Recife (‘heh-see-fee’), capital of Pernambuco, is the Northeast’s most exciting city after Salvador, with a vibrant cultural, entertainment and restaurant scene, an intriguing historic center, an impressive coastal setting, and a fabulous Carnaval. It's a sprawling, urban place of glassy high-rises, crowded commercial areas, thundering traffic and extensive suburbs; if you like your cities gutsy, gritty and proud, Recife is for you. It takes its name from the offshore recifes (reefs) that calm the waters of its ports and shoreline.
The charming and far more tranquil historic town of Olinda lies on Recife’s northern edge, just 6km from the city center, and many visitors opt to stay in Olinda and visit Recife during the day, or venture into Recife for the animated nightlife.
The city center, a jumble of office blocks, colonial churches and thronged market areas, is spread over several islands and peninsulas at the mouths of the Rio Capibaribe and other rivers, with a dozen bridges crisscrossing the waterways (which often don't smell too great). The main districts of interest here are the historic Recife Antigo on the ocean side, increasingly attractive to visit thanks to an ongoing revival program, and Santo Antônio to its west, with governmental and bustling commercial districts. After dark and on Sunday afternoon many streets in the center (except Recife Antigo) are empty. The high-rise, middle-class, beach suburb Boa Viagem, with the best range of accommodations and restaurants, begins 3km south of the center and extends about 5km along the coast. Recife’s airport is at the south end of Boa Viagem, 2km inland; the bus station is a 17km metro ride west of the center.