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26 Best things to see & do in Rio de Janeiro

  • Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson
  • Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Giant float made from dragons on the parade route

Bucket List Experience

Rio Carnival

Every year on the weekend before Shrove Tuesday, Rio throws the world’s boldest and brashest party – Carnaval. There are events throughout the city, from huge bloco samba-swinging street parties (including in Ipanema, Copacabana, the City Centre and Santa Teresa), to balls in the Copacabana Palace.

The main spectacle is undoubtedly the famous samba schools’ parade which takes place in the Sambódromo – a purpose-built arena in the city centre. This all-night kaleidoscope of gargantuan floats, sequinned samba dancers, drummers and scantily clad carnival queens, leaves the senses reeling. Unmissable.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 5 days

When: February or March

Freq: annually

  • Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Close up looking up of the Christ under blue sky up close

Bucket List Experience

Statue of Christ the Redeemer

Perched over Rio, on a high peak swathed with rainforest and illuminated in brilliant-white at night, this art deco beauty is a global icon every bit as good in real life as it looks in the pictures.

And the views of the city from the statue’s feet are as breathtaking as the Christ itself – the heart-shaped lagoon, Ipanema Beach and the distant bulk of the Sugar Loaf sitting over the shimmering bay.

There are many ways to see it – private car, taxi or organized tour – but the best way is probably via the funicular train, on a ride up through rainforest filled with floating butterflies, in the early morning when the light is golden. If budget allows, take a helicopter from Corcovado or Sugarloaf and go face-to-face with this spectacular statue, rather than staring up from its feet.

Good for age: 13+

  • Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

Guanabara Bay shimmering at your feet, Christ the Redeemer hovering on the horizon, rainforest, bays and beaches all around: few urban locations in the world offer a more spectacular backdrop to a rock climb or an abseil.

While it looks like a single mountain, the Sugarloaf you see in the photographs is actually two – the lower Morro da Urca (Urca hill) and the higher Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf itself). There are climbing routes up both, ranging from the beginner level Morro da Urca Overview (a popular training route) to the technical, advanced Via dos Italianos route. Views are spectacular on all climbs.

Rio has some excellent climbing clubs and schools with fully accredited climbers and state-of-the-art equipment.

Adult price: £35

Min age 13

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 5 hours

  • Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

City under mountains from a distance across bay

Bucket List Experience

Sugarloaf Mountain

Rio’s most famous mountain crouches like a sphinx over a perfect half-moon bay just close to Copacabana. It’s a stunning sight – its haunches carpeted with forest, its slopes reflected in the calm water.

The views from the top are even more breathtaking; especially in the late afternoon when the sun shines buttery-yellow on the sands of Copacabana, before dropping behind the Christ statue; and the lights of Rio twinkle on like stars.

Good for age: 4+

  • Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Rio is a city of beautiful views – and the best views of all are from a helicopter as it floats over the city’s boulder-like mountains, beach-fringed bays and sweeping Atlantic Ocean strands.

All flights fly right up to and face-to-face with the magnificent Christ the Redeemer statue, and drift over the dense rainforest that shrouds Tijuca National Park.

The views – of the city, sparkling bays with golden curves of beach, and hills covered with think rainforest or sprawling favela – are so breathtaking that you’ll be back on land before you remember you have vertigo, and the adrenaline buzz will be with you for the rest of the day.

Adult price: £50

Good for age: 10+

Duration: 30 mins

  • Rio de Janeiro , Southwestern Region, Brazil

Favelas fill horizon of urban Rio

Bucket List Experience

Tour a favela

Samba, Brazilian football, Rio funk and carnival were all born in Rio’s vibrant favelas. These marginalised, poor slums are as much a part of Rio – and the Rio experience – as the beaches or nightlife, and tours now take you inside – not only to see what life is like for residents, but to lay bare one of the most artistically vibrant and alternative communities in Latin America.

It’s an edgy, culturally intriguing and slightly nerve-racking experience – but one that shows how much Rio is indebted to these tightly-knit communities.

Adult price: £25

Good for age: 13+

  • Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Dense forest greenery

Bucket List Experience

Tijuca National Park

Most of central Rio’s boulder-mountains are protected as a vast sweep of wild tropical forest – cut by mountain streams and waterfalls and busy with toucans and monkeys as small as a kitten.

With fabulous views of the Christ the Redeemer statue and Rio’s beaches at every turn, Tijuca is a wonderful place for a steep cycle ride or hike with a view. Jungle trails run to a series of spectacular peaks – including Gavea Rock (Pedra Gavea, the world’s largest monolith), Bonita Rock (Pedra Bonita, where there’s hang gliding) and Tijuca Peak (Pico da Tijuca), the highest peak in Rio.

The path up Gávea involves an exposed rope-assisted scramble that hovers over a sheer precipice. It’s not for the faint-hearted but the views are incredible. The path to Pedra Bonita is steep but short and easier – taking around 40 minutes, with stunning views over southern Rio. Active types should not miss the exceptional 3-hour hike to Tijuca Peak.

Good for age: 4+

  • Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Long sandy beach with built up shorefront

Bucket List Experience

Rio’s best beaches

Life in Rio revolves around its long, golden beaches, where cariocas meet to relax, play and socialise. No visit to Rio would be complete without experiencing at least one. Beaches facing Guanabara Bay, including Botafogo and Flamengo, are pretty but water quality is poor. Atlantic-facing beaches, including Copacabana and Ipanema, are larger and cleaner. Beaches in the outer suburbs – like Grumari and Prainha – have the highest water quality and the best surf.

Join Rio locals for an early-morning workout. Joggers run along the sand, gym bunnies pump iron al fresco and everyone gathers at kiosks for a pre-work acai or coconut juice.

Copacabana Beach

  • Rio de Janeiro, Southeastern Region, Brazil

Sandy beach with tourists and city in backgound

Bucket List Experience

This world-famous 4km crescent is the epicentre of Rio’s beach scene and the perfect place for beach sports and people-watching. It;’s not great for swimming – water quality is especially poor when the tide comes in.

  • Rio de Janeiro , Southeastern Region, Brazil

Man and woman embrace in dance

Bucket List Experience

Samba dancing in Lapa

Rio is the city of Samba you‘ll hear the music everywhere, in all its diverse forms. Like jazz, samba takes many forms – from the visceral, multi-drum beat which powers Carnival to the gentle sway you’ll hear in intimate clubs and restaurants throughout Rio.

The best place to sample it is Lapa, on a weekend night. The neighbourhood is crammed with arty little boho clubs – set in converted costume warehouses, historic Belle Epoque mansions and tiny hole-in-the-wall bars. Cariocas and foreigners gather here – to swing together on the dance floor and congregate outside on the cobbled streets, fuelling the fun with icy caipirinha cocktails and draught chope beer.

Min age 18

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -