In this Ultimate Travel Guide you will find the top 20 places to visit in Rio
Vibrant, beautiful Rio de Janeiro draws millions of visitors to its shores each year, all searching to find the spirit of the city. But you must be thinking, where should I start? Check out this guide for 1 to 4 days itinerary to explore Rio. What to do, see and experience in the marvelous city.
While Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s favorite destinations for beach lovers, party people and culture lovers, not everyone comes prepared to make the most of their visit. A little preparation can save you time, money and make a great vacation spectacular.
Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil and the third largest in Latin America. From the world-famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema to the magnificent summits of Corcovado and Sugarloaf, Rio combines natural attractions with a sprawling metropolis.
You only have a weekend to explore Rio? No problem, if you plan it well it should still be enough time to have an amazing experience visiting and seeing the highlights of Rio.
Now, take advantage of this guide prepared by a local Brasileira, who loves and have been in Rio many times, being able to explore as a local but also as a tourist, and now, I am glad to share some great tips with you.
OPTIONS ON HOW TO EXPLORE RIO
First of all, let’s start with the options you have on how to explore the Rio. You can enjoy the city by renting a car, hiring a local guide or using public transportation. Depends on what kind of experience you are looking for, you can accommodate with a tour option.
I've been in Rio many times, with family, with friends, as a couple and last, with co-workers for their first time exploring Brazil. It depends on what kind of experience you are looking for, you can accommodate a tour option.
- $ Public Transportation – It is the cheapest option, and the public transportation works well in Rio. The public transportation options are train, subway, bus, or VLT (Veiculo Leve sob Trilhos). VLT is relatively new, and it's a modern light rail system serving the city. It will require more time for you to understand where to go, and what transportation to use, but this is an effective and cheap option to explore the highlights of the city. An added bonus is that you get to immerse yourself in the life of the city by traveling along Cariocas (residents of Rio). This will add to an authentic experience, and one you won't soon forget. Visit here for a full itinerary for a full guide of a public transportation in Rio.
- $$ Rent a car on your own – You will pay an average of US$25 per day for a manual car. If you rent an automatic car, keep in mind that you will pay more. You still need to pay the entry fee if you are planning to visit the main sites, and for parking. While having your own car can be very convenient, parking is a large city can be a big hassle, not to mention expensive. If you do decide to drive, make sure you have GPS. Navigating the streets of the city is not easy when there are not regular street signs to guide you. Click here for options for rental car in Rio
- $$$ Go on a small group tour including trilingual guide – I did this last time when I was taking some friends from the U.S. for their first time in Rio. I consider this a great option for a day tour. The groups are small (5-10 people) and you will get to see the highlights of the city on an 8-hour tour. The average price is around $100 per person, including all entry fees and lunch. You can check with your hotel for this option or book directly from a website. Check here for options.
- $$$$ Hire a Personal driver with a personal bilingual tour guide – You will pay an average of US$30 per hour for a minimum of 4 hours – consider splitting the cost with friends. With this option, you will still need to pay for your entry fees to visit the main sites. You can check with your hotel for this option to book a reliable guide/driver.
The Best Itinerary to visit Rio in 1 to 4 days
If you have one day or a weekend to explore Rio, I really recommend you to book a local guide, as it will allow you to take advantage of the time and go direct to the places where you want to visit.
- Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
- Igreja Metropolitana Cathedral of Rio
- Estadio do Maracanã (Maracanã Stadium)
- Sambodramo –
- Escadaria Selaron
- Pão de Açucar – watch the sunset here can be so rewarding
- Copacabana Beach
- Praia de Ipanema
- Pedra do Arpoador
- Floresta da Tijuca
- Parque Lage
- Jardim Botanico
- Praia do Leblon
- Museu do Amanhã
- Show Tradicional – Ginga Tropical
- Fiocruz e Castelo – biblioteca
- Café na confeitaria Colombia
- Old downtown
- Igreja da Candelaria
DETAILED TRIP ITINERARY OF TOP 20 PLACES YOU MUST VISIT IN RIO:
Visit Christ the Redeemer -
I visited this place for 4 times now, and I have a confession to make that any time I get the chance to climb up to the mountain and face the statue of Christ, I get emotional and have tears of joy.
