A captivating coastal paradise on Brazil’s northeastern tip, Natal combines all of the attractions of a busy city with stunning natural scenery.
Best known for its extensive coastal sand dunes, Natal also buzzes with urban energy, with tons of cultural attractions and events to enjoy throughout the year. History is in abundance here too, with numerous well-preserved heritage landmarks to explore. Whatever your priority, there’s more than enough to see and do in Natal to fill an itinerary of a week or longer. Below are 12 of the most unique of all.
Explore a 17th-century fortress
One of Natal’s most historic landmarks, Fortaleza dos Reis Magos was constructed by the Portuguese in 1598 to deter marauding French pirates from entering the coast. Today the fortress is a major tourist attraction, with visitors flocking to explore its well-preserved confines, with the option of climbing to the top to admire the original cannons, not to mention to take in the fabulous panoramic views. Another quirky feature is that the fort actually stands on the water, and is detached from the city by a sand bar that gets submerged during high tides.
Av. Pres. Café Filho, 1 – Praia do Meio / Tues-Sun 8am-4pm Closed Mon
Go on a Sand Dune Buggy Tour
The expansive sand dunes in this part of Brazil are not just mesmerising to look at – they are great fun to ride as well. One of the best ways to do just that is aboard a buggy, and there are a huge number of organised buggy tours on offer in and around Natal, often combining adrenaline-fuelling sand dune rides with other activities such as beach walks and camel rides. If you prefer, you can hire a buggy independently, but you’re only allowed to drive along the beach, with sand dune entrance requiring a licensed driver.
Visit a museum
Situated in Natal’s historic centre and part of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, the Câmara Cascudo Museum provides a fascinating insight into the culture and history of the city through the eyes of the eponymous ethnologist Camara Cascudo. Opened in 1960, the museum is home to more than 160,000 diverse items, spanning everything from pre-colonial and historical archaeological collections, including authentic dinosaur fossils, through to works of popular 21st-century art.
Av. Hermes da Fonseca / Tues-Fri 8am-4.30pm Sat-Sun 1pm-5pm Closed Mon
Featuring an eclectic variety of regional culture and history exhibits, including art and old photographs, the Popular Culture Museum Djalma Maranhão (Museum of Popular Culture Djalma Maranhão), is dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of the culture and popular traditions of Rio Grande do Norte. Puppet theatre, folk dances and traditions, cults and religious beliefs are all represented by over 2,000 items displayed within both permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Praça Augusto Severo, S/N – Ribeira / Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
Spend the day at the beach
Natal is surrounded by beautiful picture-postcard stretches of sand, and among the most popular is Ponta Negra beach. This vast expanse of coastline draws sun-seekers, swimmers and water sports enthusiasts in their droves, thanks to its soft sand and calm waters, while the shoreline is lined with restaurants and bars that stay open late into the night. The beach is also home to the “Morro do Careca”, a 120-metre-high dune that is one of the most distinctive symbols of the city.
Pick up some hand-crafted bargains
From the outside, it’s easy to imagine that the Hand Craft Potiguar Mall is a run-of-the-mill retail destination, but venture inside and you’ll soon discover that this is no ordinary shopping experience. Jam-packed with almost 300 stalls, the mall is a veritable heaven for fans of the handcrafted. A great place to pick up some bargain hand-made apparel, or souvenirs or gifts to take home with you, the mall pulsates with the sights, sounds and smells of bazaar-style commerce. There’s also plenty of fresh foodie produce to pick from too, as well as casual sit down eating.
Av. Engenheiro Roberto Freire, 8000
Embark on a snorkelling excursion
Parrachos de Maracajaú beach on Natal’s north coast is often referred to as the “Brazilian Caribbean” – and for good reason. One of its most outstanding features is the abundance of marine life residing within a stunning reef, and the area attracts large numbers of snorkelling excursions throughout the year. Tours normally start with a catamaran or speedboat transfer out to sea from the beach. Once you’re deep into the crystal-clear waters, you’ll be kitted out with a snorkel mask and all necessary equipment before taking the plunge. At the end of the experience, you’ll return to shore to soak up the incredible views.
Immerse yourselves in Natal’s nightlife
Natal has a buzzing after-dark scene and if you want to make sure you don’t miss the hottest spots then you can join an organised nightlife tour of its finest watering holes and best dancing dens. As part of a shared group, you’ll throw your best shapes at one of Natal’s hippest open-air nightclubs and drink caipirinhas while watching the locals dance to classic Brazilian beats, including the Carimbo of the Amazon, the Samba of Rio de Janeiro, the Frevo of Pernambuco, the Forró of the Northeast, the Maculelê, and the Capoeira of Bahia. Private tours are also available.
Learn the martial art of Capoeira
First practiced by enslaved Africans in Brazil at the beginning of the 16th century, the Brazilian martial art known as capoeira, which combines elements of self-defence, dance, acrobatics, and music, has been popularised across the country and beyond. Visitors to Natal keen to try out its dazzling and complex manoeuvres, often involving hands on the ground and inverted kicks, for themselves can do so by heading to the city outskirts. Here can be found Capoeira Boa Vontade, an acclaimed martial arts school where masters will show you the fundamentals so you can go away and practice at home.
R. Dr. Manoel Miranda, 2863 – Alecrim
Retreat into nature at an urban park
The second largest urban park in all of Brazil, Parque das Dunas (Dunas Park) offers the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city. Its picturesque mix of lush rainforest and tall, golden sand dunes creates a unique landscape, while numerous trails lined with trees and plant life attract walkers who come for relaxed strolls among the bucolic scenery. There are over fifty types of native trees alone, many of which are located in the Bosque Valentine (Valentine Forest).