Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, is a city on the Atlantic coast. Natal has some great beaches, historical sites, and nature areas, and it is a frequently used base for exploring the paradisiac beaches and nature of the Rio Grande do Norte state.
- South: The most affluent area of the city and also where most tourists stay. Contains the Ponta Negra beach and most upscale hotels, shopping malls and restaurants
- East: Contains the city's Historical Center, important sights such as Forte dos Reis Magos and Ponte de Todos, and beaches that mix visitors and locals such as Praia do Meio and Praia dos Artistas. Also contains the entrance to Parque das Dunas
- North: An industrial/working class area which is now the most populous of Natal. Contains the Redinha beach, which provides some nice views of the city and with very local feel
- West: A mostly poor and in some parts run-down area, it contains the intercity bus terminal that can be used to reach other cities, like Tibau do Sul
Natal was founded on 25 December 1599, hence its name (Natal means Christmas in Portuguese). Unlike other Northeastern capitals, it did not quite benefit from the economic boom resulting from the region's sugar cane production. Instead it grew moderately and more organizedly, burgeoning on the state's cattle-raising activities and salt and oil extraction.
Nowadays Natal is one of the 8 most visited cities of Brazil. Unlike other large cities of the Northeast of Brazil, like Recife or Salvador, Natal does not have a fascinating Historical Center or a vivid nightlife. In contrast, it is regarded as being significantly calmer and safer than other large cities in the region, and as having a superior quality of life. Many rich Brazilians and foreigners alike have summer houses in the city.
One of the primary reasons to visit Natal is to use it as a base to explore the wonderful state of Rio Grande do Norte, including beaches like Pipa, Baía Formosa, Barra do Cunhaú and Genipabu, and lakes like Carcará and Coca-Cola (See [#Get out]). The city has many lodging options and a couple of good and reasonably priced restaurants.
The region is since the 31st of May 2014 served by the new Aeroporto Internacional de Natal (Governador Aluizio Alves), which was built to replace Augusto Severo International Airport. The airport is about 26 km from the downtown Natal.
There are numerous direct flights from most important Brazilian capitals, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Fortaleza, Salvador, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia.
- TAP flies directly to Lisbon several times a week.
To get to the city, take the Natal bus at the doorstep of the terminal, R$ 2,60. To get to Ponta Negra, get off after about 15 minutes at Natal Shopping (look for the sign "VIA DIRETA SHOPPING"). This is one of the main connection points for buses, and there will usually be a big line of buses stopping off for different directions. If coming from the airport, cross the pedestrian bridge and take any bus with Ponta Negra in its name (e.g. 43, 56), another R$ 2.20. Buses come very frequently. In Ponta Negra, there are a few helpful stops. You know you are getting close when you see PRAIA SHOPPING, a small modern mall within walking distance of town center. That stop, or one near after, will be close to many of the hotels for tourists.
Natal's airport at São Gonçalo do Amarante is quite a haul, 35km west of Ponta Negra. Trampolím da Vitória runs a public bus that's hardly worth the hassle from Ponta Negra. You need to catch bus 46, 54 or 73 along Av Engenheiro Roberto Freire to Midway Mall (R$3.35, 45 minutes), then switch for the 'R' bus, which hems and haws its way to the airport (R$4.20, 1½ hrs, every 30 to 45 minutes from 5:10am to 11:30pm), passing the bus stop directly in front of the bus station exit along the way. From the airport, catch the 'R' just outside Arrivals.
A taxi to Ponta Negra is approximately R$ 120 using the meter and takes about 45 minutes.
There are currently (June 2014) two companies providing minivan services, for prices as low as R$ 25 per person (R$ 55 for two people) and bring you to your hotel in Ponta Negra.
Natal's bus station is about 3 km southwest of the city center, and some 5 km northwest of the Ponta Negra beach. A taxi to the latter is about R$ 25. Bus No 66 does the same run in about 45 minutes.
Renting a car may be convenient if you, as many visitors, plan to use Natal as a base for day trips outside the city. Even the beaches at the neighboring municipalities of Parnamarim and Extremoz are complicated to reach using public transport. Typical prices are R$110 per day, or R$80 per day for multiple days. Often the car will be delivered to you at your hotel.
You may explore the coast on the beach rather than a road, by hiring the service of a dune Buggy driver. It costs typically R$ 320 per vehicle or R$ 80 per person if you join a group. You may find cheaper services, but be aware of unlicensed drivers; accidents caused by unskilled Buggy drivers sometimes occur.
