Rio De Janeiro travel guide
Mention Rio to anybody and immediately the name evokes images of sultry street parades, the Sugar Loaf cable car, the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain, and the 'itsy-bitsy teeny weeny' bikinis on the beach at Ipanema. The exuberant cultural capital of Brazil is tucked between the mountains and the sea and is endowed with awe-inspiring natural beauty. Rio's beaches, including the famous Ipanema and Copacabana, are a main attraction due to the city's warm climate. The city also contains the biggest urban forest in the world, the Tijuca Forest, which was completely replanted during the second half of the 19th century.
The city pulses to the infectious beat of Brazilian music, and Rio's annual carnival draws together the city's inhabitants (knownCariocas), from the very rich to the very poor, who take to the streets for the world's largest samba parade.
Rio is a sprawling city made up of 150 districts, each characterised by unique features. One of the most intriguing, Santa Teresa, is a winding maze of streets populated by artists and musicians, which is reached by taking an old tram across an ancient aqueduct called Arcos da Lapa. In the heart of Rio there are historic monuments and public buildings like the Municipal Theatre, the National Museum of Fine Art, the Itamaraty Palace, the National History Museum, and the National Library. There are also beautiful examples of religious architecture, such as the Sao Bento Monastery. No matter how long you spend exploring the city, it will always deliver new surprises.
To the north of the city is the Lakes region, which has more than 62 miles (100km) of beaches and salt-water lagoons, and is the site of the main tourist resorts of Búzios, Cabo Frio, Arrial do Cabo, Rio das Ostras, Marica and Saquarema. Many other stunning natural areas and fun man-made attractions in Brazil are easily reached from Rio, which makes a fabulous travel base.
Spread out beneath the statue is the Tijuca Forest, resplendent with attractions to enchant visitors beneath the cooling canopy among natural pools and waterfalls. There is, for example, the Mayrink chapel, which features murals painted by Candido Portinari, one of Brazil's most well-known modern artists, and the Museu do Acude, housing colonial furniture and a collection of china from the East India Company.
Address: Corcovado Railroad Station. Rua Cosme Velho 513, Cosme Velho
Opening time: Open daily, from 8am to 7pm. Train departs every 30 minutes.
The summit of Rio's unique 1,299 foot high (396m) belvedere, named Sugar Loaf because of its resemblance to the loaves of sugar used by the Portuguese colonists, can be reached by a two-stage cable car ride. The first stage takes visitors up 722 feet (220m) to the Morro da Urca, where there is a restaurant, amphitheatre, heliport and spectacular view of the Yacht Club and Botafogo Bay. The second stage ascends to the summit for a panoramic view of the city, and the whole of Copacabana beach. The Sugar Loaf cable car is a major icon of Rio's tourism and a trip up the Sugar Loaf is a must for visitors to the city.
Address: Avenue Pasteur 520, Praia Vermelha
Opening time: Open daily, from 8am to 7.50pm
.Also do not miss exploring the Rua Garcia D'Avila to shop for designer fashion, jewellery and furniture. Visit the Amsterdam Sauer Museum of Gems for an interesting workshop tour. There are numerous other streets in Ipanema to explore as well, including the attractive commercial street Visconde de Piraja that is lined with speciality shops, bars, restaurants and some of Rio's best boutiques. Visit the bohemian fair at General Osorio Square on Sundays for wooden sculptures, handcrafts, exotic musical instruments and artworks.
Address: Avenida Vieira Souto
The beach itself boasts white sand and calm water and is festooned with kiosks. It is a popular spot for beach sports like soccer and volleyball, and a good place to sunbathe. Copacabana beach is particularly popular on New Year's Day. According to tradition, visitors dress in white and congregate here to celebrate in their droves, with more than 2 million people crowding the beach.
Estádio do Maracanã
Proudly hosting the opening and closing matches of the 2014 Soccer World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games ceremonies, and still the largest soccer stadium on the continent with a capacity of more than 78,000, Rio's Maracana has seen many records set. The stadium hosts local soccer league games, and is the home of the Brazillian soccer team, but the Maracana is also often used by international acts visiting Brazil as a performance venue, with Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney among the big names who have played here. Inside the ground is a Hall of Fame honouring soccer greats such as Pele, Roberto Dinamite, Romário, Valdo and Bebeto, all of whom have been honoured by having their footprints cast in the sidewalk. A guided tour will take you through the hall, where you can enjoy a display of historical photographs and a great panoramic view of the city, among other things.
