Rio de Janeiro is more commonly associated with beaches and frenetic partying than with high brow activities, but the city actually has an awful lot to offer the culturally-minded visitor. Alongside some fascinating churches and other historic buildings, Rio has many excellent museums, galleries and cultural centers, many of which host classical music performances as well as top-class visiting and permanent exhibitions.
And although it can be tempting to see such cultural spaces as merely "emergency" options for rainy days in Rio, many merit a visit even when the weather is fine. One space that rarely disappoints is the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil ("Bank of Brazil Cultural Center," which is locally known as "CCBB") in Rio's downtown.
As the name suggests, this is a cultural center run by the Bank of Brazil, and it's housed in the bank's former Rio de Janeiro headquarters. Today, the grand, domed building is Rio de Janeiro's most prestigious gallery, hosting big-name touring exhibitions, as well as staging theater and classical music performances from top-flight companies.
The exhibitions here are as eclectic as they are impressive. Major arts events here in 2013 included an exhibition of Impressionist works on tour from France's Museu D'Orsay, which brought works by such masters as Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Gaugin to Rio, while a traveling exhibition from celebrated Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang was another major success.
While the exhibits themselves rarely disappoint, the building is reason enough to visit. With its ornate dome, tall pillars and elaborate chandeliers, the handsome, nineteenth-century neoclassical structure is certainly photo-worthy.
Additionally, the cafe here is a pleasant spot to find a little peace and quiet from the packed streets of Centro. There's also a library that's packed with arts books, postcards, posters and the like, while the cinemas, theater spaces and concert rooms host a variety of events, many of which are free to attend.
It's always free to enter the center's exhibition spaces, and there's almost always something worth an hour or more of your time. Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil is located in the "cultural quarter" of Centro, close to a number of other galleries and museums as well as churches and other buildings of historic interest.
As such, it is ideally located for anyone planning a day of high culture - or just sightseeing - downtown. Just grab a metro to Cinelandia and then enjoy the short walk. A word to the wise, though: like many of Rio de Janeiro's museums and galleries, CCBB is closed on Mondays.