I know lots of people that love Rio and talk fondly of the energy and vibe. While I had a good time and am glad I went, I did not need more than two days there. But each part of the city has a different feeling and vibe. Try to get to as many neighborhoods as you can.
After dozens of hours of research, and the experience of my first trip to Rio…here are my thoughts about what I loved and found worth doing.
*****Sunset on Ipanema Beach was spectacular. The view was amazing and it was fun to see all of the sunbathers, the beach volleyball, CrossFit, runners, bikes, and dogs. There was music, food and drinks to accompany a magnificent sunset.
*****Christ the Redeemer was on my short list and it lived up to expectations. Ask your cab to drop you at Trem do Corcovado. If you have time, wait for a sunny day. However, when we went it was very cloudy and we were advised not to waste our time going to the top. We went anyway and it was worth it despite the clouds. Even though the statue was cloud covered during most of our visit, the clouds move quickly and we were still able to see it. (61BR or $19 US for the tram to the top)
*****Sugar Load Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) was also a fun stop with fabulous views. Again, it would have been nicer on a less cloudy day but the elevation is lower than Christ the Redeemer so you have a better view of city even on a cloudy day. Half of our group enjoyed this even more than Cristo (although Christ the Redeemer topped my list). It is a fun double cable car ride to the top that costs $76BR ($23US).
****Escadaria Selarón was a fun stop for photos and exploration. You have probably seen photos of the colorful Rio stairs. The 215 steps are in between the Lapa and Saint Teresa neighborhoods. I thought the stairs were a beautiful work of art in aggregate but I also loved looking at the individual tiles.
****Santa Teresa Tram was an unexpected highlight. The trolley from Largo dos Guinaraes to Santa Teresa is an enjoyable ride through the neighborhoods and past the colorful street art. You can take the trolley in reverse as well but it was less crowed going down the hill. This is one of the world’s oldest trams and was a fun way to see the city.
***There are tours of the theater in English at 2 pm Tuesday through Friday or at noon on Saturdays ($20BR). This tour was worth it because the inside is so eclectic and interesting. Everything from Assyrian design to French. Its eclectic design makes it one of my favorite theaters (after Bucharest).
***Next to the theater is also the central library (free) which has a Gutenberg bible, collection of antique books from Portugal and some interesting displays. Don’t go out of your way to do this, but if around the area, it is worth a quick stop.
***The Metropolitan Cathedral is a bit off the beaten path and you wouldn’t recognize it as a cathedral from the outside. It is unique and worth a stop in.
***San Bento monastery is the most ornate church I have ever seen.
**Igreja da Canderlaria is pretty if nearby for the San Bento monastery or Museum of the Tomorrow.
(Not rated) The Museum of Tomorrow is one of Rio’s newest museums and gets rave reviews. I wasn’t willing to stand in line but did walk by to see the building from the outside. I think on my next trip I will have to make time to go.
**There is a daily free walking tour at 930 am in front of the theater. I am a fan of free walking tours and do them in every city they are available. This particular tour was the worst I have ever done, but regardless, it is still a good way to see a new city.
****Case da Feijoada is a short walk from Ipanema Beach. The food was fantastic (a little salty) and it was a great spot to try regional dishes. It is a friendly small restaurant eager to have you try their local dishes. I even tried the not to be missed, Caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail.
****Espirito Santa in Santa Teresa had a wonderful patio lunch. My friends got the specialty, Namorado na Folha, fish stuffed with crab and shrimp with a nut crust. I think they were disappointed I didn’t love my dish or else we would have gone back a second time. (Don’t take my disappointment as an indication of anything other than my dislike of fish and seafood).
****Pizzalandia near the center of town was a popular place for local workers. The food was great (the pizza was better than the pasta) but the locals all ordered meat. Beware the Bruschetta they bring by the table is good but not free ($4.90BR).
****Americas Copacabana Hotel had a great rooftop bar with a pool and views that included the beach and Christ the Redeemer statue. They also had a great shower and breakfast (but crappy tea). It is only a few blocks from the subway.
Traveler’s Tips: I am convinced that half the cars on the road are taxis and rest are Ubers. Taxis were everywhere and cheap. While we used the subway, in the end it was more expensive for four people than a taxi. From the airport, taxis have a set fare and will provide a card for a discount on your return trip. Credit cards are more accepted in Rio than Buenos Aires. If you are a tea drinker, bring your own. Brazil does horrible tea. Of note, it is not uncommon to read warnings about Rio and see it on a short list of dangerous cities. But for what it is worth, at no time did we feel unsafe. There were a couple of instances where we were advised not to walk but cabs were plentiful and during day time hours all of the tourist areas felt fine.
If in Rio, consider taking a side trip to Iguazu Falls. You can find reasonable flights on GOL or LATAM (don’t be afraid to mix them up for two one way tickets). Even if you have to make it a day trip it is worth it (but 2 days is ideal)!