You'll hear the phrase "Venice of Brazil" thrown around a lot in the Brazilian city of Recife. And for good reason. Vast mangrove swamps and waterways are integrated right into the fabric of city life, meaning that when you are in Recife, you'll often find yourself on a bridge, a causeway or a boat. In spite of its nickname, it wasn't Italians but other Europeans who shaped this city's history. The Portuguese founded it in 1537, while the Dutch ruled briefly in the 17th century and left their mark on the architecture. Customs, cuisine and music in this northeastern coastal city are so different from Rio and São Paulo that you might as well be in another country.
Recife is one of Brazil's largest metro areas, with distinct neighborhoods, including an old colonial core with buildings in various states of preservation. In the Boa Viagem district, where at low tide you can see the reefs that gave the city its name, a seafront boardwalk stretches for 12 kilometers (eight miles)—a favorite spot for locals to jog and bike. Recife's nearby sister city of Olinda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site popular with visitors for its hilltop views, stunning Baroque buildings, walkable cobblestoned streets and world-famous carnaval.