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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 25 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

No city has a setting more beautiful than Rio, nor a population more devoted to the enjoyment of life. Locals (cariocas) call Rio simply ‘A Cidade Maravilhosa’ (The Marvellous City), and are too transfixed by its beauty – and their own – to do anything other than enjoy themselves, staying up late to party and rising early in the golden morning light to swim or surf in the cool ocean. It’s the ultimate destination for healthy hedonists – hang glide, surf or hike by day and party all night.

Beyond the beach, though, there is culture here too if you know where to look – some great art and architecture, some interesting museums and the notorious favelas; for nature lovers, the city is surrounded by hummingbird-filled rainforest.

The biggest draw of all though is, of course, Rio’s world-famous Carnival – like a pilgrimage to Mecca, everyone should see it at least once.

Orientation

This city of late 20th-century tower blocks and favelas (slums) is cradled in a landscape of steep and heavily forested coastal mountains.

O Centro, on Guananbara Bay, is the financial heart of downtown Rio, with some beautiful historic buildings and a newly refurbished museum district.

Immediately north are the famous Maracana and Sambodromo stadiums and a new World Heritage Site – where carnival samba was born.

The chic residential and main tourist hubs are the Atlantic Ocean beaches and suburbs of Copacabana and Ipanema/Leblon, immediately to the south. Overlooking them is Corcovado Mountain, crowned by the Christ the Redeemer statue.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Hike up Tijuca Peak

Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

Breathy and breathtaking rainforest hike to the highest peak in Rio de Janeiro’s urban mountain range, stopping at Tijuca National Park’s waterfalls on the way.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free | 4 hours

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Rio Carnival

Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

The world’s biggest party – a stadium parade with fabulous floats, music and sequinned samba dancers, and dozens of street parties and balls.

Best for ages: 13+ | £10 | 5 days

Statue of Christ the Redeemer

Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

This iconic, art deco beauty, the symbol of South America, watches out over Rio from high on Corcovado Mountain. The panoramic views from the statue’s feet are dazzling.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Large hall with yellow ceiling lights
Experience

Confeitaria Colombo

Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Glittering with mirrors, and with gorgeous art deco galleries illuminated by a vast ceiling skylight, this traditional Portuguese coffee house in the city centre is the perfect coffee spot, and a must for lovers of architecture.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Fiscal Island
Experience

Fiscal Island

Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

This neo-Gothic Verdigris-covered fantasy palace, built during the days of the Empire of Brazil, is Rio’s former customs house. It’s now a small naval museum that you can visit. Tours depart from the nearby Navy Cultural Centre.

Best for ages: 18+ | £15

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People play football sandy beach
Experience

Football lessons on Ipanema Beach

Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

Pelé da Praia has been teaching locals and tourists Brazilian football tricks on Ipanema beach for more than a decade. One-to-one tuition and group classes available. Contact him at peledapraia1@hotmail.com.

Best for ages: 8+ | £15 | 1-2 hours

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Hike to Telegraph Rock

Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

Beautiful and little-visited 2-hour coastal walk in southern Rio, through wildlife-filled rainforest to pristine Grumari Beach.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free | 4 hours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

A day in Rio - Full City Tour

A day in Rio - Full City Tour

Rio de Janeiro

We selected the main tourist spots in Rio de Janeiro to be visited in a unique and dynamic itinerary, with comfort and safety. In addition, ...

R395 | Rating 4.80 / 5 [284 ratings]

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Full Day in Rio: Christ by Train, Sugarloaf, Maracanã, Selarón & Lunch

Full Day in Rio: Christ by Train, Sugarloaf, Maracanã, Selarón & Lunch

Rio de Janeiro

Visit the best of Rio de Janeiro in a single day: Christ the Redeemer by Train, Sugarloaf Mountain, Selarón Steps, Maracanã Stadium, Sambadr...

$142 | Rating 4.92 / 5 [390 ratings]

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Full Day in Rio: Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, Maracana and Selaron with Lunch

Full Day in Rio: Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, Maracana and Selaron with Lunch

Rio de Janeiro

Enjoy full-day tour in Rio de Janeiro visiting all the must-see attractions in one-single day: Christ The Redeemer Statue atop Corcovado Mou...

