Top 5 things to do in Río the “Cidade Maravilhosa”

by Virginia Crivelli
Travel Specialist in Trips SouthAmerica

From the panoramic hilltop views to sunsets on the beach, Rio de Janeiro, is one of the top tourist destinations in Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro known as the Cidade Maravilhosa, the “Marvellous City” is one of the top tourist destinations in Brazil.

It is located off the South Atlantic coast and is the most visited city in the southern hemisphere. Rio is famous for its Carnivals, Samba, the Corcovado Christ the Redeemer, white sandy beaches, towering mountains, picturesque harbour and breathtaking scenery. Visitors flock to Rio because of its diversity.

Experience the local cuisine, from delicious feijoada to refreshing caipirinhas, and encounter the warmth and hospitality of the Cariocas, as the city’s inhabitants are known. Whether you’re exploring its historic neighbourhoods, enjoying a live samba show or simply relaxing on the beach, Rio de Janeiro guarantees an unforgettable adventure for every traveller.

Check out our list of things to do! In Rio de Janeiro, boredom is not an option!

1. The famous “Christ the Redeemer” (Corcovado) and The Sugarloaf Mountain.

There are 2 things that cross my mind as soon as someone says “Rio” and these things are: Carnival and the famous and most iconic landmark of the Cidade Maravilhosa: The Christ Redeemer Statue.

Towering 2,310 feet above the city of Rio, the Christ the Redeemer statue has fascinated experts and historians for nearly a hundred years.

It’s the fourth largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world, the largest Art Deco-style sculpture on the planet, and to top it all off, in 2007 the statue was deemed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World along with Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China and the Roman Colosseum.

Perched on the summit of Mount Corcovado in Rio, the statue stands at a whopping 98 feet (or 30 metres) tall (making it two-thirds the height of New York’s Statue of Liberty), and its outstretched arms reach to 92 feet (or 28 metres) horizontally.

Times to Visit
Corcovado: Every day from 8 am to 7 pm
Sugarloaf: Every day from 8 am to 9 pm
Include
English/Portuguese speaking guide.
Costs
Check their websites:
Corcovado – Sugarloaf
Requirement
Anyone can do it.
There’s no age restriction.

One of the best views you can have of the Christ is from the Sugarloaf Mountain.

Ascent to this monolith, the highest in South America, is made in two stages: first to the top of Urca Hill, travelling from Praia Vermelha to a height of 220 meters above sea level and then the cable car goes all the way to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, for a breathtaking 360 degree view of Rio de Janeiro, Guanabara Bay, the city of Niteroi and the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. And, to top off this experience, you can stay to see the sunset while the sun goes down behind the statue of the Christ!

Tip: You can visit these places all in 1 Full Day Excursion with English speaking guide, tickets and transportation taking a City Tour (with this one you won’t go up to Christ Redeemer by train) during this tour you’ll also visit Lapa Arches, Santa Teresa and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

2. Santa Teresa & Lapa Neighbourhood, Selarón Steps & the Metropolitan Cathedral by Edgar Fonseca.

You can’t really say you’ve been in Rio without visiting Santa Teresa, Lapa with the colourful Selarón Steps and the iconic Metropolitan Cathedral.

Santa Teresa is the bohemian neighbourhood by excellence in Rio where many artists used to hang out and Lapa is home of the picturesque and worldwide known Selarón Staircase. These ones were made by Jorge Selarón, a Chilean artist and world traveller that felt in love with the wonderful city and the bohemian atmosphere of Santa Teresa and Lapa. This man was living on top of the stairs, which connect both neighbourhoods.
The stairs were in very bad condition so he decided to do something about it and in 1990 he started decorating them with different ceramic tiles in blue, green and yellow, just like the Brazilian flag due to he wanted to honour this country because of their hospitality but also because of the FIFA World Cup. After some time he started adding red on the sides of the stairs due to this was his favourite colour and also one of the main colours of the Chilean flag.

