Visiting Rio: Sightseeing Tips

Aerial view of the city

Christ the Redeemer
A famous bossa nova song about arriving in Rio starts off “Cristo Redentor, braços abertos sobre a Guanabara” (or, in English, and not quite as romantic, “Christ the Redeemer, open arms over Guanabara”…it sounds prettier in Portuguese, trust me). 

It’s no wonder that the Christ Statue is the most famous and recognized postcard of Rio de Janeiro (and even Brazil, if I dare say so.)

Christ the Redeemer is THE main attraction and destination in Rio de Janeiro. Definitely a MUST for any visitor. It has recently been remodeled and is gorgeous! You can see the whole city from the top of the mountain, and once you get there, you will understand why Rio is truly the Marvelous City.

Cars aren’t allowed to go up there, so you have to take a cab to Estrada de Ferro do Corcovado. There, you can get a little cogwheel train that goes up the mountain and drops you off at the base of the statue. Once you arrive, access is pretty simple and straightforward.

Quick tip: If you’re looking to have that classic photo shoot of you and Christ in the background, get there EARLY in the morning. That place tends to get packed throughout the day. 

I still can’t get over this photo…It’s amazing!

The Sugarloaf
A trip to Rio is not complete if you don’t take that cable car ride all the way to the second mountain. And while you may have issues with altitude and cable cars, I promise you won’t regret it! The view is THE most beautiful, breath-taking view you will ever see.  GUARANTEED!

I recommend hitting Pão de Açúcar early in the day, when the sky is clear and the lines are small. Also, if you go right before lunch, you can later hop on a cab and head to Porcão Rio’s, a churrascaria by Guanabara Bay, where you can see the Sugarloaf from a different angle.

Sugarloaf seen from afar

The Beaches
The two most famous beaches in Rio are Ipanema and of course, Copacabana.

Although I’m not a huge fan of Copacabana as a neighborhood, Copacabana beach is gorgeous! The sand is quite wide, so it is a great beach. And as a bonus, the kiosks along the Copacabana’s famous sidewalk have recently been remodeled and are quite clean and nice, so they are a good place to grab a snack, coconut water, or even a crepe! 

The famous Copacabana beach sidewalk, with the Sugarloaf in the background

While Copacabana beach is better known for its traditional environment and reminiscent of Rio’s golden years, Ipanema is the trendier beach in Rio. It is, of course, the source of inspiration of Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim’s famous “Girl from Ipanema.” Ipanema (and Leblon) beaches benefit from their location, considering the two neighborhoods are the most affluent in the city, which means they tend to be the safest. In fact, I highly recommend, if possible, staying in hotels in either neighborhoods. 

Ipanema beach on a not-so-full day
Now, if you’re looking for more nature-oriented beaches, then head to Barra, Prainha and Grumari. These are about 30 minutes west of Ipanema. Prainha and Grumari are nature preservation areas, protected by the government, so they are fabulous! Since there is a restricted amount of cars that can enter the area, avoid going during the weekend, but if you must, try to get there early in the day. Oh, you have to have a car to get there, or arrange to have a cab pick you up.
Grumari beach

Copacabana Fort

Copacabana Fort is located right at the entrance of Copacabana. The fort itself is pretty, but that is not the reason to go there (unless you want to check out the military naval museum).

The main reason to check it out: the AMAZING view of both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

Also, if you’re hungry or in the mood for a snack, there is a Colombo Bakery inside the fort, which is a traditional (and delicious) high end Rio bakery.

View of the Sugarloaf and Copacabana Beach from the fort

Arpoador is essentially a big rock outcropping into the ocean with a cool view in the very beginning of Ipanema, sort of where Copacabana and Ipanema meet. You can climb on the rock, which is a little peninsula. The area is also known for its surfing, since it’s one of the most competitive urban surfing spots. 

Note: The view from the Fort and Arpoador are fairly similar, so if you’re short on time, choose one.

