Belo Horizonte was one of the first planned capital cities of Brazil. Surrounded by mountains, it has nearly 2.5 million inhabitants and is famous nationwide, for its more than 14 thousand bars, called "botecos" (pubs) in Brazil.
"BH", as it is also called, is in the state capital of Minas Gerais and is also home to many works by Oscar Niemeyer, the famous Brazilian architect. One example is the "Pampulha Complex", designed in the 1940's on request by the mayor of the city at that time. The Mineirão Soccer Stadium (which will host matches during the 2014 FIFA World Cup - including Britain's last match during phase 1) is near this venue and visitors should take a moment to check out the church and the lake at the complex while visiting BH.
Some tips to make the most of your visit beyond the stadiums:
1- Being "mineiro"
The 'mineiros' (people from the state of Minas Gerais) are known for speaking slowly and being warm, welcoming people. And, in Belo Horizonte, another important feature is their passion for bars. A perfect day would start at the Central market, which sells a variety of ingredients and is a great place to meet friends for drinks. After that, Bandeirantes Avenue is the perfect spot to check out some nice pubs and celebrate life as a 'mineiro'.
2- Breathing Brazilian baroque history
During the 17th century, a gold rush took over the country. At that time, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais was the sumptuous Vila Rica, today called Ouro Preto, just 98 km away from Belo Horizonte.
Protected by the mountains, with steep cobblestone streets, luxurious colonial mansions and churches decorated with gold, Ouro Preto was declared a World Heritage Site in 1980. The city is an open air museum with works by the sculptor 'Aleijadinho' (1730-1814) and by the painter 'Mestre Ataíde' (1782-1830).
Another World Heritage Site is the Bom Jesus de Matosinhos Shrine in Congonhas, 89 km from Belo Horizonte. The stone ramp leading to the sanctuary is bordered by sculptures in soapstone representing the 12 prophets. Aleijadinho and his disciples worked on the statues between 1800 and 1805.
3- It's (almost) all about eating
Minas Gerais is also famous for its food. The local gastronomy is a very unique factor of the region and eating in Minas Gerais is almost like a religious experience. Minas is one of the major producers of cheese in the country and the pão de queijo (cheese bread) is a traditional recipe from the 18th century that should not be missed. In addition to cheese, the dough is made with cassava starch.
The sweets from this region are also famous nationwide with specialities including doce de leite, which is a special caramel. But the most traditional dessert is "Romeu e Julieta" (Romeo & Juliet), in which cheese becomes the perfect partner for goiabada, a solid paste made with guava.
Pork is another staple ingredient "mineira" cuisine - from dining on whole pigs to enjoying local sausages and "torresmos" (fried pork skin); and a perfect drink to have with such great food is "cachaça", the sugar cane Brazilian spirit.
4- A cultural city
BH is a city that offers many interesting cultural attractions. Visitors should definitely try to visit the Palácio da Liberdade; Museu das Minas e do Metal; Museu Mineiro; Espaço do Conhecimento UFMG; Centro de Arte Popular; Arquivo Público Popular and the State Public Library which is another project designed by Oscar Niemeyer.
Another interesting venue is the Museum of Arts and Crafts (MAO), situated in the old Central Railway Station in Belo Horizonte. The collection has more than two thousand items that represent the universe of arts and crafts from Brazil. Also, it's impossible not to mention Inhotim, a museum located in Brumadinho (just a few kilometres away from BH), which hosts one of the biggest collections of contemporary art in the world.
Nightlife in BH is a must too. The Mercado das Borboletas in downtown Belo Horizonte, is the place to be for the "young and cool people". The venue is often used for concerts, parties and cultural events.
Another tip is Savassi. For a large part of the population, the night starts and finishes in the district of Savassi, which offers various bars and night clubs. A more mature audience should check out the district of Santa Tereza.