By taxi or public transport
- Taxis: flag at R$ 4,15, per kilometer R$ 2,15 (rate 1) or R$ 3 (rate 2)
- Buses: cost R$ 2,65 (nov 2015) and get very crowded at peak hours, schedule and routes very unreliable
- Urban trains: very cheap (R$ 0,50), but unfortunately do not reach any major tourist sights
Forte dos Reis Magos (Fortress of the Magi)
- Forte dos Reis Magos (Fortaleza dos Reis Magos), Avenida Presidente Café Filho, s/n, Praia do Forte (next to Ponte Newton Navarro), ☎ 84 3202-2006, . everyday, 08-16. The star-shaped fortress is the oldest and most important historical construction of Natal. It was built in 1598 to protect the coast against French pirates, and during the colonial period it was perhaps the most important of Brazil's defense barriers. It is located in the water, accessible using a pedestrian path from Praia do Forte. For about 300 years, it worked as military quarters, administration office and prision, and it was also for some time under Dutch control. The name of the fortress is due to the statues of the Biblical Magi in the entrance. R$ 3. edit
- Parque das Dunas, Av. Alm. Alexandrino de Alencar, s/n, Tirol, . 84 201-3985. An 11.7 million square meters nature reserve located next to the coast, dividing the East and South parts of the city, and famous for its sandy dunes. In the entrance of the park is Bosque dos Namorados, with various recreational facilities and orientation on exploring the rest of the park. edit
- Parque da Cidade (Parque da Cidade Dom Nivaldo Monte), Av. Omar O’ Grady, s/n, Candelária. A 640,000 square meters nature reserve located between the South and West parts of the city. The main sight is the "eye-shaped" tower designed by the premium architect Oscar Niemeyer. edit
Natal's Historic Center is located at the Cidade Alta e Ribeira neighborhoods, including also some buildings of Tirol e Petrópolis. It was declared a national heritage site in 2010. Although the city dates from 1599, most of the historical buildings were constructed in the XIX and beginning of the XX century, in different styles including colonial, neoclassic, art-déco and modern.
- Memorial Câmara Cascudo, Praça André de Albuquerque, 30, Cidade Alta, ☎ 84 3211 8404. tue-sun 08:30-18. The memorial, built in 1875 in neoclassic styles, is about the life and work of Luis da Câmara Cascudo, Rio Grande do Norte's most famous antropologist and folklorist who lived between 1898-1986. free. edit
- Igreja de Santo Antônio (Igreja do Galo), Rua Santo Antônio, 683 - Cidade Alta, ☎ 84 3211 4236. mon-fri, 08-16, sat, 08-14. Church in baroque style built in 1976. The metallic bird on its tower gives the church the nickname "Igreja do Galo". Contains a museum with religious artwork. edit
- Teatro Alberto Maranhão, Praça Augusto Severo, s/n, Ribeira, ☎ 84 3222-3669, . The biggest and oldest theatre of the city, built in 1898 in French style. edit
- Solar Bela Vista, Av. Junqueira Alves, nº 417, Cidade Alta, ☎ 84 3212-1904, . Palace built in 1907 as a residence, which would later become one of the most luxurious hotels of the city. Now it is a cultural center. edit
- Palácio Felipe Camarão, Rua Ulisses Caldas, 81 - Cidade Alta, . City hall of Natal, built in 1922 in ecletic style. edit
- Rua Chile, Ribeira. Historical street with houses from the XIX century. Contains one of the former palaces of the state government. Nowadays contains restaurants, museums, clubs and cultural centers. edit
- Centro de Turismo de Natal, Rua Aderbal Figueiredo, 1980, Petrópolis, ☎ 84 3211-6218, . everyday, 09-19. Built in XIX, it was first an orphanage and later a public prision. Now it contains about 40 shops specialized in local handcrafts, plus an art gallery, a club and a restaurant. edit
As in the most of Brazil, in Natal's urban beaches you may use the chairs and tables provided by kiosks. It may be free as long as you consume, or you may be charge a small fee (like R$ 5). This can be negotiated up front.
