The Pelourinho is the historic center of Salvador, Brazil, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and arguably the percussive heartbeat of Brazil.

It’s filled with colorful buildings and equally colorful people.

The cobblestone streets are lined with boutiques, museums, baroque-era churches, bars and restaurants, and live music.

Its abundance of inexpensive hostels makes it popular with the backpacking crowd.

Top 10 things to do in the Pelourinho

1. Visit the Casa do Carnaval

Inaugurated in 2018, this modern museum is a fitting tribute to the indelible print that Carnaval has left on Salvador. 

Headdresses from carnivals of years past
Headdresses from carnivals of years past, Casa do Carnaval

2. Sample traditional food

Sample the gastronomical delight that is SENAC’s traditional food (comida tiípica) buffet. Or, if a fixed menu is more your style, dine at restaurant Odoyá, another crowd favorite for traditional regional food. 

3. Shop at the boutiques of Ilyê Aiyê and Olodum

Two of the most storied afro blocos (Afro-descendant Carnaval groups) have retail shops in the Pelourinho. 

4. Listen to samba-reggae

This one is a bit of a no-brainer, as it’s almost impossible to walk through the Pelourinho and NOT hear samba-reggae. If you want to be sure not to miss it, the best time is Saturday afternoon. 

Movimento Percussivo on the streets of the Pelourinho

5. Take a photo with Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson filmed much of his video They Don’t Care About Us in the main square of the Pelourinho with Olodum. For just a few reais you can go up to the balcony where he stood and take a photo with a poster of him. Entrance is the doorway under the Michael Jackson poster.

6. Buy instruments and take a percussion class

The Pelourinho is the percussive soul of Brazil. Buy instruments from Mestre Lua, Dinho Artes, or Oficina de Investigação Músical Bira Reis. If you want to take lessons, Oficina de Investigação Músical Bira Reis contracts with various outstanding professors.

Instruments from Mestre Dinho’s shop

7. Visit one of the three incredible churches

The churches Igreja e Convento de São Francisco, Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, and the Catedral Basilica de Salvador are all stunning works of art, each with their own unique story. All are open to the public daily with a nominal admission fee of ~R$5 reais.

Tiled walls of an ancient monastery
Monastery of Igreja de São Francisco

8. Attend a traditional dance show

Balé Folclórico da Bahia is the premier folk dance company in Bahia. Their high-energy show is a spectacular cultural demonstration. Shows are nightly at 8:00 pm, and the price is R$80 reais.

9. Attend an utterly unique church service

The 6:00 pm Tuesday and 9:00 am Sunday church services at Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos are something special. They combine Christian and Candomblé traditions to create a one-of-a-kind service. Doors stay open during the service, and you can step in the back for just a few minutes in the beginning or sit and stay for the entire service. There is no dress code, and discrete filming is allowed for personal use.  

10. Visit the Afro-Brazilian History Museum

Located in the building of Brazil’s first medical school, the Afro-Brazilian history museum is filled with African, Brazilian, and Afro-Brazilian history and artifacts. While the signage is in Portuguese, the receptionists have a binder of English translations you can borrow. 

Home of the Afro-Brazilian museum, once the first medical school of Brazil

Pro tip: There are, unfortunately, panhandlers that work the Pelourinho (some are licensed, some are not). Your guiding principle should be, “you don’t get something for nothing.” If someone tries to give you a necklace or lets you play their drum or puts on a short show for you, you are expected to make a donation in return. If you say a simple “no” with a smile and a wave before you accept the “gift”, they will generally go on their way.

Get the walking map

The Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, is a true must-not-be-missed experience for every visitor to our magical city. It is the is the heartbeat of the city.

Discover the most important things to see and find your way around with ease using this handy, printable, and free map.

30+ historical, musical, and cultural attractions.

Get the map

Want even more of the Pelourinho?

My book, Discover Salvador, Brazil, has a curated walking tour of the 28 most popular sites for first-time visitors to Salvador. For each location, I’ve included what you really need to know to make the most of your time: address, opening hours, cost, and whether English-language resources are available.

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