Best Things To Do in Rio de Janeiro
If it's your first time in Rio, you can't pass up relaxing and people-watching along the shores of Copacabana or Ipanema. But don't spend all of your time at the shore; the Marvelous City has more spectacular natural beauty to offer with sites like Tijuca National Park and Sugar Loaf. Venture into charming neighborhoods like Santa Teresa and Lapa, to get a real taste of what it means to be a Cariocas (native Brazilians born in Rio de Janeiro).
Updated May 30, 2018
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This iconic landmark is a must-see attraction in Rio. Recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, this statue of Jesus Christ stands with arms outstretched to the city from above Corcovado Mountain's staggering 2,330-foot elevation.
Started in 1922 and completed in 1931, the monument — made of concrete and covered in soapstone mosaic tiles — stands 125 feet tall as a religious and cultural symbol of the Brazilian people's warm and welcoming culture. The monument rests atop Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca National Park and is the most famous attraction in Rio de Janeiro, visited by nearly 2 million people each year. Recent travelers recommend visiting on a day with clear skies since the vantage point is the best in the city.
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Spread out across more than 340 acres, this botanical paradise awes its visitors with more than 6,000 indigenous and exotic species of flora. This serene garden hosts everything from orchids to jasmine-mango heliconias.
The gardens were originally created in 1808 by Regent Prince D. João to acclimatize spices from other regions, and since its debut to the public in 1822, the verdant sanctuary has become a haven for locals and tourists; Albert Einstein even dropped in. The national park is also known as a premier botany and ecology research center.
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Outdoorsy types love exploring this expansive green rainforest. Covering 8,300 acres, Tijuca National Park is the largest urban rainforest on the planet. The natural beauty of the park can't be understated: it features varied terrains, waterfalls, more than 1,600 plant species and more than 350 different species of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.
Three million visitors a year take advantage of the natural beauty Tijuca has to offer. The park is split into three sectors – Forest, the Carioca Range and Pedra Bonita, and Gávea – and offers an extensive array of activities. The forest sector houses multiple hiking trails and picnic areas, while Carioca Hill is best known as the home of the Christ the Redeemer statue on the 2,330-foot Corcovado summit. Pedra Bonita and Gávea is the place for adventure seekers with activities like hang gliding and rock climbing.
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Made famous by the well-known bossa nova song, "The Girl from Ipanema," this beach has drawn tourists since the 1960s. The 2-mile stretch of sand boasts gorgeous mountain views, beautiful Brazilians and cobalt waters. While sunbathing, you'll observe wildly entertaining games of futevolei (the Brazilian version of volleyball without hands) and smell fresh shrimp grilling nearby on skewers.
Cariocas will tell you that Ipanema's vibrant atmosphere is the place to see and be seen, so it's tailor made for people-watching. Catch locals playing frescobol, a tennis-like game without a net played with wooden paddles, or venture off the sand for an even bigger taste of local culture at nearby restaurants, shops and art galleries.
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Standing high above Rio's bustling metropolis at 1,299 feet, Sugar Loaf Mountain cascades over the picturesque Guanabara Bay. From Praia Vermelha in the residential Urca district, you can take a three-minute cable car ride up to Morro da Urca and then hop on another cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf. From the glass-enclosed bondi (tram), you'll get a dazzling view of the city.
Visitors agree that the panoramic views at the top are breathtaking, particularly at sunset. The mountain's park also includes a history exhibit, an interactive Cable Car Plaza that displays the original cable cars used on the tram, the Baía de Guanabara Space that features restaurants and shops, as well as an outdoor amphitheater that seats 700 people.
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If you come to Rio to revel in samba, Lapa is the place for you. This festive neighborhood ignites at night, when locals swing their hips and sip on delectable cocktails. Brimming with rows of tapas bars, clubs and live music venues, Lapa's seductive night crawl certainly isn't lacking excitement or charm.
