What is the Capital of Brazil?

Brasília is the capital of Brazil. It wasn’t the first capital city of Brazil, but it’s been the seat of the federal government since 1960. Interestingly, the city was planned and built especially to become the Brazil capital city, and this process took 41 months, from 1956 until 1960.

Although construction didn’t begin until 1956, the idea to move the country’s capital from Rio de Janeiro to a more central location was something mentioned in Brazil’s first republican constitution in 1891. 

Where is Brasília?

Brasília is located at the top of the Brazilian highlands in the central-western region of the country. It was built on an arid plateau with an elevation of 1,200 meters in the state of Goias. See the map below to see its relation to other Brazilian cities.

A colored map of South America highlighting Brazil in yellow with surrounding countries in white and major cities marked.
Where is Brasília?

Four Capitals of Brazil

Brazil has an interesting story when it comes to its capital city and the cities that are most important in the country. There have been three different official capitals of Brazil throughout its history, and one that now takes the place as the country’s cultural center.

The first capital city of Brazil was São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, also known simply as Salvador, which was founded in 1549. This was the first capital of the Portuguese colony and remained so for more than two hundred years. Today, Salvador is the capital city of the state of Bahia and a center for Afro-Brazilian culture. It is one of the oldest planned cities in the world.

Also Read: Brazil Flag Map and Meaning

Eventually, the practical advantages of using Rio de Janeiro as an export port inspired the government to move the capital from Salvador. This happened in 1763, and the city remained the capital of the Portuguese colony until Brazil’s independence in 1822, becoming the first capital city of the Republic of Brazil and remaining as such until 1960. Rio de Janeiro is still the historical capital of Brazil and its most popular tourist destination

The current federal capital of Brazil is Brasília, which took the place of Rio de Janeiro as the government wanted to move the capital to a more central location. The city was designed by Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and Joaquim Cardozo — it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its artistic urban planning and modernist architecture.

The fourth and unofficial capital of Brazil is São Paulo, which emerged as a major industrial city in Brazil and all of Latin America in the early 20th century. It is considered the cultural capital of Brazil and is one of the most populous cities in the world with over 30 million inhabitants.

When did Brasília Become the Capital?

Aerial view of a city park with a central fountain, surrounded by paths, greenery, and buildings under a cloudy blue sky.
An example of modernist landscape architecture in Brasília.

Brasília became the capital in 1960, although construction of the city began in 1956 and the plan to build such a city was first conceived in 1827.

Before 1960, Rio de Janeiro was the country’s capital, and had been for more than two hundred years. Before Rio de Janeiro was the capital, it was the city of Salvador, established in 1549.

Features of Brasília

Aerial dusk view of a city with lit streets, a water fountain, buildings on both sides of an open space leading to the horizon.
A view of Jardim Burle Marx at night in the middle of Brasília.


The surrounding geography of Brasília is characterized by the Brazilian Highlands it is a part of, the tropical savanna climate, and Lake Paranoá.

The Brazilian Highlands cover roughly half of the country’s total area, and the majority of the population lives in these highlands or directly adjacent. There is a great diversity of climates, flora, and fauna to be found in this giant region of Brazil.

Brasília’s tropical savanna climate means that the city is in a region that experiences intense dry seasons, although Brasília’s elevation makes for milder seasons than other regions with this type of climate. There is a dry season from May to September and a rainy season from October to April in Brasília. The hottest month in the year is typically September.

Lake Paranoá is a large artificial lake that was constructed in Brasília in order to provide water to the city as well as increase humidity in the nearby region. The lake is also used for various water sports and is home to restaurants, residential areas, and embassies. It is a major feature of the city.


The majority of the population in Brasília is multiracial, or Pardo, which describes descendants of Southern Europeans, Amerindians, and West Africans. The second most prevalent ethnic group in the city is White, making up about 42% of the city’s population. Together, these two ethnic groups account for about 90% of Brasília’s inhabitants.

