Sightseeing in Niterói

Cariocas have a tendency to sneer at Niterói, typically commenting that the only good thing about the city are the views back across Guanabara Bay to Rio. While it’s certainly true that the views are absolutely gorgeous on a clear day, Niterói has plenty more to offer, not least of which is the stunning Oscar Niemeyer designed Museu de Arte Contemporânea (Tues–Fri 11am–7pm, Sat 1–9pm & Sun 1–7pm), or MAC as it is more commonly called. Opened in 1996, and located just South of downtown Niterói on a promontory by the Praia da Boa Viagem (5min. by taxi from UFF), the spaceship-shaped building offers a 360-degree view of Niterói and across the bay to Rio. The museum boasts a worthy, though hardly exciting, permanent display of Brazilian art from the 1950s to the 1990s and also hosts temporary exhibitions, but the real work of art is the building itself, which even hardened critics of Niemeyer find it difficult to dismiss offhand. The curved lines of the building are simply beautiful, and the views of the headland, nearby beaches and Guanabara Bay as you walk around inside it, breathtaking.

The Museu de Arte Contemporânea aside, Niterói has several other sights worth seeing, but they are in isolated spots throughout the city. A short distance Southwest of the ferry terminal, the Ilha da Boa Viagem (April–Dec, 4th Sun of each month, 1–5pm), connected to the mainland by a causeway leading from Vermelha and Boa Viagem beaches, offers excellent views across the bay to Rio. On the island, guarding the entrance to the bay, are the ruins of a fort, built in 1663, and opposite there’s a small chapel dating from the seventeenth century.

Praia de Jurujuba, often crowded, is reached from downtown along the beautiful bayside road. Take bus #33 (“via Fróes”). On the way, it’s worth taking a look at the Church of São Francisco Xavier, a pretty colonial church said to have been built in 1572. The church is open rather irregularly, but the priest lives next door and will open it up on request! 

A short distance southeast along the coast, through Jurujuba, is the Fortaleza de Santa Cruz dating from the sixteenth century. The largest fort guarding the bay, it’s still in use as a military establishment, but you can visit daily between 9am and 4pm. As the nearest point across the bay to Rio’s Sugar Loaf mountain, the view is particularly good from here. If you have time, also check out the Museu de Arqueologia de Itaipu (Wed–Sun 1–5pm), inthe ruins of the eighteenth-century Santa Teresa convent near Itaipu beach. Around here,to the east of Niterói, beyond the bay, there are loads of restaurants, bars and hotels, all of which fill up with cariocas on weekends!