Best things to do in Rio de Janeiro: where to eat, stay and play

Rio de Janeiro is as exotic, as exciting, as colorful and as beautiful as one might expect. It is also huge. You could spend years in Rio and never experience it all, but if you focus on a few areas you’ll get a good idea of ​​what this city has to offer and inspire you for future visits.

First-time visitors should stay near or preferably on Copacabana Beach. It is the place to fall in love with this city.

Personally, I’ve always been torn about Rio. I had heard so many bad things about violence and poverty that I wanted to avoid it, and yet it drew me in with its thrills and breathtaking views. Now this is one of my favorite places in the world. Its combination of natural beauty and man-made attractions is simply unique. This vibrant, modern city set against the mountains and ocean is a vacation experience that’s hard to beat.

Things To Do In Rio De Janeiro

Rio is a cosmopolitan city of around seven million inhabitants. The region includes many bays and a mountainous interior. Fortunately, the main sights are easy to reach and so amazing that even a single day in the city will give you unforgettable memories.

Here are some of the best things to do in this charming city.

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Watch the mists dissipate in the Christ the Redeemer Statue

The landmark of Rio de Janeiro, the gigantic statue of Jesus Christ atop Mount Corcovado, stands almost 100 feet tall. The outstretched arms of Christ extend 92 feet. The mountain itself is nearly 2,500 feet tall, so this, the largest art deco statue in the world, is quite a sight. You can take the funicular then continue via an escalator to the top for stunning views of Rio and the many bay islands. Try to be there in the morning to watch the mists dissipate – it’s magic.

The Sugar Loaf cable car in Rio de Janeiro.

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Take the cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain

The other emblematic mountain of the city is the Sugar Loaf Mountain. This distinctively shaped granite rock features two peaks for the price of one and can be reached by taking the two-station cable car across Botafogo Bay. At the top the views are quite different from Mount Corcovado and well worth the trip. There is also a restaurant and plenty of little monkeys that will photobomb your photos.

Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Head to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema

Try saying “Copacabana” without singing it. Impossible, right? This beach is what Bondi Beach is in Sydney and is famous the world over for its setting, white sand, the beautiful people that frequent it, and its Rossio Square-like tiles in Lisbon. You just need to spend an hour or two on this beach, and if you’re staying at a nearby hotel you’ll have access to a section complete with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and someone to keep your bags while you jump in. waves. This beach is crowded, but the hotel sections tend to be less crowded.

Just around the corner is Ipanema Beach, another area of ​​Rio made famous by song. It’s supposedly more upscale than Copacabana, and admittedly closer to the pretty Leblon district with its good restaurants. However, for a visitor, there isn’t much of a difference between the beaches apart from location and convenience.

The entire Rio waterfront is divided into several posts, or marked lifeguarded sections that are numbered and known to locals to be best for LGBTQ + travelers, families, certain views, or sunsets. Each section offers changing rooms and rentals for a small fee.

The Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, Brazi.

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Discover the museum of tomorrow

Space age Museum of Tomorrow will leave you with an unpleasant aftertaste. It shows the history of the Earth, the history of mankind, and the wonders of the world, and then it shows very clearly and disturbingly what we are currently doing to our wonderful planet. But it also shows what needs to be done to preserve our home for tomorrow. It’s a revelation, that’s for sure.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Rio de Janeiro.

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Visit the contemporary art museum

One of the many intriguing structures designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, this flying saucer-like museum lies across Guanabara Bay in the town of Niteroi. You can take a taxi, bus, water taxi, or metro to cross the bay. You will appreciate the museum’s temporary exhibitions as well as the Niemeyer Road; Niteroi has the most Niemeyer buildings in the world after Brasilia. The views across the bay to Sugarloaf Mountain are also absolutely breathtaking.

Palm trees at the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro.

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Explore the botanical garden

Since Brazil is home to most of the world’s plant species, visit the Botanical Garden is a must. Alas, there is alone 8,000 species of Brazilian and international plant species in the garden – compared to 55,000 native species of Brazil – but there is certainly enough to delight any traveler, whether they have a green thumb or not. There are different paths to travel through different habitats, and you will spot many native animals that use the gardens as an extension of nearby Tijuca National Park.

Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the surrounding islands.

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Take a boat trip around the islands

One of the biggest surprises for me in Rio was the sheer number of islands dotted along the coast. One of the best ways to explore these islands, many of which are uninhabited, is by taking a boat trip. You’ll enjoy a day on the water with wonderful views of Rio, and you can choose any type of trip, from a swim or snorkeling to a picnic on a secluded beach. from Rio boat trips offer something for everyone.

Beef being cooked in a churrascaria in Brazil.

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What to eat in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro – and Brazil as a whole – offers cuisine inspired by Native American, Asian, African and European influences. Food is important here, and in Rio’s hot spots – around Copacabana, Ipanema, the Leblon and Botafogo neighborhoods – you’ll find plenty of small, colorful restaurants, all offering different cuisines. Here are some of the specialties of the region to discover.

Churrascaria

These are some of the most popular restaurants in Brazil, and they are not for the faint of heart. A churrascaria is basically a barbecue-focused place where the waiters keep bringing you different perfectly cooked pieces of beef until you tell them to stop. If you are not interested in red meat – or any other meat – then this is not an experience for you. If, however, you are a steak lover, this will be one of the best experiences of your life.

Pasteis And Empanadas

Pasteis and empanadas are small, deep-fried pieces filled with everything from chicken and beef to veg, and they’re available everywhere. Buy them from one of the street vendors and wash them with a caipirinha.

Caipirinhas

The caipirinha, the national cocktail, is ubiquitous and best enjoyed on the beach. If you sit on a part of the beach belonging to the hotel, a waiter will bring you a fresh strawberry caipirinha in your solarium. Nibble on a pastel with it and you’ll have Rio perfection.

Souvenir shops near the beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Where to shop in Rio de Janeiro

I hate going to the beaches over and over again, but while shopping in Rio is great and you can find all the top brands in the world, you don’t really come to Rio to shop. Unless you can shop on and along a beach ie.

On Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, you’ll see vendors sneaking around sun worshipers, carrying virtually anything you could want and more. Bikinis hang from umbrellas, just like sarongs; food, drink and ice cream pass by, as do sunglasses, beach balls and more. You can haggle, browse, and even try on swimsuits in portable booths.

For a unique shopping experience, go to Hippie market on Ipanema Beach, an institution since the 1960s. It is open every Sunday from 8 am to 8 pm. You can buy tie-dye outfits, jewelry, flip flops, art and home decor, etc.

Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro.

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Best hotels in Rio de Janeiro

Belmond de Copacabana Palace

From Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Rolling Stones and international royalty to Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber, the Belmond de Copacabana Palace hosted its fair share of famous guests. This iconic white hotel has a fantastic location and is worth saving, but you will have to, because a stay comes at a luxurious price.

Othon’s Palace

A few blocks away in Copacabana, but with much the same view – and without the celebrities – the Othon’s Palace is just as practical but a little cheaper. Pay extra for a sea view, because that’s what these places are all about – the view is just stunning.

Holiday rents

If you intend to stay a little longer and prefer space over location, you can find fabulous Holiday rents on Airbnb. These might be a bit out of town, but they offer peace and quiet after a day in Rio.

Pro tip: While it is quite safe to visit the sights in and around Rio, there is a lot of poverty and violence, so stay alert and don’t bring your best jewelry or purses on the trip.

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