$112 | Rating 4.84 / 5 [1653 ratings]

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Full Day Tour to Rio de Janeiro with Lunch

Full Day Tour to Rio de Janeiro with Lunch

Rio de Janeiro

This is our best-selling and most sought-after tour, where you have the opportunity to visit at least eight incredible places. Enjoy a full...

$88 | Rating 4.87 / 5 [129 ratings]

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

La Suite

Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

Ducasse-trained chef is sumptuous. That’s a good thing, because alternative eateries, bars and the famous beaches are a 20-minute cab ride away.

Official star rating:

Yoo2

Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Good-value hipster hotels in upcoming Botafogo with Christ and Sugarloaf views from rooms and the rooftop bar

Official star rating:

Windsor Excelsior

Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

A 5-star location at 2-star prices – for great value and views, this Copacabana beach tower is hard to beat.

Official star rating:

Hotel Arpoador

Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

There’s a rooftop sundeck with fabulous beach views, a small pool and the restaurant serves high quality comfort food including a huge breakfast (included in the price).

 

Official star rating:

When to go

Most tourists in Rio are Brazilian, and Carnival (February-March) and Christmas/New Year are the busiest times. They’re great periods for nightlife but crowded and expensive – hotel prices can more than double and it’s often rainy.

The wettest months are November to March, with frequent downpours and cold fronts. July is the coolest month, with temperatures in the low 20s. April to June and August to October are the best months for the beach.

Getting there and away

Many visitors arriving by air will have an airport pick-up arranged via their hotel, but taxis are plentiful too. Always take a designated airport taxi (these are bookable in the terminal building) as they’re safer and many of the drivers speak some English.

Getting around

Get around Rio by taxi or metro. Taxis should always be taken from designated taxi ranks or booked via your hotel; unlicensed street taxis can be unsafe. The metro is not extensive but does serve many of the areas you’re likely to visit – Ipanema, Copacabana, the Sambodromo (carnival arena) and the city centre.

Don’t even think of driving in Rio: it’s easy to get lost and potentially dangerous if you stray into the wrong area.

Where to stay

The contiguous neighbourhoods of Ipanema and upscale Leblon are the best choice for first-time visitors and beach lovers. They’re relatively safe and have decent restaurants. Copacabana is similar but a little more down-at-heel, with water that’s usually too dirty for swimming, but some first class hotels.

Where to eat or drink

Ipanema and Leblon are the chicest suburbs and beaches, and therefore not surprisingly boast the majority of the best restaurants and cafés. Lagoa and Jardim Botânico, with a handful of upmarket restaurants and bars, lie behind them at the feet of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado. Copacabana has seen better days, and hotels aside, has few top dining options.

Cariocas who like to samba head to Lapa on Fridays and Saturdays where there are streets lined with small samba and chorinho (Brazilian ragtime) clubs and boteco bars.

Where to shop

Rio is not a great shopping destination. Items are pricey and there’s little herethat you can’t find in Europe or the US. Ipanema, Leblon and the Fashion Mall in São Conrado are best for men’s and women’s labels, accessories, jewellery and music.

Santa Teresa has a few quirky shops selling art and crafts. The city centre is best for low-end fashion. Rio has few markets, but the Feira Hippie is worth a browse.

Health & Safety

Robbery is fairly common in Rio, so never carry more than you’re prepared to lose. Sensible precautions can significantly reduce the risk: dress down, leave expensive jewellery at home, keep cameras in bags when you’re not using them and never resist a thief as they’re usually armed. Be very careful where you use your credit card (even ATMs), and put spend limits on it before you come.

Stick to the main thoroughfares, avoid beaches at night, and whatever you do, don’t walk into the local favelas (slums) without a guide.

Take a phrase book or translation app as few locals speak anything other than Portuguese, including taxis drivers and waiters. A lot of restaurants have menus with no translation.