Rio de Janeiro, its a city quite like no other. Loud, captivating & overwhelming to say the least! In this urban landscape famed around the world for so much, its hard to get past the superlatives and decide exactly what to do… so to help I have put together a list of the top things to do in Rio de Janeiro Brazil! Of course one could convincingly make the agreement that Rio is best experienced from its seductive beaches – a mainstay in Cariocas (residents of Rio) life – and I wouldn’t disagree, but there is more to this UNESCO listed World Heritage site than just impossibly tanned bodies parading around on golden white sand, although this is a large part of the appeal. The rhythm of Rio extends away from the boardwalks, through its streets and up into its vast tropical landscape. Your spirit here is re-invigorated with street music, great food, outdoor pursuits and the sounds of nature. Explore as much of this tantalising city as you can on your own, but be sure not to miss these top things to do in Rio de Janeiro Brazil!
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Explore the grungy grandeur that is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, better know as Rio’s Cathedral. Built in 1979 in the modern style based on Mayan pyramids this is one church you just have to see, if not just for the unique feeling of darkness that overwhelms you when you enter. Not your typical church that’s for sure!
Walk around the world famous Sugar Loaf Mountain, or for the more adventurous take the two cable cars to the top for some truly breath-taking views. The most famous of the many monolithic granite and quartz mountains which give Rio its incredible feel, the first sight of this beauty rising straight out of the waters edge is something else completely. Don’t worry, it’s doing much better after its 1979 encounter with Jaws in Moonraker.
Marvel at the planes that take off and land at Santos Dumont Airport – Rio’s secondary, smaller airport located adjacent to the city centre. As if the small runway and killer views on take off and landing weren’t enough, watching the planes take off and land from nearby Flamengo Beach is out-of-this-world. Just watch the steep turns that they make to avoid Sugar Loaf! One for plane geeks thats for sure [and if you can get a domestic flight into or out of here, do it, and spring for the window seat!]
Head across Guanabara Bay to Niterói, Rio’s jealous little sister which has become something of a back-water since the capital was moved to Brasília. However one shining light has since returned in the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, designed in 1996 by Oscar Niemeyer – Brazil’s most revered architect. The art installations inside can be rather hit and miss but the killer views back across the harbour to Sugar Loaf and Rio never fail to make the heart skip a beat.
Check out Botafogo, Rio’s up-and-coming inbetweener neighbourhood. Missing the glitz of Ipanema or the decadent past of Copacabana Botafogo is forging ahead with plenty of bistros, hot new clubs, cultural centres and a killer beach providng an alternative to its post-card perfect older brothers. With a quiet beach and flanking the city centre this place is tipped to be Rio’s next big thing. Prices are low at the moment and the area still has a grungy feel – with the prices to match. Don’t expect it to stay like this forever though!
While Copacabana may have all the hotels and tourists, all the locals know Ipanema Beach is now where all the action is. The beach is Rio’s backyard and here you can see it all on show as everyone enjoys the endless opportunities. Work out, play volleyball, take a dip or just relax on the sand as beverage and snack sellers cater to your every whim. Put aside a few days for this at least – Trust me, its addictive!
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Explore the rhythm of Rio and dance the night away in the infamous Lapa District. With its iconic white aqueduct this neighbourhood is the lifeblood of Rio’s nightlife, an alternative red-light district with overflowing street parties most nights of the week. Here you will find plenty of live-music venues but remember samba is the soul of Lapa, and it is infectious!
Say Hello to the Big Dude upstairs. No visit to Rio would be complete without a visit to Christ the Redeemer, the omnipresent art deco master piece with a view across the entire city. You can either catch a train or hike up, but be sure to do it either early morning or late evening to avoid the merciless tourbus hoards. Check here for a full guide to Christ the Redeemer in Rio.
Take in the Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea – a UNESCO listed World Heritage site. From the highest points of the Tijuca National Park’s mountains running down to the shimmering sea this site including many of the cities extensively designed landscapes which have direclty contributed to and inspired its unique outdoor living culture!
BONUS: Top Things To Do in Rio de Janeiro Brazil – While not technically in the city Ilha Grande is still in the RJ state and is a fantastic tropical getaway not to be missed. Deserted beaches, protected virgin forest, clear blue water and coconuts on tap. Whats not to love! Plan to spend longer than you expected with this one.
Now you're all set and prepared to explore our big wide world, why not sort out everything else out all in one go? If necessary for your travel plans make sure you have brought proper travel insurance, protected your privacy by getting a secure VPN, compared all the top hotel booking sites to find just what you're after, reserved an unbeatable rental car price and - of course - booked the best flight deals!
Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!