Edith Held/Corbis

A definitive insider’s guide to the host cities of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

From June 12 to July 13, the FIFA world cup is finally returning to soccer’s most sacred ground: Brazil (according to Brazilians, anyway). Not since 1950 has the South American giant hosted the world’s most popular soccer tournament, and an ambitious 12 host cities spread across nearly 1,250 miles as the crow flies — from the Amazonian capital of Manaus to Porto Alegre in the deep Brazilian South — have been chosen to host the party. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but here’s to making the best of Brazil in this summer of soccer. 

Brazil’s futuristic capital was sculpted out of nowhere in the heart of Brazil’s interior in the 1950s by then-President Jucelino Kubitschek, architect Oscar Niemeyer, urban planner Lucio Costa and landscape architect Burle Marx.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Mangai is an excellent por kilo (pay-by-weight restaurant) that features scrumptious regional cuisine, with a focus on Northeastern dishes like baião-de-dois (a kitchen-sink mix of rice, beans, sun-dried beef and herbs and spices). Choperia Maracanã, named after Brazil’s most famous futebol stadium, is all about futebol and samba. Expect long lines to get in during World Cup matches.

Where to Shop: The Feira de Artesanato da Torre (Tower Fair), next to Brasília’s TV Tower, is a great handicrafts fair open from Thursday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

To / From the Stadium: The newly renovated Estádio Nacional de Brasília Mané Garrincha (National Stadium of Brasília Mane Garrincha)  is an easy 20-minute walk northwest from Brasília’s hotel sectors.

The Details

SCE Sul, Next to JK Bridge
Feira de Artesanato da Torre (Tower Fair)
Eixo Monumental Norte/Sul
Choperia Maracanã 
CLN 207 - Bloco A - Loja 4
Estádio Nacional de Brasília Mané Garrincha 
SDN - Estádio Nacional Mané
Garrincha - Asa Norte

Sweltering Manaus is planted at the confluence of the massive Negro and Solimões rivers, smack-dab in the middle of the largest tropical rain forest on Earth. A former rubber boomtown, it’s now the main launching point for trips deeper into the Amazon jungle. 

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Banzeiro, famous for chef Felipe Schaedler’s award-winning ribs of tambaqui (a tasty river fish), is the city’s gastro must, but don’t skip Choupana, where you can try tasty tacacá, a soup made from jambu (a mouth-numbing indigenous herb), tucupi (a manioc broth) and dried shrimp. Air conditioning will be a concern here, so head straight to Touchdown for game watching, where at least 15 TV screens will be tuned in to the World Cup in a pleasant, climate-controlled environment.

Where to Shop: Galeria Amazônica is a fantastic spot to pick up genuine, high-quality Amazonian artisan fare, including pottery, basketwork and folk art.

To / From the Stadium: The new 44,500-capacity Arena da Amazônia  is 3.5 miles or so north of the historic city center and the banks of the Rio Negro. Take a taxi.

The Details

Rua Libertador, 102 - Nossa Senhora
das Graças
Galeria Amazônica
Rua Costa Azevedo, 272 - Centro
Av. Mario Ypiranga, Adrianópolis
Arena da Amazônia
Av. Djalma Batista, 3637 - Flores
Av. Rio Branco, 285 - Conj. Vieiralves

Decky, in the tourist-friendly beach neighborhood of Ponta Negra, is the spot to watch World Cup matches.

A wind-swept seaside oasis of calm as far as big Brazilian cities go, Natal is surrounded by large expanses of towering sand dunes and caters more than anything to packaged family tourism. It’s not notably sexy, but the sun is shining and the beach is beautiful.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Camarões Potiguar is one of Natal’s most popular restaurants, and shrimp lovers might mistake it for heaven, since the menu leans heavily on the coast’s delectable crustaceans. Decky, in the tourist-friendly beach neighborhood of Ponta Negra, is the spot to watch World Cup matches — and it offers sea views to boot. The massive outdoor patio is guaranteed to be shimmering and shaking like a samba band in a cyclone during the World Cup matches. 

Where to Shop: The Artesanato Vilarte in Ponta Negra is a minimall featuring more than 50 shops dedicated to the wares of regional artisans.

To / From the Stadium: The new 42,000-seat Arena das Dunas sits halfway between the city center and Ponta Negra. City buses 31, 39 and 41 will deposit you nearest the stadium.

