Although Curitiba  is over 300 years old, it didn’t begin to develop until the mid-late 19th century. Its small but well-preserved historic center consists primarily of handsome 19th- and early-20th-century civic buildings, many of which house trendy restaurants, cafés, bars, and boutiques. You’ll find the majority clustered around the Largo da Ordem, the adjacent Praça Garibaldi, and the surrounding pedestrian-only cobblestoned streets.
On the Largo da Ordem are Curitiba’s two oldest buildings. The city’s first church, the Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco , was built in 1737 and is one of the finest examples of Portuguese colonial architecture in southern Brazil . It is noteworthy for its typical blue-and-white Portuguese azulejo panels and its baroque-style altars doused in gold leaf.
Inside, the small Museu de Arte Sacra (tel. 41/3321-3265, 9 a.m.–noon and 1–6 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat.–Sun., free) displays a small collection of baroque relics, fashioned out of wood and terra-cotta.
Across the street from the church is Curitiba ’s oldest surviving dwelling, the Casa Romário Martins (tel. 41/3321-3255, 9 a.m.–noon and 2–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat.–Sun.). Also dating from the 18th century, this colonial-style house has become a cultural foundation with a gallery space that exhibits works by contemporary Paranaense artists.
Behind Largo da Ordem, on Praça Tiradentes, the Catedral Basílica Menor (tel. 41/3222-1131, 7 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, free) is a rather uninspiring example of late 19th-century neo-gothic architecture built on the site of Curitiba’s first wooden chapel.
While Curitiba has its fair share of museums, you can skip the majority of them. However, one that is worth checking out is the Museu Paranaense (Rua Kellers 289, tel. 41/3304-3300, www.pr.gov.br/museupr , 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun., R$2). Occupying a beautifully restored turn-of-the-20th-century neoclassical mansion that was the former state governor’s residence, it houses an interesting collection of artifacts, paintings, and photographs that trace Paraná ’s history from precolonial days to the present. Aside from temporary exhibits, there is also a lovely tea salon and a shop selling books and local handicrafts.
Equally intriguing is the small Museu Alfredo Andersen (Rua Mateus Leme 336, tel. 41/3222-8262, www.pr.gov.br/maa , 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun., free), located in the former home and atelier of Norwegian-born local painter Alfredo Andersen, considered the “father of Paranaense painting.” The striking landscapes and portraits on display conjure up Curitiba  of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.