We haven’t been everywhere (although it’s on our list), but we have a hunch there are few cities as full of life as Rio de Janeiro. Its energy is infectious, the people are living life to the fullest, and the culture is rich. Not to mention it is one of the most geographically stunning cities in the world.
There is so much to check out, but here are just a few of our favourite things you have to do in Rio de Janeiro.
Hit up Copacabana beach
As one of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana is just as sultry and alive as you dreamed it would be. Head here to sunbathe but don’t expect to get too relaxed – bronzed babes are working on their tanlines; vendors are selling sarongs, seafood, and bevvies; surfers are riding the waves; and the locals are engaging in a game of full-contact soccer. Copacabana is truly a uniquely Rio experience.
Party in Lapa
We don’t think anyone needs to be convinced that Brazilians know how to party (Carnival, anyone?), so it goes without saying that going out in Rio is just something you have to experience. Head down to the party district Lapa for samba on the streets until sunrise.
Take the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain
Rio is a city of many hills, and there is no better way to take in its beauty than from the top. Take the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain and try to keep breathing as you take in the stunning views of Copacabana and Ipanema Beach, Christ the Redeemer, the boat-spotted bays and luscious hills of this topographically gorgeous city.
Indulge in a caipirinha (or two)
Brazil’s take on a mojito and its national beverage, a caipirinha is a must-try while you’re in Rio. A concoction of Brazil’s distilled alcoholic beverage cachaça, sugar and lime, this is the perfect refreshment for a day under the Brazilian heat. You can also try our personal favourite variation, a caipiroska! (The secret ingredient is vodka.)
Stroll through Ipanema
More upscale and tame than its neighbour to the north, Copacabana, Ipanema consists of trendy hotels, shopping, and dining that veer on the higher end of the budget. Its seaside presents a lovely palm-tree-lined boardwalk with mosaic tile flooring, and a stunning view of the Two Brothers mountain peaks flanked by a colourful favela. Ipanema is prime sunset viewing territory.
Tour a favela
Brazil’s low-income areas or slums are called favelas, and you will see them in the form of densely packed houses crawling up the hillside of most mountains in Rio. Although they may seem dangerous and must be approached with caution, taking a credible local tour through will give you an enlightening look into how a third of the population lives. Please don’t venture into these settlements on your own, but do speak to your accommodation manager if you are interested in educating yourself on this side of Rio.
Stroll through the botanical gardens
Set aside an afternoon to visit Rio’s natural oasis of Jardim Botanico. You will come across many different flora and fauna that show just how unique Brazil’s wildlife is. There are also many lovely fountains, a snack bar and gift shop for all your touristy needs. You’ll be able to catch awesome glimpses of Christ the Redeemer overseeing the city in the background. Make sure to walk down the palm-tree-lined paths for a great Insta op.
Visit Christ the Redeemer
Yes, there will be swarms of tourists here, but this is an attraction that we can truly say is worth the crowds. Book your tickets online to beat the line, and take the next available tram to the top.
The hilltop statue is visible throughout most of the city (think Eiffel Tower in Paris) and to be right up close and personal with it in all its glory, while taking in the stunning panoramic views of the city and ocean below, is a humbling and can’t-miss experience.
Get that ‘gram at the Selaron Steps
Chilean-born artist Escadaria Selaron created these steps as a tribute to the Brazilian people, but if that doesn’t ring a bell, maybe you also recognize these colourful steps from good ol’ Snoop Dogg and Pharrell’s music video for Beautiful? Head to this vibrant landmark in Lapa to get that perfect Insta.
Hike Tijuca Forest
Rio is all about the views, so it’s important that you see the city from every vantage point possible. Known as the world’s largest urban forest, Tijuca National Park is an incredible display of nature that you just have to check out. Follow the trails through this tropical rainforest as you come across lush mountainous peaks, cascading waterfalls, and many new species of birds and animals including iguanas and monkeys.
Check out the street art
Rio is a vibrant, artistic, edgy city in every way – and this is often best expressed through its street art. Check out the streets and back alleys of neighbourhoods like Lapa and Santa Teresa for some of the best graffiti in the city. Your Insta feed will thank you.
Climb Morro Dois Irmãos
This may be the most epic hike in the world. Set your alarm for pre-sunrise, arrange for a reliable ride as you will be driving through a favela, and take the hour-long trek (give or take, depending on your fitness level) through the forest of the Two Brothers Peak. You will be rewarded with an absolutely insane view of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Companies like Universo Trail can help coordinate.
Schedule your trip around Carnival
Visiting Rio at any time of the year will show you that Brazilians know how to party. However, if you’re flexible with your schedule and you want to experience the ultimate party, book your trip for Carnival festival in March. The entire country dresses up in their Brazilian best (read: feathers and tassels and not much else) to samba ’till the sun comes up. And then when the sun is up, they start all over again.
Rio is constantly surprising us and there is so much more to experience, but this list will give you a good launchpad!
Want to contribute to Mapped and share more info about Rio or another city? Email us at [email protected]