The Details

Camarões Potiguar 
Rua Pedro Fonseca Filho,
8887 - Ponta negra
Arena das Dunas 
Av. Prudente de Morais,
5121 - Lagoa Nova
Av. Engenheiro Roberto Freire, 9100 - Ponta Negra
Artesanato Vilarte 
Av Engenheiro Roberto Freire, 2107 - Ponta Negra

Get Your Brazilian Bearings

Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest country, smaller than the USA (No. 3) but bigger than Australia (No. 6). The Federative Republic of Brazil — its official name in English — is made up of 26 states and one federal district. Of these, just under half are hosting World Cup matches across 12 cities, all of which are the capitals of their respective states. For orientation purposes, each city’s Centro district is its downtown (i.e., the city center), and in most cases it’s where the majority of lodgings, restaurants and World Cup action will be — other than at the stadiums themselves, which often sit outside Centro in less cramped neighborhoods. Praça is the Portuguese word for “plaza” (a town square), so you’ll see it frequently. And, if you get lost, Brazilians will always be helpful — sometimes too helpful (they will often point you one way or another when they actually have no idea either). But uttering the occasional bom dia/boa tarde/boa noite (good morning/afternoon/evening) and obrigado (thank you) will go a long way to show you’re not just there to drain the host cities of their caipirinhas on your way to the matches. What’s a caipirinha? If you have to ask this, then you’re in for a treat. Brazil’s ubiquitous national cocktail is made with cachaça (liquor distilled from sugarcane), limes and sugar and is inescapable. Saúde!

Belo Horizonte
Known locally as Beagá (pronounced ‘bay-ah-gah,’ Portuguese for its initials of BH), Belo Horizonte is Brazil’s third-largest city and the modern state capital of Minas Gerais, a region known for its extra-­hospitable people and hearty regional fare. It’s also a jumping-off point for some of Brazil’s most dazzling colonial towns, including Ouro Preto and Tiradentes.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: To sample the robust local cuisine for which Minas is famous, head straight to Xapuri, where chef Doña Nelsa’s Mineira staples — frango com quiabo (chicken with okra), carne na panela (stewed beef), tutu a Mineira (mashed black beans with onions, garlic and seasonings) — are seen as national treasures. For bar hopping during games, look no farther than the neighborhood of Savassi, where the extraordinary concentration of botecos (restaurant-bar hybrids of Portuguese origins) helped earn the city its nickname, Cidade dos Bares (City of Bars).

Where to Shop: Centro de Artesanato Mineiro (Craft Center of Minas Gerais, or CEART) has the city’s best selection of regional handicrafts.

To / From the Stadium: The completely renovated Minas Arena (nicknamed Mineirão) is about 5.5 miles north of Centro in the residential area of Pampulha. Bus 64 (Estacão Venda Nova) from Ave Bias Fortes 1536 in central BH is your best bet from Centro, but a taxi is probably easiest.

The Details

Rua Mandacarú, 260 - Pampulha
Centro de Artesanato Mineiro
Av. Afonso Pena, 1537 - Centro
Minas Arena
Av. Antônio Abrahão Caram, 1001 - Pampulha

Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s cinematic superstar — a trifecta of sun, sand and samba synonymous with paradise the world over. It’s home to a hedonistic population that enjoys the good life bookended by world-class urban beaches and dramatic rain forest-draped mountaintops.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Aprazível  in Santa Teresa is a longtime favorite for Brazilian cuisine and wow-inspiring views. Aconchego Carioca is an outstanding boteco for excellent Brazilian cuisine and local microbrews. For foodies, Roberta Sudbrack and Oro are the two hottest tables in town. For World Cup matches, head to Caneco 70, a recently reopened Rio classic named as a homage to Brazil’s 1970 World Cup trophy. Mud Bug Sports Bar, with two Copacabana locations, is also always packed for soccer matches. 

Where to Shop: Leblon’s Maria Oititica fashions lovely handmade jewelry from native Amazonian materials. La Vereda Artes e Semelhontes in Santa Teresa specializes in exquisite handicrafts from all over Brazil. And the Hippie Fair, also in Ipanema, is a must for local wares, souvenirs and artwork every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

To / From the Stadium: The newly renovated Estádio do Maracanã is Brazil’s futebol mecca, a hallowed sports ground where any result other than a Brazilian championship in the World Cup final will be more devastating than the black plague. Metro station Maracanã drops you right at its doorstep.

