Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide

Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide

Not letting its flawless golden beaches, verdant toucan-filled rainforest, or cosmopolitan city vibes go to its head, Rio de Janeiro boasts a playful charm that’s hard to find elsewhere. Whether it’s dancing the night away to sultry samba rhythms, snacking on smoky, street-side churrascaria, or hiking past monkeys in the lush mountains, there’s something for everyone in Rio de Janeiro. Elected as the world’s sexiest and best gay destination two years running and Carnival world capital since, like, forever, it’s little wonder why they call Rio the Wonderful City. As well as the gay-loving carnival street parties that take over the city at Easter and the Copacabana beach Pride Parade in November, Rio’s Farme de Anaedo Street in Ipanema flies the flag for the rest of the year. Wondering what to do in Rio de Janeiro for the vacation of a lifetime? Here’s your definitive Rio de Janeiro gay travel guide.

The best hotels in Rio de Janeiro

Let’s start our Rio de Janeiro gay city guide with a roundup of the best places to stay in Rio. If you want to base yourself in Ipanema, then Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro is the obvious choice. In addition to impeccable service, this trendy 5-star hotel boasts a swoon-inducing infinity pool with luxurious day beds that look out over Rio’s magical natural landscape – where the Two Brothers mountain peaks meet the sea. More awesome views are to be had at La Suite by Dussol, a cliff-side retreat nestled within the exclusive hilltop neighbourhood of Joatinga. Here you’ll be greeted with intimate surroundings, light and spacious rooms and a world-class ocean view. Complete with its own palm-shaded infinity pool and a range of spa services, La Suite also has another secret advantage; its own private beach.

Not one to be outdone, Emiliano Rio is another of Rio’s best accommodation offerings fitted with a much-coveted outdoor infinity pool. Enviably located on the front of Copacabana Beach, this hotel features architecture to compliment the natural light and sea views surrounding, as well as all the necessary modern amenities. Additional services include an on-site spa, fitness centre and organic restaurant that cooks up contemporary Brazilian cuisine. Encircled by acres of lush greenery, Vila Santa Teresa combines the luxuries of a historic, private villa with a boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s bohemian Santa Teresa district. The estate boasts soaring views of Rio de Janeiro’s infamous Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay, a surreal backdrop that creates a sense of privacy and adventure.

Last but not least is the unique Hotelinho Urca Guest House, a gay-owned and operated B&B at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. Backgrounded by Morro da Urca Rock and foregrounded by a small secluded beach, this stylish guesthouse is also just minutes away from the sandy shores of Praia Vermelha and Praia da Urca. A perfect base for lovers of sunsets, scenery and nature, this modern hotel with antique features comes with its own sun terrace, pool and unbeatable sea views.

Villa Santa Teresa | Photo: Dhani B

Villa Santa Teresa | Photo: Dhani B

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Recommended hotels in Rio de Janeiro
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The best of bohemian Santa Teresa is found by wandering the streets above

Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Whether you’re a culture addict or prefer a lazy day sunbathing, it’s unlikely you’ll run out of beaches, cultural sights or other things to do in Rio de Janeiro. To experience the best of Rio de Janeiro sightseeing, 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 Brothers 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. If you’re in the mind for a more leisurely stroll, however, 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.

Combining lush food with unparalleled views is restaurant The View, aptly named for its sweeping vista over Copacabana Beach. Located in the Windsor Atlantica Hotel, The View is one of the top Rio de Janeiro points of interest if you feel like starting your day with champagne, meats, seafood and artisan loaves of bread. Casa de Feijoada is another 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 so best eaten at the end of a hard day’s beaching when you have nowhere to be and nothing to do next!

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. The food in the area is also not to be missed, for example, the family-run Esquina de Pizza is where you’ll find one of the best pizza pies anywhere in the city.

Sugar Loaf Cable Car | Photo: Davi Costa

Sugar Loaf Cable Car | Photo: Davi Costa

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Recommended experiences in Rio de Janeiro
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Photo: Elizeu Dias

Photo: Elizeu Dias

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Less picturesque than Santa Teresa but just as charming, Lapas is home to a bunch of crumbling theatres and taverns within which you’ll find beautifully restored music venues, bars and dance halls

Things to see in Rio de Janeiro

If cobblestone streets, sweeping mansions, up-and-coming art boutiques, and trendy coffee shops are what you crave, then be sure to visit the historic hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. To get there, you’ll first have to climb the iconic Escadaria Selarón, a series of colourful mosaic steps handcrafted over 20 years ago by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. Once you reach the top, take your time wandering the streets of bohemian Santa Teresa, taking in the time-worn 19th-century mansions, quaint boutiques and the sounds of the old-fashioned tram as it putters loudly up and down the uneven streets. While the whole district offers great views of Guanabara Bay, the Parque das Ruinas has the best. Alternatively, stop in for potent caipirinhas and a filling pot of feijiada at Bar do Mineiro. Back down the staircase at street level is Lapas, a former red-light district now reborn as the samba capital of Brazil. Less picturesque than Santa Teresa but just as charming, Lapas is home to a bunch of crumbling theatres and taverns within which you’ll find beautifully restored music venues, bars and dance halls. On weekends this area throngs with samba lovers, all heading to favourites such as Rio Scenarium or Democraticus.

