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The Best Things to do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Updated On 1st May, 2023

Rio de Janeiro is a city of vibrant culture, stunning beaches and breathtaking landscapes. It’s no wonder that it is one of the best places to visit in Brazil!

With so much to explore and experience, Rio de Janeiro has something for everyone, especially ocean and nature lovers. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy during your visit. In this Brazil travel guide we will look at some of the best things to do in Rio De Janeiro so that you can make the most out of your trip. From exploring historical sites to relaxing on Ipanema beach, this blog will provide all the information needed to have an unforgettable time in one of the best places to visit in Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro is the second biggest city in Brazil and was once the capital of the country. The city is iconic (we’ve all heard the songs about Rio!) and a symbol of Brazil. When you think of Brazil, you think of the Christ Redeemer, the streets of Carnival and the Sugar Loaf, all of which are in Rio.

Rio is located in the Southeast region of Brazil and is home to some of the most stunning urban beaches you will ever see, Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach, and Barra da Tijuca Beach, just to name a few. It’s also situated in the middle of the Mata Atlantic rainforest, which is why its coast and surrounding areas are so green and full of life.

Rio de Janeiro is a favourite destination for nature lovers, beach lovers and city lovers. This is why I love it so much; it’s got a bit of everything mixed into one place!

How to get to Rio de Janeiro

Getting to Rio is easy as many airlines fly into Galeão International Airport. Alternatively, if you’re flying internationally, there is the option to get a connecting flight from São Paulo. Flight from Europe costs anywhere between £700-1200.

The most expensive time to fly to Rio is in high season (December-February). During this period, it’s tough to find a direct flight for less than £1000. But it is also the best season to be there, so my advice would be to buy flights well in advance to secure a lower price and look into connecting flights via Lisbon, Switzerland or Germany.

When it comes to getting around in Rio de Janeiro, uber and the metro is your best bet. You can read more about getting around in Rio in this blog post.

The best time to visit Rio de Janeiro

As mentioned above, the best time to visit Rio is during the Brazilian summer, which is from December to February. This is the peak season for travel in Brazil for both local and international travellers.

If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know that my advice is always to recommend visiting places in shoulder season as, overall, the experience is better, and you won’t need to deal with crowds. But Brazil, especially Rio de Janeiro, it’s well worth visiting during the peak period. 

Summer is when there’s New Year’s, Carnival, and longer days with sunshine and good weather. So if you want to experience what Rio is like fully, the best time to visit Rio is in the summer months (which, for travellers coming from the Northern Hemisphere, also means they get some winter sun!)

Naturally, if crowds aren’t your vibe and you want to avoid Carnival, November or April are also good months to visit Rio.

Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro may have a population of 6.7 million people, but the area where hotels and accommodation are available for travellers are all in the southern part of the city, known as Zona Sul (translated to South Region).

The most popular neighbourhoods to stay within Zona Sul are:

  • Leblon & Ipanema
  • Copacabana
  • Lapa
  • Santa Teresa

Where you choose to stay in Rio de Janeiro always depends on your budget and the type of accommodation you’re looking for. 

There are many high-end luxury accommodation options in Rio, like Janeiro Hotel, Hotel Nacional and Santa Teresa Hotel RJ.

But for those seeking more mid-range level accommodation, then hostels and Airbnbs are the best options. You can find recommendations below.

If you’re looking for a hostel, you’ll want to check out the hostel accommodations in Rio de Janeiro below:

And for mid-high-range hotels, check out the ones below:

Generally speaking, the more expensive accommodations will be in the areas near the beach (Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana). More affordable options will be in Lapa, Botafogo and Santa Teresa.

Without further ado, here are The best things to do in Rio De Janerio.

The Best Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

1. Have brunch at Botanico and stroll through the Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens in Rio de Janeiro is one of the best places to visit in Rio. Located just off Rua Jardim Botanico, it offers an oasis of calm and relaxation (and shade from the sun from their 30m palm trees!)

For the best experience, we recommend visiting the gardens on a Sunday morning and having brunch at Botanica restaurant which overlooks the gardens.

After you’ve had your fill, take a stroll through the gardens and enjoy the impressive array of exotic plants and trees, especially the Royal Palm tree walkway.

2. Watch the sunset at Sugarloaf Mountain

Aside from the Christ Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain is arguably the second most iconic symbol of Rio (one of the biggest supermarket chains is named after it!). 

Sugarloaf Mountain is part of Guanabara Bay and offers panoramic views of the city. It is particularly mesmerising at sunset, so I highly recommend planning your visit around the latest entry time (6 pm during the summer months).

Again, like with the Christ Redeemer, pick a day with clear skies to take the cable car up to the Sugar Loaf mountain to make sure you get that sunset backdrop with the views at the top.

