Things to Do in Salvador da Bahia
Salvador's Mercado Modelo is a lively place stocked full of arts, crafts and touristy trinkets.
Located across the street from the restored art deco elevador lacerda (elevator) in a replica of the city’s old customs house, the market is a fun way to spend an hour or two and maybe pick up a bit of tourist tack for the folks back home.
Take a deep breath as you enter to prepare for the onslaught of vendors that’ll attempt to coax you towards their stall. It’s all pretty light-hearted so with a smile and a bit of friendly bartering, you’ll enjoy your visit here.
With its jumble of colonial buildings, cobblestone lanes, and pastel-painted façades, Pelourinho (aka Pelo) is Salvador da Bahia’s oldest and most colorful neighborhood. Despite a dark past—Pelourinho was the location of Brazil’s first slave market—the historic district is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and important cultural center.
This incredible Salvador city highlight has been beautifully restored to its original art deco wonder and as a result, has become a destination for travelers to this Brazilian town. Lacerda Elevator (Elevador Lacerda) uses four distinct elevators to link Comercio with Cidade Alta. Visitors to this towering icon can travel 72 meters in under 30 seconds—a major improvement on the rope-and-pulley elevator first used by Jesuits on this same site back in the early 1600s.
Travelers love that Lacerda Elevator connects the low city to the high city and provides stunning picture-perfect views from its apex. Visitors can look out over the historical houses and old school churches that dot the landscape, as well as the arches of the Camara Municipal building—a 17th century structure that often plays host to local cultural events.
At the northern tip of Tinharé Island, idyllic Morro de São Paulo is reachable only by boat or plane. Flanked by sandy shores and coconut palms, the car-free island town is a thriving resort, with jungle hikes, festive nightlife, and some of Bahia’s most gorgeous beaches.
In a city that’s filled with crowds of people, bustling commercial districts and an energy that can be described as nothing short of kinetic, the quiet out-of-the-way sidewalks of Dique do Tororo provide a welcome escape. Located near the south entrance of the stadium that housed the World Cup, Dique de Torro offers travelers city skyline views, easy access to some of Salvador’s most iconic African statues and plenty of historical information about the traditions of West African slaves. Plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars line the perimeter of this man-made lake, making this an ideal spot to grab a cold beer or tuck into a warm plate of traditional Brazilian cuisine. It’s possible to cross the lake by boat and travelers warn that while the place is relatively safe during daylight hours, it’s best to avoid Dique de Tororo at night.
Travelers who approach the relatively plain exterior of São Francisco Church and Convent (Igreja e Convento de São Francisco) will be amazed by the ornate artwork, fine details and gilded ceilings upon entering this iconic colonial monument. Built in the early 1700s, the church took decades to complete. Its unique interior includes three aisles, rather than the more typical two, as well as some of the most impressive pillars, vaults and golden woodwork in the country. The classic Baroque style of São Francisco Church and Convent showcases one of the most spectacular examples of religious architecture and artwork, making it a destination for traveler seeking to experience the history, beauty and artistry of another era.
Built in the late 1500s, Forte de Monte Serrat was once known as Castelo de Sao Felipe and today still serves as one of the most iconic military structures in all of Brazil. Its traditional architecture, inspired by Italian traditions, originally housed three working cannons, and later was renovated to contain nine more. During times of war, soldiers were able to protect the whole of Port Salvador from Monte Serrat’s circular interior, although in the mid-1600s, Brazilian military was unable to hold off Dutch forces and ultimately had to surrender the fort.
Travelers in search of history will find the halls of whitewashed Monte Serrat steeped in military tradition. And those less interested in the nation’s past will still enjoy the picturesque views and incredible sunsets found atop this iconic fort.
Warm waves and slow tides make the star-shaped Frades Island (Ilha dos Frades) one of Salvador de Bahia’s most popular destinations. Enjoy beaches that boast white sand and turquoise water, or hike to remote waterfalls and hilltops that offer panoramic views of the bay.
Strategically located at the sharp end of Salvador’s peninsula, the Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra is a historic military structure and lighthouse. The fort, with its recognizable black-and-white-striped lighthouse is one of Salvador’s iconic landmarks. Built in 1549, the fort is the oldest military structure in Brazil and is an example of traditional 16th-century Portuguese military architecture.
