The best things to do in Rio de Janeiro

The best things to do in Rio de Janeiro

 

 

When I first arrived in Rio de Janeiro, I didn’t know I’d end up living there for over a year. I knew Rio was famous for Carnival, beaches, samba music, caipirinha and beautiful people. And that was all. A few days later, I realized that many things beyond those clichés made this city special. I fell in love with Rio’s vibrant culture and undeniable natural beauty. I couldn’t leave!

 

Now that I’ve been here for a while, I decided to create a list of the best things to do in Rio, including a few off-the-beaten-path recommendations. No matter your age, your preferences or your travel style, I’m sure you’re going to love this “Cidade Maravilhosa”.

 

Top things to do in Rio de Janeiro

 

Highlights when visiting Rio de Janeiro:

 

1- Christ the Redeemer

 

View from Christ the Redeemer Top things to do in Rio de Janeiro

 

One of the most famous icons in the world, the statue of Christ the Redeemer watches over the whole city from Morro to Corcovado. You can get there by taking a scenic train, or by van or taxi. Although most people visit the place at sunset, I noticed that it can get a bit cloudy after noon, so I recommend that you take the trip on a sunny morning. The views from the top will make your jaw drop, as they offer a full panorama of Botafogo Bay, Ipanema, Dois Irmãos and practically the entire city.

2 – Lapa and Santa Teresa

 

 

Cool Lapa steps in Rio

Lapa is well-known for its wide variety of restaurants and bars, and it’s where you’d go to experience a “carioca” night. You’ll find bars, samba clubs, batucada shows and a lot of caipirinha stalls. During the day, you can visit “Escadaria de Celaron” (also known as Lapa Steps), a colorful street decorated with thousands of ceramic pieces that connect Lapa with Santa Teresa.

 

Santa Teresa is Rio’s bohemian district. I used to live there, and I assure you, it’s a lovely neighborhood! There are some colonial houses, theaters and mansions, and the atmosphere is more relaxed and alternative. If you want to hang out, “Largo do Machado” is the street with the best bars and restaurants. Don’t miss a visit to “Parque das Ruinas”, a public park with an art gallery built around a mansion.

 

3 – Downtown

 

Downtown Rio de Janeiro

 

The city center deserves a full day spent walking around its alleys, old churches and monasteries. If you have the chance, I recommend that you take a free walking tour. Most of them will take you around the Municipal Theater, the National Library, the Imperial Palace and other important sights. This is also the financial hub, so keep in mind that while it’s crowded and safe during the work day, almost no one is around on weekends, when assaults are common.

 

4 – Docks

 

The docks of Rio

 

This area was completely transformed, turning from a shady neighborhood into an animated spot. In addition to the new parks, walkways and restaurants, the real attraction there is the huge mural that Eduardo Kobra created for the occasion of the Olympics. Getting there now is easier than ever thanks to the new tram line that connects the center with the northern part of the city.

 

5 – Copacabana Beach

 

 

copacabana beach areas of Rio

Rio’s most famous beach is full of energy, live music and vendors of all kinds. You can walk, cycle or skate along its four-kilometer pathway, or simply enjoy a day laying out in the sun. If you’re into adventure, this is the best place in Rio for water sports. Would you try stand-up paddling, surfing, windsurfing or jet skiing?

 

6 – Sugar Loaf

 

 

Views of sugar-loaf mountain in Rio

To enjoy a magical sunset, take the cable car from Praia Vermelha up to the “Pão de Açucar”. There is a stop halfway in Morro da Urca, where helicopter flights can be arranged.

 

If you feel like taking a little hike, there is an alternative way to make the visit. You can hike through the wild forest to Morro da Urca on your own, then buy your cable tickets from there to the top.