3. People watch and enjoy the day at one of Rio's many urban beaches

Rio’s urban beaches are literally those that have been put into song lyrics, so you know they’re worth visiting. All my blogs start with going to the beach as one of the best things to do, but honestly, this is one of the best things to do in Rio. 

Copacabana and Ipanema are two of the most popular spots, and they offer great views, people-watching opportunities and plenty of places to eat and drink. These beaches also have a more relaxed atmosphere than some of the other beaches, making them the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the day. 

No matter what time of year you visit Rio, these beaches are always buzzing with life. It’s a great place to meet locals and experience the vibrant culture of Rio de Janeiro. 

4. Take a sunrise hike up to Morro dos Dois Irmãos

For those looking for an active way to start the day in Rio de Janeiro, a hike up Morro dos Dois Irmãos will get your heart racing and calved working. The mountain itself is two peaks, which are actually two mountains connected by a ridge. It’s the mountain you see at the end of Ipanema beach.

The trail up isn’t too difficult (but it’s steep!) and takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit. The views from the top are spectacular, and it’s definitely worth doing if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Rio. 

This trail needs to be done with a guide as it’s a little tricky and starts at the bottom of a favela.

5. Stroll through the Bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a charming neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, full of quaint cobblestone streets, old colonial houses and colourful street art. A perfect place to go for a stroll and take some photos. This is also the area where you get the famous ‘bondinhos’, the trams like the ones you see in Lisbon. It feels like you’re in a different city!

The neighbourhood is also home to many bars and restaurants, making it the perfect spot for an evening stroll or dinner. This post highlights some of the best restaurants in Santa Teresa.

6. Take a surf lesson at Praia da Prainha

Prainha beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Rio de Janeiro. It’s an untouched piece of paradise, located in the west part of Rio and surrounded by lush vegetation. 

It’s also one of the best spots to take a surf lesson (or practice if you already know how). Prainha beach offers perfect waves for beginners and experienced surfers alike, so it’s a great place to give it a try. 

There are plenty of surf schools in the area, so make sure to check them out if it’s something you’re interested in. They offer classes for all levels and can even provide boards and wetsuits if needed.

7. Watch the sunset at Arpoador

I may be biased in saying this, but this is the best thing to do in Rio de Janeiro. There is nothing like walking along the beach sidewalk as the sun starts to lower after an afternoon spent at Ipanema beach towards Arpoador rock, always looking back to make sure you haven’t missed the shot yet. (This is the rock at the intersection of Ipanema beach and Copacabana).

Sunset at Arpoador is a literal show. There are vendors selling caipirinhas and drinks on the rocks; everyone takes their seat and just waits for the magic to unfold. The second the sun disappears over the ocean, everyone starts to clap and cheer!

This is an unforgettable experience in Rio, so make sure you reserve an afternoon for it.

8. Climb up to take the iconic selfie with the Christ Redeemer

No trip to Rio de Janeiro is complete without heading up to the top of Corcovado hill to take that iconic selfie with the Christ Redeemer statue. It’s one of Rio de Janeiro’s most famous landmarks and one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro.

The 30-minute climb up the stairs can be quite tiring, but when you get there, it’s well worth the effort. From the top, you can get a spectacular view of Rio de Janeiro – from its beaches to its towering hills, not to mention the statue itself.

Top tip: check the weather forecast the night before you go to make sure the day you visit is a clear day to avoid disappointment. More often than not, Christ is covered in clouds, which makes it hard even to make out the landmark.

9. Soak in the views at Dona Marta's viewpoint.

Located at the top of Corcovado hill, Dona Marta viewpoint is one of the best places to visit in Rio de Janeiro to get amazing views. The view from here stretches out across Guanabara Bay, and you can even see Sugar Loaf mountain on the horizon. It’s a great spot for photos. 

Top tip: Combine your visit to the Christ Redeemer with this one, as they are in the same area and just a short drive from each other. There are also man tours that include this in their Christ Redeemer tours, so before you book, check or ask whether this is included.

13. Go on a free walking tour

The best things in life are often free, and the free walking tour in Rio does not disappoint! The tour takes you around the city, giving an insight into the history of Rio de Janeiro and teaching visitors about the Brazilian culture and history of the city. It’s a great way to learn more about Rio without breaking the bank.

Free Walker Tours is the best in the business, and they offer three different walking tours:

  • The Downtown and Lapa walking tour, which takes you through the most historic parts of Rio (XV Square, Municipal Theatre, National Library and the famous Selaron Steps)
  • Copacabana and Ipanema walking tour, taking travellers through the most famous beaches in the world
  • The Olympic Boulevard & African Heritage tour, which focuses on the areas that showcase the African influence prevalent in Rio (like Pedra do Sal, Candelaria Church and Mauá Square)

Taking a walking tour is one of the best ways to get to know the city of Rio and learn about its culture, history and architecture. 