The interior of the fort has been transformed into a maritime museum, with intricate models of Portuguese ships from the days of exploration, centuries-old navigating instruments, antique maps and other pieces of history. The museum also houses exhibits on the Portuguese colony’s brutal slave trade, which brought millions across the Atlantic from West Africa.
A highlight of visiting the fort is climbing to the top of the lighthouse, which boasts panoramic views of Salvador and its beautiful coastline. The fort’s geographic location also makes it the ideal place to watch the sunset over the ocean. Every evening, locals and tourists alike gather on the lawn outside the fort to watch the sky light up as the sun dips below the horizon.
When the Portuguese Navy captain Theodozio Rodrigues de Faria and his crew survived a brutal storm at sea, the international explorer vowed to honor the saint who saved his life once he arrived on the shores of his destination. Today, the gilded halls of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church (Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim), home to a replica image of an original Portuguese statue of Christ, still stand as homage to one captain’s survival.
Travelers venture to the top of Sacred Knoll in search of similar modern miracles, making it a point of pilgrimage for visitors from across the globe. Services at Nosso Senhor do Bonfim blend old world Catholic traditions with the worshiping practices of West African slaves, making for a memorable and uniquely Brazilian Sunday morning.
More Things to Do in Salvador da Bahia
Set in a mansion in the upscale neighborhood of Vitória, the Carlos Costa Pinto Museum (Museu Carlos Costa Pinto) illuminates the luxurious, decadent lifestyle of Salvador da Bahia’s sugarcane aristocracy. Exhibits focus on the history of colonial and imperial Bahio from the 17th to 19th century, with permanent installations and a rotating selection of cultural activities.
Within day-trip distance of Salvador, the silken sands and palm-lined shores of Praia do Forte are renowned for their biodiversity. Set around a high reef, the coast is dotted with tide pools and rocky coves—a natural haven for marine life, with calm, shallow waters perfect for families with young kids.
Opened in 2013, this massive stadium, which seats some 55,000 sports fans, was built by German architects and played host to World Cup excitement in 2014. Teams from Spain, Nigeria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have all graced the green of this iconic field. And in 2016, Fonte Nova Stadium again posed as a global soccer stage during the Summer Olympics.
Travelers agree that the impressive sports structure is worth checking out. A positive police presence has increased security, making it relatively safe and easy to move around the sports Mecca. While there are few places of interest beyond the gates of Fonte Nova, guided tours—which include a behind-the-scenes look at the locker rooms and playing field where some of the world’s top soccer players have already stepped foot—make it worth a visit for soccer fans and sports fanatics alike.
Perched proudly at the end of the Barra peninsula and housed inside an ancient Portuguese fort, Barra Lighthouse (Farol da Barra) is a prime spot to view the spectacular sunsets and views across All Saints Bay (Todos os Santos).
Explore inside the lighthouse and you’ll find a small museum filled with maps, charts and artifacts – many of which were recovered from sunken European galleons that plied the seas transporting goods and slaves during the colonial days.
Admire the splendid fort (Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra), built in 1534 to defend the capital from indigenous and Dutch advances, then lie back against its old stone walls to take in the sunset over the bay.
This tropical paradise ranks high among the most popular destinations in and around Salvador. Located in the traditional fishing village of Jandaira, the sandy shores of this rural spot became famous after a Brazilian soap-opera was filmed here. Today, travelers flock to Mangue Seco, where fewer than 300 residents have been known to warmly welcome visitors from across the globe. Pristine beaches, rolling sand dunes and an off-the-beaten-path vibe make this a perfect stop for visitors to the state of Bahia. The boat trip from the mainland offers picturesque views and travelers are greeted by towering coconut trees that line stretches of untouched beach. While a trip to Mangue Seco will definitely lighten tourists’ pocketbooks, visitors agree that it’s one of the best places in Brazil to experience unspoiled tropical wonder.
The Museo Afro-Brasileiro is one of the few museums of its type in Brazil exclusively dedicated to African cultural heritage and its influence on contemporary Brazilian culture.
