Warm Paradise Awaits You

Rio de Janeiro is a City Brimming with Life

Rio de Janeiro is beautiful in so many ways: The people are warm, the beaches are picturesque, and it is a city with significant Native and Afro-Brazilian pride and influence. There is something for everyone in this sunny paradise. Use this travel guide of amazing things to do in Rio de Janeiro as you plan your trip to Rio!

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Rio De Janeiro: Top 15 Things to Do

1. Check out Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow)

Located in Centro, Museu do Amanhã is a fun attraction in Rio de Janeiro that exudes neo-futurist design as intended by its architect, Santiago Calatrava (and to me, it looks like a huge spaceship).

The inside features interactive exhibitions that explore current and future scientific and technological advances. Visitors can learn about our environment and climate change, sustainability, urbanism, science and technology innovations, and the history of life on Earth. The museum also has stunning rooftop terraces with unbeatable views of the cityscape below. 

Are you visiting on a Tuesday? Check out the museum at no cost on Free Tuesdays.

A view of an architectural structure at the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro
Beautiful architectural design… and looks like a spaceship!

2. Book nerds: Head to the Royal Portuguese Reading Room

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room is a magnificent library located in Centro. It was founded in 1837 by King Pedro II to promote the people’s appreciation of books and knowledge. Since its opening, this beautiful building has been filled with exquisite antiques, ornate marble floors, and soaring ceilings, making it an impressive sight. In its beginnings, it was exclusively open to members of Brazil’s upper class, but today, visitors from all walks of life are welcome to visit during its operating hours.

Apart from the stunning architecture and decorations, the reading room is home to over 500,000 books written in various languages, with a strong focus on Portuguese literature. Moreover, art exhibitions are regularly held here that celebrate cultural values worldwide. The Royal Portuguese Reading Room is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. for visitors to explore and take in its rich history and culture.

A library in Rio de Janeiro with view beautiful skylight, a chandelier, and hundreds of books.
There is nothing better than an extravagant library filled with books.

3. Hop on the Santa Teresa Tram

The Santa Teresa tram in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a unique and scenic way to explore one of the world’s most vibrant cities. The tram takes you over the famous Lapa arch and runs through some of the most beautiful parts of town, offering spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains. Passengers can take in all the sights and sounds of the bustling streets below as they travel along this charming old-fashioned railway line.

I got on the tram at the main station in Centro and bought a ticket from the booth (about 3 USD for RT). My next destination was two stops away, but it’s best to stay on the tram to the last stop and return to the Curvelo stop, taking at most 40 minutes overall.

Get off at Santa Teresa Square for local markets or cute restaurants that will serve you tasty caipirinhas while you relax on their outdoor terrace.

Hop off at Largo de Curvelo and walk to the Selaron steps and Parque das Ruinas (see below).

Or take the tram to Largo dos Guimarães to climb Corcovado Mountain or use trails that start from this point to explore Tijuca National Park.

4. Check out Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião

Parque das Ruínas (The Ruins Park) in Rio de Janeiro is a must-visit destination for any visitor to the city. Located near the heart of Santa Teresa, this historical park provides visitors with an insight into the history of Rio de Janeiro. Housed within the walls of an old mansion are several ruins that have been carefully preserved and restored – such as majestic staircases, archways, and impressive marble sculptures.

The grounds of Parque das Ruínas also offer some stunning views over Rio’s skyline, making it an excellent place for photographers or anyone looking for peace amid the city’s hustle and bustle. Educational tours are available each day at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. for those interested in learning more about their surroundings. They take visitors on a journey through time as they explore this enchanting park.

A view of the Catedral Metropolitana from the outside and a small yellow train
Catedral Metropolitana from the outside. It certainly sticks out when you walk around Santa Teresa.

5. Stop by Parque das Ruinas

Parque das Ruínas (The Ruins Park) in Rio de Janeiro is a must-visit destination for any visitor to the city. Located near the heart of Santa Teresa, this historical park provides visitors with an insight into the history of Rio de Janeiro. Housed within the walls of an old mansion are several ruins that have been carefully preserved and restored – such as majestic staircases, archways and impressive marble sculptures.

