17 Best Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro

Feel the beat of this magical, culturally-rich city with Giorgy aka G-Extreme’s unmissable best things to do in Rio de Janeiro!

Rio de Janeiro is not only a must-visit city in Brazil, it’s a must-visit on any trip to South America in general. It’s a truly magical city that is blessed with mesmerizing nature as well as a rich culture and a bustling urban life! And if you’re lucky enough to visit during carnival season, you will have the most wonderful experience as the streets are filled with lively music, dancing, and vibrant colors.

Rio is not just Brazil’s second-biggest city, it’s one of the largest cities in the world which can make it quite intimidating even for seasoned travelers. It can be difficult to determine where to start or what to do as you’re overwhelmed by the variety of landscapes, landmarks, and sights.

Be ready, Rio de Janeiro is going to exceed all of your expectations!

Everybody, strap yourselves in because Giorgy aka G-Extreme is about to share the Best Unmissable Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!

#1. CRISTO REDENTOR (CHRIST THE REDEEMER)

What is it?
Christ the Redeemer is an art deco statue of Jesus Christ created by French sculptor Paul Landowski and perched on the summit of Mount Corcovado mountain.

Why go?
This massive statue is widely recognized as a cultural symbol of both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. It’s also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The statue stands at 30 meters high, with an 8-meter pedestal.

Visitors can reach the statue by van, train, or by hiking, although it’s quite a difficult hike as Mount Corcovado is around 700 meters high and you will have to climb very steep steps (nothing impossible for my G-extremist right?). Try to be on the top before 10:00 am.

Hey Goofball! In order to avoid crowds, try to arrive at the statue as early in the morning as possible and purchase the ticket in advance.

#2. SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN

What is it?
Sugarloaf Mountain is another distinctive landmark that is seen as one of Rio de Janeiro’s most recognizable symbols.

Why go?
The mountain is a monolithic granite and quartz that rises 396 meters high above the harbor and overlooks the whole city. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2012. To visit this mountain, you can take a cable car to Morro da Urca first, and then another cable car to the top of Sugarloaf.

During your ascent, you’ll get a spectacular view of the city, and on top of the mountain itself, you’ll be dazzled by the panoramic view of Rio De Janeiro’s wonders! Everyone agrees that the views from Sugarloaf are magical at any time of day, however, there’s something extra special about seeing the sunset on this mountain and watching the night come into life in the city below!

Hey Goofball! Here for you the official cable car ticket, check out here!

#3. LARGO DO BOTICARIO

What is it?
Step back in time at this neocolonial colorful photogenic square! Located in Cosme Velho, kind of hidden in it tho. lookout for it!

Why go?
Wander through Largo do Boticario is like walking back in time, the only difference is you won’t find glittering parties for the city’s artistic and political elite anymore. It is incredible to see how nature took over, its grand buildings were abandoned and indeed reclaimed by rainforest foliage!

#4. TEATRO MUNICIPAL

What is it?
Located in Ramos de Azevedo Square in the city center, Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro’s main opera house and one of its most beautiful buildings.

Why go?
It was built in the early 20th-century in a mix of Baroque and art nouveau styles inspired by the Paris Opera of Charles Garnier. The building is not only known for its architecture but it’s also known as a cultural center because of its gorgeous interior that’s enamored with paintings and sculptures by famous artists. It also hosts classical concerts, ballet performances, plays, and operas.

If you don’t have a chance to attend a show in this theater, you should still definitely visit it and enjoy a guided tour of the luxurious building!

#5. JARDIM BOTANICO (BOTANICAL GARDEN)

What is it?
The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden is the perfect haven for anyone who needs a break from the city’s crowds and chaos. Located at the foot of Corcovado Mountain, the garden houses more than 6000 species of plants, some of which are endangered. These plants include cacti, orchids, and even carnivores plants.

Why go?
It was originally founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal to acclimatize different spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg from the West Indies. It is also home to monuments of historical, artistic, and archaeological significance as well as a research institute. Don’t miss the Japanese garden which houses koi ponds, bonsai trees, wooden bridges, cherry trees, and over 8,000 species of birds and plants!

The garden also contains a pond filled with water lilies and the new Museu do Meio Ambiente, which features exhibits on environmental issues.

Hey Goofball! Get your entity-guided ticket in here; avoid annoying lines and learn the beautiful history behind it.