Address: Rua Professor Eurico Rabelo
Opening time: Open daily, from 9am to 5pm
Having had their fill of the beach, tourists seeking the 'real Rio de Janeiro' should make a beeline for one of its most iconic neighbourhoods, Santa Teresa. Located at the top of Santa Teresa Hill, the neighbourhood is famous for its winding, narrow streets, its 19th century architecture, and its amazing array of restaurants, bars, art galleries and eclectic shops. A popular area for local artists and tourists alike, Santa Teresa is best reached using its historic tram service, which runs up the hill from the centro (departing from Largo da Carioca square). The tram line - the only one of its kind in Rio - runs right through Santa Teresa's picturesque streets, offering magnificent views of the city below. By all accounts, no visit to Rio de Janeiro would be complete without spending at least a few hours in Santa Teresa.
Address: On the top of Santa Teresa Hill, near the centre of Rio de Janeiro
Those worrying that it will be a typical, voyeuristic, seen-from-the-back-of-a-Jeep experience can lay those fears to rest: the great strength of Zezinho's tours is that they are conducted out of love for Rocinha, and a desire to share its culture with foreigners. As Zezinho says, 'It is easy to see poverty or poorly built houses, but what I love about Rocinha is the spirit of the people' - and all who partake in his tour of Rocinha agree that it's a valuable, important, and humanising touristic experience. There are also other guides and companies offering good tours of the various favelas. It is important to book in advance.
Address: Túnel Zuzu Angel, west of the Ipanema area
Cariocas (locals) in Rio are remarkably kid-friendly, with children welcome almost anywhere. Kids on holiday in Rio de Janeiro will love spending time in the sun and surf of the beaches, building sand castles and devouring mounds of ice-cream. Leblon Beach has Baixo Baby, a play area with a vast selection of kids toys. The streets lining the waterfront host entertaining jugglers, magicians, stilt-walkers and fire-eaters, and there are toy cars to rent, so there's always something for children to do in Rio.
There are many places for kids to enjoy the natural wonders of Rio, including the massive Tijuca Forest, which contains Corcovado Mountain with the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, Cascatinha Waterfall, and the giant granite picnic table called the 'Mesa do Imperador'. The forest is immense and best attempted with a guide. Smaller children will tire long before all the sights are seen.
The Parque do Catete, a small, manicured park in the Palácio do Catete, offers a shady refuge from the heat, with ponds, stroller-friendly walkways, music and theatre performances, and even a kind of toy loan service that charges by the hour.
The Rio City Zoo offers a close view of local wildlife, with over 2,000 species to see, most of them native to Brazil. It has an open walk-through aviary, reptile house and primate displays. It's open Tuesday to Sunday and charges a small admission fee.
Rio also has a number of child-friendly museums, including the Museu do Indio (Indian Museum), where children can use stamps and body paint to decorate themselves as native warriors. The National Museum has mummies, zoological displays, historical artefacts, and a 5 tonne meteorite. The Museu do Universo (Museum of the Universe) has models and experiments on display, encouraging kids to take an interest in physics and astronomy. Many museums offer free entry for kids under seven.
Steeped in a rich and diverse cultural history, Rio de Janeiro is a sightseer's dream, home to a great variety of spectacular attractions. With miles of beautiful coastline and some seriously exciting neighbourhoods to explore, this city has so much to offer.
A visit to Rio de Janeiro would not be complete without the obligatory visits to Sugar Loaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven New Wonders of the Modern World and Rio de Janeiro's most famous landmark. Ipanema is the place to go for sun worshippers, where miles of sugary white beaches and shopping opportunities abound.
Sip caipirinhacocktails and sing along to the hit Barry Manilow tune in Copacabana, or explore the cobblestone streets of downtown Centro, Lapa and Santa Teresa. Sports lovers should head down to the Estádio do Maracanã to enjoy a spot of the national sport of soccer.
Tourists planning to spend some time in the city will do well to purchase the Rio Pass which grants the holder free entry to four of Rio's charging tourist attractions, 50 percent off on all other admission fees, discounts on nightlife, and a free map and guidebook full of need-to-know information, among other things. The pass is valid for seven days and can be bought from tourist offices around the city.
Angra dos Reis
The islands can easily be reached from Rio by road in just over two hours, or accessed by bus with daily departures every hour from the Novo Rio Bus Station.
Buzios can be reached by road from Rio via the Rio-Niteroi toll bridge, or by bus from the Novo Rio Bus Station.