- Ponta Negra, (accessible from Av. Eng. Roberto Freire), . The favorite beach of tourists and wealthier locals. Excellent water quality and infrastructure, with many restaurants and utility shops in the beach front. Contains Morro do Careca, the tallest sand dune of Natal and one of the city's most famous landmarks. edit
- Via Costeira, (accessible from the freeway of same name, or walk from Ponta Negra beach). Consists of 10 km of beaches located on the east side of Parque das Dunas, linking the South and East parts of the city. It is contiguous with Ponta Negra beach, so you can just walk from one beach to another. Contains no infrastructure other than a university and some luxurious hotels. For that the reason, the beach is always almost empty. edit
- Areia Preta, Av. Gov. Silvio Pedrosa. Beach in the East region with darker sands. The buildings in the beach front cast shadows on part of it during the afternoon. edit
- Praia dos Artistas, Av. Pres. Café Filho. Beach in the East region. Former glamorous beach that is nowadays more popular among locals. Contains, however, decent tourist infrastructure, including hotels, bars, and restaurants. May be preferable for lodging if you want to stay closer to the Historical Center. edit
- Praia do Meio, Av. Pres. Café Filho. Contiguous with Praia dos Artistas, and sharing similar characteristics with it. edit
- Praia do Forte, Av. Praia do Forte. Contiguous with Praia do Meio, and where Forte dos Reis Magos is located. Also has a view of Ponte de Todos. The beach does not have almost any infrastructure, however, and will usually be almost empty. edit
- Redinha, (accessible from Av. Dr. João Medeiros Filho). The only beach in the North region. Mostly frequented by locals, and known for the cheap food. The beach has also a platform that goes to the sea, and by walking to the tip of the platform, you can have a wonderful view of Ponte de Todos and the rest of the city. edit
- Hire a buggy with a driver and travel along the coast, both North and Southwards. The coast of the State of Rio Grande do Norte affords a rare combination of dunes, lagoons, sandstone cliffs and vegetation in between. A typical all-day buggy ride is R$360. A driver (buggeiro) will pick you up at your hotel and head for the dunes. There will be a variety of stops for photos, and there is a local economy associated with the industry. In the middle of the dunes will be small artisan markets and bars, many of them fun and quite inexpensive. There are opportunities for zip lining, sand boarding, swimming, and sipping from coconuts. Definitely wear a swimsuit and bring a towel to open up activities you can participate in. The ride will take at least half a day or nearly the entire day, depending on how much time you stay at stops. This is a popular and fun activity, catering heavily toward the local tourists. For that reason, many buggy drivers do not speak English, although it is not hard to understand their suggestions regardless of language. Highly recommended throughout.
- Watch the sunset by Potengi River. A good spot is near the Army base and there are some ships on the river.
- The To a Toa Boat Cruise at the Potengi river to watch the sunset. You will see the city from different angles, pass through historical places and neighborhoods, mangrooves, river beaches. Recorded guiding in English and Portuguese.
- Forró com Turista, Rua Aderbal Figueiredo, 1980, Petrópolis (at Centro de Turismo), ☎ 84 3211-6218, . thu. A weekly party that happens every thursday at the old prision (Centro do Turismo), and also every tuesday during january. It is especially geared towards tourists and there you can learn to dance forró, one of the most popular musical styles from the Northeast of Brazil. edit
- Alecrim neighborhood, (Near Alecrim train station). Alecrim, in the East side, is the main center of popular street in Natal, where no less than 40% of the shops in the city are located. It is hosts the city's most traditional farmer's market, that happens every saturday, from 06 to 15, in the crossing of Coronel Estevam and Presidente Quaresma, gathering more than 400 sellers. edit
- Midway Mall, Avenida Bernardo Vieira, 3.775, Tirol, . By far the largest shopping mall of the city, containing 270 shops, 7 cinema rooms, 4 gourmet restaurants and one theater. It has a good selection of bank machines (ATMs). edit
- Praia Shopping, Av. Engenheiro Roberto Freire, 8790, Ponta Negra (At Southeast side of Parque das Dunas), . Shopping mall with about 100 shops, with the obvious advantage of being located at Ponta Negra, where most visitors stay. It is about 750 m from the beach, but since it is in the extreme north of Ponta Negra, it may not be so close to where you are staying. edit
- Shopping de Artesanato Potiguar, Av Eng Roberto Freire, 8000, Ponta Negra, ☎ 84 3219-3207, . A commercial center with about 164 shops, most selling local handcraft. It is just next to Praia Shopping. edit
Plenty of seafood restaurants with outdoor seating can be found along the beaches.
- Abade - Once voted the best restaurant in town.
- Pizza - If you like pizza, there are three main pizzerias that offer a fixed price menu (about R$15) and you can eat all that you want. "Bella Natal" can be found in "Cidade Jardim" shopping center, and "Vila Mangiare" and "Cantina La Nonna" can be found on Salgado Filho avenue.
- Beach food The most typical beach food is "ginga com tapioca" and the best is served at Redinha market (don´t go there on sundays it´s very crowded).
