21 Interesting Facts about Rio de Janeiro (insider’s guide)

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A local's guide of 21 interesting and fun facts about Rio de Janeiro that you would love to know, and you can only find here. 

The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro has almost too many bucket-list attractions to count, but a few of them include the original Copacabana, Ipanema Beach, cable-car rides to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain, and of course the famous Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the entire city.

Besides being one of the most visited cities in the southern hemisphere, due to the stunning natural beauty and the fun atmosphere, Rio de Janeiro has also so many particularly interesting facts that you would love to know.

I enjoyed writing this article, based on my local experience and also, doing extensive research to try and dig up more fun facts to share with you. This list is the best one you can find, and even being from Brazil, I have to say that some of the interesting facts are a complete surprise to me.

If you have any further questions about Rio or any fun facts, please feel free to share with me. As always, I would love to hear from you. I hope to see you in Rio sometime during your vacation. You will have a great trip, guaranteed.

 

 

RIO DE JANEIRO 21 FUN FACTS

1- RIO DE JANEIRO WAS NAMED FOR A RIVER THAT DIDN'T EXIST 

This was the first question I was asked while I was traveling in Rio with some American friends, and I think it is a great question, with an even better answer. Rio de Janeiro means "January River". The fun fact is that it was named by mistake.  The explorer Gaspar de Lemos set sail from Portugal in 1501 and arrived at a huge bay in Brazil the following January. Thinking the bay was the mouth of a river, he named it after the month.

 

2- RIO DE JANEIRO WAS ONCE THE CAPITAL OF BRAZIL

Some mistakenly think Rio is Brazil’s capital, but that honor actually belongs to Brasilia. It hadn’t always been that way: between 1763 and 1960, Rio was top dog (many still consider it the beating heart of Brazil).

 

Brazil Rio fun interesting facts

3- RIO DE JANEIRO WAS THE ONLY EUROPEAN CAPITAL OUTSIDE EUROPE

Another fun fact about Rio. In times of crisis, drastic measures are needed. So it was with the king of Portugal, Dom João VI. It was 1807 and Napoleon's troops were getting closer and closer to invading Portugal to ensure that the small coastal country surrendered to France. But that was not exactly what Dom João VI wanted; so he decided to pack up and take his entire kingdom to Rio between 1808 and 1821 when it was safe again for royalty to return home. After feeling what it was like to be the headquarters of an empire, Rio no longer wanted to go back to the days of old. And Brazil's declaration of independence would take place in 1822.

 

4- PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN RIO DE JANEIRO ARE CALLED CARIOCAS

If you visit Rio, you will probably see and hear this word pretty much everywhere. The meaning of the word carioca is "homem branco" (white man). The word carioca was originally from the indigenous language Tupi-guarani, and this is what they called the Europeans who arrived in Brazil and started to build the city.

 

Brazil fun facts about Rio de Janeiro
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5- RIO DE JANEIRO HAS THE LARGEST URBAN FOREST IN THE WORLD

Besides being a very large city, Rio can also feel like a small town, especially when you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a forest, under a waterfall, or playing with monkeys.  Floresta da Tijuca is the largest urban forest in the world at 33 square kilometers. It has more than 1,600 plant species and more than 350 animal species. In the Park da Floresta da Tijuca, you can visit many sites, including Botanical Gardens, Parque Lage, Corcovado (Statue of Christ), Vista Chinesa, and more.

 

Rio - Ultimate Travel Guide
Vista Chinesa (Chinese View) - You will have an amazing view from this site
Rio fun facts
Tijuca Forest
Rio de Janeiro in Brazil fun facts
Local monkey at Tijuca Forest

6- THERE ARE MORE THAN 100 ISLANDS ON THE CITY'S COASTLINE

Rio de Janeiro was undoubtedly blessed by nature. The region has natural beauties, such as bays, lagoons, rivers, and hills that harmoniously join the metropolis, creating a breathtaking landscape. Its coastline is more than 250 km long and has more than 100 islands. Many of these islands are located in Guanabara Bay or Baia de Guanabara in Portuguese.

 

7 - CHRIST THE REDEEMER IS 1 OF THE NEW 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD

The most famous attraction in Rio is the statue of Christ the Redeemer. It was chosen as 1 of the 7 Wonders of the World, together with the Colesseum in Rome, and the Taj Mahal in India. With arms wide open, Christ oversees and blesses the city of Rio. The incredible statue was built in 1931 in celebration of Rio's 100th anniversary, on top of the Morro do Corcovado. It is 30 meters high, and it is the largest Art Deco statue in the planet.

