If you ask a typical Carioca about the best of Niterói, they will answer pithily, “The view of Rio,” while if you ask a resident of Niterói about Rio, they will shudder, check if you really need to go there, and tell you to watch your wallet. Stereotypes aside, as a resident of Rio that commutes to Niterói, I have had the pleasure of getting to know the city a little better over the past few months. Surprisingly, despite my first impressions, the longer I weather the frenetic energy of Rio, the more I welcome the relative tranquility of Niterói.
For the short-haul tourist, Niterói means the Museu de Arte Contemporanea (MAC), Nieymeyer’s landmark ‘champagne glass’ modern art museum, which sits on a promontory close to Boa Viagem island. While MAC’s clean curves and shimmering night-time reflections are required viewing, the art inside the gallery is less impressive, and given its relatively isolated setting, it can leave the time-pressed tourist with very little impression of its host city. For the visitor with a less hectic schedule, it is worth considering a day trip to Niterói, and the following itinerary should help you make the most of your time.
Starting in Rio, at Praca XV, instead of opting for the more widely-used Rio-Niterói ferry, take the smaller Rio-Charitas catamaran (15-20 min). This will bring you into the far side of Guanabara Bay, near the outcrop known as Morro de Pico, directly opposite Pão de Açucar. The striking catamaran terminal in Charitas is another Niemeyer creation, and if the light is in your favour, makes a great photo opportunity. Once you have disembarked, jump on a number 33 bus and head a little further round the bay, towards the Jurujuba, getting off at the last stop. Traditionally, fishing was the primary activity in the village, with materials and skills being passed from father to son. However, as new regulations were introduced to prevent fish stock depletion, and artisanal techniques were superseded by modern methods, fishing has become a marginal activity, and many locals have been forced to seek employment in the wider urban area.
If you have any interest in military history, it is worth taking the tour of Fortaleza de Santa Cruz, a historically significant defensive fort located on the Morro (open 10am – 5pm). Otherwise, you could spend some time on the secluded ‘Adam and Eve’ beaches, tucked into some tiny coves near the fort entrance. After your morning activities, it is a good idea to take lunch in one of the renowned seafood restaurants in Jurujuba, such as ‘Berbigão’ (2714-4555), particularly if you enjoy camarões (shrimp) or moqueca (typical Brazilian fish stew).
After lunch, it is time to head into the heart of Niterói, so take the number 33 bus back towards the terminal. If you are interested in seeing the picturesque 17th Century São Xavier church, you could hop off at São Francisco, before continuing on to the centre. Otherwise, stay on the bus until Icaraí beach, and walk up round the bay until you reach MAC. The beach itself pleasant, but is mainly used for beach-sports, such as volleyball and fresco ball. The locals avoid swimming due to supposedly high levels of marine pollution, despite ardent counterclaims from the mayor of Niterói, who is no doubt keen to re-establish Icaraí as a competitor to the more popular Atlantic beaches. From here you can walk along the seafront, all the way to MAC.
From MAC, there are several options, depending on your preferences. For visitors interested in the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, it is possible to continue along the Caminho Niemeyer, where you will eventually reach the underwhelming Praça Juscelino Kubitschek, followed by his more dramatic Teatro Popular. If you are in need of some retail therapy, then take the 47B from MAC to the centre, where, despite the crowds and tatty buildings, there is a reasonable selection of shops. If you are more interested in local culture, there are several museums within walking distance, such as the Inga Museum, devoted to the art and history of Rio State. You could also visit Solar de Jambeiro, a large house with a tiled facade and stained glass windows. The garden is open to the public, and locals take advantage of the tranquillity by practicing Tai Chi or reading.
Depending on your schedule, you may want to head back to Rio by this stage. If you prefer to travel by boat, then the ferry that leaves from the centre will have you back at Praça XV in 15 minutes. If you prefer to travel by bus, or, if Praça XV is inconvenient for your final destination, then you can take a bus over the Rio-Niterói bridge (on a clear day, the views from the bridge are spectacular). The more modern ‘1001’ buses (761D, 751D and 741D) make stops all over Rio and cost R$5. However, during rain storms or rush hour, the bridge can become extremely congested, so I would recommend taking the ferry, and perhaps walking from Praça XV to the Carioca metro station, continuing your journey from there.
If, however, you are keen to spend the evening in Niterói, then you could head uphill towards the ‘Quiosque Cheiro de Mar’, near Boa Viagem, and have a few beers as the sun goes down. There are not many noteworthy restaurants in the centre of Niterói, but for the deeper-pocketed traveller, the popular Ícaro restaurant features pasta, sushi and cocktails. For late night manoeuvres, then the best option is to head to São Francisco (back on the 33, getting off near the São Xavier church). At the weekend, this part of town is heaving with revellers, and there are several clubbing options, and, assuming you can start queuing early enough, ‘La Vie’ is a safe bet for good music and local talent. If you stay out past 11:30, the ferries service stops, so you will need to wait for the less frequent 1001 buses to get back to Rio, or take a taxi.