Welcome to my new travel series where local’s share their tips and advice about their hometowns. In this guide, you’ll learn what to see, where to eat and drink, what to buy and all the information needed to make your holidays unforgettable.
On this post, Yvonne shares his top things to do in Rio, Brazil.
A local’s guide: Things to do in Rio, Brazil
My name is Yvonne Ivanescu and I currently live in the most beautiful city in the world: Rio de Janeiro. It’s not called the marvellous city for nothing! I first fell in love in Brazil 5 years ago when I visited the city for one week. Before I left I promised myself that I would one day return. When I came back to Rio de Janeiro I noticed that there wasn’t enough information available about the real Rio de Janeiro, outside the normal tourist attractions. So, along with a fellow expat, we decided to change that. We launched Now in Rio, a travel and culture website that focuses exclusively on Rio de Janeiro.
Top 5 Things to do in Rio de Janeiro
- Christ the Redeemer. An obvious choice, but it must be included in every list. A cultural icon of both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, if you want to get up to Cristo Redentor you can either take a van, buy a ticket for the train or hike your way up. If you choose to hike, the entrance is in Parque Lage, a public park located at the foot of Corcovado.
- Sugarloaf + Urca: Another obvious recommendation that shouldn’t be missed in Rio de Janeiro. The views at the top are breathtaking and the whole journey to the top is an adventure in itself. Getting there is straightforward and can be mostly done without a guide. You can either hike up Morro da Urca then taking the cable car (or Bondinho as it’s known in Portuguese) the rest of the way or take the cable car from the bottom all the way to the top. It’s your choice! If you have time after sightseeing, I recommend heading over to Bar e Restaurante Urca for a cold beer and delicious crab/fish cakes while watching the sun set over the bay.
- Lapa + Selarón. Ready to party? Lapa is famous for its nightlife. But steps from the white aqueducts, are theSelarón Steps, a set of world-famous (and incredibly colourful) steps that are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaró I recommend visiting the steps first, before heading over to Lapa for some caipirinhas. Once in Lapa, why not head over to Rio Scenarium, a multilevel bar for pub fare & cocktails, plus live music & dancing.Warning: Lapa can be dangerous, pickpocketing is incredibly common. Watch your things and never wander off by yourself. If it’s late call a taxi or UBER and don’t wander far from the bar/club that you exiting.
- Vidigal & Dois Irmãos. Vidigal is one (if not THE) safest favela in Rio de Janeiro. I lived there for three months in 2016 without any problems – in fact, I loved it! Vidigal has a lot of great attractions. I would recommend take a moto-taxi up to the entrance of the Two Brothers hike just before the sunsets. The sunrise and sunset Dois Irmãos hikes are the best. If you choose to do the sunset hike then head over to Bar da Laje or the Restaurante DoisIrmaos Do Vidigal afterwards for some dinner and drinks before catching a taxi or UBER home.
- Sunset at Arpoador. Come early and bring a blanket before settling down on the Arpoador rock to watch an epic sunset.
Two off the beaten path things to do in Rio de Janeiro
- Parque Lage: Parque Lage is a public park located in Jardim Botânico at the foot of the Corcovado. The park is home to a beautiful mansion that was notably featured in the 2003 music video for Snoop Dogg’s single “Beautiful.” Inside is a café, which is the perfect place for breakfast or brunch.
- Parque das Ruinas: Located on Santa Teresa hill, Parque das Ruínas has one of the most beautiful views over Rio de Janeiro.
Top 3 Restaurants in Rio de Janeiro
- Aprazível: located in Santa Teresa, Aprazível offers scrumptious (and traditional) Brazilian cuisine paired with a stunning view.Along with its award-winning cuisine, the restaurant is committed to sustainable practices, such as collecting rainwater, using organic produce, collecting burnt oil for biodegradable soap production, recycling, and composting.
- Casa Feijoda: a traditional Brazilian restaurant specializing in feijoada & sides served on a relaxing terrace. But wait, what is feijoada? Feijoada is the national dish of Brazil and is a stew of beans with beef and pork.
- Fogo de Chão: if you come to Brazil, then you must go to a churrascaria. What is it? A churrascaria is a Brazilian steakhouse, rodizio style. Passadors (meat waiters) come to your table with knives and a skewer, on which are speared various kinds of meat, like beef, pork, filet mignon, lamb …. I can go on and on.
Top 3 Bars in Rio de Janeiro
- Canastra: I have searched far and wide for the best-priced wine in Rio’s Zona. Canastra’s wine is not only the cheapest I found (R$14 per glass | USD$4) but all of their products (wine and food) are all sourced from local Brazilian producers. Tuesdays are known as wine and oyster night, but make sure to come incredibly early because the bar fills up quickly.
- Belmonte: if you are looking for a cold beer and some delicious finger food, then make sure to stop off at Belmonte, which has locations in Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon.