8 - CHRIST THE REDEEMER GETS STRUCK BY LIGHTNING EVERY YEAR

The statue is also electric - Owing to its lofty location, Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue is frequently struck by lightning – what was that about never striking twice in the same place? Most incidents pass without drama, but in 2014 the effigy lost a thumb during a storm. The explanation for the frequency of lightning in the city is the combination of mountains and a great concentration of water which attracts the electric discharges. The monument is struck by, on average, two to four rays per year, according to Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisas Espaciais (The Brazilian Institute of Space Research).

In this ultimate guide of Rio de Janeiro, I will explain why I am passionate about Rio. I also hope to help you plan a perfect visit to the Cidade Maravilhosa (The Marvelous City) as we Brazilian people call it.
Christ the Redeemer
Rio de Janeiro interesting facts

9 - WHY THE NAME SUGARLOAF

One of the postcards of the city of Rio, the Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf cable car) was the first cable car in Brazil and the third in the world. According to the historian Vieira Fazenda, the name was given at the height of the cultivation of sugar cane in Brazil, when the sugar blocks had a curious conical shape, similar to the mountains.

Sugar loaf interesting facts
Cable car to Sugar Loaf

10 - RIO HAS MORE THAN 1,000 FAVELAS (SLUMS)

Almost a quarter of the population of Rio de Janeiro live in favelas. The poorest residents live in favelas for more affordable housing. Favelas are where, years ago, the African slaves created the music that today is known worldwide as samba. The favelas have a reputation for being crime-ridden and acutely dangerous places flagged as no-go areas, infamous as the hangouts for criminals and the home of drug dealers.

A fun fact about the Rio de Janeiro favelas is that a lot of tourists wish to visit them. You can find many options to tour favelas. Favela tours are a safe and interesting way to see how the Comunidades (communities) live. You'll have the opportunity to see some of the activities for children (such as dance, music school, and sports, etc.), and also get to meet the friendly people who live there.

 

Rio de Janeiro interesting facts you would love to know

11- RIO DE JANEIRO IS HOME TO THE LARGEST PARTY IN THE PLANET: CARNAVAL

The city of Rio de Janeiro attracts more than 3 million international tourists every year to celebrate Carnaval

The Carnaval in Brazil is essentially a grand Samba performance for which many local "Samba Schools" prepare all year long. The famous Carnaval parade in the city of Rio De Janeiro and is a competition among the various Samba Schools. The best Samba Schools compete against each other for pride, as well as for a multi-million dollar reward.  Every year, each Samba School creates a theme, new music, costumes, floats, and then parades 5,000 members down the length of the sambadromo for 90 minutes of coordinated dancing, singing, drumming, and passion.

But it is important to know that the Carnaval in Rio is not just the Carnaval parade, the whole city is full of street parties called “Blocos". Some are small with a few hundred people, and some are huge with more than a million people celebrating together in the street.

 

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Carnaval fun facts about Rio
Carnaval

12- FOOTVOLLEY = SOCCER + VOLLEYBALL

Footvolley is the coolest sport in Brazil. If you walk down the sidewalks of the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema – or any other beach in Rio de Janeiro, really – you will see that almost every sand court is occupied by avid players. Cariocas use these sand courts to play either beach volleyball or footvolley, a sport invented in Rio de Janeiro that combines aspects of beach volleyball and soccer (futebol) - volleyball without hands/arms. If you have a net and a ball of your own, you can just look for an empty court, call your friends and play your favorite sport for free while drinking coconut water and refreshing yourself in the cold waters of the ocean. It is just so much fun and amazing to watch a game. You must love Rio de Janeiro!

 

13 - CARIOCAS LOVE TO EXERCISE OUTDOORS

I just love the vibe of Rio de Janeiro, and see so much life outdoors, besides being a big city. There are so many options for physical activities in Rio such as mountain climbing, hiking, paragliding, playing sports at the beach, and exercise in the open air. An interesting fact about Rio de Janeiro is that on Sundays, the main avenues of the city are closed to cars so people can enjoy these areas for outdoor activities. You will see people running, cycling, rollerblading, or taking their dogs for a walk – it is pretty awesome.

 

Interesting facts about Rio de janeiro in Brazil
Footvoley at Copacabana Beach

14 - BOTEQUIM IS THE BEST PLACE FOR HAPPY HOUR

The boteco (buteco), or botequim, is where people meet for a happy hour after work or to meet friends. It is traditionally known as a place where alcoholic beverages are sold, serving as a meeting place for "bohemians" looking for a good drink, cheap snacks, appetizers, and a relaxed conversation.

