What to do in Rio de Janeiro and why spending time in this incredible city:
Rio de Janeiro has been one of our travel goals forever. During our distance relationship, we had the chance to meet in this beautiful city referred to as Cidade maravilhosa (the wonderful city). No place in the world aligns such a succession of bays, superb beaches, an upheaval of reliefs creating such a geographical puzzle.
Posted at the entrance to the Guanabara Bay, Rio is cut by morros: these pointed hills where colorful favelas cling. Its soul comes also from the Cariocas (its inhabitants) always full of life, super friendly, and always happy to chat.
Even if it necessary to be vigilant (particularly in the evening) the city remains full of joy and, filled with positive energy. We spent 3 days in Rio and felt like we could have stayed more. Below, a list of what to do in Rio de Janeiro to make sure that experience it at its fullest.
Vista chinesa is a charming little Chinese structure placed 380 meters high in Tijuca national forest. And, it offers one of the most beautiful views in Rio. This monument was created as a tribute to the planters from Macao. Indeed, they were brought to power the tea farming industry at the beginning of the XIX century.
This less-known viewpoint provides visitors a unique panoramic view of the Zonal Sul from the Corcovado (with the Christ the Redeemer statue) to the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf). Joggers and cyclists come to enjoy the view during their exercise, but it’s not as crowded as other places. We deeply recommend it.
Address: Estr. Dona Castorina, S/N – Alto da Boa Vista, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 20531-590, Brazil
Pão de Açúcar:
Pao de Acucar is also known as Sugarloaf Mountain, in English. It is one of the most iconic and sought-after landmarks of Rio de Janeiro. The peak, surrounded by the ocean, is known worldwide for its cableway and offers one the most magical view of the city.
There are 2 options to access the summit: by using the cable car (2 steps) or by climbing the granite walls (offered by various tours). We’ve been told by many people that sunset on a clear day is the best time to go. Since we did not get the chance to go there, we will definitely have to come back to Rio one day!
Entrance fee: : 110 Reias (25 EUR).
Opening hours: : 08:00 – 21:00.
Address: : Cable car : Av. Pasteur, no 520 – Urca, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22290-240, Brazil.
Escadaria Selarón (Selaron stairs):
One of the most vibrant touristic sites of Rio de Janeiro is this colorful piece of art called Selaron Staircase. Located between the bohemian neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa, Jorge Selaron’s mosaic steps are a tribute to his city of adoption.
This Chilean artist who moved to Rio in 1983 randomly started renovating the dilapidated steps across from his house. At first, he covered them only with blue, green and yellow tiles in honor of the Brazilian flag. As Selaron’s work became more well-known, people began sending him tiles from all over the world.
Nowadays there are tiles from more than 60 countries! This staircase is the perfect reason to visit the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. But, be careful, desert streets can be dangerous. Always make sure to be around locals, they will gladly help you find your way if you’re lost.
Entrance fee: : FREE.
Address: : R. Joaquim Silva, S/N – Centro, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 20241-110, Brazil.
Our walk in the gardens is one of our most memorable moments in Rio de Janeiro. Founded in 1808 by D. João VI, the Botanical Garden is an important touristic side of the city. It’s also visited by researchers who study the hundreds of species that are there, and if you love tropical nature you’ll love to explore it too.
With a total area of 137 hectares, being 54 of acreage, the Botanical Garden houses rare collections of bromeliads and orchids, as well as old trees and exotic plants. So if you don’t know what to do in Rio de Janeiro, you should definitely spend a couple of hours (at least) in this flourishing garden.
Entrance fee: : 15 Reias (3,4 EUR).
Opening hours: :
Monday 12:00 – 18:00
Tuesday to Sunday 08:00 – 18:00
Address: : Rua Jardim Botânico, no1008 Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22460-030, Brazil.
Ipanema beach is located in the Ipanema neighborhood, in the south of Rio de Janeiro.
This white sand beach is one of Rio’s most popular tourist spots today. Ipanema Beach was made famous by the great composer Vinicius de Moraes who composed the famous bossa nova song: A Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema).
The beach is bordered by a well-organized grid of shops, cafés and, restaurants as well as an array of art galleries, theaters, and clubs. In addition, it is demarcated by postos (posts), which mark off subcultures as diverse as the city itself. Posto 9 is where sunbathers and artist gather whereas families favor the section between posto 11 and post 12.
Address: : Posto 9: Av. Vieira Souto, 13 – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22404-000, Brazil.
Pedra do Arpoador:
Wedged between Copacabana and Ipanema is Arpoador, posto 7. This 500m-long beach is popular with families and surfers. It tends, however, to be a bit quieter than the other postos. And, at sunset, it has a laid-back and romantic vibe. We recommend you to take a few tapas, maybe a bottle of your favorite beverage and sit with the youth enjoying the evening. It’s really chill!
The beach’s main attraction is the vast, mainly flat, Arpoador Rock which was named after the harpoon-throwing Portuguese settlers and Brazilian natives. The latter would hunt whales from there (arpoador means striker in Portuguese).
