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A small slice of paradise sitting beneath the welcoming arms of the iconic Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro is a party capital famed for its festive street parades and golden beaches. Nicknamed "the Marvellous City", Rio is the country's vibrant culture hub, boasting an incredible skyline and sweeping views thanks to its idyllic location between the mountains and the sea.
The city regularly comes alive with the infectious and rhythmic beat of Brazilian samba, its streets seemingly always filled with street parties and celebrations. The ever-popular annual Carnival is the most popular event on the Brazilian calendar: it draws together all its citizens (Cariocas), from the very rich to the very poor, who to take to the streets for the world's largest samba parade.
Its beaches are its biggest asset though, particularly the famous Ipanema and Copacabana, drawing a constant stream of visitors making the most of the city's exquisite climate. The city also contains Tijuca Forest, the biggest urban forest in the world, which complements the wooded mountains that surround the metropolis.
The 150 districts of Rio are all unique, with the most intriguing, Santa Teresa, 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, history buffs will love the multitude of historic monuments and public buildings such as 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 always seems to keep serving up 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, Arraial do Cabo, Rio das Ostras, Marica and Saquarema. Many other stunning natural areas and man-made attractions in Brazil are easily reached from Rio, which makes a fabulous travel base.
The iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer, arms spread to welcome the world, is the world-famous symbol of Rio de Janeiro. It stands atop a mountain 2,330 feet (710m) above the beaches below, and is accessed via a miniature train that runs from the Cosme Velho District through the Atlantic rainforest to the foot of the statue. The train ride offers stunning vistas of Rio, and the view from the summit is simply breathtaking. Spread out beneath the statue is the Tijuca Forest, an enchanting world of natural pools and waterfalls. Beneath the cooling canopy are attractions such as the Mayrink Chapel, which features murals painted by famous Brazillian artist Candido Portinari, and the Museu do Acude, which houses colonial furniture and an impressive collection of china.
An iconic fixture of the Rio skyline, Sugarloaf Mountain is known worldwide for its sweeping views of the city below. The summit of the 1,299 foot high (396m) belvedere 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 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 must for first-time visitors to the city.
Immortalised in song, this Rio neighbourhood offers a legendary beach, excellent hotels, a bustling nightlife, sophisticated shopping and quality restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. Ipanema is famous for setting fashion trends, particularly in the line of swimwear, and fashion followers should look out for the famous bikini boutiques such as Salinas, Blue Man and Bum-Bum. The Rua Garcia D'Avila is perfect for designer fashion, jewellery and furniture, while the nearby Amsterdam Sauer Museum of Gems has an interesting tour of its workshop. There are plenty of other popular shopping strips here, including the eclectic commercial street Visconde de Piraja, lined with speciality shops, boutiques and restaurants, as well as the bohemian fair at General Osorio Square on Sundays, with its collection of wooden sculptures, exotic musical instruments and artworks.
This famous Rio beach neighbourhood was just a small fishing village until a new highway built in the early 1900s brought crowds of visitors to its golden shores. The Copacabana Palace Hotel first opened its doors in 1923 and heralded the construction of scores of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau skyscrapers, penthouses and apartments in the area. Visitors still flock to the hotel, which is the place to be seen, especially at the famed Cipriani restaurant. The white sands and calm waters of the beach make for an idyllic setting and is also a popular spot for beach soccer, volleyball and sunbathing. Copacabana beach is particularly popular on New Year's Day, when beachgoers dress in white and celebrate in droves, with more than 2 million people crowding the beach.
Even for non-football fans, São Paulo's Museu do Futebol is a must-see. The Brazilian team has unquestionably been the sport's most successful and exciting national football team, and the Seleção (the Brazillian national team) is worshipped with a religious fervour. Housed within the city's iconic Pacaembu Stadium, the museum takes a modern, interactive approach to its exhibitions, with holographic displays, touch-screen information panels and various other multimedia installations. Highlights of the museum include the 'History of the World Cup' section, and a display introducing Brazil's 25 greatest-ever players. An appreciation of what football means to the country is vital to getting to grips with Brazilian culture, and São Paulo's Football Museum is a wonderful and appropriate introduction.
Having had their fill of the beach, tourists who want to experience '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, 19th century architecture and sublime 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 departs from Largo da Carioca square and runs up the hill. The only one of its kind in Rio, it wends through Santa Teresa's picturesque streets, offering magnificent views of the city below.
A tour through the sprawling urban township (favela) of Rocinha caters to those who wish to get to grips with the social reality facing most Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro. Thankfully, tours with local guide Zezinho aren't voyeuristic or intrusive as they are conducted with a great love for and desire to share their culture with foreigners. All who take part in his tour of Rocinha agree that it's a valuable, moving and humanising experience. There are also other guides and companies offering good tours of the various favelas and it's important to book in advance.