 

15 - SIDEWALKS HAVE QR CODES

I have been in Rio many times, but only during my last trip, I learned about it and decided to add as a great interesting fact. When you scan the QR codes with your phone, you can get more tourist information.

Portuguese pavement is a type of decorative stone mosaic, usually black-and-white, found on sidewalks and other pedestrian areas throughout Portugal and former colonies. One of the most famous examples is the bold, abstract waves that run the length of the Copacabana beach sidewalk, designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. In 2013, the city began installing dozens of QR codes into the mosaics at Copacabana and elsewhere to provide tourist information for visitors. Perhaps not surprisingly, they got the idea from Portugal.

 

Copacabana beach Interesting facts

16 - RIO DE JANEIRO HAS THE BLUEST SKY IN THE WORLD

It is true! Besides Rio de Janeiro having clear skies, warm sand, and cold drinks… Rio also has the bluest sky in the world. The statement seems audacious, but it’s actually based on a survey done in 2006 by a TV researcher who traveled around the globe in search of the world’s “bluest” sky. Is it true? You can decide for yourself.

 

17 - SOME OF THE FAMOUS CARIOCAS (People born in Rio...remember?)

Carmen Miranda (singer with a fruit hat from the 50's), Ronaldo (soccer player), The Gracie Martial Arts Family, Anderson Silva (MMA Figther), Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes (both musicians and creators of Garota de Ipanema), and Oscar Niemeyer (architect) are among Rio's more famous sons and daughters.

 

18 - STREET ART IS LEGAL IN BRAZIL

In 2014, Rio de Janeiro legalized street art on many types of city property, turning the already colorful city into an outdoor art gallery. Street artists are allowed to decorate columns, walls, and construction siding, so long as they’re not historically designated. The city has even created a quasi-government agency, Eixo Rio, to regulate the city’s urban artists, and it celebrates an official Graffiti Day on March 27—the date Brazilian graffiti pioneer Vallauri Alex died in 1987.

 

19 - RIO HAS THE LARGEST SOCCER FANCLUB IN BRAZIL

With 32.5 Million fans!!! The Torcida Jovem do Flamengo is the oldest organized soccer fan club in Brazil, founded in 1967. Watching a game in Maracanã Stadium, while sitting in the middle of the largest fan club in Brazil (and one of the largest in the world) is the best feeling you can have. It is hard to describe the atmosphere of one of the largest soccer stadiums and to witness the thunder of passion from the fans for their team playing.

 

Rio de Janeiro interesting facts to know
Maracanã soccer game

20 - PORTUGUESE FROM PORTUGAL IS THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

First of all, it is very important to know that not many Brazilians speak English, including in Rio de Janeiro. Rio was the seat of the Portuguese court between the years 1808 and 1821 and, from this historical period, there are still some characteristics in speech.
It is estimated that, together with the Royal Family, about 15 thousand Portuguese arrived in Rio, including members of the court and their servants. It is no coincidence that the carioca accent in Brazil is considered the closest to Portuguese in Portugal.

 

21 - RIO DE JANEIRO AND SÃO PAULO ARE CLOSE TO EACH OTHER

The last interesting fact about Rio de Janeiro, but not the least. Did you know that you can drive between the two largest cities in Brazil? It is one of the most common questions I get: What is the distance between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. They are both located in the Southeast of the country, 222 miles (357 kilometers) apart. Rio de Janeiro city is located in Rio de Janeiro State and if you decide to drive, it will take about 6 hours or a 45 minutes flight.

 

At the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain

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Hi, I am Paula

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I'm a Brazilian native who calls U.S. home. A world traveler, adventure seeker, and an athlete who is always in search of authentic and real-life experiences.

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8 thoughts on “21 Interesting Facts about Rio de Janeiro (insider’s guide)

  1. Suvarna Arora says:

    This is such a good and interesting read. I came to know about a lot of stuff and learned a lot. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Marisa says:

    Love these interesting facts about Rio de Janeiro!! I had no idea that there were 100 islands around the coast and I love that street art is legal there!

  3. Mal says:

    I’ve been to Rio last year during the carnival and I truly fell in love (I normally hate big cities!). Thanks for sharing this post, so many curious facts! And I can’t believe Rio is named after a river that doesn’t exist! lol

    • Paula Martinelli says:

      I know…lol…it is funny that they thought the bay was a river. I am so glad you liked Rio, and I am with you, normally I hate big cities, but Rio is one of my favorite cities in the world.

  4. BELLA says:

    I’ve been watching Race Across the World and really having a wanderlust for South America; Brazil is definitely on the list so will pin this for when we can travel again!

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