonial painters Jose Joaquim da Rocha, José Teófilo de Jesus and Ricardo do Pilar.

Address: Rua Sodré, Salvador, Bahia

Where to Stay in Salvador for Sightseeing

We recommend these charming hotels in Salvador near the city’s best historical sites:

  • Villa Bahia: luxury boutique hotel, excellent old town location, individually decorated rooms, antique furniture, outdoor pool.
  • Aram Yami Hotel: 4-star boutique hotel, eclectic decor, pillow menus, luxury toiletries, delicious complimentary breakfast, two pools.
  • Sheraton da Bahia – Hotel Salvador: mid-range price, excellent customer service, two beautiful pools, a 24-hour fitness center, and a full-service spa.
  • Bahiacafe Hotel: budget-friendly hotel, historic center, colonial-style building, colorful decor.
Salvador Map - Attractions
Salvador Map – Attractions

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