Rio de Janeiro
If you’re seeking golden beaches, verdant rainforest, and cosmopolitan city vibes, then look no further than Rio de Janeiro. Easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rio boasts a playful charm that’s hard to find anywhere else. Whether it’s dancing the night away to sultry samba rhythms, soaking in the sun’s rays alongside bronzed beauties, or hiking past monkeys and toucans, there’s something for everyone in Rio de Janeiro. Here’s what you need to know to get started planning the trip of a lifetime.
Where to stay
It doesn’t get any better than the iconic Belmond Copacabana Palace. Since 1923, this art deco hotel has been the ultimate go-to for luxury and style. Prime beach access, five-star service, and grand elegance are just a few of the features that make this one of the best hotels in all of South America. Upgrade to a suite for real indulgence.
If you want to base yourself in Ipanema, then Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro is the obvious choice. Between the impeccable service and swoon-worthy swimming pool, this trendy five-star hotel will have you feeling like royalty in no time.
For more intimate accommodation, La Maison in Gavea is an excellent choice. This boutique guesthouse offers stunning views of the Tijuca Rainforest in a cool and quiet area of the city. While you won’t be as close to the action at Ipanema, this could be exactly what you need.
Just a few years ago, the idea of exploring a favela would have been highly discouraged. But with pacification and a higher police presence, a few of Rio’s favelas are now popular spots to experience an off-the-beaten-track view of the city. Specifically, don’t miss a stop at Vidigal, a pacified favela just outside of Rio’s exclusive South Zone. To best experience Vidigal, sign up for a favela walking tour, or simply enjoy the swoon-worthy ocean views at your leisure. When hunger strikes, grab a pizza at the family-run Esquina de Pizza—one of the best pies you’ll find anywhere in the city.
If cobblestone streets, sweeping mansions, up-and-coming art boutiques, and trendy coffee shops are more your style, then be sure to visit the historic hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. Most travellers visit Santa Teresa for the iconic Escadaria Selaron, the colourful mosaic steps handcrafted over 20 years ago by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron. But don’t just climb the stairs and then leave. The best of bohemian Santa Teresa is found by wandering the streets above. Keep an eye out for whimsical sculptures and street art. Then, grab a bite at Espirito Santo for the opportunity to sample mouth-watering Amazonian flavours.
What to see and do
To experience the best view of Rio de Janeiro, you’ll want to climb one of the city’s many peaks. While most head to Christ the Redeemer or Sugarloaf Mountain, we suggest Two Brother’s Mountain. The hike is short and steep, with breath-taking views that extend out over Leblon and Ipanema. Plan your summit at sunrise for a once-in-a-lifetime view.
For a more leisurely stroll, head to Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Gardens. With towering palms, manicured gardens, a view of Christ the Redeemer, and the occasional cheeky monkey, this scenic escape will have you feeling far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Botanical Gardens | Photo: Dan Moore
Eat, drink and be merry
Brunch lovers won’t want to miss The View, aptly named for its sweeping vista over Copacabana Beach. Located in the Windsor Atlantica Hotel, it’s an idyllic option for starting your day with champagne, meats, seafood and artisan loaves of bread.
If you’re in the mood for a traditional Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouse), then try Porcao Rios. The restaurant has a lovely view of Guanabara Bay, and the waiters do an excellent job of filling your plate with freshly shaved meat until you can take no more. Alternatively, Casa de Feijoada is a delicious choice to sample the country’s national dish: feijoada. This stew-like meal comes with rice, sausage, farofa and greens. It’s heavy and filling, best eaten when you have nowhere to be and nothing to do.
Rio de Janeiro is known for its late-night parties, so grab a caipirinha and get ready to samba until the wee hours of the morning. For live music in a stunning venue, it doesn’t get any better than the Rio Scenarium. This historic colonial building in Lapa boasts music, samba, food, and historic antiques, all spread out over three stunning floors. Arrive early and well-dressed as this is a favourite spot for locals and tourists alike.
If you prefer a vibrant outdoor venue where locals from all walks of life gather to samba, then try the street parties at Pedro do Sal every Monday night at 7:00 pm. It can get a bit raucous, but the pulsating atmosphere doesn’t get any more local than this. Finally, for the most popular gay dance club, check out The Week. Doors typically don’t open until midnight, so be prepared for a late night out on the town.
Where to shop
There are two primary shopping streets in Rio: Rua Visconde de Piraja (in Ipanema) and Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva (in Leblon.) Here you’ll find a mixture of boutiques, high-end chains, bookshops and more. If you’re after a Brazilian swimsuit or signature pair of Brazilian-made Havaianas, then this is the place to look for it. If one-of-a-kind, vintage clothing is more your style, then we recommend Brecho de Salto Alto. The small shop is funky and unique, perfect to snag an accessory no one else is bound to have.
If you’re interested in the fascinating Indigenous culture of Brazil, then stop by the Museu do Indio gift shop. In the store, you’ll find a small but beautiful collection of indigenous arts and crafts. The museum itself is also worth a look.
Rio de Janeiro doesn’t have a ton of markets, but the Ipanema Hippie Market is certainly worth a stop. Every Sunday around 10:00 am, you’ll find local vendors selling hand-made arts and crafts, clothing and jewellery. Be sure to bargain, as prices are always negotiable. If you prefer music to souvenirs, then try the Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão. The fair is known for its farro, or accordion folk music. Come during the weekend for live music and dancing.
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Ipanema Beach | Photo: Dan Moore
Escadaria Selaron | Photo: Dan Moore
Leblon | Photo: Dan Moore
Scenarium | Photo: Dan Moore