As one of South America’s most visited cities, Rio de Janeiro is a bustling hot-spot full of jungles, golden sand beaches, football, samba and good times. It’s one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and you’ll find people from every kind of background, skin colour and heritage. It’s this mix that makes Rio so alive and, well, intriguing! It’s brimming with things to do, see and experience and with it’s tropical, warm climate it’s a perfect year-round destination. Here is your Ultimate Rio de Janeiro Bucket List guide- a list of the best places this beautiful city has to offer.
Rio, however, isn’t just about the famous carnival which takes to the streets every February, it’s loaded with nature and hiking, arts, culture and music as well as history, shopping and of course beach time. Rio has something for everyone and truly wows all those who visit- for me at least, it quickly rose into my top 3 cities in the world. So, whether you’re reading this to plan your trip or just looking for some Instagram inspiration, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive straight into those unforgettable things to do Rio de Janeiro.
NEED TO KNOWS:
↠ Weather: Rio enjoys a warm tropical climate all year round. Summer falls from December- February, where temperature can exceed 40°C and winter is between June-August where temperatures fall to a minimum of 16°C. Winter is the driest time to visit but bear in mind that it can rain at any time in Rio and it’s generally quite a rainy city.
↠ Transport: Just like most big cities Rio has a good public transport system and the metro, trams and buses are a great way to get around. For those out-of-reach landmarks and trips after dark, Rio also has Uber providing a fast, cheap and safe way to travel.
↠ Where to Stay: Rio has a number of neighbourhoods, excellent for basing yourself in which include Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon and Santa Teresa. I personally prefered Ipanema as it was close to the beach and not far from the landmarks either and I loved the outdoor fitness vibes in Ipanema.
↠ Safety: Yes, Rio has a bad reputation when it comes to safety, however, it’s definitely nothing to stress about. I never once felt threatened, unsafe or even remotely uncomfortable and I found the people to be warm, kind and very welcoming. That being said have your wits about you and take necessary precautions. Pay attention to your belongings on public transport and at the beach, don’t walk around alone at night, leave expensive jewellery at home and don’t flash around your camera gear.
THE ULTIMATE RIO DE JANEIRO BUCKET LIST
#1 CHRIST THE REDEEMER
Your trip to Rio wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Christ the Redeemer or Cristo Redentor, one of the seven new Wonders of the World. Located on top of Corcovado Mountain the 30metre statue looks out to sea over the city with outstretched arms. Construction started in 1922 and it took 9 years to complete the statue as we see it today, a marvellous engineering feat that can only be appreciated when you realise how big the statue really is up close. While the statue itself is a reason to come up here alone, don’t miss some of the best views of the city. From here you can get your bearings and take in the whole city, from the favelas clinging to the hillsides to Ipanema beach and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Getting there: There are many ways to get to Christ the Redeemer, the most popular ways being by bus or private tour and the train through the Tijuca Forest. I would highly recommend the latter as it’s a unique experience allowing you to familiarise yourself with the magnificent forest and views on the way up. Simply take an Uber to the departure point in Cosme Velho and enjoy what has to be one of the world’s steepest railway lines. Note that the wait for the train during peak hours can be extremely long especially in high season. Try to book your ticket online or arrive early to avoid the wait.
R&T top photography tip: Christ the Redeemer is swarmed with people from the minute it opens so to get good, uncrowded photos embrace that double chin and shoot from below. This will allow you to get a shot with yourself and the statue at almost any part of the platform and with few people in it.
#2 SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN
Another unmissable Rio landmark, with exceptional views over the city, is Sugarloaf Mountain or Pao de Azucar. During colonial times Portuguese sailors used this giant rocky outcrop as a way to navigate their way into the city and for them, refined loaf sugar was what it resembled, giving it the name we know today. Visiting this 396-metre granite peak involves taking two cable cars or a hike and then a second cable car, firstly to Morro da Urca and then onto Sugar Loaf itself. If you fancy hiking the relatively easy first part, the path starts from the beautiful Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) immediately to the south of the hills. From the top, you can enjoy views of Rio that stretch as far as the eye can see on a clear day. Look out for Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Dos Irmãos hill, Christ the Redeemer and planes taking off uncomfortably close to the Sugar Loaf from Santos Dumont airport.
#3 IPANEMA AND COPACABANA BEACHES
Beach life and culture is at the root of Carioca life and something that has to be mentioned in a Rio de Janeiro bucket list guide. Walk along the 5-kilometre length of Copacabana beach and take in the beach bars, exclusive hotels, non-stop street food and the bustling beach life. On every day of the week you’ll find people of all genders catching rays in tiny swimsuits, kids playing football and frolicking in the waves. You can either opt to relax in one of the exclusive spots manned by the luxury hotels adjacent to the beach or simply lay-out your towel on the sand. It’s a great place to people watch, try some local foods and drinks and relax in the sun.