As an artist he started running out of money and had to sell his paintings to keep working on this project. His work became so well-known around the world that he started receiving tiles as a gift from travellers from all over the world, that’s why you can find a lot of random and beautiful designs when walking up and down this beautiful piece of art.

Leaving this city without this colourful and amazing picture would be a sin!

Interest fact: A lot of famous artist like Snoop Dog and bands like U2 have recorded a music video here!

Close by the stairs you will see Lapa Arches, which originally were made to work as an aqueduct and today are an ornamental monument that reminds Roman architecture and is actually working as a bridge for the cable car. The area of Lapa is very well-known for having great nightlife and nice restaurants such as Rio Scenarium, and also plenty of places to stay in (hotels, hostels, B&B, etc).

From Lapa Arches you have a 5 minute walk approximately to get to the imposing Metropolitan Cathedral which most of the people think it was created by Oscar Niemeyer, the most famous architect from Brazil worldwide, who had constructed the actual capital of the country: Brasilia.

São Sebastião Cathedral was created by the architect Edgar de Oliveira da Fonseca ,the engineer Newton Sotto Maior and the master builder Joaquim Corrêa.

The Mayan pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, inspired the solution to carry out this project. To be honest, it isn’t my favourite church… at least from the outside. But, inside, you have 4 stained glasses that will blow your mind!

3. Copacabana & Ipanema Beaches.

When I think in Brazil, the first thing that comes to my mind is the beach, drinking Caipirinhas and dancing samba music with “the happiest people in the world”. So, if you’re in Rio, you can’t stop going to Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. These are the most famous and longest in the city. Alongside them you can find lots of nice and some of the most expensive hotels, souvenir shops and plenty of good restaurants which serve from international dishes to typical local food.

Interest fact: the famous bossa nova song “Garota de Ipanema” (Girl from Ipanema) wrote by Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim was inspired by a beautiful woman that was always walking by in front of “Veloso Bar” (today called Garota de Ipanema) to the Ipanema beach, place where these two musicians used to hang out.

You can’t leave this country without trying the “Feijoada” (the national dish), a stew made with black beans and pork usually served with rice and “farofa” (manioc flour that can have little pieces of bacon). On these beaches you can find lots of restaurant/bars with good music and exceptional seafood. You can also buy “milo” (sweet corn with butter and salt), caipirinhas, beer and even bikinis and beautiful colourful dresses from any of the street vendors for a few “reais” (Brazilian currency). If appeals you, getting a nice, relaxing massage is more than affordable and also possible to get just there while lying on the beach drinking your caipirinha

4. Live Samba Show at “Río Scenarium”

Going out and experiencing Rio nightlife like a proper “carioca” couldn’t be better in any other place than Rio Scenarium.

This iconic restaurant/club is located in Lapa neighbourhood on “Rua do Lavradio” street. The best way to get here is by taxi. I wouldn’t recommend any other way due to close to this area can be a little dangerous at night and, if you don’t know the city very well, you could get into a dark alley frequented by lowlife gangs and junkies.

Be prepared to wait on a long line if you don’t get there early. But, don’t worry! If you happen to do this, you can always get a cold refreshing beer from any of the vendors on the street.

Costs
40 Reais
Duration
Be there by 7 latest 8 pm.
Clubs close around 5 and 7 am
depending the day of the week.
Requirement
Any adult from 18+ which is the legal age to drink alcoholic beverages.

Once you’re inside, you’ll get mad with all the incredible and beautiful antiques and ornaments you can find in this place. From little, unique clocks to an old and beautifully maintained car!

You have 3 floors to explore with different atmosphere and music. On the bottom floor you’ll find the main stage where a live Samba band is playing and dancing. Then in the 2nd and 3rd floor you have rock/indie music and pop/reggaeton and popular music respectively.

