While lacking the stunning geographical setting and plethora of churches that Ouro Preto has, São João del Rei is quite pleasant and a good place for a few days of relaxing. The town is also known as the birthplace of Tancredo Neves, whose election as president in 1985 (he died before taking office) brought an end to Brazil's military rule.
One of the most entertaining things to do in São João del Rei is to get out of town, on the 1920s vintage steam locomotive to the nearby town of Tiradentes. It runs only Friday through Sunday, with two round trip runs per day. Tickets can be bought (no reservations needed) at the train station in the center of town.
Igreja de São Francisco de Assis, on the west side of town. Flanked by tremendous towering palms, this church was completed in 1774 and features carvings by Aleijadinho. The attached cemetery contains the grave of Tancredo Neves.
The small Railroad Museum in the train station depicts the important role railroads played in the development of the mining towns in the 19th century.