Petrópolis is a city in the highlands of Brazil, not too far from Rio de Janeiro. It was the summer residence of Brazilian emperors in the 19th century. Besides a beautiful drive from Rio through green forested hills, the climate is cooler and less humid, making it a nice escape for a day.
If I was alone, I would have taken a bus to Petrópolis, but to make things easier, I decided to book a tour for our small group. We went with Rio Experience on a full day tour. We were picked up at 10:30am in a minibus.
Our first stop was outside the Palácio Quitandinha, set next to a small lake and surrounded by green hills on the outskirts of Petrópolis. It was built in 1944 to be the largest casino in South America, but gambling was made illegal by the Brazilian government in 1946. It’s now a convention center.
Next, we made a quick at the Patrone chocolate factory. They have a really nice hot chocolate drink, but other than that, I didn’t think the stop was necessary.
We finally made it into the city center of Petrópolis and headed to the highlight of the day, Palácio Imperial. Built in 1845, it was the summer residence of the Emperor of Brazil until independence in 1889. It’s now a museum. Unfortunately for our group, the museum was closed because the staff was on strike. Our tour guide had to improvise but unfortunately she wasn’t very good at that.
We made an unscheduled visit to the Palácio Amarelo across the street. It has been the city hall of Petrópolis since 1894. Before becoming city hall it was a mansion. It may look like a very expensive interior, but the marble and wood panels on the wall are fake and painted on.
We took a walk to another highlight, the Catedral de São Pedro de Alcântara. Built in 1884, it has a beautiful interior and some really nice stained glass windows.
The cathedral holds the remains of Brazilian emperor Dom Pedro II, Princess Regent Dona Teresa Cristina, Princess Isabel, and other members of the royal family. Across the street is the palace of Princess Isabel.
We walked along the river that runs through town past several beautiful mansions and homes behind large fences. One of them, Palácio Rio Negro, was built in 1889 and was the seat of Rio de Janeiro State from 1894-1902. It was converted into a summer residence for presidents of Brazil from 1903-1960.
Santos Dumont’s home is located just a block from the plaza. This tiny, simple home was built in 1918 and is a true inventor’s home. Every fixture in the home had a practical function and everything seemed to have multiple uses to conserve space. It was very interesting to see how the mind of Santos Dumont worked just by visiting his home. The visit to the home was followed by a short film about his life. Next to Dumont’s home is the Universidade Católica de Petrópolis, one of the largest and most prestigious universities in Brazil.
We had a nice buffet lunch before making a stop at Palácio de Cristal. It is a glass building used for events. It was made in France in 1879 and shipped to Brazil in 1884.
Petrópolis was a great place to visit and I was impressed by the 19th century architecture. The tour itself was a disaster. The guide could barely speak English and she was terribly unprepared. At one point, after walking for a half hour, she realized she left her purse on the minibus and didn’t have cash to pay for our entry to the Santos Dumont home. Also, it wasn’t the tour company’s fault, but the main attraction being closed due to a strike was disappointing. If you can manage it, take a bus and explore on your own. The main attractions in the city are easily walkable, with the exception of Palácio Quitandinha.