Take one of the short walking trails up to the top to watch the sunset silhouette the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) peaks. Join the crowds cheering when it finally goes down. Known locally as the birthplace of surfing, floodlights keep the waters lit for after-dar wave riding.
Address: : Av. Francisco Bering, s/n – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22080-050, Brazil.
Despite being less known than the Corcovado or the Pão de Açúcar, Dois irmãos hill offers one of the most amazing views of the Cidade Maravilhosa. The official trailhead begins at the Northwest corner of Campo do Vidigal, a gated soccer field in the Vidigal favela. Follows a relatively testing 40-minute hike to the summit.
Once at the top, hikers can see the whole carioca south area including Ipanema, Lagoa and, the lesser-known East Zone of Rio.
Address: : Start of trail: s/n°, Av. Pres. João Goulart – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22451-264, Brazil.
Pedra do telegrafo:
Pedra do Telegrafo is atop a 354m hill (Morro de Guaratiba) about an hour drive west from the tourist area of Rio de Janeiro. The name comes from the Portuguese word “telegrafo” which means telegraph. That’s because a military communication station was based there during World War II.
Technically, it still is in Rio de Janeiro, but far past several neighborhoods. Also, it’s a very popular viewpoint among Brazilian people. Indeed, it is famous for its daring photos that virtualized on the internet.
People seem to be hanging from a big stone over a cliff while in reality, the abyss below the stone is just a visual impression. Our tip is to go there early because people can queue up to 6 hours to make their own version of this famous spot.
Address: : From this Cafe, walk with the ocean to your right and take the first street left. Cafe Restaurante e bar 9616 – Marambaia, Estrada Roberto Burle Marx – Barra de Guaratiba, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 23020-240, Brazil
Located in Zona Sul, Copacabana Beach is one of the most famous and beautiful beaches in the world. The atmosphere is very vibrant and the locals really seem to enjoy it as much as the tourists.
There are historic forts at both ends of Copacabana beach; Fort Copacabana built-in 1914, is at the South end by Posto Seis and Fort Duque de Caxias, built-in 1779, at the North end. Hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and residential buildings dot the promenade facing Avenida Atlântica.
On Sundays and holidays, one side of Avenida Atlântica is closed to cars. This gives residents and tourists more space for activities along the beach. But, if we had to choose between Copacabana and Ipanema we would choose Ipanema simply because it felt more authentic!
NOTE: If you want to take a dip in the water make sure that your bags are with a friend/partner. If you’re alone we recommend you buy a waterproof bag to put your belongings and have with you in the water. People will come to you, trying to sell you things. Others (if not the same) will try to steal.
Own experience: I had a wet bill in my shoe (I was trying to dry it in the sun without it being too obvious) but a guy tried to take it by talking to me and sitting next to it. He was not aggressive, just trying to outsmart me to have a bit more money to spend that day. But, I was the smartest!
Address: : Av. Atlântica, 4240 – Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22070-002, Brazil.
Christ the redeemer:
In the top of the mountain is installed Christ the redeemer, one of the most wanted touristic sides of Rio de Janeiro. Biggest and most famous scripture Art Déco of the world, the Christ statue started to be planned in 1921. It was developed by the engineer Heitor da Silva Costa over 5 years of job, from 1926 to 1931.
It’s located at Parque Nacional da Tijuca, 710 meters above the sea level, where anybody can appreciate one of the most beautiful views of the city. Overall 220 steps lead to the famous statue feet. It was elected one of the Seven Wonders of the World made by formal voting in 2007 by the Swiss Institution New 7 Wonders Foundation. The monument is accessible by train, van or car.
To get into the monument there’s a nice ride by train that, during 20 minutes, crosses Mata Atlântica until Corcovado’s top. Also, to make the access easy to the visitants, three panoramic elevators and four escalators were built. The view is breathtaking and, makes an unmissable program for those that visit the city.
Entrance fee: : Low Season: 65 Reias High Season: 79 Reias.
Opening hours: : 08:00 – 19:00
Address: : Train station: R. Cosme Velho, 513 – Cosme Velho, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22241-091, Brazil.
Conclusion to our list of what to do in Rio de Janeiro:
We could never recommend this city enough. Indeed, this gigantic city never ceases to surprise you. One minute you’re un an enormous jungle, surrounded by monkeys. The other minute, you’re eating tapiocas watching dancers performing samba. We can not wait to go back. We can not wait to explore more.
However, we know there are a lot of things that can get in the way, like seeing favelas and poverty. Also, even if we didn’t encounter any problem please be mindful. A lot of people there live in total poverty, with no health care or support whatsoever. People are not dangerous, but certain situations are. So, avoid showing that you have money like jewelry, phones or, expensive cameras. Apart from the risk, you put yourself in, you also bring a lot of frustrations to the people that are not as privileged as you/us.
This was our ultimate list for what to do in Rio de Janeiro. We hope you’ll find it useful. We’ll write more about our experience in the city later on, for now, it’s more of a practical blog. Feel free to comment, suggest topics for our next blog or, simply enjoy your read.
Kim and Rapha