Short and sweet: here are the top places to visit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics
Top 5 places to visit in Rio de Janeiro
Traveling to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics and wondering what to do and see in town when you’re not cheering for your country? Or staying a little longer after the games? Here I’ll give you some ideas.
For many people, Rio is a once in a lifetime destination. So what I recommend in this article may be a cliche for experienced travelers, but if it’s your first time in the city and you’re not sure if you’ll ever go back, these are the places to visit in Rio de Janeiro:
Copacabana is Rio de Janeiro’s most famous neighborhood and where most of the hotels are located. Today most cariocas (those who are born in Rio) don’t go to the beach there, as the beach is packed with tourists at anytime of the day. But they still use the oceanfront avenue to exercise (and you will see how serious they take it!).
Still, it’s a must go place. I’m sure you’d rather mingle with the locals, but Copacabana captures the essence of Rio. You’ve probably heard that soft and light Brazilian music style called Bossa Nova… Or maybe you don’t recognize the name, but think of a fusion of samba and jazz… Well, it was born here.
Take some time to drink a coconut water in one of the kiosks. Or come back in the evening when several kiosks offer live music…
At the beach, take a look at your left. Depending on your location, you will see the Sugarloaf mountain. On your right you see the Forte de Copacabana, a historical fortress built to protect Rio from foreign invaders. You also have an amazing view from there. There’s a small entrance fee (even if you’re just going to the cafe), but it’s worth a visit.
Also, if you like stand-up paddling, the area near the fortress is perfect! You can have a quick lesson and go for an adventure on the ocean in a matter of minutes!
In the evenings (as soon as it gets dark) there are 2 “feirinhas” (local handicrafts sales) in the neighborhood: one near the Othon Palace Hotel and the other at Praça do Lido. There you can find souvenirs and Brazilian memorabilia.
This is one of those images generally associated with Rio: the cable car going from one mountain to the other. And yes, the view from up there is amazing.
As dozens of people fit in the same cable car, normally you don’t wait too much in line (I think the longest I waited was about 30 min). But remember: you will need to catch 4 cable cars: 2 going up and 2 going down. So on weekends and holidays, the 30 min may turn into 2 hours. Nevertheless, it’s worth it.
The first cable car takes you to Morro da Urca. There are several events there throughout the year (even a New Years celebration), so take a look at their website in advance if you’d rather have a more exclusive and unique experience. When you go up for events or you make a reservation at the Cota 200 restaurant, most of the times you don’t need to buy a ticket until Morro da Urca. But always ask in advance.
The best time of the day for a visit? It doesn’t really matter. During the day the views are gorgeous, early evening you can see a fabulous sunset and in the evening it’s also really nice to see a different Rio de Janeiro.
Christ the Redeemer
When my husband first went to Rio by himself he didn’t go to Christ the Redeemer for thinking it’s only a religious location. Certainly, many people see the statue as a symbol of faith, but that’s not the only reason one should visit it. In my opinion, this is where you have the best views in town. Plus, the sculpture is really impressive. When I lived in Rio and had guests over, this was always the number one place to go on my list. And everyone was always amazed.
Now the downside: it can be a hassle to get up there because there are always too many people with the same idea. In 2016 they stopped selling tickets on site because sometimes you’d arrive in the morning and the next ticket was for 4 pm! It happened to me… Now, make sure you buy the ticket online or at one of the tourist information desks spread around the city.
If you’re looking for a remarkable experience, take a helicopter ride from Sugarloaf or Lagoa and escape the crowds. The experience is almost unbelievable. I had the opportunity to do it when I worked as a newscaster and it’s something I’ll never forget.
You’ve probably heard about “The Girl from Ipanema”, right? Yes, she really exists. And when you arrive in Ipanema you can understand how could a young girl inspire the songwriters who would compose one of the most famous Brazilian songs of all time.
Ipanema is trendy. It’s a place full of beauty everywhere. Full of fashion. It’s a lifestyle. This is where most young cariocas like going to the beach. The purpose is to see and be seen.
On the left you find Arpoador. If the ocean is right, it will be full of surfers. If not, it will become a giant natural pool. Make sure to come by for sunset. Cariocas generally gather to applaud it. At first, it happened during summer only, when the sunset occurs on the ocean (something uncommon on the east coast of the Americas). But it became something so popular that I’ve already experienced it even during winter. Just avoid coming to the beach here on summer weekends and holidays, as it gets reeeeeaaallyyy crowded.
On the right, you find Leblon, one of the most sophisticated neighborhoods in Rio. From the very end of Ipanema until the very end of Leblon, it’s a 30-minute walk. Both Ipanema and Leblon are great neighborhoods to stay and eat.
Forget the sophistication of Ipanema, the charm of bossa nova or the unbeatable views of Rio from up above. Lapa means Rio at its essence. From the mix of people to different styles and experiences. This is the old Rio at its best.
During the day you can visit the Selaron steps and in the evening go to one of the bars to experience live music. They are all located in the old houses, which have been totally refurbished. And it’s more than music. Cariocas also enjoy dancing, so depending on the location you choose and their schedule you will have a totally different time (enjoying the “forro” or a great night of rock, for instance).
Generally, I like to walk around and get in where I hear the best music. But if you’re uncertain, you can’t go wrong with Rio Scenarium. Just be prepared to pay a BRL 50 entrance fee (on Saturdays… On weekdays it’s a little cheaper).
And you? Do you agree with my top 5 list? What would you love to experience? If you’ve ever been to Rio, what’s your favorite attraction?
Thanks for stopping by,