- Camarões, Av. Eng. Roberto Freire 2610, Ponta Negra, Natal, . Excellent restaurant specialized in shrimp dishes. The only drawback is the long line of people waiting for a table from around 6:30PM to 9PM. Has 3 other branches in Natal. edit
- A Cantina da Praia, Ponta Negra beachfront (By Quisque 06). Lunch and dinner all you can eat with a view. 12 reais. edit
- O Boiadeiro, Ponta Negra beachfront (By quisque 04). Lunch and dinner. Thick steaks at around 30 reais. edit
Ponta Negra nightlife has concentrated along Rua Dr. Manoel Arauju, aso known as Rua da Salsa, a few blocks inland from the beach at kiosk 11. A significant amount of holiday prostitutes blend in.
Near the city center is the Ribeira district with quite a few options. A nighttime cab to Ponta Negra runs close to R$ 50. Buses 46 and 54 do the stretch in about 45 minutes.
- Buraco da Catita, Rua Câmara Cascudo, Ribeira (Near the Rodoviaria Velha). Wed - Sat 7 PM - midnight. Live music most nights. edit
Most tourist lodgings are in Ponta Negra, heaps and heaps of them. Posted prices are negotiable in low season.
- Pousada Ponta Negra, Rua Afonso Magalhães 115. Kitchen facilities. Dorm bed R$ 30, also has singles and doubles. edit
- Albergue da Costa, Ponta Negra, . Dorms 45 reais. Also has private rooms.. edit
- Pousada Cauim, Ponta Negra, ☎ +55 84 3642.1615, . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Dorms from R$ 45,00; also has private rooms. A total of ten rooms equipped with mini-bar, cable TV, ceiling fan, air conditioning and heated showers. The service includes a typical Brazilian breakfast, room service and free Wi-Fi; cameras and a night watchman. edit
- Republika, (Behind Praia Shopping). A bit back from the beach, but brand new in 2011 edit
- Che Lagarto Natal, Rua Poeta Jorge Fernandes, n° 45 - Ponta Negra, ☎ +55 (84) 3219 2227 ([email protected]), . Che Lagarto Hostel Natal has private and shared rooms. Also, it has a great common area to relax. edit
- Pousada Maravista, . One small block from the beach. Balcony breakfast with a view. Single R$ 70, Double R$ 120, Triple R$ 150. edit
- Albergue Lua Cheia (Albergue da Bruxinha), Rua Dr. Manoel A. B. de Araújo, nº 500 Praia de Ponta Negra, . checkout: 10AM. A purpose-built hostel. Nice facilities, excellent atmosphere. Right in the nightlife street. Dorm R$52, single and double R$115. edit
- Esmeralda Praia Hotel, Rua Francisco Gurgel, 1160 - Ponta Negra - Natal, ☎ +55 84 4005 0000 ([email protected], fax: +55 84 3219 5594), . edit
- Pestana Natal Beach Resort, Av. Senador Dinarte de Mariz 5525 Via Costeira - Natal, ☎ +55 84 3220 8900 ([email protected], fax: +55 84 3220 8920), . edit
If visiting the Forte dos Reis Magos, it's highly recommended that you take a taxi there, and not walk along Praia Forte; recently there have been an increasing number of robberies and assaults of tourists along the beach, past the populated areas (actually, one should not walk to the Forte because it is far away - about 3 km - from the nearest hotel or bus stop).
Ponta Negra beach and its boulevard are not secure either. Armed assault at populated beach can happen during day time. Do not take any valuable articles with you when you go to the beach. Furthermore, expect to be harrassed by taxi drivers trying to offer you a ride, homeless people hanging around on the boulevard or "drunk" people trying to bump into you.
Natal used to be the safest capital city of Brazil, but recent statistics  show that this is not true anymore. Yet Natal is still much safer than other touristic cities in the Northeast of Brazil, like Recife, Fortaleza and Salvador. Pick pockets follow the tourists, but violent assaults are rare. The city is conscious of the importance of tourism, which causes the Government to invest heavily on ostensive security of the busiest spots.
- Extremoz, in the metro area of Natal, contains the renowed Genipabu beach and the quieter Pitangui. Both beaches are surrounded by natural dune parks where it is possible to various activities such as sandboarding, dromedary rides and buggy rides
- Parnamirim, in the metro area of Natal, contains the visitable Barreira do Inferno rocket launch center, the biggest cashew tree of the World, and well-known beaches like Pirangi do Norte
- Nísia Floresta contains 22 transparent lakes and beaches, Praia de Búzios being the most well-known
- Tibau do Sul contains several kilometers of amazing beaches surrounded by cliffs, including Praia da Pipa, one of the most famous of Brazil's Northeast. If you have time, it is worth staying more than a day trip
- Canguaretama contains the beautiful Barra do Cunhaú beach
- Ceará-Mirim is a historical/coastal town that prospered in the past during the Sugar Cane era
- Baía Formosa, at the border with Paraíba, is the most unspoiled and preserved paradise of Rio Grande do Norte's South Coast
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