Several miles across the bay from Rio de Janeiro is the modern city of Niterói, aka the “Smiling City”. Those who move there find it to be a refreshing change of pace from the often hectic lifestyle found in Rio, yet its proximity is also one of its attractions. Niterói also boasts the best HDI (Human Development Index) rating for the entire state and third best in all of Brazil. Such a ranking translates to great life expectancy, education and overall standard of living.
Though founded in 1573, it was only in 1835 that the city of Vila Real da Praia Grande took on its current name of Niteroí (from the Tupi Nictheroy, or “hidden waters”). Long seen by the Portuguese settlers as being important to the military strategy of the bay, Niterói gradually came to be home to seven military forts. It could easily be argued that what protected the city more than the forts was its status.
From 1834 to as recently as 1975, the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro was actually Niterói, and not the city of Rio de Janeiro, as it is today. Along with the status that comes with being the capital, Niterói was rigorously developed and eventually was given the prestigious title of Imperial City by Dom Pedro II, bestowing it with semi-autonomy and regional powers. In 1974, one year before losing its capital status, the city received a large round of investment aimed at further urban development due to the completion of the Rio-Niterói Bridge. The bridge turned an inland trek of 62 miles into an over-water trip of 8 miles. While the bridge itself is impressive, better impressions await upon arrival in Niterói.
Stretching for a little over 2 miles along the coast of Niterói is the Caminho Niemeyer where the second largest collection of famous Brazillian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s structures are located. The star of the six structures is definitely the spaceship-looking MAC (Museum of Contemporary Art, or “Macky” as it is called locally). When most Brazilians think of Niterói, the MAC is what comes to mind. The shape, while modern, takes full advantage of the panoramic view afforded by its location and, at night, the illuminated pond below makes it look a little more out-of-this-world.
Ask anyone from Niterói who knows what’s cool which beach is the best and you’ll likely hear about a place called Itacoatiara. A mere thirty minutes east of the city center and surrounded by the Serra da Tiririca (no relation to the clown) park, it was once a neighborhood full of summer beach houses. The area now serves as permanent housing for middle to high income families who benefit from the rigid construction laws imposed on it which limit the number and size of new buildings. The green-blue water and the golden sand is what attracts average beach-goer but it’s the multiple point breaks slightly further out that makes “Itacoa” the perfect spot for surfing (and a bit dangerous for the casual swimmer).
Parque da Cidade
The best view of Rio is arguably not from Rio. The Parque da Cidade (lit. Park of the City) is in a protected area almost 1,000 feet up and has its own natural spring. The main attraction, of course, is the lookout offering views of Niterói’s beaches, the Rio-Niterói bridge and of Rio across the bay. Coming in a close second is the jumping-off point for the fearless at heart. That’s right, for those who may have hang-glided off of Pedra Bonita in Tijuca National Park in Rio, the Parque da Cidade has its own ramp aimed at practicing parapente (para-gliding). If you aren’t as daring, the picture above offers other possibilities.
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Suppose it’s also important to mention that aside from the bridge, there’s a ferry that frequently traverses the bay from downtown Rio to Niterói on a daily basis. Cost is R$2.80 and it takes around 15 min. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mary_velloso/4298312717/