A day is enough to see all that Brasilia has to offer. The heat of Brasilia's sun makes it a good idea to get an early start. The eastern half of the Eixo Monumental is where you'll find some of the best modern architecture in the world. Time your visit to be at the TV Tower around sunset. The elevator ride to the lookout is free, and from the 72m-high (240-ft.) platform you have a 360-degree view of the city. On April 21, 2010, the city celebrated its 50th anniversary and several buildings (including the Presidential Palace and the Cathedral) underwent renovations to celebrate the occasion in style.
If it's sunny, bring a hat. There is little shade, and it gets hot; also bring a water bottle, because you won't find as many street vendors as elsewhere in Brazil. If you plan on visiting the cathedral, any monuments, or government buildings, do not wear shorts or a tank top. And perhaps most importantly, be careful crossing the Eixo Monumental. Cars go fast here and you must cross a lot of lanes.
The signature buildings in Brasilia were all designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer. The strength of this Brazilian ?ber-modernist has always been with form; his structures are often brilliant. His weakness has always been detailing, materials, and landscaping. These bore Niemeyer, who prefers to work purely with bare concrete. Left to his own devices, Niemeyer creates austere, even boring, collections of pure geometry, like the new Museu Nacional or the Monument to Latin America in São Paulo. Fortunately, in Brasilia Niemeyer was teamed up with Brazil's best landscape designer, Roberto Burle Marx, and detailing- and materials-focused architects like Milton Ramos, and talented sculptors and artists like Alfredo Ceschiatti. Every building also had to conform to the overall plan of Lucio Costa. The result is a collection of buildings that has rightly been called the highest expression of architectural modernism on earth. Niemeyer's work is scattered far and wide throughout the city, but the best of the best is on the eastern portion of the Eixo Monumental, from the Rodoviario to the Praça dos Tres Poderes on the far side of the Congresso Nacional.
Several of these buildings are covered separately: the Congresso Nacional, the Catedral Metropolitana, and the Palácio do Itamaraty. Also worth mentioning is a structure that no one would ever put in a top attraction, the standard ministry buildings, 17 of which flank the Esplanada dos Ministerios like big glass-and-concrete dominoes. The idea with these boring, repetitive buildings is that they be boring and repetitive. Costa and Niemeyer had notions that this rigidly enforced equality would cut back on bureaucratic infighting (as if) and, more importantly, provide an urban fabric against which the monumental buildings would stand out. That, at least, succeeded brilliantly.
Behind the Congresso Nacional stands the wide, austere Praça dos Tres Poderes . On the north side of the square, the Palácio do Planalto is well worth a look. Visitors aren't allowed into this building, but can watch the not-very-exciting changing of the guard every 2 hours. Similar in form is the Supremo Tribunal Federal, the office of the Brazilian Supreme Court located on the other side of Three Power Plaza. The tribunal is open for guided visits, but only on weekends and holidays between 10am and 2pm.
Plazas & Parks
Behind the Congress building, the Praça dos Tres Poderes (Plaza of the Three Powers) is immediately identifiable by the huge Brazilian flag flapping 99m (330 ft.) above the hot, wide-open space below. The plaza is named for the three branches of government that surround it: the legislative branch in the Congresso Nacional , the judiciary in the Supremo Tribunal Federal, and the executive in the presidential Palácio do Planalto . The praça itself is unrelieved Niemeyer, a vast expanse of pure white stone, with nowhere to hide from the blazing Brasilia sun. Don't visit on a hot afternoon, or you'll fry. Near the front of the square there's a long white marble box about the size and shape of a truck semitrailer, but cantilevered one floor off the ground. This is the Museu de Cidade (Tues-Sun 9am-6pm; free admission). Inside it's a bare marble room with eight inscriptions on each long wall telling the story of Brasilia. No maps, no photos, just words. Next to it, below the square, is the Espaço Lucio Costa . Toward the southern side of the square is the awkward-looking Panteão da Patria Tancredo Neves (Tues-Sun 9am-6pm; free admission). The building's two interlocking rhomboids are supposed to suggest a dove, but it's hard to see. Inside the Homeland Pantheon it's dark as the tomb, with lighting only on a mural depicting the life and gruesome death of 18th-century rebel Tiradentes, and a book with brass pages, each inscribed with the name of a congressionally approved Brazilian hero. It's short reading so far -- just four pages.
Brasilia's prime leisure space, the Parque da Cidade, was landscaped by Burle Marx. The park is mostly grass fields intersected by jogging and cycle paths. You'll also find playgrounds and a small fair.
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.