This place is not only one of the New Seven Wonders of the world, it is also magical because of the combination of the serenity of the statue looking over the city of Rio de Janeiro with magnificiant views.
The statue was built in 1931 on top of the Mt. Corcovado and it is the icon of Rio and also, Brazil and it is visited by 1.8 million people every year. Yes, expect to be over-crowed.
How to explore: Start your day here, this place will be packed with people all day long because everyone wants to visit this wonder and have a selfie (or many of them) taken with Christ the Redeemer, and if you are creative and have some skills you can take a selfie without many heads in front of you 😊. Your driver will drop you off at the bottom where you will buy your ticket. Then you will take one of the official vans that will take you to the top of the Corcovado. It is a beautiful ride up to the mountain, with narrow roads sharing with many bicycles and people hiking up along the road. If you are planning to explore by yourself, here you can find 4 ways to get to Christ the Redeemer.
If you are hungry or thirst for a cafezinho, there is a nice inexpensive café on top of the mountain and if offers an amazing view of the city.
Price: approx.. US$20
Time of visit: 1 hour
Igreja Metropolitana or Cathedral of Rio -
I love to visit churches from the places that I visit as they normally tell us so much story showing the glory of the religion through the language of architecture.
This Metropolitana Church is one of these places, so unique speaking your own language of architecture, with its angular beehive from the future. The constructions of this cathedral started in the late 1960s, and continued on into the 1970s, designed by architect Edgar Fonseca, the modern temple was intended to echo the ancient Mayan pyramids. Pretty unique, right?
Time to explore: 40 minutes
Estadio do Maracanã or Maracanã Stadium -
As you already may know, soccer is the national passion for Brazilian people, and this is the most important soccer stadium in Brazil and one of the top in the world. It was inaugurated in July 16th, in 1950 and has already hosted many important sport events, including the Final game of the World Cup in 2014. Besides the sport competitions, Maracanã has already been a stage for important events, like Madonna, Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner shows and camp mass, of the Pope João Paulo II, in 1980 and 1997.
How to explore: The stadium is open for visitation all year round, but if you have the chance, try to watch a game here. In my last visit to Rio, I had the chance to watch a game between the 2 largest soccer teams in Rio, Flamengo vs Fluminence, and it was an amazing experience. There is so much passion behind it that there is no way to not feel contagious to seat among thousands of enthusiastic soccer fans.
Price: Guided tour US$14 or to watch a match with a guided tour is approx.. US$140
Sambodramo – Samba School Stadium
The Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí is the purpose-built stadium located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, designed specifically to host the annual parade of Samba Schools during Rio Carnival. The Sambodromo was designed and built in 1984 by world-renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer.
How to explore: However, even when there’s nothing taking place in the giant stadium, it’s still well worth a visit, for it’s an important and interesting piece of Rio’s culture. Moreover, there is the Museu do Samba, a small museum located within the Sambadrome which showcases its history and enables you to dig into the past with real life exhibits featuring costumes and photos from the Samba parades over the years. You can also try and take picture of one of the original Carnival customs for a small fee or even try the famous “caipirinha”.
The big deal is to watch the Carnival parade and you can really enjoy the wonderful atmosphere, see the magic impacts and good organization and watching the parade of samba schools is an extraordinary experience one must have at least once in a lifetime. Carnival time happens around end of February or beginning of March of each year.
Price: The tickets cost around US$150 per person to watch the Carnaval parade and you can find tickets for Carnival 2020 here
Time of visit (on a normal day): 40 minutes
Escadaria Selaron –
It is such a unique place and great for pictures and to spend some time enjoying this urban piece of art. The project begun in 1990, known as Rua Manuel Carneiro, consists of 250 steps topping out at 125 meters.
Selarón, a painter and sculptor originally from Chile, arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1983. He began renovating the dilapidated steps outside of his home on a whim but it quickly became a consuming process for which he would sell his paintings to fund the mosaic.