As well as taking in the stunning views, visitors can enjoy kayaking and other water sports in the river. The best time of year to visit is August to November, when there is least risk of floodwaters hindering the approach to the boardwalks. The falls are surrounded by the Iguaçu National Park, a huge sub-tropical rainforest covering 135,000 acres that is home to thousands of different species of animals and birds including parrots and hummingbirds.
Today, each city in Brazil celebrates Carnival in its own style, but the crème de la crème of Carnival celebrations is the one held in Rio. The colourful parade of samba schools is accompanied by extravagant floats, brilliant costumes, magical music and amazingly energetic dancers. The action takes place along the Sambodromo, a half-mile long path built specifically for the event in 1984. At the end of the parade, the samba schools perform for an hour each in front of stands packed with spectators, vying for the judges' favour and the championship title. Carnival time is also a time for street parties and elaborate night-long costume balls, which are usually held in the top hotels.
Venue: Samba Parade: Sambadrome. Street carnival takes place in different neighbourhoods; Date:23 - 28 February 2017;
June Bonfire Festivals
Warmly illuminated by bonfires, the events feature mock country weddings, where couples leap over crackling flames, and stalls decorated with streamers and lanterns are set up to resemble village markets. Spectacular fireworks, as well as a good deal of dancing, drinking and eating, accompany this scene. Although travellers seldom visit Brazil exclusively for these charming bonfire festivals, it would be a great pity not to seek them out if travelling to Brazil in June.
Venue: Various; Date:13 - 29 June 2016;
New Years Eve
Partygoers dress in white to bid farewell to the year that is ending and celebrate the arrival of the next. A fabulous display of fireworks illuminates the sky at midnight, amid much festivity, dancing and happiness. Hotels, clubs and restaurants also offer a variety of party options with formal balls, diverse menus and tropical buffets.
Venue: Various; Date:31 December annually;
Brazilian cuisine is famous for its use of red meat, a fact deliciously confirmed when eating out in Rio. Churrascarias (Brazilian barbeque) is a simple beef dish, normally spiced only with salt, and often accompanied with feijão com arroz (rice and beans). Other meat may end up in feijoada, a traditional stew made with black beans. Local taste runs toward oily, sweet, and salty food, with a noticeable lack of spices. A popular treat is bacalhau (salted cod), which is usually imported from Norway. Good restaurants in which to look for traditional Brazilian food include Bar do Arnaudo in Santa Teresa and Brasileirinho in Ipanema.
Lunch in Rio is an adventure for those on a budget. A range of street vendors selling everything from fruit to grilled prawns to cheese bread offer options for everyone. Use your own judgment regarding food safety by gauging the cleanliness of the stall (and vendor) and how popular it is with locals. The beach has many similar options, including oysters or shrimp tarts, and drinks like fresh coconut water out of the shell and bright purple açai juice. The Brazilian equivalent to MacDonald's, Bob's Burgers, will take your order and deliver to you right on the sand.
One popular type of Rio restaurant offers a pay-by-weight system where the customer selects food from a buffet, bringing it to the chef to be cooked. This is a great way to sample a variety of different dishes, taking as much or as little as you like, while the waiters mark your receipt. Take care to keep your receipt safe, though, as the fee for losing it is often very high. Frontera in Ipanema is a good example of this type of restaurant, as is Fellini in Leblon.
Most restaurants in Rio de Janeiro are open from 11am to 4pm, and from 7pm to midnight. Some stay open all day, especially on Saturday when people stream in from the beaches at all hours. Restaurants usually add a 10 percent service charge to the bill, but waiters will appreciate another five percent if their service has been good. If the service is truly terrible, you can ask not to pay the service charge. Some restaurants do not take credit cards, so it's best to ask up front if you don't have cash.
Copacabana Palace Hotel Restaurants
The Copacabana Palace Hotel houses three of Rio de Janeiro's most elegant restaurants. The Hotel Cipriani Restaurant serves excellent north Italian cuisine, while the poolside Pérgula Restaurant offers a buffet breakfast and delicious South American meals. Serving exotic pan-Asian cuisine, MEE is one of the first restaurants in South America to be awarded a prestigious Michelin star. Cipriani is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, while MEE is open daily from 7pm, and Pérgula is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday with a buffet lunch on Sundays from 1pm to 4pm. Reservations required.
Address: Avenida Atlântica 1702; Website: www.copacabanapalace.com/web/orio/rio_restaurants.jsp
Not only does Fellini offer a variety of international cuisine, with everything from Japanese to Mexican food available, but it's all sold 'by the pound' allowing diners a choice of exactly how big their portions should be. Fellini has a funky, laid-back atmosphere and look to match. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.
