Recife, 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 Carnival. 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 city center is a mix 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. 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.
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.
Full of galleries, artisans' workshops, museums and music, Olinda is well renowned for its collection of craft and antique shops, boutique restaurants and cafes which can be found at either of its two commercial centres - one at the junction of the road to Monbulk and the other at the turn-off for the Mount Dandenong peak at Ridge Road.
Olinda also offers stylish accommodation establishments which are tucked away in secluded spots along the many forest roads in the area. The Dandenong Ranges National Park covers a significant area of Olinda, and offers visitors many walking tracks, BBQ and picnic facilities, and natural attractions such as the Olinda Falls and more exquisite parks.