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RECIFE Brazil (Reuters) - If music and partying are what you have in mind for a trip to Brazil, you might want to sidestep traditional hotspots like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador and head to Recife instead.
This often-overlooked metropolis of 3.6 million people on Brazil's northeastern coast is home to some of the country's most popular Carnival celebrations and other street festivals. It also boasts one of the most vibrant music scenes in Brazil.
But don't expect the smooth sounds of bossa nova and samba, the musical genres most identified with Brazil. This is the land of frenetic, body-to-body dance music that will make you sweat.
Located where the Capibaribe and Beberibe rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean, Recife is a city of endless waterways and bridges Some call it the "Brazilian Venice."
One of Brazil's oldest cities, Recife boomed as the world's leading sugar producer in the early 17th Century. Colorful vestiges of that era are still on display in the city's historic districts, giving it a colonial charm among modern skyscrapers.
Soccer fans coming to Recife for the World Cup in June will miss Carnival, but will still get a good taste of the city's love affair with street parties. Recife will host five World Cup games: Ivory Coast vs Japan; Italy vs Costa Rica; Croatia vs Mexico; USA vs Germany; and a Round of 16 match.
Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Recife from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
Luckily for soccer fans, the World Cup will take place at the same time as what Brazilians call "Festas Juninas" - literally, June Festivals - nationwide festivities celebrating the Catholic saints of John the Baptist, Anthony and Peter.
The festivals also celebrate rural life in Brazil, with men decked out in plaid shirts and straw hats while women don country dresses and pigtails. In between fireworks displays and folk dancing, taste some "pamonha" and "canjica," seasonal corn-based treats made for the festivals.
Don't miss the chance to try your luck at "arrasta pé," the cheek-to-cheek, foot-dragging way of dancing forró, the fast-paced and catchy musical genre from northeastern Brazil played with an accordion, a triangle and a zabumba drum.
The festivities are spread out all over the city, but head to Arsenal and São Pedro squares for the biggest attractions.
While downtown, you can learn more about forró and other local rhythms such as baião, xote and xaxado at Cais do Sertão, a sparkling new gallery dedicated to the late Luiz Gonzaga, one of the most influential Brazilian musicians of the 20th Century. (www.caisdosertao.com.br)
For more on Recife's rich musical history, visit the Paço do Frevo about two blocks away. It's a shrine to the upbeat orchestral musical style and accompanying acrobatic dances known as frevo, mainstays in the city's Carnival celebrations. (www.pacodofrevo.org.br)
Both museums are just a stone's throw from Rio Branco square, also known as Marca Zero, where a giant compass marks the city's ground zero. From there, take in the view of the harbor, whose entrance is graced with ceramic sculptures by one of Recife's best-known artists, Francisco Brennand.
For more of Brennand's work, visit his family's old brick and tile factory on the city's western outskirts. It houses a remarkable collection of ceramic sculptures, surrounded by a nature reserve. (www.brennand.com.br)
As a coastal metropolis in the tropics, much of Recife is built around mangrove swamps. That muddy landscape, known as "mangue" in Portuguese, inspired a cultural movement in the 1990s that thrust Recife's music scene onto the national stage.
The "Mangue Beat" movement fused electronic beats and other sounds with maracatu, a local drum rhythm, revolutionizing Brazilian pop music.
At www.sonsdepernambuco.com.br you can sample some of the vibrant local sounds that have come in Mangue's wake. Or you can witness them yourself at street parties such as "Som na Rural," a spontaneous set of live concerts performed from the back of an old Ford truck.
For a glimpse of what's up-and-coming in Recife's music scene, check out the festival organized by a group of independent producers at Estúdio Base on Rua da Aurora, on June 15, 22 and 29. Golarrolê is another party producing crew hugely popular with locals.
Another good venue for live music is Estelita, which also plans to screen World Cup matches for fans who were not lucky enough to score tickets.
No trip to Recife is complete without a visit to its sister city Olinda, a neighboring colonial gem that was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982. One of Brazil's most festive tourist destinations, Olinda always has something afoot on its hilly, cobblestone streets.
Spend the day exploring Olinda's historic churches and many art studios, nibbling on street food like tapioca along the way. For a stunning view of Recife, climb the steep Ladeira da Misericórdia, or Mercy Slope.
A great place to start an evening in Olinda is Bodega de Véio, where locals gather to sip cold beer and munch on tapas-style finger foods called "acepipes." From there, head over to Casa do Cachorro Preto, an art gallery that stages live music and DJ shows at night.
If you plan to spend the night in Olinda, stay at the plush Hotel Sete Colinas. (www.hotel7colinas.com.br)
If you're looking for a good way to unwind after all that music, Boa Viagem beach back in Recife beckons.
Just don't let the warning signs against shark attacks scare you away. There are plenty of natural pools protected by the coral reefs that give Recife its name. You can swim there without running the risk of becoming shark bait.
Editing by Todd Benson, Mary Milliken and David Gregorio