No kidding: Rio de Janeiro boasts the largest urban forest in the world. Named Tijuca Forest, this natural attraction is home to an astonishing number of plant and animal species, some of which depend solely on Tijuca’s environment for survival and exist nowhere else in the world. Pack some comfy shoes for a long leisurely walk and make sure to stop off at the handful of worthwhile manmade attractions while you’re there, including the Vista Chinesa, a Chinese-style gazebo offering panoramic views over Lagoa and Ipanema. While you’re in the vicinity, don’t leave without hunting down Parque Lage, a former mansion turned art school and café set deep inside the forest. Surrounded on all sides by tropical sights and wild – yet friendly – birds and monkeys, this little retreat is a wonderful spot for breakfast and lunch as well as an afternoon tipple.

Parque Lage | Photo: Joao Mansano

Parque Lage | Photo: Joao Mansano

Built as a hub for tourists to flock to during the Rio Olympics in 2016, the Museu do Amanhã (or Museum of Tomorrow) has fast become Rio’s most popular museum, showcasing extraordinary modern architecture, inside of which visitors can discover interactive exhibits focused on sustainability and the future of planet Earth. Another site to glimpse Rio’s superior architecture is at Casa das Canoas, the former home of famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer who designed it in 1951. Renovated in 2019, the building now sits resplendent with curvaceous white contours, sleek glass walls and slender steel columns, exemplary of Niemeyer’s unique style. While his creations are dotted throughout the city, seeing the love he poured into his family home is something special indeed.

Head over to the edge of Guanabara Bay if you’re looking for an art exhibition worthy of an afternoon. Rio’s Museum of Modern Art (MAM) is based here, serving as a temple to modern art from the 20th and 21st centuries. Despite having been devastated by a fire in 1978, the museum’s permanent collection still has its jewels, including works from international masters Pollock and Miró, as well as Brazilian artists Tarsila Amaral and Hélio Oiticica. The site is also home to Roberto Burle Marx’s modernist gardens and dynamic temporary exhibitions.

Andy Falconer

Photo: Andy Falconer

Parque Lage | Photo: Krys Amon

Parque Lage | Photo: Krys Amon

Where to eat in Rio de Janeiro

When you finally get a bit peckish, Rio de Janeiro can help you to fill your stomach with delectable, intensely flavoured cuisine. Thanks to its rich history, Brazil is a cultural melting pot of international influences, with ingredients and traditions spanning indigenous culture as well as Portugal, Japan and big chunks of Africa. Let’s start our Rio de Janeiro travel guide to food with some native Brazilian cuisine. Aprazível is a top choice, set as it is on the Santa Teresa hilltop within a plantation-style residence fenced in by thatched-roof verandas, sun-stained wood and the sights and sounds of the jungle. The food itself is masterful; traditional recipes from across the nation, prepared by chef-owner Ana Castilho and served up by her sons alongside creative cocktails and an obligatory caipirinha or three. Following on in the mode of tradition is Fogo de Chão, a traditional steakhouse serving up some of the city’s best churrascaria in the foothills of Sugarloaf Mountain. Come here to experience top-notch Gaucho cuisine, served in the Porto Alegre style, each dish featuring 15 different cuts of meat.

For a meal of international acclaim, the city’s Michelin-starred offerings can help out. Oro, an uber-trendy eatery in Leblon run by celebrity chef Felipe Bronze, is one such place reimagining Brazil’s culinary heritage, said to serve ‘Brazilian vanguard cuisine’ centred on open-flame cooking. As well as holding a Michelin star, Oro is also featured on the world’s 50 best restaurants list for its various menus including the ‘Creativity’ tasting menu and the ‘Affectivity’ menu alongside some solid wine pairings. Another Michelin-award winner is Lasai with its farm-to-table concept and Basque-inspired dishes. Located just out of town, on its own acreage with a functional urban garden, Lasai demonstrates seasonal excellence on its epic 12-course tasting menu, with a sustainable ethos as well as an impressive wine list.