You'll definitely want to check out Rio Scenarium, the most popular Brazilian club that features three stories, vintage decor and a long list of craft cocktails. Other popular bars and nightclubs in the neighborhood include Lapa 40 Graus and Clube Dos Democraticos, which has been home to Brazilian music and dancing since 1867.
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Known as Brazil's "little" beach, this remote paradise sits about 20 miles west of Ipanema Beach, but is well worth the jaunt. Prainha's magnificent shoreline features a backdrop of rolling hills and verdant rainforest. Surfers covet the killer waves, while beachgoers marvel at the gorgeous sunsets. The shore empties out during the weekdays (particularly during Brazil's winter — June to September), making Prainha a great alternative to other tourist-laden beaches. However, swimmers and surfers take note: currents are strong and there are no lifeguards.
Recent travelers love the quieter, more local vibe at Prainha, especially in the offseason. While the beach boats plenty of sunbathing spots, visitors recommend bringing your own food and drink as the area lacks nearby restaurants and the options that are available tend to be overpriced. The best way to get there is by car, since the beach is about 13 miles west of downtown Rio.
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One of Rio's most popular shores, Copacabana is a public beach located in the heart of the luxurious Zona Sul neighborhood. The beach is marked by postos, or lifeguard stands, that offer changing rooms and restrooms for a small fee. Copacabana's 2.5-mile stretch of sand runs from Posto 1 to Posto 6, where you'll find a peninsula that houses the Historical Museum of the Army and Copacabana Fort.
Brimming with authentic eats, lavish accommodations and the beautiful Avendia Atlantica sideway made of mosaic tiles, Copacabana Beach boasts much more than powdery sands. Recent visitors raved about the beach and said the people-watching is some of the best in the world. Since the sands are always crowded, some travelers recommended just taking a sunset stroll along the water.
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This hilly bohemian district boasts an eclectic array of art and architecture. Strolling along Santa Teresa's cobblestone streets, you'll be enchanted by sidewalk mosaics, palatial mansions and artsy galleries. Conveniently situated just southwest of Lapa, this neighborhood offers traditional Brazilian restaurants, bars and craft stores.
Travelers say the beautiful neighborhood showcases the best of what is left of colonial Rio de Janeiro, with vibrant street life and a charming atmosphere that's safe to explore at night.
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Barra da Tijuca's expansive 11-mile stretch of coastline and adjacent shopping center, known to Cariocasas "Barra," is popular among locals. Recent travelers say it has a more relaxed environment than the sands at Copacabana and Ipanema. Visitors enjoy the clean waters, as well as its ideal conditions for water sports like windsurfing and bodyboarding. Along the shore, you'll find plenty of inexpensive shops, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as kiosks selling coconut water.
Because of its extensive shoreline and less dense population, the area will be home to the largest number of venues for the 2016 Olympic Games. The neighborhood will stage 23 Olympic sports, including basketball, tennis and all aquatic events.
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You won't find beachfront restaurants, luxurious hotels or plentiful kiosks here. Without them, you'll have space to stretch out on the nearly 2 miles of white and red sand. Part retreat for sun-seekers, part environmental reserve, this lovely beach is a ways away from the swooning tourists at Copacabana and Ipanema.
Travelers rave about Grumari Beach's cleanliness and natural beauty, but note that the trek there may take you awhile. Recent visitors said that even though the beach is about an hour's drive from the city, it's a hidden gem worth checking out.
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Set apart from the bustling sights and sounds of central Rio, this remote neo-Gothic castle rests on a tucked away island in the Guanabara Bay. Completed in 1889 and once a prime location for Brazilian Custom Service, Ilha Fiscal now serves as an illuminated city gem. Inside the castle, you'll find hardwood mosaic floors, elaborate stained glass, as well as the transformed Ceremonial Room that's now used for Navy formal events.
Guided tours of Ilha Fiscal are offered Thursday through Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. from the Cultural Center of the Navy, near Praça XV. The island is accessed by schooner and bus from the Naval Museum. Adult admission is $25 reais with discounts offered for seniors, teachers and students. For more information, visit the Ilha Fiscal website (written in Portuguese).
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