14. Have afternoon tea at Confeteria Colombo

If you’re looking for a place to have lunch in Rio, then look no further than Confeteria Colombo. This historic café has been around since the late 19th century, and it’s the best place to sample some traditional Brazilian coffee and desserts.

My favourite things about the men are:

  • Brigadeiro
  • Pudim
  • Bomba de Chocolate

The Confeteria Colombo building is also a beautiful sight to behold, with its towering Neo-classical columns and stained glass windows.

15. Contemplate the Future at The Museum of Tomorrow

The Museum of Tomorrow is a science museum in Rio de Janeiro. The main idea behind the museum is to create a space where visitors can learn about sustainable development and how to protect the environment, given the impact climate change could have in the future. It’s also a great way to learn more about Brazilian culture, art and politics. The latest exhibition that was on was by Sebastiao Salgado about the Amazon Forest.

The building itself is also a site to see, so if you’re into modern architecture, it’s well worth a visit and should be at the top of your Rio bucket list!

16. Climb up Pedra da Gavea

Pedra da Gavea is one of the most popular and challenging hikes in Rio de Janeiro.

It’s a difficult climb, and you need to be an experienced hiker to do it, but the views are worth it! From the top, you get breathtaking views of Tijuca Forest, Guanabara Bay and beyond. It takes around 4 hours to complete the climb, and you should always go with a guide, as this hike is not suitable for beginners.

If you’re looking for a challenge and up for some mad views, then this is something that needs to be on Rio bucket list.

17. Admire the world's largest street mural, Mural de Etnias

One of the most impressive pieces of art in Rio de Janeiro is the world’s largest street mural, located in downtown Rio. The mural was painted by Eduardo Kobra and depicted images of native tribes of five different continents. It’s a sight to behold, and it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re into street art or just looking for something unique to do in Rio. 

Itinerary tip: If planning to visit the Museum of Tomorrow, this mural is within walking distance from there, so worth doing both of these on the same day. If you’re after an itinerary, we have a 3-day itinerary that you can read here.

18. Watch the sunset at Paredão da Urca like a local

As a Brazilian, I’ve been to Rio many times and know what “locals” do in the city. And one of those things is watching the sunset at Paredão da Urca (paredão is a wall that everyone sits on). Urca is a neighbourhood in Rio that is filled with street bars and restaurants. 

On the weekend with good weather, everyone gathers here and has a beer with friends while sitting on the wall watching the sun go down.

19. Get the best view of Christ Redeemer with a helicopter tour

One of the absolute best things to do in Rio (or so I’ve heard from friends, as I’m not brave enough to get on a helicopter) is to take a helicopter tour over Rio and the Christ Redeemer. Vertical Rio is one of the best in the business and offers 30mins tours. It’s pricey (R$ 1000 per flight), but it’s worth it. 

The views from a helicopter are insane, and you get to see the city in a way that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. This a must-do if you’re looking for something unique and unforgettable!

20. Explore Tijuca National Park

Tijuca forest is one of the largest natural urban forests in the world, covering an area of 32km². This rainforest is a hidden gem located in Rio de Janeiro, and it’s full of lush vegetation and stunning waterfalls. 

The park has dozens of trails to explore, some of which are quite easy for those who are not so experienced hikers. There are also a few waterfalls, such as Cachoeira da Detenção and Cascatinha da Taunay, where you can take a dip in the cool mountain water. 

Tijuca forest is an absolute must-visit if you want to explore Rio’s nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

21. Head for a Samba at Pedra do Sal

One of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro is to experience a true Brazilian samba night. There’s no better place than Pedra do Sal, which is literally translated as “rock of salt”. 

The area was settled by African slaves who used it as an open-air market, and it has now become one of the most iconic spots in the city for samba. This Instagram account posts about the different events going on around town, but Mondays are the samba days at Pedra do Sal.

Every Monday night, people gather to listen to samba music and watch dancers show off their moves. It’s a great way to experience Brazilian culture first-hand and get into the rhythm of samba! Definitely, something you want to check off your Rio bucket list.

22. Watch a football game at Maracana Stadium

Maracana Stadium is one of the most famous football stadiums in the world, and going on a tour of the stadium is one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro. You can watch a game here or even just take a tour around the stadium to see where all the magic happens. 

Even for those who aren’t that into football, the experience itself is something that should not be missed. The atmosphere at the stadium is electric, and you are guaranteed to have a memorable time! 

That’s all for this Rio de Janeiro travel guide; I hope your time in Rio de Janeiro is as amazing as mine was! Enjoy the beaches, music, vibes and adventure – you won’t regret it!

Have you been to Rio de Janeiro?

What are your top things to do in Lençóis Maranhenses? Anything you’d add to this Brazil bucket list?

Love as always and happy adventuring… 

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