Address: Rua General Urquiza 104; Website: www.fellini.com.br
The Confeitaria Colombo acts as an homage to an age long passed. Established in the late 1800s, this Victorian style hall-turned-restaurant hasn't changed much in over 100 years, so they must be doing something right. This is considered to be a perfect lunch spot for executives doing business in the city. Tea service is complemented by breads and condiments, while the meals are filling and appetising.
Address: 32 Rua Gonçalves Dias; Website: www.confeitariacolombo.com.br
Revel in merriment with the locals at this affordable eatery, where authentic Brazilian cuisine is served in generous portions. Sardine sandwiches are a good bet for your taste buds. Have a plate or platter depending on how hungry you are, the price difference is negligible. The Paladino is always popular and beer flows steadily from the taps. Open Monday to Friday from 7am to 8.30pm, and Saturday from 8am till 12pm. Reservations and credit cards are not accepted.
Address: 226 Rua Uruguaiana;
With its rustic, eco-friendly décor (couches, wooden tables, lots of palm trees) and its candlelit dining area, Palaphita Kitch has a romantic atmosphere, backed by excellent views of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The menu offers a selection of exotic Amazonian cuisine, with its carpaccio being a favourite. Open every night for dinner, reservations recommended.
Address: Avenida Epitacio Pessoa S/N, Quiosque 20;
Originally from France, celebrity chef Claude Troisgros and his son Thomas blend French cuisine with Brazilian ingredients at one of Rio's top restaurants. Intimate and sophisticated, Olympe offers guests seasonal tasting menus and creative à la carte dishes such as scallops with tucupi and caviar, water yam and coconut purée, or açai crusted lamb loin, yucca gnocchi, and sumac butter solids. Open Tuesday to Friday and Sunday for lunch, and Monday to Saturday for dinner. Reservations essential.
Address: Rua Custodio Serrao 62; Website: http://olympe.com.br/en
caldinho de feijãosoup, with beans and bacon. Reservations recommended.
Address: Rua Jangadeiros 10;
Home to Carnival, samba and Copacabana, it's not surprising that the nightlife in Rio de Janeiro is one of a kind, and Cariocas (Rio's residents) will make a party out of just about any social gathering. Whether you're looking for a relaxing bar or lounge to sip on a couple of chopps (draught beer), or in the mood for a big night out at a hip and happening dance club, Rio de Janeiro has it all.
A popular way to warm things up is to start at one of the numerous beach bars with a coconut juice or cocktail in the cooler early evening. Head off to one of Rio de Janeiro's trendy beach communities, such as Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon and explore the bars and clubs; but be warned, some of these places may not grant entry to people wearing shorts and T-shirts or flip-flops.
Pop in at a trendy restaurant for a late dinner with friends, and then at around 11pm, when most clubs open, check out who's playing at the Rio Scenarium, Comuna da Semente or Carioca da Gema. Lapa is a popular area for revellers, as is Gamba. Rio also has a vibrant gay clubbing scene, with many bars and clubs in Copacabana and Ipanema.
Clubbing in Rio can be expensive, but one can have a cheaper night out by sticking to local drinks. Many clubs will charge you for drinks and entry only when you leave, so keep track of what you spend. Most clubs have a dress code, and some will only allow men when accompanied by women, while most will require an ID or passport to enter.
An alternative to clubs and bars in Rio are the street parties. Lapa hosts a street party every Friday and Saturday night near the aqueduct on Avenida Mem de Sá; and Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays are the best nights to head to Gávea, where you'll find music, cheap beer, and many university students on the street in front of the bar Hipódromo.
Live music and dancing is also big in Rio de Janeiro and there is a wide variety, such as samba, bossa nova, rock, MBP (Brazilian pop), blues, jazz and much more. If you search hard enough, there is sure to be a gig happening somewhere in this vibrant city on any given night. You can also watch samba school rehearsal parties, where local drummers and dancers showcase their skills in warehouses for thousands of people. It's a great way to get a taste of the Carnival atmosphere at other times of the year.
Pick up a copy of a Friday edition of a local newspaper for nightlife and entertainment listings in Rio de Janeiro.
Shopping in Rio de Janeiro can be a rewarding experience for tourists on the hunt for bargains, whether they're seeking cheap souvenirs or designer goods. While it isn't considered a major shopping destination, there are numerous shopping centres, boutiques, street stalls and markets offering a wide selection of mementos.
Rio's main shopping destinations are concentrated in areas like Rio Sul in the city centre. There are also numerous shopping districts near the beaches, including Avenida Nossa Senhora and Rua Barata Ribeiro in Copacabana, Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva in Leblon, and Rua Visconde de Pirajá in Ipanema.