The grounds of Parque das Ruínas also offer some stunning views over Rio’s skyline, making it a great place for photographers or anyone looking for some peace and quiet amid the hustle and bustle of the city. For those interested in learning more about their surroundings, educational tours are available each day at 10am or 4pm, taking visitors on a journey through time as they explore this enchanting park.

Outside view of Parque das Ruinas in Santa Teresa neighborhood, Rio de Janeiro.
Parque das Ruinas from the ground level.
Parque das Ruinas from the inside in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro
There are several floors with remnants of another era.
A man posing at Parque das Ruinas, located in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro.
There are also stunning views of Rio from above.

6. Walk down the famous Selaron Steps

The Escadaria Selarón (Selarón Steps) is a famous landmark in Rio de Janeiro. Created by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, the steps have become a symbol of how art can transform a space and create something truly beautiful. The stairway is comprised of over 2000 tiles from more than 60 countries around the world, each tile chosen carefully by artist to create a vibrant mosaic of colours and patterns. Every visit to the steps will be different, as no two trips up or down are ever the same.

At night, things take on a whole new level of enchantment when spotlights illuminate these mesmerising stairs – reminiscent of something out of a movie! As one of Rio’s most treasured landmarks, over two million people visit them every year – and for good reason! They have become synonymous with all that is exciting about this incredible city and are sure to leave visitors captivated.

Tiles and the wall of the escadaria selaron.
Over 2000 tiles from around the world were used to create the famous steps and these intricate walls.

Take a closer look at the steps and you will notice one odd repetitive theme — over 300 of these tiles depict black pregnant women. Each one is tied to a tribute to various influential Afro-Brazilian leaders and movements, but when interviewed about them, Selarón only states it was “a personal problem” from his past (!!!).

A painted tile depicting a pregnant black woman
1 of 300 tiles depicting black pregnant women.

7. Climb Sugarloaf Mountain the easy or hard way

It felt like everywhere I turned, Sugarloaf mountain (or Pão de Açúcar) was in view, beckoning me with just another picturesque photo. It’s no wonder it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rio. Rising 1,299 feet above sea level, it offers breathtaking views of Guanabara Bay, Copacabana Beach, and the entire city spread out below.  Visitors can easily access the mountain by cable car from Praia Vermelh. A trip up Sugarloaf Mountain provides visitors with stunning panoramic views as well as incredible sunsets over Rio de Janeiro’s bay during daylight hours and beautiful nighttime views of the city lights. No matter when visitors choose to go, visiting Sugarloaf Mountain will be an unforgettable experience.

To get to the very top:

Start in Praia Vermelha. The first mountain you ascend to is Urca Mountain, which can be done in 1 of 3 ways:

  1. Cable car – This is the fastest way and takes about 5 minutes.
  2. Hiking – The hike to the top of Urca mountain takes about 30 minutes. It is more active, so I suggest bringing some water and comfortable hiking shoes.
  3. Mountain climbing – This will obviously be the most active and thrill-seeking option. This would take about 90 minutes to complete and is done with a guide. For more information, check the link below:

At the top of Urca Mountain, there are plenty of restaurants, bars, shops to choose from. There are already plenty of beautiful panoramic views from here, so take a leisurely stroll! When you’re ready, you need to take another cable car to get to the top of Sugarloaf mountain. Once you’re there, there are even more options to eat and drink. Enjoy!

View of Sugarloaf mountain from hotel
A view of Sugarloaf Mountain from my hotel.
Sugarloaf and Urca mountains with lines for cable cars in view.
Sugarloaf to the far right. Urca Mountain is the first stop.