#6. FEIRA LIVRE DA GLORIA

What is it?
Who doesn’t love food? Especially on Sunday morning to get diehard foodies at Gloria’s market?

Why go?
This is also another hidden gem, here you can have Brazilian fresh produce: from exotic fruits to artisanal cachaça! Not only you can find fresh products but you can eat breakfast full-field your tummy after a Saturday clubbing with hot pasties stuffed with whatever you wish for, served along with pure sugarcane juice! Feel like being in heaven lol!

To busy to get food because my hand were occupied with food… gnum… gnum… gnum!

#7. COPACABANA BEACH

What is it?
Rio de Janeiro is known for its beautiful white sandy beaches and Copacabana beach is definitely one of them!

Why go?
Copacabana is one of the city’s most popular and vibrant beaches as it’s always buzzing with activities like football, volleyball, and beachgoers. The beach is also full of vendors of all kinds so you can satisfy your cravings while enjoying the sun! Check out the “Bip Bip” a tiny, eccentric Copacabana bar, renowned for its live music.

Hey Goofball! Another of Rio’s most beautiful beaches is Ipanema Beach, don’t miss this out; especially at sunset!

#8. TIJUCA NATIONAL PARK

What is it?
This vast rainforest is another ideal destination for outdoor lovers. Tijuca National Park is the world’s largest urban rainforest, covering 8,300 acres.

Why go?
The beauty of Tijuca is awe-inspiring as it is home to diverse terrains, waterfalls, and hundreds of species of plants and wildlife, many of which are threatened by extinction. The park offers a wide variety of activities such as hiking, picnicking, hang gliding, and rock climbing. It also includes many remarkable attractions, most famously the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Other highlights include the Cascatinha Waterfall; the Mayrink Chapel, with murals painted by Cândido Portinari; and a giant granite table called the Mesa do Imperador (the table of the emperor).

Hey Goofball! Admission to the park is free, but you will have to pay to visit Christ the Redeemer or get the following guided tour to get the best experience ever!

#9. MUSEUM OF TOMORROW

What is it?
This museum is one of the most interesting attractions in Rio de Janeiro. It’s an applied sciences museum that explores the relationships between the city and nature as well as the challenges that humanity will face in the future when it comes to sustainability.

Why go?
This futurist museum is focused on 5 key points: where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going? And how do we want to live together over the next fifty years? And through its exhibits, it addresses issues like life expectancy, climate change, increased consumption, and the distribution of wealth. This museum is going to be a unique and intriguing experience!

Hey Goofball! Get your admission ticket in here!

#10. MANGUEIRA’S PALACIO DE SAMBA

What is it?
One of the oldest Rio’s samba schools and one that won the most parade prizes!

Why go?
Carvinal, the world’s greatest party, doesn’t come overnight. In fact, there is a year-round preparation, if you happen to be around, have a taste of the carnival magic at the school’s evening performances! It is absolutely an amazing behind-the-scenes-tours that you cannot miss for anything in the world!

Hey Goofball! I am a firm believer enjoy something local is better than the usual football. But, some of you still are willing and wanted to have their football game planned in advance!

#11. LAPA NEIGHBORHOOD

What is it?
The neighborhood is teeming with nightclubs, street parties, and bars like the Rio Scenarium, the city’s most popular bar! The Rio Scenarium is made up of 3 stories and it plays great Brazilian music.

Why go?
If you want a taste of Rio de Janeiro’s lively nightlife then Lapa is the place for you!

However, because it’s so popular, it’s sometimes difficult to find a table so it’s better to reserve a spot beforehand! Lapa is not just known for its exciting nightlife, it’s also known for its bohemian culture and splendid architecture. Most of the architecture in the neighborhood dates back to the 1800s. One of the main attractions is the Arcos da Lapa which was built in 1723 during the colonial era to lead water from the Carioca River to Morro de Santo Antonio. Arcos de Lapa is also surrounded by other distinctive landmarks such as Metropolitan Cathedral, Fundição Progresso, and Sala Cecília Meirelles.

Hey Goofball! You can also simply take a walk around the neighborhood and enjoy some intriguing street art!

#12. SANTA TERESA NEIGHBORHOOD

What is it?
Santa Teresa is another neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro that’s worth a visit. Escadaria Selarón, a set of famous steps connects both the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods which makes them quite easy to visit after one another!

