Top tourist attractions in Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro: also known as Cidade Maravilhosa (Wonderful City) – my beloved city where I was born and raised. ❤

Rio offers thousands of interesting possibilities for tourists. Here, I put together a list with my main recommendations, or the things you shouldn’t miss during your first visit. These tips can serve as a basis for an itinerary, depending on the amount of time available and the traveler’s interests.

→ Important note for foreigners:
Brazilian cities are not like European cities, where most of the tourist attractions are located in the city center. The city center of Rio is a huge district, with some points of interests for tourists, but also filled with office buildings and people rushing around. Most of the tourist attractions in Rio are located in the south zone (zona sul), where you will probably spend most of your time.


WHAT TO SEE/DO IN RIO:

Beaches
There are several, including: Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, São Conrado, Barra. (I would say the most famous ones are Copacabana e Ipanema.)

Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer
The Christ statue (Cristo) is on a hill called Corcovado. You can get there by funicular or van, leaving from different locations in the city. Infos (unfortunately only in Portuguese) here.

Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar)
Infos about the cable car ride to the top here.
From there, one can go walk around Praia Vermelha, Pista Claudio Coutinho and Urca.

Pedra do Arpoador
A huge rock that separates the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. The classical must-do is to watch the sunset from there (and clap at the end!).
Close by is the Copacabana Fortress (Forte de Copacabana), which can be visited. Many like to go to the Confeitaria Colombo café inside. And next to the fortress, on the Copacabana beach sidewalk, you can find the statue of the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

Mirante do Leblon (viewpoint)
Next to posto 12 (lifeguard watchtower #12), offering a view to the Leblon beach.

Mirante Dona Marta (viewpoint)
To me, this is by far the best viewing spot in Rio de Janeiro. It’s located just below the gateway to the Christ, so both views are similar – only in Mirante Dona Marta you can also see the Christ, and without the hundreds of tourists around you. An amazing spot for photos, and for free!

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View from Mirante Dona Marta

Santa Teresa
A residential and bohemian neighborhood, loved by foreigners and considered one of the most charming ones in Rio. Since it’s located on a hill side of the city, it offers beautiful views, both to the city center and to the south zone.
Points of interest: Largo dos Guimarães, Curvelo, Chácara do Céu, Parque das Ruínas, and the famous yellow tram (bonde) riding through the district.
Recommendations: Bar do Arnaudo (Brazilian Northeastern food) and Bar do Gomes (official name: Armazém São Thiago).
One suggestion is to go sightseeing in Santa Teresa and, from there, walk down to Lapa.

Lapa
Points of interest: the Arches (Arcos da Lapa – the old aqueduct) and the cone-shaped cathedral behind; Escadaria Selarón.
At night: some of the most popular night clubs (with live music) are Clube dos Democráticos, Rio Scenarium and Lapa 40 Graus.

City center
Points of interest: Teatro Municipal (Concert, Ballet and Opera House), Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã) and Rio Art Museum (MAR) at Praça Mauá, Olympic Boulevard, AquaRio, Banco do Brasil Cultural Center (CCBB), live samba music (roda de samba) at Arco do Teles.

Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (Lagoa)
After a walk by the lagoon, one can also visit Rio’s Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico), and Parque Lage.

Tijuca Forest (Floresta da Tijuca)
The world’s largest urban forest.
Points of interest: hiking trails, picnic spots, waterfalls. Close by: Mesa do Imperador, Vista Chinesa (viewpoints).

Hang gliding or paragliding
Those who are feeling adventurous and would like to jump from Pedra Bonita with an instructor should look for the training academy Escola São Conrado de Voo Livre. It’s an amazing experience!

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Hang gliding in Rio

Go trekking (and enjoy the view)
Relatively easy: Dois Irmãos, Pedra Bonita
Difficult: Pedra da Gávea

Waterfalls
There are several ones in Tijuca Forest and in the neighborhood of Horto.

Pavilion of Northeastern Culture (Feira de São Cristóvão)
A huge space with restaurants, bars, shops and live music, dedicated to the Northeastern culture of Brazil. Infos (in Portuguese) here.

Maracanã Stadium
The biggest football stadium in Rio, host to World Cup and Olympic matches, can be visited for a game, or in a tour (or even just seen from the outside).

Sambadrome (Sambódromo)
During Carnival, it’s worth going there to watch one of the samba schools parades. Out of season, it can also be seen from the outside while passing nearby by car.

Casual bars and botecos
Those who wish to do like the cariocas (people from Rio) and go have a beer or ten in a very casual and laid-back way, outdoors and standing up, have several options, such as: Baixo Gávea, Praça São Salvador, Urca, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Baixo Botafogo (the end of the Voluntários da Pátria street).


HOW LONG TO STAY:
At least one week to see the main tourist attractions of the city. This duration should be increased if one wishes to visit other destinations in the state of Rio.

WHERE TO STAY:
For those who want to stay in a great hostel, with amazing location (right next to Botafogo subway station), with nice and cheerful people, I recommend the Rio Soul Hostel.
For those looking for a more “staying at home” flair, in a Bed & Breakfast or Airbnb-style accommodation: the Casa Dois Irmãos is very spacious and stylish and offers an unbelievable view to the city, together with the warm reception by the siblings Kris and Jo.


If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below.
Have a great trip and enjoy Rio!! 🙂

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