Downtown Belo Horizonte is a sight in itself, as planned cities often are. It's worth strolling the center admiring the broad avenues and smaller streets branching off at odd angles. The city center is safe and pleasant, and there are often shops to browse and cafes at which to snack.
Start with a visit to the Praça da Liberdade, located where the two broad avenues -- Avenida Brasil and Avenida Cristovão Colombo -- intersect. This was BH's central square -- deliberately modeled on Paris -- with fountains and a green central garden surrounded by official government buildings. Initially, the buildings were neoclassical, but as time wore on a modern Niemeyer building was put up, and then a postmodern pastiche was added to the mix. The square still works, though. Recently, the state government relocated to a large government compound near Confins airport, and the government buildings on the square were repurposed as museums. These include the Museum of Mineralogy, Av. Bias Fortes 50 (tel. 031/3271-3415; Wed-Sun 9am-5pm; admission R$3), and the Mineiro Museum, Av. João Pinheiro 342 (tel. 031/3269-1168; Wed-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun till 4pm; admission R$5), a neoclassical building featuring art and antiques of Mineiro origin.
Also worth a visit is the Mercado Central, Av. Augusto de Lima 744 (tel. 031/3274-9434; Mon-Sat 7am-6pm, Sun till 1pm), BH's huge covered produce and fresh meat market. There's local cachaças, cheeses, fresh fruit, and numerous little botecos. Stop by Casa Cheia, Mercado Central (tel. 031/3274-9585), for a sandwich of smoked turkey and quiabo, or smoked pork, or some homemade sausage.
The Praça de Estação (officially called Praça Rui Barbosa, but no one does) is the site of the old railway station. A suburban Metrô still operates from here, but the attraction is the neoclassical grace of the square and train station, now repurposed as the Museu de Artes e Oficios (Museum of Arts and Crafts), Praça Rui Barbosa s/n (tel. 031/3248-8600; www.mao.org.br; Wed-Fri noon-7pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm; admission R$4). The museum uses displays, actual tools, and photographs to demonstrate the ways in which craftsmen and artisans make things. It's an intriguing concept, and a lovely display space.
Farther out from the city center one finds Lake Pampulha, and the Pampulha Architectural Complex. The area took shape in the 1940s, when a progressive young mayor named Juscelino Kubitschek hired an ambitious young architect named Oscar Niemeyer to design a complex of ceremonial buildings to give some form to what was then a new neighborhood on the edge of the city. Niemeyer's curvy forms and raw concrete didn't please everyone. The wavy-topped Church of St. Francis of Assisi (closed for renovations) is now a city icon, but it took the Catholic diocese 16 years to resign itself to the design, and actually consecrate the building as a church. The vivid blue exterior tiles are by noted Brazilian artist Portinari. The other buildings in the complex are less interesting. The ex-casino is now the Museu de Artes da Pampulha (tel. 031/3443-4533; Wed-Sun 9am-5pm), which features visiting exhibits and sculptures in its garden. The small Casa de Baile, or dance hall, is now mostly closed, and anyway best appreciated from the outside.
The complex was completed in 1943. The mayor was so pleased with the results that when he became president 13 years later, he hired the same architect to design an entirely new city: Brasilia.
One of the best new sights in Belo Horizonte is Inhotim, Hwy. BR-381, Km 490, Brumadinho (tel. 031/3227-0001; www.inhotim.org.br; Wed and Fri 9:30am-4:30pm, Sat-Sun 9:30am-5:30pm; admission R$15, children 12 and under R$7.50), an hour's drive from the city center, but well worth the trip. Opened in 2008 by a wealthy Mineiro industrialist, Inhotim is at its heart a modern art museum, with some 500 works by Brazilian and international artists, dating from the 1960s onward. What makes Inhotim special is the setting: a vast and beautiful tropical landscape, much of it laid out by noted Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx. The paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, video, and sound installations are integrated into this vast tropical arcadia in innovative and intriguing ways.
It is best to travel by car to the museum. On Saturdays and Sundays you can also reach the museum by bus, departing at 9am from platform F2 of the Belo Horizonte bus station, returning at 4:30pm (R$10; 90 min.). Contact Saritur (tel. 031/3419-1800) for details.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.