Brasilia Palacio da AlvoradaAs Brazil prepares to take the spotlight this summer during the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, many of the country's lesser-known gems will be unearthed as fans and media bounce among the event's 12 host cities.

Not least among those hidden treasures is Brasilia, Brazil's capital city, which despite often being overshadowed by the coastal playground of Rio de Janeiro and bustling business center of Sao Paolo is an architecture enthusiast's dream.

Brasilia's backstory, what there is to see and do there and whether it's even worth visiting might seem less obvious to the masses. But the reason travelers should put Brasilia on their Brazil itinerary can be summed up in one word: Niemeyer. That's Oscar Niemeyer to be precise, the architect responsible for designing most of the city's landmark buildings.

Brasilia is not just a city, it's a concept. In 1956, Niemeyer and urban planner Lucio Costa masterminded Brazil's new capital city, which would move from Rio to smack dab in the middle of the country, literally: Brasilia was established at the geographic center of Brazil.

From that emerged the idea to create a very well-thought-out and highly planned capital city with a central axis, called the Monumental Axis, from which two cross-sections, one longer and one shorter, would manifest. From above, it looks very much like a bird flying toward the east.

Cathedral of BrasiliaLarge boulevards were established to alleviate traffic problems, and to this day Brasilia remains, unlike Rio, almost completely traffic-free. And the city was divided into administrative and residential sectors that are also largely intact today. Balancing out the concrete jungle of the cityscape is Lake Paranoa, a massive, manmade lake surrounded by green park space that encompasses the entire eastern end of the municipality.

While the concise urban planning behind Brasilia makes it interesting, it is Niemeyer's extensive portfolio of 20th century modern urban structures that are the city's greatest attractions: His nearly two dozen structural pieces alone require at least one or two days to explore. Niemeyer's style is defined by harsh, straight lines, buildings that shoot vertically into the air or stretch out horizontally, combined with surprising curves.

The Monumental Axis is a journey through some of the most impressive and most well-known of Niemeyer's works. There is the Cathedral of Brasilia, where Mass is conducted in an underground chamber, below the stain-glassed, hyperbolic ceiling that soars above the ground like a UFO.

Brasilia Palace Hotel lobbyThe National Congress building is another curiosity, two soaring towers bookended by domed plates. And not to be missed is the Palacio da Alvorada, the president's official residence, located on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Paranoa.

The Digital TV Tower is the last of Niemeyer's works to be completed and is highly recommended for those who would like a nice view from above Brasilia.

Those who want to immerse themselves in the Niemeyer experience should stay at the Brasilia Palace Hotel, a 156-room paragon of modernism, outfitted to look and feel much like it did when it was built in 1958. While stark in structure, the pool and restaurant have a more relaxed vibe for those who want to detach from the city's hustle and bustle.

There are other things to see and do in Brasilia besides exploring Niemeyer's works.

For the latest art exhibit, head to the Brasilia Cultural Center, which hosts a wide array of exhibitions, performances and shows. Or catch a modern samba show after hours at the Clube do Choro, which also serves up booze and bar bites.

Brasilia Chapada Imperial Nature ReserveWhat Brasilia lacks in beaches and bikinis it mostly makes up for in a charming lakefront scene and nearby waterfalls.

Have a sunny lunch on the patio at one of the Paranoa lakefront restaurants like Bier Hass.

For a refreshing break from the city, a day trip to the Chapada Imperial nature reserve won't disappoint. About an hour outside the city, the reserve is home to hiking trails, waterfalls and pools for swimming and jumping into as well as breathtaking views of the savanna landscape that surrounds Brasilia.

Soccer fans in Brasilia for the World Cup will obviously have a chance to experience the city's newly built, 71,000-seat stadium, the National Stadium of Brasilia Mane Garrincha. But it's an impressive eco-construction project unto itself and will be hosting soccer matches, concerts and other events before and after the World Cup.

Brasilia is mostly a business and administrative city, and its hotels are in line with that ethos. Aside from the stylish Brasilia Palace Hotel, what travelers will find in terms of accommodation in Brazil's capital city is an assortment of reliable, towering business hotels where they can rest their feet in between archi-touring.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 


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