Photo: Isis Franca

Photo: Isis Franca

After working up an appetite on the beaches in Ipanema, head for elevated post-beach bites at Christiana Beltrão’s restaurant and al fresco oyster bar, Bazzar ao Mar. Here Beltrão pairs fresh seafood with original flavours, such as the mussels with orange zest, sardines with organic veg, or crab with fennel puree. While the food is deliciously light and flavoursome, served with Brazilian sparkling wine, the modern design is also a selling point, making this perhaps the most elegant restaurant in Ipanema. This next one is a reflection on modern values, for its forward-thinking, healthy and sustainable concept. Its name is Org Bistro, an adorable restaurant whipping up organic, locally-sourced vegetarian cuisine in cosy yet modern surroundings.

If you’re missing your mother’s cooking, discover Estrelas da Babilonia where traditional home cooked food is served alongside a warm welcome in an authentic favela location. Owned by a Belgian-Colombian couple, Estrelas da Babilonia is not only famous for its divine, no-frills eats, such as the legendary Latino platter, but it also boasts some spectacular open-air views and a regular line-up of music and entertainment events. We’ll end on a sweet note at the Confeitaria Colombo, a dessert and tea joint renowned for its delicate pastries and historic belle époque interiors. Filled with ornate mirrors, vintage silverware and a stained-glass ceiling, this elegant setting has been operating for almost a century and now sees queues out the door, all for its selection of mille-feuilles, fruit tartlets and macarons.

Photo: Vinicius Amano

Photo: Vinicius Amano

Shopping in Rio de Janeiro

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.

Photo: Cerqueira

Photo: Cerqueira

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As the doors to the best clubs in Rio typically don’t open until midnight, visitors can afford to start their night in laid-back style. If you’re ready for your first cocktail before sundown, 23 Ocean Lounge is the place to be

Rio de Janeiro nightlife

Grab a caipirinha and get ready to samba until the wee hours of the morning with Mr Hudson’s Rio de Janeiro gay nightlife guide. As well as the hugely popular live music and samba scene in Lapa, Rio has much more to offer in the way of nightlife. 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 pm. It can get a bit raucous, but the pulsating atmosphere doesn’t get any more local than this. Alternatively, for the most popular gay dance club, check out The Week, with its huge dancefloors, lounge area and electronic music making it the perfect venue to shun your shirt and dance the night away. Popular among a younger crowd is the Copacabana-based gay bar TV Bar. Hosting drag nights and sometimes open-bar events, this bar is unique for its setting within a former TV station, hinted at with memorabilia and kitsch décor. Check TV Bar’s Facebook page for its variety of unmissable events, including their infamous gay cruise party ‘The Hole’ and pop nights ‘POPERIA’ and ‘Raba’.

As the doors to the best clubs in Rio typically don’t open until midnight, visitors can afford to start their night in laid-back style. If you’re ready for your first cocktail before sundown, 23 Ocean Lounge is the place to be. A rooftop bar and restaurant perched on the 23rd floor of the luxurious Sofitel Ipanema, this lounge is the place to go for breath-taking pool-side views in bright and modern surroundings. Open in the morning until midnight, 23 Ocean Lounge is also a great option for lunch or dinner followed by a cocktail handcrafted by Brazil’s third-best bartender. Vying for its position as the best rooftop bar in Brazil (as well as the world!) is Hotel Fasano’s 8th floor Fasano Rooftop Pool Lounge which provides undiluted views of Ipanema beach, the city skyline and the Two Brothers mountain peaks as they dissolve into the sea. Serving up fresh juices, cocktails and delicious bites, the Fasano rooftop is as luxurious as it gets in Rio, replete with comfy daybeds, lounge sofas and a showpiece infinity pool.

Offering another vantage point above the city at large is Explorer Bar situated in boho Santa Teresa. With off-beat vibes and friendly staff led by three passionate travellers, the Explorer Bar is an international adventure inspired by Brazilian culture. Providing inclusive luxury to its diverse clientele, this bar is a life philosophy as much as it is a laid-back meeting space. Then we’ve got The Maze, a one-of-a-kind jazz club in the Tavares Bastos favela, challenging general perceptions of favela communities with its welcoming and creative atmosphere. Choose between chilling on the outdoor patio surrounded by epic views of Guanabara Bay or heading inside to bust a move to the sounds of legendary live jazz. With Gaudi-esque features, including a labyrinth of winding mosaic-tiled corridors, this club is renowned for its jazz nights on the first Friday of every month, as well as its permanent art exhibitions and unique architecture.

Photo: Ricardo Nunes

Photo: Ricardo Nunes

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