8. Visit Christ the Redeemer Statue, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

As is the case with Sugarloaf Mountain, you can see Christ the Redeemer from almost anywhere in Rio. It is an iconic statue situated at 2,300 feet above sea level on top of Corcovado Mountain. It was constructed from reinforced concrete and covered in 6 million tiles, and the statue itself it 125 feet tall! You can access the base of the mountain in 1 of 2 ways:

Cog Train: From Corcovado station, you can take this train directly up using the same railroad that was used to transport all the material used to build this statue. It is about a 20 minute journey and overlooks the Atlantic Forest.

Van: There are official “Paineiras-Corcovado Consortium” vans that will meet you at the Paineiras Visitor Center. You may access this center by public transport or taxi/Uber.

Walk through Tijuca National Forest: This will the most scenic and active option. This is best done through a guided tour as the park is HUGE and not easy to navigate if it’s your first time.

A view of Christ the Redeemer Statue
This towering statue is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

9. Soak up the sun at the infamous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches

Ipanema and Copacabana beaches are two of the most iconic beaches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ipanema Beach is known for its turquoise water, white sand, and vibrant atmosphere. Located between Arpoador and Leblon, this world-famous beach hosts surfers, volleyball matches, beach goers and visitors throughout the year.

Ipanema Beach holds a surfing competition every year in memory of legendary surfer Ricardo dos Santos who died tragically in 2015. Additionally, acclaimed Brazilian singer Tom Jobim wrote his famous song “The Girl from Ipanema” after watching a young woman walk across the beach.

Meanwhile, Copacabana Beach is further south on the edge of town and is characterized by its 4 km long promenade filled with seaside vendors, kiosks serving delicious food, and brightly colored umbrellas that line up along the shoreline. Both beaches offer stunning views of Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance.

Copacabana Beach was christened with its name because of a colonial-era devotion to Our Lady of Copacabana and hosts many concerts during summer festivals like Rock In Rio and New Year’s Eve celebrations drawing thousands of people from around the world each year.

A man sipping a cold drink at Ipanema beach at sunset with Dois Irmaos in the background
Sipping a caipirinha at Ipanema Beach during a beautiful sunset.

10. Watch the sunset at Arpoador

Arpoador is a rocky outcropping located between Ipanema and Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s known for its stunning sunsets that can be observed from the top or bottom of the rock formation. Many locals come here to watch the gorgeous sunset with breathtaking views of the ocean, while tourists can’t help but admire Arpoador’s beauty and tranquility. Boasting 16,000 square feet of natural beauty and a vantage point over two iconic beaches, it is no surprise that Arpoador has become one of the most photographed places in Brazil as well as an Instagram hot spot for many visitors who come to see its incredible sunsets.

A view from Arpaodar of Dois Irmaos and setting sun
Hundreds of people sit on this rock formation and watch as the sun sets behind Dois Irmaos Mountain.

11. Learn more about Afro-Brazilian History in Centro

Rio de Janeiro has a rich and complex Afro-Brazilian history that can be traced back to the arrival of African slaves in Brazil during the 16th century. They were brought as captives from Angola, Congo, Mozambique, and elsewhere in Africa, and they were essential to Rio de Janeiro’s economy from the 1600s up until Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. Today, descendants of these African slaves make up a large part of the city’s population, giving Rio its unique and vibrant culture.

Rio de Janeiro honors its African heritage through traditions such as Carnival festivities, which bring bright colors, lively music and dancing together with colorful costumes representative of many African countries. Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé and Umbanda are recognized by locals who engage in ceremonies that honor their ancestors through rituals and songs that focus on healing and unity. Notable institutions like the National Ballet of Bahia or AfroReggae play an important role in preserving traditional African customs while bringing attention to important social issues such as poverty and race relations.

When I visited, I took part in the  Little Africa Walking Tour through Airbnb with Kelly. She was very engaging and took us on a 2.5 hour journey through the neighborhood of Rio called Centro, which formerly housed the largest ports for slave trade and contains the infamous “Pedra do Sal.” In the 1800s, many Bahians that migrated to Rio began using this large stone as a meeting point for gatherings, and today on Fridays and Mondays, the streets are filled and samba music brings people together in dance. If you have time, please check out this tour!