Religious antiques, soapstone carvings, leather goods and gemstone jewellery are Rio's most popular souvenirs, offered by various shops throughout the city. You can also find local gemstones carved into shapes like toucans, jaguars, and other wild figures that make good gifts, alongside tacky options like plastic replicas of Christ the Redeemer.
Good-quality beachwear and Brazilian soccer jerseys are also popular, though you'll need to choose between cheap imitations at market stalls and more expensive official merchandise. Rio is the birthplace of Havaianas (flip-flops), so they're available in any number of styles, and colours. One of the best things to buy in Rio de Janeiro though, is music, particularly Brazil's distinctive local music. Modern Sound on Barata Ribeiro has an impressive collection, or for a good selection of jazz music and books, head to the artsy Livraria da Travessa.
The gift shop at the Museu do Índio has a selection of pots, woven baskets, and wooden artefacts made by indigenous tribes. Another unique souvenir is the cachaça, or sugar cane brandy, brewed at Petisco da Vila. Try a bottle after watching the production process right in the brewery.
Good-quality local arts and crafts can be found at outdoor weekend markets, the best of which include the Hippie Fair, the Babilônia Hype Fair, and the enormous Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão, which has more than 700 stalls. For flowers and food, including fruit, vegetables and cheeses, Praca General Osorio in Ipanem
a and Rua Domingos Ferreira in Copacabana are also worth a visit.
Most items are reasonably priced, as long as you stay away from the obvious tourist traps around the major hotels. Bartering is acceptable, and visitors can often earn up to a 10 percent discount in shops if paying cash, though most shops and even some markets will accept major credit cards. Shops tend to stay open Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm, and shopping centres stay open daily from 10am to 10pm. Sales tax is 18 percent, and there is no tax refund scheme for departing tourists in Brazil.
Galeão Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport
Location: The airport is located on Governors Island, 10 miles (16km) north of Rio de Janeiro.
Time: GMT -3 (GMT -2 between the last Sunday in October and the third Sunday in February)
Transfer between terminals: A moving walkway connects the two terminals.
Getting to the city: Public buses are available and passengers can connect to Rio's Novo Rio Rodoviaria bus station in the city centre. More expensive airport shuttles are available to downtown hotels and popular destinations and often have an English speaking guide. Travellers can take buses to the closest subway station.
Car rental: Car rental companies, including Avis and Hertz, can be found in Terminal 1 and 2.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available outside the terminals. Visitors are advised to buy prepaid taxi vouchers at the Rio Tourism Authority desk; they are usually a little bit more expensive but give you peace of mind. It is advisable to ignore the RDE taxi desk and go to the Rio de Janeiro State Tourism Authority desk instead and buy prepaid taxi vouchers there. If you hail a taxi outside the terminal make sure the meter is cleared of the last fare.
Facilities: The airport is well equipped with facilities including ATMs, banks and bureaux de change, shops, restaurants and bars, duty-free shopping, luggage lockers and a tourist help desk. Facilities for the disabled are good.
Parking: There is a multi-level car park across from the terminal that offers short and long-term parking.
Departure tax: US$12 to US$40 depending on category, but this is often included in the airline ticket price
Driving in Rio is not recommended for overseas visitors due to the chaotic nature of the traffic. The public transport system in Rio is cheap and efficient, and most places can be reached by metro or bus. By far the quickest and easiest way to get around is by the efficient metro, but with only two lines, there are limits to its coverage. Walking around is generally safe as long as there are crowds of people, although walking in the centre of the city is not recommended after the shops close and their security guards go home.
The most inexpensive form of transport is the local buses, which travel all over the city as fast as the traffic will allow. Unfortunately, they are often badly driven, crowded, and the scene of much petty theft, especially during rush hours when the crowded conditions are ideal for pick pockets. Special care should be taken on buses known to be used by tourists, such as those to the Sugar Loaf. Most public transport stops around midnight, with some buses operating twenty-four hours, but it is safer to hire a taxi late at night. Radio taxis can be ordered and are said to be safer and more reliable, usually with air-conditioning, but they are more expensive than regular taxis. Drivers may add a surcharge for extra luggage.
Situated in the tropical South Atlantic, Rio de Janeiro is warm all year round. Summers (December to February) are very hot and humid with heavy rains. Temperatures during the summer months frequently rise as high as 104°F (40°C). Winters (June to August) are cool and dry with lows around 64°F (18°C), never cold, with some precipitation.
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