Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s second largest city. It is home to amazing beaches and breathtaking landscapes. Here are 10 of my favorite things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
1. Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer
Corvovado translates to “hunchback” in Portuguese. The mountain is located in the center of Rio, at the top of Tijuca Forest. It is known for the 125′ statue of Jesus atop it, known as Christ the Redeemer or Christo Redentor in Portuguese.
How to get to the top?
There are a few ways to get see Christ the Redeemer up close. Take the train, a tour, shared passenger van, hike to the top, or take a taxi.
The train leaves every 30 minutes and travels to the top through Tijuca Forest. It may not be the fastest way to the top but it is one the most popular. It runs from 8AM-8PM on the half hour and on the hour.
Hiking offers a longer, less crowded, and scenic trek to the top. A taxi is good for travelers in a hurry.
Read 5 Ways to Visit Christ the Redeemer for more info about getting there.
2. Selarón’s Staircase (Escadaria Selarón)
This stairway is a work of art by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. The steps run from Joaquim Silva street and Pinto Martins street. There are 250 steps, more than 2,000 tiles, from over 60 countries around the world.
With more than 2,000 tiles to see be sure to see Selarón’s work for yourself. It is more than just a staircase, it is a work of art and worth a visit.
3. Head to a Soccer Match (futebol –> foo-tchee-BOW)
The passionate fans of the local teams in Rio make any football game an exciting event. The good news is you can catch a game almost year-round since the sport is rarely not in season. With multiple leagues, cups, and teams all playing at Estádio do Maracanã there is good change there will be a match being played during your stay.
Many tours are offered to attend a game, which is an option but not necessary. With a little research and planning you can head to the stadium and attend your first futebol match in Rio.
This guide is a fantastic resource for catching your first match in Rio de Janeiro.
4. Sunset at Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar)
Taking the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf in Rio is a must do but seeing the sunset is even better.
The time of the sunset is going to change depending on when you are visiting so adjust for your times accordingly. I would plan to arrive a minimum of 45 minutes to 1 hour before sunset to enjoy the view.
My sunset plan was to arrive by 6:15 PM
4:30 p.m. Get taxi to Sugarloaf
5:10 p.m. At Station 1- cable car ticket office
5:20 p.m. Take cable car to Urca Hill- 5 minute ride
5:25 p.m. At Urca Hill -photo spot
5:40 p.m. Take cable car to Sugarloaf -5 minute ride
5:45 p.m. At Sugarloaf – Enjoy the view
Sunset: Between 6:15 PM and 6:20 PM
Tip of the hat to MyRiotravelguide.com for their sunset inspiration.
5. Dine with a Local
This isn’t unique to Rio de Janeiro because I recommend it in any city around the world. There are many sites that offer you the chance to eat with a local in their home. My favorite is EatWith and they are expanding quickly around the world. Right now Rio has limited options compared to other large cities but the options available look great.
Check out all the places available to EatWith in Rio available now and I am sure this will only keep growing with time.
6. Drinks at Bar Urca
There is a restaurant located inside at Bar Urca but most people grab their drinks to go and head across to the wall to take in the view and watch the sun go down. As my friend in Rio told me:
You must come to Urca and see the sundown from the Bar Urca. It is nice to drink a beer and see the cariocas (locals) having fun!!! Don’t misss it!!!!
More info at BarUrca.com.br
7. Side Trip to Búzios
The first time I went to Brazil I headed straight for Búzios. Only 2.5 hours from Rio, Búzios is home to around 20,000 people and a popular getaway for city dwellers. It was made famous in the 60s when the famous French actress Brigitte Bardot visited for the first time.
It the high season Búzios is busy but from March to June or September to November there are less crowds. Búzios could be seen in a day but better enjoyed over a long weekend depending on how much time you have in Rio.
More info on Buzios
8. The Beaches of Rio de Janeiro
Rio is well known for its plentiful beaches and the beautiful people who enjoy them. There are many to choose from and I would recommend visiting a few if possible.
Copacabana- This iconic and crowded spot is popular among everyone who visits Rio. It offers over 2 miles of beach and is flanked by the mountains. There are plenty of spots to enjoy a drink here and sit back to enjoy the view.
Ipanema– Everyone knows the song so why not check out the beach. Ipanema is more upscale than Copacabana and just around the corner from it. You find this is a popular spot for people who want to see and be seen.
Barra da Tijuca Beach- This is Rio’s longest beach and offers 11 miles of sandy beach along the water. This is an ideal spot to learn to surf or hone your kite surfing skills. It is also home to many of the 2016 Olympic venues.
Prainha Beach- If the sounds and sites have worn you out at Copacabana and Ipanema then it is time to head to Prainha. This beach offers a quiet sanctuary away from the crowds. You are more likely to encounter families and fewer beach vendors here which is worth the extra distance from city center.
9. Experience Carnival
Carnival is an experience unlike any other. Of course it will take some planning and additional expenses to attend carnival in Rio it is once in a lifetime event.
It is the largest carnival in the world and dates back to 1723. There are over 2 million people in the streets every single day celebrating. It occurs every year before lent which makes it difficult to time your trip around such a massive event. However, if the dates work for you and you can afford to increase your budget for this time of year it is completely worth it.
More info at Rio-Carnival.net
10. Explore the Favelas
So you have seen City of God and probably don’t want to step foot in a favela which is understandable. However, not all favelas are quite the same and some are even improving. There are even some decent apartment rentals and highly rated hostels located in favelas now.
I would recommend going with a local who knows their way through the neighborhoods or hire a local guide. You don’t want to end up in the wrong neighborhood. Rio is safer than it’s reputation but purposely putting yourself in a dangerous situation is unsafe in any big city. Go to a favela with a guide and be respectful. Dress modestly and consider leaving the big camera at home. Remember you are walking through someone’s neighborhood. Imagine if someone toured your neighborhood and started sticking a camera in your face. Following a few simple rules I think you can experience the favelas in a positive way.
This tour by RDJ4U.com even donates part of their tour cost to local schools in the community.
Rio de Janeiro Resources
You could easily spend weeks exploring Rio de Janerio so don’t limit yourself to just the things above. These are just some of my favorites but there is always more to see and do.
I recommend Rio Airport Transfer. There is always the option to take a taxi but if you are in a group an airport service may be an easy solution for you. It is not necessary but many people prefer it to a taxi.