Although Recife is the fourth-largest city in Brazil, it is less modern and cosmopolitan than its more famous counterparts. Recife and its environs have only recently become a tourist destination, so visitors are often a novelty for its inhabitants, especially those of the neighboring fishing villages.
Recife's name was derived from the Portuguese word for reef, referring simply to the city's situation behind a long and protective coastal reef. Recife is a major port city, and much of its energy and culture has its source in the constant influx and outflow of trade. High rises, colonial churches, and markets quilt the city with a mix of old and new. Often called the Venice of Brazil for its many canals, bridges, and tiny one-way streets, Recife is a wonderful city in which to wander about, letting chance provide a memorable discovery or two.
The wealthy Boa Viagem district provides a good home base. This waterfront area is Recife's real center, possessing both the city's finest beach and a wealth of fine restaurants. Much of Recife's nightlife is here, as well as in Gracas. From there, the old city can be explored as well. Beginning at the Praca da Republica, one can visit the impressive, 19th-century Teatro Santa Isabel and proceed to the Catedral de Sao Pedro dos Clerigos. After passing through the colorful Mercado do Sao Jose (Saint John's Market), visitors can wind up a walking tour of the old city at the Basilica de NS da Penha.
Recife's deep cultural roots are notable, and its traditional cultural activities should not be overlooked. Recife is one of Brazil's richest places to explore folk art and craft, including music, dance, sculpture, and painting. Its traditional handicrafts include clay figurines, wood sculptures, leather goods, and woven straw, all to be found at festivals and markets around the city as well as at theCasa da Cultura de Recife(Recife Cultural Centre).