The Details

Rua Aprazível, 62 - Santa Teresa
Mud Bug Sports Bar 
Rua Rodolfo Dantas, 16 - Copacabana
Aconchego Carioca 
Rua Barão de Iguatemi,
379 - Praca da Bandeira
Maria Oititica 
Shopping Leblon, Av. Afrânio de Melo Franco, 290 loja 112b - Leblon
011- 55-21-2275-4197
Roberta Sudbrack 
Av. Lineu de Paula Machado,
916 - Jardim Botânico
La Vereda Artes e Semelhontes Rua Almirante Alexandrino,
428 - Santa Teresa
Rua Frei Leandro, 20 - Jardim Botânico
Hippie Fair 
Praça General Osório, Ipanema
Caneco 70 
Rua Rainha Guilhermina, 48 - Leblon
Estádio do Maracanã 
Rua Professor Eurico Rabelo, Maracanã

Porto Alegre
Brazil’s southernmost capital is a bustling port city on the banks of the freshwater Lagoa dos Patos. This is gaúcho (cowboy) country, where Brazilians speak differently, imbibe far better beers, prefer chimarrão (maté tea) over espresso and take their barbecue very, very seriously.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Atelier de Massas is a Porto Alegre institution that serves up delectable fresh pastas in an old-school Italian setting. Chalé da Praça XV, an 1855 Victorian-style chalet and beer garden sitting right in the heart of Centro, has been slinging suds since 1911. Also in the area is Brechó do Futebol, part football shop, part tiny-but-extreme football bar.

Where to Shop: Porto Alegre’s bustling Mercado Público is the city’s downtown focal point and a great urban market to pick up local souvenirs — and anything else you might need.

To / From the Stadium: The newly revamped Estádio Beira-Rio  rises from the riverbank of the Guaiba River, 2.5 miles south of Centro. It’s reachable by 25 different bus lines.

The Details

Atelier de Massas
Rua Riachuelo, 1482 - Centro
Mercado Público 
Av. Júlio de Castilhos, Centro
Chalé da Praça XV 
Praça 15 Novembro, s/n - Centro
Estádio Beira-Rio 
Av. Padre Cacique, 891 - Praia de Belas
Brechó do Futebol 
Rua Coronel Fernando Machado,
1188 - Centro

Atelier de Massas is a porto Alegre institution that serves up delectable fresh pastas in an old-school Italian setting. 

Centro Dragao do Mar

This beachside metropolis in the Northeastern state of Ceará boasts a beautiful 21-mile coastline and a population of 3.7 million that includes retirees, surfers and beach bums alike. 

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Colher de Pau is the city’s best for tasty regional Northeastern cuisine with distinct seafood leanings. Fortaleza’s famous megabarracas -— massive beach bars — are legendary throughout Brazil. Crocobeach is the most well known of the bunch, so expect massive game parties. For something less sandy, Boteco Praia is sure to be a wild spot during important games.

Where to Shop: Pick up regional handicrafts like delicate lace (a tradition brought over from Portugal), ceramics and carnauba palm fronds at CEART, inside the city’s finest cultural center, Centro Dragão do Mar .

To / From the Stadium: The 67,000-capacity Arena Castelão is about seven miles inland from the beach. On the city’s new subway, MetroFor, catch the red Sul line to Parangaba station; from there, they might have dedicated buses to the stadium. If not, grab a taxi for the last five miles.

The Details

Colher de Pau 
Rua Ana Bilhar, 1178 - Varjota
Centro Dragão do Mar 
Rua Dragão do Mar, 81 - Praia de Iracema
Av. Zeze Diogo, 3125 - Praia do Futuro
Arena Castelão 
Av. Alberto Craveiro, 2901 - Castelão
Boteco Praia
Av. Beira Mar, 1680 - Meireles

Unlike most big Brazilian cities, Curitiba concedes to form and function: The capital of Paraná state has been held as a world reference in urban planning since the 1970s, when forward-thinking Mayor Jaime Lerner streamlined public transport, pedestrianized the downtown area (under cover of darkness) and encouraged sustainable design and urban parks decades before the rest of us. 

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Manu is the showcase kitchen for one of Brazil’s hottest young chefs, Manoella Buffara. With stints at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Alinea in Chicago under her apron, Buffara gives traditional Brazilian cuisine a modern kick. Folha Seca, named after the nickname of beloved Didi (from Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup winning teams), is a powerhouse football bar just two blocks from the stadium. 

