Things to do in Rio
Rio de Janeiro is full of plenty things to see and do. So much so, we struggled even with two weeks in the city! We have provided a full guide on everything we did to help you plan your Rio trip. Share your stories and finds around the city with us! Make the most of your travels around Rio de Janeiro and make sure you check out our full guide to Rio Carnival if you're going in February! Carnival goes on for much longer than the official two weeks on the streets of Brazil, so you're sure to find some carnival celebrations if you travel around this time... enjoy!
Christ the Redeemer
Of course, this should be on the top of everyone’s list of things to do in Rio and it does not disappoint! We would recommend taking the funicular up the mountain, as you will get to enjoy the views across Rio too.
What they don’t tell you:
- Be sure to keep an eye right and then left on your way up the funicular - there are some seriously beautiful views to be enjoyed!
- Book in advance! You can do this as late as the morning before you go but if you don’t, we noticed the next slot to buy on the spot was at least four hours away. Also, we struggled at times with the high sun, so maybe try to go quite early in the day or an hour after 3/4pm.
- Be aware there are massive flying bugs at the top of Christ the Redeemer! You can’t avoid them and you’ll see people ducking and diving around them. It’s still worth it but just be warned!
There are three top views of Rio; Christ the redeemer, Sugarloaf mountain and Vista de Chinesa. You should make time to see them all, then choose your own favourite.
Ours was Sugarloaf Mountain, we managed to catch it at sunset and it was honestly one of the most incredible views we’ve ever seen. So if you can, we would recommend doing the same! Grab a Caipirinha in the bar by Red Beach and hop on the cable car about half an hour before sunset, then prepare to enjoy some spectacular city views!
Top tip: if you have a student card, it makes for a very cheap ride up the mountain.
Vista de Chinesa
We enjoyed this view during our Tijuca forest tour with jeeptours. It is definitely worth seeing and with the forest around you, we also saw a lizard enjoying the view too!
Jeep Tours were a great option, we didn’t feel rushed getting all our pictures and we were able to take in moments to just enjoy the experience. The guide was really informative about the forest and the different structures and buildings we passed, speaking in English, Spanish and Portuguese too, which was pretty impressive!
Lapa - Day and Night!
The lapa area has some really great street art as well as a fun nightlife! We definitely recommend taking the time to visit in the day time and at night so you can appreciate all that the area has to offer. We particularly liked the street art in Rua Joaquim Silva, which is also right next to the Lapa arches!
In the evening, we went to a club called Bazooka, which had a cheap entry fee compared to others, at just 10 Reals and they also did 2-4-1 Caiprinhas all night - for the win!
We’re not sure if this is a system used throughout Rio but we were given a small card upon entry, which was essentially like our drinks credit card. Drink all the drinks you like then pay at the end and get a receipt to leave. It was a little odd for us but it seems to work!
If you’re looking for a social hostel in the area, we highly recommend Books Hostel , a truly family-like hostel like no other we’ve experienced!
Copacabana/Ipanema beach or better yet, Red/Joatinga Beach!
The pictures you see of Ipanema and Copacabana beach always show that cool mosaic monochrome boulevard. What you don’t realise is that these are simply the pavements of Rio in general! So you'll be able to find yourself a private area to get those Insta shots!
We went to these beaches during carnival, so it was no doubt more packed than usual, but we also found food and drink to be extremely expensive too!
If you’re looking for a beach day, we would recommend Red or Joatinga beach. Red Beach is right by the entrance to Sugarloaf Mountain so you can enjoy a more scenic beach day and like us, saunter onto the cable cars ready for sunset! Joatinga is a beautiful beach located a bit further out so feels more secluded and private than the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.
Don't take us wrong though, Ipanema and Copacabana are beautiful too!
Tijuca forest is the largest urban forest in the world. It is home to many animals including sloths, lizards, and toucans to name a few. It is also home to the Vista de Chinesa view point, a beautiful waterfall, an information centre and some nice walking trails for all abilities to enjoy.
It’s definitely worth seeing, and we would recommend using tour operator ‘Jeep Tours’. We had a guide who spoke English, Spanish and Portuguese taking us around, explaining a lot of interesting facts about the forest and Brazilian culture. You may also get to see Pele, the famous football players home too!
Uruguiana – the market for everything
This market has everything from bikinis and clothes to electronics, mobile phones and loads of other random things that you might need. If you’re in Rio for Carnival, this is also your one stop shop for carnival costumes. Check out the streets off of Rua Uruguaiana and our essential guide for Rio Carnival!
If you’re looking for a more traditional shopping experience, you’ll need to head over to the classy Village Mall in the Tijuca region or Rio Sul, nestled between Downtown and Copacabana beach.
It is also located in a central area where you can walk to check out the many attractions in the Downtown area.
If you enjoy meandering around cities, you will easily be able to walk around most of Downtown to see many attractions including, the Metropolitan Cathedral, which houses the tallest glass stained windows in the world. Additionally, The Imperial Palace, Chafariz da Pyramide, The Church of Carmon convent and Arco de Teles, which leads to Travessa do Comercio - a beautiful pedestrianised street full of original buildings and lovely restaurants, which comes alive at night! You're also likely to fall onto the infamous Lapa arches and the Escalaron Delary stairs with some great street art sprinkled in too.
We went with Brazil Expedition for our favela tour. It certainly felt like one of the most authentic tours as we were taken to the very top of Rio’s largest favela and made our way down through the favela by foot - an experience not given by most tour operators. This way you are fully immersed into the harsh surroundings of the most impoverished communities of Rio, sadly these conditions are less than sanitary and the size of some homes are no bigger than our wardrobe!
The guides we had, Wellington and Carlos were both really informative and had lived in the favela themselves. We learnt about the social politics and general day to day living surrounding the favelas, which is much safer than the media would have us believe!
It is an experience not to be missed, and you can read more about our frustrations on the media image of Rio here.
If, like us, you know and love the Pharrell and Snoop song – Beautiful, you’ll know these stairs well and will want the obligatory photo sitting on them. We even played the song whilst walking up the stairs too!
They are made of tiles collected from most countries around the world - London was hard to find but eventually we found two! See if you can spot your home country and share it with us.
They also lead to some beautiful views of Rio. Once you reach the very top, turn left, and keep climbing up, it's a steep incline so we’d recommend you have some water and plenty of sun cream at the ready! You'll also be able to check out the museum, Museu da Chácara do Céu and Parque das Ruinas, meaning park ruins, providing some beautiful views over Rio and some great Insta shots!
Ilha Grande is a paradise island around 3 and a half hours away from Rio. No vehicles are allowed to drive anywhere on the island, so a boat trip is necessary from one of the main ports – usually Angra Dois.
If you have a spare few days, we would definitely recommend going to enjoy the Island Hopping excursions available and enjoying all the Happy Hour Caipis in the evening.
For the more adventurous travellers, Ilha Grande has many trekking trails from a simple 20 minute hike to Lopes Mendes beach all the way to a 9 day hike around the entire island and many in between.
Read our full guide here.
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