A city defined by its dense forests and golden beaches, bustling with a complex urban life and influenced by the beat of samba, Rio de Janeiro is a travel destination unlike any other. Thanks to its abundance of iconic landmarks - the Christ the Redeemer, the Sugarloaf and Copacabana beach to name a few - there is plenty of amazing things to do in Rio. The issue is simply finding time to do it all! Here are some of the highlights of places to visit in Rio de Janeiro that will truly make your trip a memorable one.
The Christ the Redeemer
As one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, the mighty Christ the Redeemer is an iconic symbol of Brazil and draws thousands of tourists each year. To avoid the crowds, the best time to go is during the week or first thing in the morning. While the statue itself is impressive, it’s the views there that will really take your breath away. There are three ways to the top:
- Take the train. The train station is at Cosme Velho and follows a winding railway track through the forest up Corcovado mountain to the top where the Christ the Redeemer stands. You can either get tickets at any of the Riotur kiosks across the city or at the station itself. The tickets include the entrance to the Christ.
- Take the van. The official van takes you straight to the top and the price of the ticket includes the entrance to the Christ.
- Hike. This is one of the most interesting ways to get to the Christ as the forest trail goes up Corcovado, yielding to dense vegetation, skittish monkeys, and trickling waterfalls. You can pay for the entrance to the Christ at the top but be aware that you can only pay in cash!
The Sugarloaf Mountain
Rio’s most iconic natural landmarks, the Sugarloaf Mountain offers spellbinding panoramic views of the sparkling blue ocean, fluffy forests, and tall peaks of multi-floored buildings. The most rewarding time to go is in the evening to watch an unforgettable sunset.
To get there, you can take a cable car from the station next to Praia Vermelha in Urca to the top of Morro da Urca. From there, you take another cable car over the ocean to the summit of the Sugarloaf. Tickets can be bought at the station at the bottom.
One of the city’s most beloved places to visit in Rio de Janeiro, the Escadaria Selaron is a 125-metre staircase leading from Lapa to Santa Teresa. Its most defining feature is the thousands of vibrantly colored tiles that form a striking mosaic that neatly covers every inch of the stairway. The stairs take their name from the Chilean-born artist, Jorge Selaron, who dedicated his life to decorating the stairs in honor of his love for Brazil and its people. You may remember the Escadaria Selaron for featuring in the music video Beautiful by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.
Pedra do Sal
There is no music that better defines Rio de Janeiro than samba. For a truly local experience, head to Pedra do Sal on a Monday evening, when the square in the city center fills up with local samba bands who come together for a spontaneous jamming session. Locals and visitors head there to sip on strong caipirinhas or chilled beers in Rio’s balmy evenings whilst mingling and enjoying the music. One of the reasons this one of the best places to visit in Rio de Janeiro is because the atmosphere is really laid back so feel comfortable to keep the dress code casual and breezy.
An interesting fact about Pedra do Sal is that the area was once the main point for slave trading in the 16th century and the region is now a Cultural Heritage area.
Mirante Dona Marta
This incredible viewpoint lets you see several of Rio’s most famous landmarks all in one sweeping panoramic view, including Guanabara Bay, the Christ the Redeemer, and Sugarloaf Mountain. Mirante Dona Marta is next to Tijuca Forest and is abuzz with birds, large lizards, and curious monkeys. The best way to get there is to take a taxi to the top. Just make sure you arrange a taxi back down again as they don’t pass by spontaneously.
Ilha de Paqueta
A tiny island just off the bay of Rio’s city center is an idyllic spot for a city retreat whilst just being a 30-minute boat trip from the bustling metropolis. Ilha de Paqueta has several enchanting features such as its clean beaches, family-owned bars, and a strict no-motor zone which means getting around is dependent on bikes, walking, or horseback.
Interesting Tip: Ilha Paqueta is also known for having vibrant street parties during Carnival. The atmosphere is friendly, safe and a lot of fun.
The most popular places to visit in Rio de Janeiro are its famous beaches. Rio de Janeiro is known for its golden coastline combined with a hot, sunny climate. The most popular tourist beaches are Copacabana and Ipanema, each having its own charming and distinct characteristics. Copacabana is a whirlwind of activity with families basking in the sun, sport-lovers playing football or volleyball, and beach vendors relentlessly walking the beach selling a variety of products. Ipanema, on the other hand, is lined with tropical palm trees and is the local hangout for the young and beautiful of Rio who goes there to top up their tans.
To get an off-the-beaten track experience though, head to Prainha or Joatinga to the west of Rio de Janeiro. The two beaches offer a secluded retreat for those willing to travel a bit further from the tourist hotspots and offer great surfing opportunities, gorgeous beaches, and an exotic forest backdrop.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Rio de Janeiro is that it is one of the only places in Brazil where you can safely visit a favela. A great way of getting to know them is through a favela tour, which is actually a very eye-opening and insightful experience to see the reality of life there. Many people are surprised to see that favelas have a fully-functioning community there with supermarkets, banks, schools, and doctors, and are not the faces of poverty and miserable as sometimes they are made out to be. Rocinha and Vidigal are the two safest favelas to visit. Vidigal is known for great weekend parties at the top of the community that starts late and goes on until the early hours of the next morning - it's one of those unforgettable places to visit in Rio de Janeiro.
The nightlife center of Rio de Janeiro is in Lapa, an edgy part of town known for its bar and club-lined streets. The main street is Avenida Mem de Sá where all the lively bars and clubs are located, bringing samba-fuelled nights to the hundreds of people that flock there every weekend. If you want to have a more low-key night, then go to the Arcos de Lapa for the all-night street parties where drinks are sold at makeshift stands and music is provided by spontaneous bands.
The Institute For The Memorial And Research Of The New Blacks
This museum doesn’t make it to the traditional guidebook list of places to visit as often as Rio’s impressive art galleries and informative museums, yet The Institute For The Memorial And Research Of The New Blacks is both fascinating and heart-breaking at the same time and has great cultural significance. The museum takes visitors on a walk through the history of slavery in Rio and is located in at the port where more than 2 million slaves arrived between 1500 and 1856. It is also the final resting ground of about 30,000 enslaved Africans who didn’t make the journey over to Rio. It gives an informative and historical look into a past that deeply influences the culture of Rio today.
Bio: A Guest Post by Sarah Brown from Now in Rio. Now in Rio is a travel and culture website that provides comprehensive information about Rio de Janeiro for both tourists and anyone interested in travel and/or Brazil. It seeks to change perspectives, shatter stereotypes and introduce you to the real Rio de Janeiro - its vibrant communities, delicious local cuisine, thriving underground culture and unbelievable scenery. To follow their adventures, visit their website, Facebook and/or Instagram page.