The steps themselves are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.
Time of visit: around 1 hour
- Pão de Açucar or Sugar Loaf
Finish your day here and watch the sunset of the mazing 360 degrees of the city of Rio.
The Sugar Loaf Cable Car will take you from Praia Vermelha to Sugarloaf Mountain. It reaches the summit of 1,300 feet with a stop at Morro da Urca along the way. Opened in 1912, the Sugar Loaf Cable Car has been in continual use and was even the site for the 1979 James Bond film, Moonraker.
How to explore: The early mornings or end of afternoon are a good time to go to avoid the crowds that reach peak numbers on weekends and holiday. The afternoon during the summer can reach immense temperatures so be prepared with sun-cream and plenty of water, especially if you hike the way up. Avoid cloudy days too – the view may be disappointing. You can either use the cable car from the base to get to the first hill (Morro da Urca) and also the second one, then your ticket will cost or you can walk up, and then buy your ticket for the cable car from the first to the second hill (Pao de Acucar)
The most rewarding time to go is at sunset on a clear, sunny day. Watch the sun dip behind the horizon and take in the city’s major landmarks, such as Corcovado mountain and the Christ the Redeemer and further to the south, Copacabana beach.
The cars run every 30 minutes and have a total of 2,500 visitors each day—so come early to avoid the lines! At the Urca station, you’ll find a credit card-friendly cafe, snack bar, and restaurant as well as some souvenir stands and a children’s area. You can find more information on how to get there
Price: approx.. US$15 for the first car and US$6 from the first to the second hill.
Time of visit: 1 hour
Finish your day strolling in Copacabana Beach and stop to enjoy a agua de coco (coconut water) or a bowl of açai, while you watch people still enjoying the last sunshine of the day.
I am sure that you already heard about Copacabana Beach. It is located in one of the most traditional neighborhoods in Rio and it is also knowing for the classic buildings around the shore facing the beach, on the Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. You can also find many shops, restaurants, night clubs and it is a very busy area of the city.
11- RIO DE JANEIRO WEATHER
More great news: Rio has nice weather year-round, but you have to pack differently for summer and winter. Summer can get quite hot and humid, whereas you may be wearing pants some days during the winter.
Summer – From December to mid-March, with January and February promising the hottest temperatures often over 105F. This is also the time with the most rainfall, so be prepared for some impromptu rain showers, varying from rainy afternoons to the occasional three-day-long showers.
Winter – From July to September, though of course, it is never really cold. However, if you show up wearing the same clothes as someone who visited in December, you will certainly be surprised and maybe, even chilly. Average temperatures are around 75F, which means a sunny day is still perfect for the beach or a run outdoors.
12- WHAT ABOUT THE BIGGEST PARTY IN THE PLANET – CARNAVAL!
The Carnaval in Brazil is essentially a grand Samba performance for which many local "Samba Schools" prepare all year. 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 sambadrome for 90 minutes of coordinated dancing, singing, drumming and passion.
The city attracts more than 3 million international tourists every year. But it is important to know that the Carnival in Rio is not just the Carnival 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.
13- ONE OF THE 7 WONDER OF THE WORLD IS IN RIO, AND HIS NAME IS CHRIST THE REDEEMER
The most famous attraction in Rio is the statue of Christ the Redeemer. It was chosen as one 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 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.
14 – RIO HAS THE LARGEST URBAN FOREST IN THE WORLD
Besides Rio being a very large city, it also can 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. In this large area, you can visit:
- Botanical Gardens,
- Parque Lage,
- Vista Chinesa, etc.
15- PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN RIO 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.
Check my ultimate guide on how to visit Rio in 1, 2, 3, 4, or more days.
I think that everyone should visit Rio at least once in their lives! I've met loads of friends, travelers, and co-workers who didn't have a clue what to see or do while in Rio. For this reason I decided to write this ultimate guide to explain everything, and for everyone traveling to Rio to really be able to check out the Rio Vibes.
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.
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