Cariocas (locals) in Rio are remarkably warm and friendly, especially towards children, who are 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 spot devoted exclusively to kids with activities and facilities designed especially for them. The streets lining the waterfront are host to jugglers, magicians, stilt-walkers and fire-eaters, and there are even toy cars to rent, so there's always something to keep the kids entertained in Rio.
For a bit of fresh air, parents should explore Rio's various natural wonders with their kids, including Cascatinha Waterfall and the massive Tijuca Forest, which contains the iconic Corcovado Mountain atop which stands the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. Parents should note that the forest is immense and best attempted with a guide.
Kids will also adore the Parque do Catete, which is a small, manicured park in the Palácio do Catete, offering 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 more than 350 species of wildlife, most of which are 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, many offering free entry for kids under seven, including the Museu do Índio (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 five-tonne meteorite, while the Museum of the Universe exhibits scientific models and experiments, encouraging kids to take an interest in physics and astronomy.
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.
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 means visitors can indulge in anything from fruit and cheese bread to succulent prawns. The beach has many similar options, including oysters or shrimp tarts, and exotic drinks such as fresh coconut water out of the shell and bright purple açai juice. Bob's Burgers is a big fast food franchise which will take orders and deliver to customers right on the beach.
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 establishment, 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 Saturdays 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.
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.
Not only does Fellini offer a variety of international cuisine, with everything from Japanese to Mexican, 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 looks to match. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.
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.
Join in the revelry with locals at this affordable eatery where authentic Brazilian cuisine is served in generous portions. Sardine sandwiches are a good bet for your taste buds, it being one of the more popular dishes. 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. Reservations and credit cards are not accepted.
With its rustic, eco-friendly décor (couches, wooden tables and 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 big favourite. Open every night for dinner, reservations recommended.
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 Friday for lunch, and Monday to Saturday for dinner. Reservations essential.
Near the beach, this small and comfortable restaurant has an idyllic, rural atmospherem decorated with handmade arts and crafts. The menu offers authentic, homemade Brazilian cuisine such as a plate of rice, beans, (toasted manioc flour), steak and French fries, or the traditional soup, with beans and bacon. Reservations recommended.
Brazil's tradition of ringing in the new year with a wild carnival began with the colonial Portuguese, who instituted Carnival as a period of merriment and street pranks. It has lost none of its pageantry and spectacle, remaining unchallenged as the Brazilian event of the year. The colourful parade of samba dancers, extravagant floats, brilliant costumes and magical music takes place along the Sambodromo, a half-mile long path built specifically for the event, while street parties and costume balls are held throughout Rio. Samba schools also vie for a championship title every year, meaning the competition is stiff and the showmanship of the highest quality.
This integral part of Brazilian folklore and culture is a New World twist on an old European tradition. Coinciding with the feasts of St Anthony, St John and St Peter, bonfire festivals are held in Rio's squares, clubs, schools and churches in the month of June. 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 are accompanied by a good deal of dancing, drinking and eating. Although travellers seldom visit Brazil exclusively for these charming bonfire celebrations, it would be a great pity to miss out.
Brazilians know how to party and Rio's New Year (Reveillon) celebrations are ranked among the world's biggest extravaganzas. The city hosts musical shows in several districts to ring in the New Year, with Copacabana Beach hosting a crowd of more than two million people annually. Partygoers dress in white to bid farewell to the previous year and celebrate the arrival of the next. A fabulous display of fireworks illuminates the sky at midnight, amid much festivity and dancing. Hotels, clubs and restaurants also offer a variety of party options with formal balls, diverse menus and tropical buffets.
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) don't need much excuse to party. Whether visitors are looking for a relaxing bar or lounge to sip on a couple of chopps (draught beer), or in the mood for a night of dancing, Rio's got it covered.
A popular way to warm things up is to start at one of the scores of 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, t-shirts or flip-flops.
The clubs generally start to really heat up around midnight, so most visitors enjoy a late dinner at one of Rio's many trendy eateries or botequins (traditional Brazilian bar) before checking out the club scene 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 party scene, with many bars and clubs in Copacabana and Ipanema.
Clubbing in Rio can be expensive, but a cheaper night out is possible by sticking to local beverages. Many establishments will charge patrons for drinks and entry only when they leave, so it's wise to keep track of what one spends. 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 its famous street parties. Lapa hosts a street party every Friday and Saturday night near the aqueduct on Avenida Mem de Sá, while 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 an integral part of Rio culture, boasting a veritable treasure trove of samba, bossa nova, rock, MBP (Brazilian pop), blues and jazz. There's seemingly always a gig going down on any given night in Rio. A popular option is watching 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.