View of Ipanema and Leblon Beaches and Pedra da Gávea from Arpoador

Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden is really pretty and one of the traditional landmarks in Rio. The imperial palm trees are amazing and one of the cool things about the park is that over 50% of it is not really a man made garden like most botanical gardens, but our floresta tropical (the native woods in Rio). If you go there, don’t forget to visit the Vitoria Regias (water lillies, which are enormous) and the orchidary. 

The imperial palm trees at the Botanical Garden

Lagoa is the neighborhood surrounding the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. You can walk around the lagoon, rent a pedal-boat (shaped like a swan 🙂 and pedal around the lake. There are also some bars and restaurants along the shore that are worth visiting. Lagoa is a great place to unwind towards the end of a long day. Lagoa also has some great casual restaurants where you can enjoy an amazing caipirinha (Palaphita Kitsch) or even an acarajé (a Bahian delicacy). 

The view from the lakeshore

Downtown Rio
If you want to see Rio’s more cultural side, the place to go is Downtown Rio (Centro). There you’ll find the Municipal Theater, which was constructed along the lines of L’Opera in Paris.

You will also find the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), which was originally the headquarters of Bank of Brazil. It now hosts various cultural exhibits.

Another wonderful place to visit in downtown Rio is the original Colombo Bakery. The building is from the 1910s-20s, and its art nouveau architecture captures the essence of Rio’s glamour in the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a beautiful place and the food is pretty yummy! 

Confeitaria Colombo’s glass ceiling

If you go to downtown Rio, two churches are worth visiting: Candelaria and the Metropolitan Cathedral (it looks like a cone). Candelaria is among the most important churches in Rio de Janeiro. Construction started in 1775 and was completed in the end of the 19th century. The church has a baroque façade, but the interior is done in a neo-Renaissance style. The Metropolitan Church, on the other hand, is a much more modern construction, with a cone shaped structure. Additionally, it is the seat of the Rio Archbishop.

Finally, when in downtown Rio, you must visit Lapa, the essence of Rio’s bohemian life. Lapa has a lively cultural life, filled with bars, clubs, live music and antique shops. It is also the home of the Lapa aqueduct, which is one of the main symbols of downtown Rio. The aqueduct was built in 1723 and remains in the city as one of the main constructions of the colonial era. Lapa is also a great place to go out in the evenings to hear some amazing live music. Any number of bars are worth going…Carioca da Gema, Sacrilegio, and the highlight is Rio Scenarium, which is huge! The bars are all in the same region (Rua do Lavradio and Ave. Mem de Sá), so you can explore a bit. But watch out for pickpockets and don’t wear jewelry, watches, etc. 

Lapa Aqueduct, with the Metropolitan Cathedral in the background

Santa Teresa (tCecilia and Jackie, thanks for the suggestions)

Up on a hill, with an amazing view of the city, Santa Teresa is quite the bohemian neighborhood in Rio. It’s a historical neighborhood, with beautiful colonial style architecture, home to many artisans, thrift stores, antique shops and art galleries. You can travel through Santa Teresa using the tram, which has been around since the late 19th century and is essentially a symbol of Santa Teresa. Recently, the neighborhood has developed into a gastronomical hub, including restaurants such as Sobrenatural and Aprazivel. Santa Teresa also boasts one of Rio’s most interesting museums, Museu da Chácara do Céu as well as Parque das Ruinas, where you have the most amazing view of Guanabara Bay and the city. 

5 comentários sobre “Visiting Rio: Sightseeing Tips

  1. Um dos lugares que eu mais AMO no RJ é o pão de açúcar. Acho a vista incrível muito incrível!
    Mas todos os outros lugares são lindos e valem super a pena fazer uma visitinha!
    Ótimas dicas!


  2. Faltou Sta Teresa1 rsrsrs só falo isso aqui, rsrs
    Em Sta vc pode subir de bondinho, tem o parque das ruinas, que é lindo e tem um café. pela rua principal, tem lojinhas de artesãos, bares, restaurantes com comida brasileira e mt drink de fruta brasileira, tem uns sebos a antiquarios tb Tem um excelente restaurante chamado Sobrenatural.


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