Tips: 

  • Even that a very famous flipflop brand is from Brazil, you can’t go out wearing them. To get into clubs Brazilians are very strict with their dressing code. Man can’t wear shorts or tanktops, a long trouser or jeans are acceptable; t-shirts can be fine in some places but to be sure it’s always better to wear a shirt and shoes. For ladies they’re less strict but, definitely, you can’t wear flipflops. Most Brazilian ladies wear dresses and high heels to go out.
  • Don`t forget a copy or picture of your passport, without an ID you won’t be allowed to get into any club.
  • Brazilians have a very weird system to get drinks and food in restaurants and clubs. Once you pay the entrance they will give you a card where they will mark each drink and food you have and, when you’re leaving, you will be requested to present it at the counter and pay for the bill. DON’T LOSE IT! If you do, they will charge you a ridiculous amount of money!
  • In Brazil you can pay with cash or card everywhere! Even some street vendors take cards! Be aware that they compulsory include 10% tipping service in the bill.

5. Visit the Biggest “Favela” in Río: La Rocinha

Favelas are the slums where the poorest people in the country live in. These places have a lack of infrastructure. Streets and houses were not properly design and, usually, basic services such as drinkable water, natural gas and electricity are not available.

Once upon a time Rio was famous for being the most dangerous city in the world and it was known that if you entered into a “favela” you most likely would not be seen again.
To be fair with this city and its inhabitants, this statement could not be further from the truth nowadays. It is a fact that getting into a favela on your own is a dangerous thing to do and, I would not recommend you to do it.
But, in the past years, these communities have started different processes and have organized themselves to improve their conditions and way of living and they have realized how important hospitality is.

Opening hours
Usually 1 hour tour at 10 am
and another at 2 pm.
Costs
Around 70 Reais
What to wear
Comfortable shoes, you will walk around 4 hs in uneven and steep walking paths.

If you are willing to see this part of reality of a 3rd world country and you wish to help them with their development projects, visiting a favela is, definitely, something you must do.

And, why not going to the biggest favela in Rio? To do it I took a guided tour to “The Rocinha” with a company called “Be a local”. In this huge slum you have more than 100,000 people living in a very packed area full of little shacks alongside uneven and very narrowed paths and, these ones, almost always, have been constructed by the same family that inhabited them. On your way to the top of the favela, where views are impressive, you will stop in different local shops, you can see people dancing and playing samba and capoeira. You will visit one of the schools and nursery schools that you will be helping with part of the money paid for the tour and, you will be able to talk with some of the volunteers that work here, many of them foreigners that teach English and different languages and subjects to the kids

My General Tips for Brazil

  • Language here can be a huge barrier. Most Brazilians don’t speak English (except very well school educated people). Movies, signals, menus, websites, etc. are usually just in Portuguese.
  • About safety. Another piece of advice is to not hang your amazing professional cameras from your neck while walking around, mainly in big, crowded cities where violent robberies can occur. South America is not as dangerous as media shows but, like everywhere else in the world, you need to be careful and avoid going to slums, or places where locals tell you not to go. Take with you just what you need for excursions and to go out for dinner or to a pub. Pickpocketing is pretty common. At night always take taxis and even better if you’re at least in pairs, it’s pretty common to hear about “gringos” that got robbed while walking going back to their hotel after a party when being a little bit tipsy or drunk.
  • About drinking mineral water. I have had water from the tap in Brazil and it was perfectly fine but, just in case, I would recommend you to drink bottled water. Water all over the world has different minerals and bacteria that we get used to but, if the ones that comprise water here are too different, you could have a funny tummy.
  • About street food. I love Brazilian street food! Be prepare to gain a few kilos 😉 Brazilians love to deep fry pretty much everything! Try “Coxinha”, specially the one with “frango e catupiry” you won’t be able to stop yourself of getting this fatty temptation here and there every time you can!

In case that you need more info or alternative activities, do not hesitate to contact us!

We look forward to receiving you in South America!!

Virginia Crivelli
Travel Specialist, Trips SouthAmerica.

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Top 5 things to do in Río the “Cidade Maravilhosa”
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