Shopping in Rio de Janeiro can be a rewarding experience for tourists on the hunt for bargains, whether they seek cheap souvenirs or designer goods. While Rio is not usually considered a major shopping destination, there are a number of shopping centres, boutiques, street stalls and markets offering a wide selection of mementos. The main shopping destinations are concentrated in areas such as Rio Sul in the city centre, but there are also several 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, vended by various establishments throughout the city. You can also find local gemstones carved into anything from a tiny Christ the Redeemer to shapes of toucans, jaguars and other wild figures that make for great mementos.
Good-quality beachwear and Brazilian soccer jerseys are popular, though you'll need to choose between cheap imitations at market stalls and more expensive official merchandise, typically sold at stadium shops. Rio is also the birthplace of Havaianas (flip-flops), which you'll find here in any number of styles and colours. A classic souvenir that captures the essence of Rio is music, particularly Brazil's distinctive local music. 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 keepsake is a bottle of cachaça, or sugar cane brandy, which is the most popular spirit in Brazil and brewed at Petisco da Vila. Try a sample after watching the production process at 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 Ipanema and Rua Domingos Ferreira in Copacabana are 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.
Driving in Rio is not recommended for overseas visitors due to the chaotic nature of the city's traffic. But driving is usually not necessary anyway, as 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; it does have its limits though, as it only runs two lines. 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 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. Buses are privately operated, so services and costs will vary. Unfortunately, they are often badly driven, crowded, and often the scene of petty theft. Special care should be taken on buses known to be used by tourists, such as those that run to the popular Sugarloaf Mountain.
Most public transport stops around midnight, with some buses operating 24 hours a day but, for safety's sake, we'd rather recommend hiring 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 and drivers may add a surcharge for extra luggage. Most taxi drivers speak only Portuguese, so visitors should have their destination written down. Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are available, and circumvent language barriers, routes and fare uncertainties.
Steeped in rich and diverse cultural history, and home to a marvellous variety of spectacular attractions, Rio de Janeiro is a sightseer's dream. Plus, with miles of beautiful coastline and some seriously exciting neighbourhoods to explore, this city has much to offer its visitors.
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 â€' one of the New7Wonders of the World and Rio de Janeiro's most famous landmark. Ipanema is the place to go for sun worshippers, where miles of white beaches await and shopping opportunities abound.
We highly recommend exploring the cobblestone streets of downtown Centro, Lapa and Santa Teresa, and, when the sun starts dipping below the horizon, sipping on caipirinha cocktails and singing along to the hit Barry Manilow tune in Copacabana.
Sports lovers should head down to the Estádio do Maracanã to take in a soccer match, although they should know that the atmosphere can be fierce and extremely charged.
We'd advise that those tourists planning on a prolonged visit research different pass packages for Rio de Janeiro. These might help curb the admission prices of the various tourist attractions and help save on public transport costs. Travellers should check out all available options to find a package that suits them best.
This peninsula and group of islands is a holiday playground containing 2,000 beautiful beaches and a wonderland of mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes and secret coves. Visitors can take trips by schooner or yacht to explore the delights of the area: fishing and scuba diving are the favoured activities for tourists among various other water sports, while on land there are hundreds of walking trails giving access to some of the less frequented beaches such as Canto, Abraãozinho, Morcego and Grande das Palmas. The beaches of Aventureiro and Lopes Mendes are popular surf spots. The islands can easily be reached from Rio by road in just over three hours, or accessed by bus with daily departures every hour from the Novo Rio Bus Station.
Once the preserve of pirates and slavers, the Buzios Peninsula is today the haunt of the rich and famous who flock here to enjoy the dozens of inviting beaches. Situated 109 miles (176km) northeast of Rio de Janeiro, Buzios Peninsula is a sophisticated beach resort with a buzzing nightlife and a selection of fine restaurants. The west coast beaches offer calm, clear waters ideal for swimming, while the east coast beaches face the open sea and are a little wilder, drawing surfers and water sports enthusiasts to its choppy waters. Among the most popular beaches are Azeda Beach, João Fernandinho Beach, Ferradura Beach and Geriba beach, which is particularly popular with surfers.
The Rio Iguaçu begins its journey in the coastal mountains of Paraná and Santa Catarina, snaking west for 370 miles (600km) before it widens and then plunges through the jungle in tiered falls at the border with Argentina and Paraguay.
The Foz do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls) are more than two miles (3km) wide and 262ft (80m) high (almost twice the height of Niagara Falls), and their beauty is unmatched. Almost twice the height of Niagara Falls, their name fittingly comes from the Guarani Indian word meaning 'great waters'. The deep flowing waters of the river tumble down 275 falls, the most famous of which is Devil's Throat on the Argentinian border, with a drop of 230ft (70m).
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 and home to thousands of different species of animals and birds, including flamboyant parrots and pretty hummingbirds.
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