The museum’s collection of African artifacts ranges from maps (depicting the original slave trade routes), masks, jewelry and clothing to musical instruments, traditional games and pottery.
The candomblé exhibit is particularly fascinating as it explains the roots, icons and rituals of this colorful religion. Don’t miss the impressive wooden tablets sculpted by noted Bahian artist Carybé that depict the candomblé orixás of Bahia with their weapons and liturgical animal. Make sure you ask for an English translation booklet at the entrance.
A small colonial town set on the banks of the Paraguaçu river, Cachoeira is both the capital of Reconcavo and an important vestige of Brazil’s colonial past, and makes a popular day trip from nearby Salvador. Cachoeira’s colorful colonial buildings remain its most charming asset and the central Praça da Aclamação square is the obvious starting point for a walking tour, home to striking landmarks like the 17th-century City Hall and the baroque-style Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Rosário church.
Additional highlights of a visit to Cachoeira include taking a boat trip along the Rio Paraguaçu; crossing the bridge to neighboring São Félix where it’s possible to tour the Dannamann Cigar Factory, one of Brazil’s most popular tobacco brands; and discovering the region’s rich Afro-Brazilian heritage by watching a live candomblé show.
This tropical island, which once played host to the Sul America Tennis Open, is home to some 40 kilometers of white sandy beaches, thick green forests and stunning ocean views. Travelers used to the typical Caribbean beach scene will find that Itaparica Island (Ilha de Itaparica) offers a more rural escape, where tiny villages, scenic waterfronts and old school churches take the place of colorful beach umbrellas, pushy vendors and tourist-filled stretches of sand.
The tropical town of Mar Grande is home to bustling markets, shopping and plenty of restaurants—though visitors agree the food on Itaparica is not much to write home about. Those looking for a more traditional island getaway should head to the north coast, where the beaches are scenic and the ocean views are beautiful.
Travelers who want to experience the local and international performing arts scene flock to the Castro Alves Theater (Teatro Castro Alves), Salvador’s largest theater. This old-school architectural icon was recently redesigned and refurbished, giving it a much-needed update with some contemporary flare. And while the look has certainly changed, the global all-stars the theater attracts to its main stage remain constant.
In addition to an impressive calendar of classical music performances, international plays and world-class operas, travelers will find galleries dedicated to Salvador’s long-standing artistic history and colorful culture in the halls of Castro Alves Theater, too. Whether it’s catching a concert by Bahia’s Symphonic Orchestra or taking in the beauty and talent of Castro Theater’s Ballet Company, a visit to Castro Alves is sure to be a memorable part of any trip to Salvador.
Five rural villages and plenty of quiet sandy beaches make up the tiny Tinhare Island (Ilha de Tinharé), located in Cairu in the state of Bahia. Its palm-lined streets, tropical bars and traditional samba clubs make it a destination that’s as perfect for sun worshipers as it is for night-life lovers.
Most travelers prefer to explore the island on foot, but a single tractor provides “taxi” service around Tinhare. Scenic boat trips, ocean sailing, dolphin trekking and general beach bumming prove the main draws to this tropical island. Visitors agree that the quiet breeze, friendly locals and easy access to hammocks make Tinhare the perfect place to escape and unwind.
Cidade Alta (Upper City) contains Salvador’s largest concentration of sights. Perched on an escarpment and affording great views over the bay (Todos os Santos), it is here where you’ll find Pelourinho, Brazil’s original and restored colonial capital, Museo Afro-Brasiliero, and the São Francisco Church and Convent of Salvador.
Cidade Alta’s historic center, Pelourinho is also a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Spread over several blocks, its cobbled streets contain many notable brightly-painted colonial buildings and the area is a magnet for visitors.
You could spend all day gazing at the colonial architecture and chocolate-box exteriors, but make some time to go inside a few of the more notable buildings here. A must-see is the ‘golden church’ (São Francisco Church and Convent). Its gold interior adorned with gilt woodwork and paintings is considered to be one of the best examples of Portuguese-Brazilian Baroque.
Also not to be missed in Cidade Alta is the Museo Afro-Brasiliero. This informative museum has some fascinating exhibits that will grow your understanding of the culture, religion and people of Bahia and their African heritage.