Why go?
This charming neighborhood has a wide array of compelling art and architecture. Just a stroll around its cobblestone streets is going to make you fall in love with its laid-back bohemian atmosphere.

In the 20th-century, Santa Teresa was home to a myriad of artists, writers, and musicians, and it still maintains its artistic vibe to this day! Some of the highlights in the neighborhood include The Museu Chácara do Céu, which houses a collection of modern art by artists like Picasso and Mattise, and the Centro Cultural Municipal Parque das Ruínas which is located in the ruins of the old mansion belonging to Laurinda Santos.

Hey Goofball! On the cobbled streets of this neighborhood, stop at Bar do Gomez a quintessential neighborhood bar on the picturesque zipping on your favorite cachaça drink or cold beer.

#13. PARQUE LAGE

What is it?
Tucked at the foot of the Corcovado, Parque Lage is a former mansion that belonged to Gabriella Besanzoni, a famous Italian opera singer, and her husband, Enrique Lage.

Why go?
Surrounded by the Tijuca rainforest, Parque Lage offers its visitors some tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of the city with its hiking trails, gardens, and aquarium. The former mansion is now an art school known as the Escola de Artes Visuals do Parque Lage (Visual Arts School of Parque Lage), which hosts free art exhibitions.

There’s also a hiking trail that leads to leads to the top of the Corcovado to the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

#14. REAL GABINETE PORTUGUESE DE LEITURA (ROYAL PORTUGUESE READING ROOM)

What is it?
Another hidden little gem: Real Gabinete Portuguese de Leitura! Located in Rio’s city center, a bookworm’s paradise of a vast array of Portuguese literature.

Why go?
From Porto to Rio de Janerio – time capsule machine! Built-in the 1880s, this library contains rare manuscripts and leather-bound novels linin ornately-carved shelves is pretty amazing! Doesn’t it look like the one in Porto?

#15. METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL

What is it?
Designed by Edgar de Oliveira da Fonseca, this looming church is a sight to see! It was inspired by the Mayan architectural style of pyramids and it seats around 5,000 people.

Why go?
Stained glass windows extend 64 meters from floor to ceiling to light the interior with stunningly colored natural light. The walls are also covered with square windows that give it the look of a honeycomb. Because of its unusual architecture and striking interior, this cathedral grabs everyone’s attention!

#16. ILHA FISCAL

What is it?
Away from central Rio, Ilha Fiscal is a remote neo-Gothic castle that sits on a hidden island in Guanabara Bay.

Why go?
The castle was originally built to serve as a location for Brazilian Custom Service, and it was also the venue for the last ball offered by the imperial government at the time. Today, Ilha Fiscal serves as a museum, but it hasn’t lost any of its lavishness.

Take a guided tour of this fascinating castle and learn more about the history of Rio and take in the extravagant lounges and interior of the fairy-tale-like place.

#17. MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

What is it?
The museum is home to a collection of more than 4,000 works, both national and international.

Why go?
If you’re a lover of the arts then this is the perfect place for you! The collection includes artworks by artists like Pablo Picasso, Mario Zanini, and Alfredo Volpi.

The building itself represents an architectural landmark designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and the surrounding gardens are the work of the famous Brazilian landscaper, Roberto Burle.

OVERALL

Hey Goofball, Giorgy is about to share some useful tips for getting around the city:

  • Exploring Rio by Bus: Buses in Rio are quite cheap and an “easy ” way to explore the city (ask your hostel/hotel for the best route, at the beginning could be a little bit confusional). You might be surprised taxis are better than subways speaking of the price. Make sure you jump on a yellow cab with a blue strip down the sides (legal ones);
  • Food That You Should NOT Miss: You should not miss “Comida a kilo”, no matter what they cook, it’s purely local and you pay for the kilo of the food on your plate! The one you are going to hear is the popular Brazilian dish “feijoada”: black bean stew with chunks of meat.

BOOK THINGS TO DO, ATTRACTIONS, AND TOUR

All in all, Rio de Janeiro is a splendid city that has everything a traveler wishes for; from marvelous architecture and history to scenic nature and a dazzling friendly atmosphere… not to forget the exciting nightlife! 

Don’t let the vastness of the city overwhelm you and embark on the adventure of a lifetime with this list of the 17 unbeatable things to do when you visit Rio de Janeiro. What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear in the comments below! 

 

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