Rio de Janeiro is the second-largest city and the most visited place in Brazil. When you think about Rio, the first thing that pops into your mind is probably Copacabana Beach or the Rio Carnival. The truth is, there’s so much more to see in the city!
Rio de Janeiro is a perfect combination of spectacular tropical nature and a vibrant urban environment. In terms of nature, Rio really has it all – rainforest-covered mountains which you can hike, winding coastline with many beautiful beaches overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, huge rock formations rising from the ground, and the “Lagoa” lagoon that you can cycle around.
Here are the top 3 places to explore when visiting Rio de Janeiro:
There are many beautiful beaches in Rio, the most famous ones Copacabana and Ipanema. It would be a good idea to visit at least one of them to get the authentic Rio beach experience.
I recommend you rent a beach chair and maybe a parasol, bury your toes in the soft white sand and you’re all set for the perfect lazy day. While you’re soaking in the sun, dozens of beach vendors will try to sell you everything from bikinis, beach sarongs and jewellery to various snacks whereas ice cold fresh coconuts and fruity caipirinhas are delivered to you from beachside kiosks called barracas. All of this without even having to stand up from your chair! If you’re looking for a more active way to experience the beaches, join the many surfers, joggers or beach volley players.
Copacabana and Ipanema are quite similar but I’d say I prefer the latter. Copacabana is more lively whereas Ipanema is considered to be safer, cleaner, trendier and has classier restaurants and bars. Another advantage of Ipanema is that you can see the iconic Two Brothers Mountain (Morro Dois Irmãos) at the west end of the beach. Also, the Arpoador cliff located at the east end of the beach is one of the best spots in the city for watching the sunset. Both locals and tourists gather there every evening to see the sun drop behind the Two Brothers Mountain and watch the city light up. It surely is one of the most romantic places to end the day.
As with most places in Brazil, while you’re on the beach, keep an eye on your belongings, be aware of your surroundings and definitely don’t leave your stuff unattended when you go for a swim.
The colossal Christ the Redeemer monument on top of Corcovado Mountain is the landmark of Rio de Janeiro and the most-visited tourist attraction in the city.
In order to reach the statue, you can either take a van or a tram, or hike through Tijuca Forest National Park up the steep slopes of Corcovado. If you choose to take the tram, I recommend booking tickets online to avoid standing in queues. The journey takes about 20 minutes and the price for a round trip including a ticket to the statue is 65-79 Reais (15-18 euros) depending on the season.
Once you reach the top, you’ll see the grandiose Art Deco sculpture, a symbol of peace and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, overlooking the city with his arms wide open. Be ready to wait/fight for a spot to take a photo though as the area around the statue will be packed with tourists, all wanting to get a perfect selfie with the Christ. If you want to avoid hordes of people, be there as early as possible.
Aside from the statue itself, you’ll see magnificent panoramic views of the main beaches, the Sugarloaf Mountain and Lagoa. Try to visit the place on a clear sunny day since it makes a world of difference in terms of the view.
Urca has a totally different vibe from the rest of the areas in Rio. It is relaxed and quiet, like a laid-back suburb, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city whereas in reality, it’s just a stone’s throw away from Copacabana. Without skyscrapers, traffic jams and swarms of people, it seemed as if life runs at a different pace in Urca.
In the middle of the neighbourhood lies the Sugarloaf Mountain, a 400-metre-high granite formation and one of the most famous attractions in the city. Right in front of it, you’ll find the smaller Morro da Urca, also known as the ‘first hill on the way to Sugarloaf’. The Sugarloaf is accessible either by cable car (100 Reais/23 euros for a round trip) or by actually climbing the mountain, whereas Morro da Urca can be reached either by the same cable car or by hiking 30-minutes through the jungle. If you choose to hike, there is a high chance that you'll see some adorable marmoset monkeys on your way up.
Even though the hike is not very long, the trail is pretty steep and slippery in some parts, so I recommend wearing sneakers or other shoes with a good grip. Once you reach the summit, you’ll see a bunch of shops, toilets, restaurants, and jaw-dropping views of Rio. For even more spectacular views and for a great spot for watching the sunset, you can take the cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain. Just as with the Christ the Redeemer statue, visiting Morro da Urca or the Sugarloaf Mountain is much more rewarding if you do it on a cloudless day.