 

7 – Ipanema Beach

 

 

Ipanema beach sunset in Rio

While Copacabana might be the most popular beach in Rio, Ipanema has nothing to envy in terms of its brother’s beauty and glamour. This is the place that served as the inspiration for Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Jobim to compose the 1960s hit “Girl from Ipanema”. You can visit the bar where they wrote the song and enjoy a caipirinha to the rhythm of the best bossa nova music. The place is named after the song, and it’s located in Rua Vinicius de Moraes, 49.

 

I recommend that, before dusk, you go to Arpoador, a small rocky peninsula on the left side of the beach. There you can enjoy a beautiful sunset over Dois Irmãos and the surrounding mountains.

 

8 – Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

Known as “The Heart of Rio de Janeiro”, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, also called simply “Lagoa”, is a popular spot among cariocas and visitors for kayaking, picnicking or taking a walk. Just a few blocks away from Ipanema, this natural lake is surrounded by a cycle path, wild vegetation and a drastic mountain landscape.

 

9 – Jardim Botânico

 

This huge botanical garden gives you the opportunity to learn about impressive flora right in the middle of the city. There are 540,000 square meters of cultivated area open to visitors, and more than 3,400 species of plants from all over the world. The most famous is the imperial palm tree, symbol of the botanical garden, which can reach the height of a 15-storey building. I recommend that you take at least two hours to wander around this haven of peace.

 

10 – Pedra do Sal

pedra-sal region in Rio

No visit to Rio would be complete without a proper samba experience. Pedra do Sal is a little square where the slave trade took place during colonial times. Consequently, Afro-Brazilian culture, music and tradition are notable here. Two nights a week, Monday and Friday, the place turns into a celebration of life and pure Brazilian expression. There are usually two “rodas de samba” in different places in the square. These consist of musicians playing samba and crowds singing and dancing around them. This is the place to enjoy Rio’s deepest tradition!

 

Getting off the beaten track in Rio de Janeiro:

1- Visiting a favela

 

Rio has more than 600 favelas, and while some are “no-go” zones, others have been pacified and are relatively safe to visit. The most popular options are Vidigal, Rocinha and Santa Marta. You can take a favela tour to learn more about the history of the slums accompanied by a local guide.

 

2 – Parque da Cidade

 

Located in the Gavea neighborhood, this huge park is the perfect destination for nature lovers. There are dozens of walks and beautiful gardens, so you can enjoy a lovely evening surrounded by wild forests. It’s also the starting point of the short hike to “Vista Chinesa”, a popular spot with magnificent views of the entire city.

 

3 – Niteroi

 

Right in front of Rio, crossing the endless bridge over the Guanabara Bay, Niteroi offers plenty of wild beaches and short hikes. If you’re into art and architecture, don’t miss the Contemporary Museum, one of Oscar Niemeyer’s most remarkable works.

 

 

Outdoor activities in Rio de Janeiro

 

1 – Hiking

 

If there’s any one thing that makes Rio truly different, it’s the number of peaks creating the city’s mountain-filled skyline. Hiking options are available for all levels, from 15-minute walks to more challenging full-day treks. Some of the best trails in Rio de Janeiro are Dois Irmãos, Pedra da Gavea and Morro da Urca. Get your shoes ready and head out for a little adventure!

 

2 – Paragliding

 

Those looking for more adrenaline will find several agencies offer paragliding flights from Pedra Bonita. The tour includes the transport to the mount, which is worth a visit in itself, and a tandem flight that takes between 10 and 20 minutes.

 

3 – Cycling

 

Considering the fact that there are dozens of cycle paths in the city, what would be better than cycling Rio at your own pace? To get the most out of this experience, I recommend taking the scenic route that goes all the way along the coast from Botafogo to São Conrado.

 

sunset-urca district at Rio

 

Where to stay in Rio:

 

If you’re planning to party like crazy, Lapa and Santa Teresa are the hottest spots. Otherwise, I recommend that you stay around Botafogo, Ipanema or Copacabana for a better location and a chill-out atmosphere.

 

Copacabana hotels

Ipanema hotels

 

Santa Theresa hotels

 

Now that some favelas are “tranquilas”, brand-new hostels offer accommodations for the budget traveler in Vidigal, Santa Marta and a few additional slums. They are safe and who knows … they might be an interesting experience!

 

I hope you enjoy the “Marvellous City” as much as I do! Try to talk to the local people, take a few public buses, join a samba party, drink a few caipirinhas, watch a capoeira game, walk along the beach, hike a little hill and feel the Brazilian energy!

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Top things to do in Rio de Janeiro

 

Bio of the guest poster

I’m Miguel, adventure traveler and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last seven years, always trying to explore and hike some of the most remote regions. Check out his post on Visiting Rio here for more details. Follow me on my blog travelsauro and enjoy exciting adventures in places like Papua, Timor, the Himalayas, Africa and the Caribbean! Check out my social media platforms

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So as you can see, there are so many places around Rio worth exploring this this fabulous city. Thanks for visiting today, if you enjoyed reading this post on The best things to do in Rio de Janeiro, please do share it with any of the social media links below, thank you.

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15 Responses to The best things to do in Rio de Janeiro

  1. Holly September 26, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

    I would probably stay at one of the chill out spot areas. Definitely want to see all the mentioned places.

  2. Kiyoko September 26, 2017 at 4:06 am #

    I love city photography, so I absolutely love your pictures of Rio de Janeiro, especially the one in the Christ the Redeemer section. Absolutely beautiful!

  3. AllGudThings September 26, 2017 at 3:29 am #

    Definitely your post has pushed me to make up my mind and visit Rio De Janeiro. Indeed, it has everything I need for a perfect vacation. The murals, panoramic views, blue beaches, cool restaurants are simple Wow! Loved your pictures.

  4. carla September 25, 2017 at 4:20 pm #

    Paragliding would be awesome in that view!!! Loved your photos wish I can visit Brazil soon.

  5. Tom September 25, 2017 at 8:38 am #

    There are so many more things to see in Rio than Christ the Redeemer and Copacabana Beach. I love the way you showed this to me. I would love to visit one of the favelas and eat the real food of Rio! Thank you for the tipps of which favelas to visit!

    • Noel September 25, 2017 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks for visiting and making a wonderful comment Tom

  6. Claire 🌍 (@clairesturz) September 24, 2017 at 7:24 am #

    I loved Rio! I went during Carnival so everything was super busy, I’d like to go back & get a shot of the steps without a hundred people on them! Sugar loaf was my fave, we were there for sunset which was stunning

  7. Linda de Beer September 23, 2017 at 10:21 pm #

    This is a great list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro for people like us who like to explore off the beaten path. I’ll definitely give Copacabana beach a skip and visit the botanical garden and give the hiking trails a try.

  8. lucywilliamsglobal September 23, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    I would love to go to Rio and explore, the views are amazing from your photos. The docks look so vibrant with the painted walls, it is so nice when they add to the city after the Olympic’s have been held there. It must be quite an experience to live in Rio!

    • Noel September 24, 2017 at 7:14 am #

      I’m sure the changes to the scene is fantastic for public use

  9. Stephanie September 23, 2017 at 8:57 am #

    Sugar Loaf mountain looks so gorgeous! We have that on our list of things we want to do. Hope we can get to Rio some day soon!

  10. Eoin Dolly September 23, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    Very useful post. I’ll be in Rio for carnival in the coming year, so hopefully I can cross some of these ideas off my list!

    • Noel September 24, 2017 at 7:15 am #

      I’ve always wanted to do Rio for Carnival, should be an amazing experience

  11. Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields September 22, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    I love the idea of cycling around Rio. Not something I would have thought of in such a large city.

  12. Rhonda Albom September 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm #

    I know very little about Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. Thanks for all the information and tips on what to see in this beautiful city.

I look forward to hearing from you and continuing our discussion with any comment you would like to add

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