As of 2022, it has an estimated population of just over 4.8 million people living within an area of 5,802 km². It is the fourth-most populous city in the country after Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

Christianity is by far the most widely practiced religion in Brazil and in its capital city. Roman Catholicism is the most popular denomination. The next largest denomination of practicing Christians is Protestant, and the smallest reported religious group is Muslim, with less than 1,000 practitioners reported in a 2010 survey.

Since its completion, Brasília has seen high population growth rates. This is largely due to internal migration, Brazilians relocating to Brasília from other cities in the country. There is also a population of foreign residents working in embassies in the city.


Brasília’s economy consists mostly of activities and industries related to the government. Some of the industries that thrive in this capital city are banking and finance, communications, entertainment, and legal services. As the city with the third-largest GDP in Brazil, Brasília is an important economic center.

Rather than focus on heavy industry or economic activities that may have a negative impact on the environment, Brasília has tried to develop industries that don’t pollute the environment. Some examples of these are film, software, and video. One of the reasons for this focus is Brasília’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Important Places to See in Brasília

A sculpture of four abstract, crowned figures stands before a modernist building with a flat facade under a cloudy sky.
The Palácio dos Arcos can be seen in the daylight behind a statue of two people.

Praça dos Tràs Poderes (Square of the Three Powers)

This is undoubtedly one of the most important locations in Brasília — it is where the buildings for the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Brazilian government are located. These include Brazil’s Supreme Court, the official residence of the President, and the National Congress Building.

A black and white image shows the unique twin towers and dome of Brazil's National Congress in Brasília, reflected on a surface.
Congresso Nacional (National Congress Building)

Palácio dos Arcos (Palace of the Arches)

Also known as Palácio Itamaraty, this building houses the headquarters for Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is an iconic building and an example of modernist architecture, located near the Praça dos Tràs Poderes. The building was constructed by Oscar Niemeyer and serves as a reception space and auditorium.

Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Cathedral of Brasília)

The Brasília Cathedral is one of the most striking buildings in the city and perhaps the most famous. This building was also constructed by Niemeyer and was finished in 1970. It features 16 white columns that curve inward to create a crown that surrounds a glass roof. This glass roof is all that is visible above ground; most of the cathedral is underground, and the glass roof lets in natural light.

A photo shows the Cathedral of Brasília, a modernist building with a crown-like shape and curved columns, under a clear blue sky.
The Cathedral of Brasília under a blue sky.

There are also four statues that surround the cathedral, representing the Four Evangelists, and there is a separate bell tower that is 20 meters high.

Lake Paranoá

This large artificial lake was created by damming the Paranoá River, and it’s certainly worth a visit for anyone that comes to Brasília. Along the shores of this lake are sports clubs, restaurants, a university, and various important government buildings.

There is also an impressive bridge that crosses the lake, known as Ponte Juscelino Kubitschek. The bridge utilizes three giant arches and has won multiple architectural awards. It was completed in 2002.

President Kubitschek Memorial (JK Memorial)

This presidential memorial, mausoleum, and museum was constructed by Niemeyer to honor the life of Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazil’s 21st President. He was the founder of Brasília, and his body is located at the memorial. Economic prosperity and political stability were two key elements of Kubitschek’s time as president, and he is often seen as the “father of modern Brazil.”

The site of the memorial also includes artwork by notable sculptors, information on the life of the former President, and historical documentation of the founding of the city.

Brasília National Park 

In addition to impressive buildings and an artificial lake, there is some natural beauty to appreciate in Brasília. The national park lies in the northwestern part of the Federal District and is the world’s largest park in an urbanized area.

There are many springs and caves located in the national park, and these in addition to the pools formed from water wells make the trekking trails that traverse the area especially attractive. A nursery for forest trees is located in the park, as is a center for environmental education.

A variety of animals live in the park, such as wolves, deer, monkeys, rabbits, and several “giant” varieties of mammals: the giant otter, giant anteater, and giant armadillo. There are also many species of bird that live in the park.