Where to Shop: Curitiba’s beautiful and historic Largo da Ordem hosts the massive Feira do Largo da Ordem every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is a must for wares that include everything from paintings to jewelry to local decorative arts.

To / From the Stadium: The newly renovated Arena da Baixada is just south of downtown and an easy 1.5-mile walk from Praça Tiradentes landmark in Centro.  

 The Details

Al. Dom Pedro II, 317 - Batel
Feira do Largo da Ordem
(Largo da Ordem Fair)
Rua Kellers, 160 - São Francisco
Folha Seca 
Rua Petit Carneiro,
394 - Água Verde
Arena da Baixada
Rua Bueno Aires,
1260 - Água Verde

Near-frozen chope (draft beer) served in signature iced tankards are the calling at Choppão.

The capital of Mato Grosso state is the northern gateway to the Pantanal, the largest freshwater swamp on the planet and one of Brazil’s most special places to visit. The smallest of the World Cup host cities, it’s a hot and humid urban-cowboy town with a frontier feel.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Peixaria Popular is a perennial favorite for regional Pantaneiro river fish like dourado and pacu. Regionalíssimo,- in the Museu do Rio, hosts a fantastic buffet of regional dishes like mujica (catfish in yuca sauce) and carne seca com abóbora (dried beef with pumpkin). Near-frozen chope (draft beer) served in signature iced tankards are the calling at Choppão, a Cuiabá institution and a guaranteed World Cup hot spot.

Where to Shop: The SESC Casa do Artesão (Craftsman House) features seven themed rooms of Pantaneiro handicrafts and regional spirits like pequi fruit crème liquors.

To / From the Stadium: Cuiabá’s new multiuse Arena Pantanal (nicknamed “O Verdão,” or “The Big Green”), two miles west of Centro, is the most sustainable of Brazil’s new stadiums. It’s best reached on foot or by taxi.

The Details

Peixaria Popular
Av. São Sebastião, 2324 - Popular
SESC Casa do Artesão 
Rua 13 de Junho, 315 - Centro Norte
Regionalíssimo/Museu do Rio 
Av. Manoel José de Arruda, Museu do Rio
Arena Pantanal
Av. Agricola de Barros - Cidade Alta
Praça 8 de Abril, 44 - Goiabeiras

Unpolished yet flush with a bygone air of colonial refinement, gritty Recife is the Northeast’s cradle of culture and the capital of Pernambuco state. It retains a fascinating historical center (Recife Antigo) and an affluent pedigree in music and arts, though most folks linger in the nearby colonial town of Olinda.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Parraxaxá is a fabulous por kilo offering a cornucopia of regional Northeast cuisine, but consider -Camarada as well, where Pernambuco’s coastal shrimp is showcased in a dizzying array of dishes. Both are in the upscale seaside neighborhood of Boa Viagem. To watch among the masses, head to Portal do Derby — its expansive outdoor patio is one of the city’s best for watching soccer. For something cozier, Underground sport bar is your spot.

Where to Shop: Recife’s Casa da Cultura, housed in a former colonial-era prison, is like shopping for regional wares in a museum.

To / From the Stadium: Of the World Cup venues, the new 46,000--capacity Arena Pernambuco is the farthest stadium from points of interest, some 12 miles from the city center in the western suburb of São Lourenço da Mata. Metro station Cosme e Damião is just 1.5 miles from the stadium.

The Details

Av. Fernando Simões Barbosa,
1200 - Boa Viagem
Av. Boa Viagem, 618 - Boa Viagem
Rua Baltazar Pereira 130,
1º Jardim - Boa Viagem
Casa da Cultura 
Rua Floriano Peixoto, s/n - Santo Antonio
Portal do Derby 
Rua Clemente Pereira, s/n - Derby
Arena Pernambuco 
Av. Deus é Fiel, 01 loja A - Jardin Penedo,
São Lourenço da Mata - PE

Brazil’s most culturally rich host, Salvador (in the state of Bahia) was once the magnificent capital of Portugal’s great New World colony. Today, it oozes history and Afro-Brazilian culture, especially in the historic UNESCO World Heritage-designated neighborhood of Pelourinho, where you’ll find cobblestone streets, 17th- and 18th-century architecture and churches paved with gold.