Ipanema beach, while being half the size of Copacabana is the wellness and fitness hub of Rio. Here you’ll find people jogging, playing beach volleyball matches, beach racket sports, cycling, working out and skating. Everywhere you look is a sea of colour, life and movement. Why not join the hundreds of people that go for a run along the beachfront in the morning and evenings?
Top Tip: The beaches of Rio are a hotspot for petty thieves. Don’t leave your belongings unattended at the beach and better still bring only what you really need.
#4 EAT AÇAI
In recent years this small but potent Brazilian berry has taken the health world by storm. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and contains healthy fats while being low in sugar. Brazilians are crazy about it too and you can find açai stands through the city, the beaches included. It’s served cold, like ice-cream and you can get it in smoothie or bowl form topped with a number of healthy toppings such as granola, chia seeds, peanut butter and banana. It is absolutely delicious and it was my breakfast and snack staple every day.
Top tip: Açai in Brazil is normally served in plastic cups. To avoid the ever-growing mounds of single-use plastics, try to bring a reusable cup/bowl and spoon/straw with you. If you’re still to stock up on sustainable travel cutlery you can find my trusted set that I take everywhere here.
#5 VISIT A FAVELA
Favelas are an essential part of life in Rio de Janeiro and visiting one will give you an insight into the lives of regular people, the history of the city and how favelas originated as well as give you the chance to contribute to the local communities and give back. I organised my favela tour with Favela Santa Marta Tour and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience. Felipe, our guide, took us into Santa Marta, a relatively safe and pacified favela and we learned about the history of it, got the chance to visit a local pre-school and meet the kids, we met some local residents and played football with them as well as learning about how favelas have grown to function with little to none government intervention. The tour was a fascinating insight into Rio life and urbanisation and I’d highly recommend you do one. Click here for more information and you can also book it through Get Your Guide.
R&T Top Tip: When visiting a favela, make sure to do it with a tour. Not only can it be unsafe going alone you but you’ll also miss out on the vital information that makes the tour so special.
#6 REAL GABINETE LIBRERÍA PORTUGUÉS
For literary treasure in downtown Rio head to Real Gabinete Português de Leitura or the Portuguese Reading Room. This extravagant and highly ornate library of Portuguese literature is the largest outside of Portugal, containing hundreds of volumes by Portuguese authors. Admire the swirling, golden pillars, exquisitely carved wooden bannisters and ornate marble doorways. This is easily one of the most impressive libraries I have seen to date on my travels, not to mention, it makes great subject matter for an Instagram shot.
#7 MURAL ETNIAS
For a glimpse of one of the world’s longest mural, 3000m squared to be exact, head to the Olympic Boulevard to Mural Etnias. This awe-inspiring work of street art was created by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra just before the Olympics and celebrates the diversity of the land and its people. It’s beautiful, colourful, incredibly skilful and really sums up the variety and diversity this city offers.
#8 SEE THE CITY FROM A FAMOUS VIEWPOINT
With the number of rocky outcrops, hills and mountains around Rio, panoramic views are easily accessible to get to know the city and it’s coastline and admire this photogenic city. The are many viewpoints in the city such as Christ the Redeemer, Vista Chinesa, Dos Irmãos mountain and Mirante Dona Marta. I visited the latter for some truly spectacular 360-degree views of the city, including Christ the Redeemer, because, while the views at Christ the Redeemer are mind-blowing, you don’t have a view of the Corcovado Mountain. Mirante Dona Marta allows you to take in and photograph all the landmarks of Rio, at the perfect height, in one place without the crowds. The best time to come is during sunrise or sunset.
#9 DRINK A CAIPIRINHA
There’s no better sundowner to enjoy when in Brazil than a Brazilian Caipirinha. Order one made from local cachaça (sugar cane liquor), sit back, relax and take in a sunset, preferably at Copacabana or Ipanema beach.
#10 MARVEL AT THE ESCADARIA SELARON
For a demonstration of passion, lifelong dedication and commitment and love for the people and the country head to Lapa/ Santa Teresa neighbourhoods and visit Escadaria Selaron. This staircase, decorated with over 2000 tiles from over 60 countries is the work of Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who started trying to rejuvenate this area of Rio in 1990 and continued up to his death in 2013. Many of the tiles contain images, writing and iconography that are really interesting to look at and guess where they might be from.
R&T Top tip: The staircase gets really crowded so try to arrive for 8 am to have it all to yourself for that perfect picture.
#11 PARQUE LAGE
For a moment of silent calm amid the busy city, head to Parque Lage. Located at the base of Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer looming overhead, this tranquil, lush oasis is perfect for an afternoon stroll. Make sure you check out all the unique, tropical vegetation from this part of the world as well as the main park building. It’s a beautiful neoclassical structure with a gorgeous courtyard in the centre, which you’ll probably recognise from Instagram. The mansion, built by an Italian architect is now home to a wonderful cafe and the School of Visual Arts.
There we have it, the ultimate Rio de Janeiro bucket list or 11 things to do in Rio de Janeiro. Enjoy!
Make sure to leave all your questions and comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
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