Guide talking about the symbolism of a wall mural in Centro, an area rich with Afro-Brazilian history
Our guide describes the symbolism of the wall mural in Centro, an area rich with Afro-Brazilian history.

12. Immerse Yourself in Samba

Samba is an iconic musical style that originated from the dances and instruments of Afro-Brazilian communities. Today, it has come to be one of the top things identified with the nation. As a dance, samba involves swaying rhythms and steps that are often accompanied by maracas, tambourines and other percussion instruments. The lyrics of samba songs reflect the joyful spirit of the Brazilian people – full of hope, fun, and energy. From joyful street parades to packed nightclubs and festivals, samba is an integral part of Brazilian culture. Here are several ways you can get a taste for Samba too!

  • Take a Samba Class. There are plenty of opportunities to take classes around Rio. While the basic steps might be challenging to learn, it is still a fun and active hour-long activity. Here’s an option: Samba Crash Course
  • Head to Pedra do Sal, an area located in Centro, on Mondays and Fridays for Samba nights. People gather at this to dance their butts off and show off their latest Samba moves at a historical meeting point that many say is the birthplace of Samba. Just pop this into Google and be prepared for an unforgettable night.
  • Watch a Samba rehearsal. Watch the best of the best at a Samba rehearsal. In preparation for Carnaval in February, each school will regularly hold open rehearsals that are open to the public. You can eat, drink, and also take part in the amateur Samba dance-off. Here is a popular guided option: Salguiero Samba School Rehearsal
  • Want the ultimate samba experience? Then make sure to check out Rio Carnaval. They have official parades over the weekend before Lent (each February), and street parties in the weeks leading up to the main event at Sambadrome. Want some more details about dates and ticket prices? Check out Carnival Bookers.
Rio Carnival parade float and samba dancers
Rio Carnival will offer you the ultimate samba experience.

13. Hike up Telegraph Mountain for great photo-ops and beautiful sunsets

Telegraph Mountain is the highest peak in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Located on a sprawling wilderness area, the mountain offers magnificent views and stunning vistas of iconic peaks and rugged landscapes. A popular destination for camping, hiking, and horseback riding, the summit of Telegraph Mountain provides an unparalleled experience with 360-degree panoramic views of the entire region. On a clear day visitors can take in some of the most awe-inspiring views anywhere including fourteen thousand foot summits to unrivaled valleys below, all set against a backdrop of majestic snowcapped mountains. The experience of standing atop this landmark peak is something that is sure to stay with you for a lifetime.

Want to learn more about this hike and beautiful beaches along the way? Stay tuned for that blog post soon!

A man a man climbing up the side of a cliff at Telegraph Mountain - a visual illusion
The real definition of cliffhanger! But really, it’s just a visual illusion and there is land below me.

14. Hike Morro Dois Irmaos and wander through Vidigal Favela

Dois Irmaos, or “Two Brothers” as it’s translated in English, is a majestic mountaintop located a few miles outside of Rio de Janeiro. Hiking up this summit is an awe-inspiring experience that offers stunning views of the city below and the endless ocean on the horizon.

The hike to the summit is moderate in difficulty but breathtakingly beautiful with lush vegetation and vibrant wildlife. Along the way, visitors can marvel at towering rock formations and crystal clear streams which make for an unforgettable journey. At the top, one has a chance to take in unparalleled vistas of this stunning region before making their descent.

A man posing from the top of Dois Irmaos, located in Vidigal Favela in Rio de Janeiro.
View from the top of Dois Irmaos, located in Vidigal Favela.

Prior to reaching the start of the trail, you will go through the Vidigal favela. While that can sound intimidating, know that this is one of the safest favelas one can travel to, and trekking through here will be sure to expand your mind as it did mine. Generally, you would take a mototaxi or van uphill to the entrance of the trail. Then I would recommend that you walk downhill through the favela, where you can have lunch, drinks, do some shopping, and get a glimpse into life there.