- Academic da Cachaça: if you didn’t know already cachaça is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. It is also the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Cachaça is the main ingredient in caipirinhas and some of the best caipis you can find in Rio de Janeiro are found here.
- Delirium: I know it said top 3 bars, but I had to add one last bar. If you’ve been to Brussels, you’ve probably heard about or been to Delirium. Well Rio de Janeiro also has one! It doesn’t have 2,000 different types beers (like the one in Belgium) but it does have a great selection. The only problem? Be ready to reach deep into those pockets as a beer can be quite expensive.
Best Area to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
The best area depends on what you are looking for: Ipanema is perfect for people who want to be walking distance to one of the best beaches in Zona Sul; Santa Teresa is a perfect hill side retreat in an artistic environment; Vidigal offers spectacular views and a truly local experience; Botafogo is in close proximity to an array of foodie options and Recreio is a surfers paradise approximately 32 km away from Zona Sul.
Traditional Dishes to try in Rio
Brazil may not be well known on the global culinary scene but for those in the know, the country has some real gastronomic gems:
- Pão de Queijo, a soft on the inside, crispy on the outside cheese bread, is one of my favourite go-to snacks. They are also gluten-free!
- Brigadeiros are balls of truffle made from condensed milk and cacao powder before being covered in chocolate sprinkles.
- Pastels are typically served in two ways – either as large, rectangular pastels (known as pastel de vento, or ‘windy pastel’) found at the farmers’ market or as small, half-moon-shaped pastels commonly found at bars. Popular fillings include minced meat, cheese, pizza (cheese, tomato, and oregano), heart of palm, chicken, and prawns.
- Feijoada, a black bean stew slow-cooked with meat, is the national dish of Brazil and the ultimate comfort food.
Suggestion: Brazilian Food And Caipirinhas Cooking Class
The Best Way to Get Around Rio
You can either take the metro, which is incredibly reliable or download these apps: Capify, 99 Taxis or UBER. I would personally recommend avoiding buses as they can be a little tricky.
Best Spot to See Rio from Above
Thanks to its mountainous landscapes and rocky peaks, there is an abundance of amazing hikes across the city from gentle ambles to more challenging feats that will offer you an amazing view of Rio de Janeiro. One of best hikes in terms of its low difficulty to amazing view ratio is Pedra Bonita. Other hikes include: Dois Irmãos, Pedra da Gávea, Pedra Telegrafo, Cachoeira do Horto and of course Corcovado (the Christ the Redeemer hill) – all of which have stunning views. For a complete step-by-step guide to hikes in Rio de Janeiro click here.
The best souvenirs to buy from Rio.
The best souvenirs that you can pick in Rio are: a canga (is similar to a pareo, sarong, or big lightweight scarf – BUT BETTER), Havaianas, artisanal cachaça and/or a true Brazilian bikini, but only if you’re ok with the fact that it doesn’t cover much of your butt.
Best day trips from Rio de Janeiro
Petrópolis, Paraty, Buzios, Arrial do Cabo, Cabo Frio and Ilha Grande
Tourists Traps to Avoid in Rio
Unlike many other South American countries, I haven’t heard of many tourist traps here in Rio de Janeiro. I personally would avoid going to Copacabana beach during they day as it went out of fashion in the 1960s. It find the water incredibly dirty and usually opt to take a dip in the ocean in either Ipanema or Leblon if I feel like a swim. However, Copacabana is much livelier once the sun goes down and I always love taking a stroll down the boulevard and/or sitting at one of its many kiosks.
Other than that, expect higher prices in tourist areas. Leblon is one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in Rio but offers a great selection of food and drinks with a sophisticated atmosphere. Like anywhere in the world, weekends are packed in almost every tourist venue and I would recommend visiting tourist areas like Christ or Sugarloaf during the week and/or early in the morning.
If you plan on going to see Christ the Redeemer, make sure to buy your tickets in advance as lines, especially on the weekends, can be incredibly long. There are also A LOT of tour companies that run tours in Rio de Janeiro, so make sure to check out their website, Facebook and TripAdvisor page before booking. If the guide does not speak English, than that’s a red flag. Don’t book with the random individuals trying to flag you down on the beaches, as those tours are usually not the highest quality.
Suggestion: Rio City Day Tour
If you do plan on doing a favela tour, please book responsibly and ask questions. The worst thing you can do is drive up in one of those safari-type jeep vans and take pictures of community-members as if they are animals in the wild. Instead, book community-run organizations where the money is funnelled back into the community.
Suggestion: Half day Favela Walking Tour
Lastly, if you want a real Rio de Janeiro experience, look around and book smaller-type tours as they are often the most authentic. And if you need any help with planning any your trip to Rio de Janeiro, make sure to reach out to me via Now in Rio.
See you in Rio!
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