Where to Eat & Watch Games: Bahia’s most famous street food, acarajé (black-eyed pea fritters stuffed with vatapá a creamy paste of shrimp, peanuts, coconut milk and dendê oil), should not be missed at Casa Da Dinha. Indulge in Brazil’s best regional dish moqueca (seafood stew) at modest Donana. For World Cup matches, Pelourinho is sure to be the center of the action, but you can also head to Fayola Bar in the nightlife bairro of Rio Vermelho, three miles south, for a little breathing room.

Where to Shop: The most interesting spot to hunt for local handicrafts is the Mercado Modelo, a two-story market in a historic building that once held slaves.

To / From the Stadium: The 55,000-seat Arena Fonte Nova is a 15- to 20-minute walk from Pelourinho. 

The Details

Casa Da Dinha 
Rua João Gomes, 25 - Largo de Santana, Rio Vermelho
Mercado Modelo
Praça Visconde de Cayru,
250 - Comercio
Av. Teixeira Barros - Centro Comercial Conj dos Comerciários - Brotas
Arena Fonte Nova 
Ladeira da Fonte das Pedras, s/n - Nazaré
Fayola Bar 
Rua Alexandre de Gusmão,
116 - Rio Vermelho

For World Cup matches, Pelourinho is sure to be the center of the action. 
the historic Unesco World Heritage-designated neighborhood of Pelourinho
City Image/Alamy

São Paulo 
The Southern Hemisphere’s largest city in the state of the same name is the beating heart of Brazil, a monster economy-driving megalopolis of 21 million people, 12,500 restaurants, 15,000 bars — you get the picture. Sampa (as it’s known to the locals) is an absolute concrete jungle of culture and craziness. 

Where to Eat & Watch Games: You’ll find 52 types of cuisine here, but we’ll stick with the best homegrown offerings: Brasil a Gosto and Tordesilhas, both in Jardins, are memorable midrange choices. Foodies flock to Maní in Pinheiros and D.O.M., also in Jardins, for the best of cutting-edge Brazilian cuisine. And it’s worth a trip to the suburbs for darling chef Rodrigo Oliveira’s regional Northeastern at Mocotó. São Cristóvão in Vila Madalena is football headquarters in the heart of Sampa’s most vibrant nightlife district. Pubs like All Black Irish Pub and Blue Pub will also be rowdy on match days.

Where to Shop: Casa da Vila in Vila Mariana is a real charmer for sustainable, Fair Trade Brazilian handicrafts, representing artisans from every state of Brazil.

To / From the Stadium: The new Arena de São Paulo (Arena Corinthians) is known on the street as “Itaquerão,” and it hugs the end of the metro red line 11 or so miles east of Centro in Itaquera. It will host the opening match of the World Cup, Brazil vs. Croatia, on June 12. 

The Details

Brasil a Gosto 
Rua Professor Azevedo
Amaral, 70 - Jardins
São Cristóvão 
Rua Aspicuelta 533, Vila Madalena
Al. Tietê, 489 - Jardins
All Black Irish Pub
Rua Oscar Freire, 163 - Jardins
Rua Joaquim Antunes, 210 - Jardim Paulistano
Blue Pub
Al. Ribeirão Preto, 384 - Bela Vista
 011-55-11-3284 8338
Rua Barâo de Capanema, 549 - Jardins
Casa da Vila 
Rua Capitão Cavalcanti, 82 - Vila Mariana
Av Nossa Senhora do Loreto, 1100 -
Vila Medeiros
Arena de São Paulo (Arena Corinthians)
Av Miguel Inácio Curi,
111 - Vila Carmosina

In addition to the traditional futebol bars we have recommended around Brazil, look out for each city’s Fan Fest — large, outdoor spaces dedicated to colorful World Cup festivities and showing games on massive projection screens. At press time, Recife's Fan Fest had been announced as cancelled, but it was later reinstated. For a complete list of FanFest locations, see below.

FIFA Fan Fest Locations:
1. Belo Horizonte
7. Natal
Praia do Forte
2. Brasília
8. Porto Alegre
Anfiteatro Pôr do Sol
3. Cuiabá
Parque de Exposicoes
9. Recife
Cais da Alfandega
4. Curitiba
Pedreira Paulo Leminski
10. Rio de Janeiro
Praia de Copacabana
5. Fortaleza
Praia de Iracema (Aterrão)
11. Salvador
6. Manaus
Ponta Negra
12. São Paulo
Vale do Anhagabau