Want some more details on this hike and nearby beaches for before/after? Stay tuned for that blog post soon!

15. Check out Tijuca National Park

Visiting Tijuca National Park in Rio de Janeiro is a great place to visit as a nature lover. Covering an area of over 32 square kilometers, this park offers a diverse range of flora and fauna, making it a haven for biodiversity. The main attraction of the park is its lush rainforest, home to numerous exotic plant species and animals such as monkeys, toucans, and sloths. The park also features several hiking trails that lead to beautiful waterfalls and stunning viewpoints including the famous Pedra Bonita and Pedra da Gávea. Whether you are a nature enthusiast or simply seeking an escape from the bustling city, Tijuca National Park is a captivating destination worth exploring.

16. Embrace Nature at Jardim Botanico

Jardim Botânico, or the Botanical Garden, is a magnificent oasis of greenery and beauty located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This botanical paradise stretches over 340 acres and is home to more than 8,000 species of plants, making it one of the most diverse gardens in the world. As you wander through the garden’s pathways, you will be greeted by towering palm trees, colorful orchids, and fragrant roses.

The highlight of Jardim Botânico is the stunning Imperial Palm Trees Alley, a row of majestic palms that has become an iconic symbol of the garden. This UNESCO World Heritage site also houses several historical buildings, including a research institute and a library. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely picnic beside the picturesque ponds or embark on a guided tour to learn more about the diverse vegetation and rich history of the garden. Jardim Botânico is a serene escape from the bustling city and a must-visit for nature lovers and botanical enthusiasts alike. 

17. Go Hang Gliding from Pedra Bonita

Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro is like soaring through a dream. With its breathtaking views of the city’s iconic landmarks and the vast Atlantic Ocean, it is an exhilarating experience unlike any other. The adrenaline rush starts as you launch off the Pedra Bonita mountain, feeling the wind beneath your wings. As you glide through the air, you can see the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches below, with the towering Christ the Redeemer statue watching over the city. The feeling of freedom and weightlessness is simply indescribable. Whether you are a seasoned glider or a first-time flyer, hang gliding in Rio is a must-do adventure that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

18. Take a tour of the Rochinha Favela

Taking a tour of the Rocinha favela is a unique experience that offers a glimpse into the daily life of the residents. As the largest favela in Brazil, it is home to thousands of people and has a vibrant culture. Touring the favela allows visitors to witness the resilience and creativity of its inhabitants. The tour provides an opportunity to interact with local artisans, visit small businesses, and learn about the community’s history. Although poverty is prevalent, the favela is filled with vibrant colors, music, and a strong sense of community. It is a humbling experience that challenges preconceived notions and fosters understanding and empathy for the people living there.

19. Watch a soccer match

 Watching a soccer match in Rio de Janeiro is an experience like no other. The energy and passion that fill the stadium are unmatched. The fans are incredibly enthusiastic, singing and chanting throughout the entire game. The atmosphere is electric, with fireworks, colorful flags, and flares lighting up the stands. The sheer love for the sport is palpable. The skill of the players is awe-inspiring, with their precision passes, intricate dribbling, and powerful shots. The excitement and tension build as the match progresses, and the roar of the crowd can be heard echoing through the city. Witnessing a Brazilian soccer match in Rio de Janeiro is an unforgettable and thrilling experience for any soccer fan.

20. Take a Helicopter ride over Rio

A helicopter ride over scenic Rio? It’s one of the best experiences to take in all the natural landscape at the heart of Rio. From the towering Christ the Redeemer statue to the golden beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, the vibrant colors and picturesque landscapes come alive. The bird’s-eye view of the favelas nestled in the hills showcases the contrast between the urban sprawl and natural beauty. The adrenaline rush when the helicopter dips and swirls through the skies is exhilarating, creating unforgettable memories of witnessing the mesmerizing beauty of Rio de Janeiro from a unique perspective. 

20 Best Things to Do in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (2023)

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