20 Nov 16 Totally Awesome Things To Do in Rio de Janeiro
This summer I flew to Rio de Janeiro with Air France. It was my first visit to Brazil and my first visit to South America, so I was really excited to experience a whole new continent and a completely different culture. I had initially intended to visit a whole host of places during my two-week trip; spend a few days in the city of Rio, take a boat over to Ilha Grande, head to Sao Paulo to visit a friend of mine, then fly to the magnificent Iguassu Falls.
But all those plans went out the window when I fell in love with Rio de Janeiro.
I ended up staying there for a full two weeks because there was so much to do and discover, plus I made some really great friends along the way. I’m a huge advocate of slow travel these days and I prefer to spend longer in one place so I can really get to know it.
When I tell people I went to Brazil this year they ask me “Were you there for the World Cup?”. I wasn’t there for the World Cup- I just missed it- but it didn’t really bother me either. Rio is an amazing place in its own right and Brazilians don’t need the World Cup as an excuse to party- every day there’s something to celebrate!
Here are 16 totally awesome things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
1. Pose with Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer can be seen from all over Rio de Janeiro and is an iconic symbol recognisable to people all over the world. Measuring 30 metres tall with an arm span of 28 metres, the statue appears to be keeping a watchful eye over the city of Rio from atop the Corcovado mountain. It’s made of reinforced concrete clad in a mosaic of thousands of triangular soapstone tiles and weighs a total of 635 tonnes. You can have your photo taken with the statue and admire the views across the city. At night the statue is lit up and appears to hover over the city as the mountain it stands on blends into the dark night sky.
2. Sit on the Selaron Steps
The Escadaria Selarón is a colourful flight of stairs created by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón as a tribute to the Brazilian people. The steps can be found in the neighbourhood of Lapa and are an iconic symbol of Rio de Janeiro. In 1990 Selarón began renovating the set of steps in front of his house and it soon turned into a major artistic project- today there are 250 steps measuring 125 metres long which are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. Sadly Jorge Selarón was found dead on the steps in 2013- the exact circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown.
3. Admire the views from Sugarloaf Mountain
The view from Sugarloaf mountain is one of the best views I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Rising 396 meters (1,299 ft) above the harbor, the mountain gets its name from its shape, since it resembles a hard block of loaf sugar. You can take two cable cars right up to the top for panoramic views over the city, beaches, mountains and ocean.
4. Create your own music video at Parque Lage
Not far from the Botanical Gardens lies Parque Lage, a beautiful mansion at the foot of Corcovado. The mansion was once the residence of industrialist Enrique Lage and his wife, singer Gabriela Bezanzoni, until the land eventually became a public park in the 1960s. The setting is really stunning and Parque Lage is particularly popular with tourists because it was featured in the music video for Snoop Dogg’s 2003 single “Beautiful”. Sadly the inside was covered in scaffolding when we visited (wedding!) be we sat down and had a really nice lunch in the restaurant.
5. Eat at a Churrascaria
Mmmm…meat. Brazilian cuisine consists of a lot of red meat and you must pay a visit to a Churrascaria at least once. I went to Carretao twice while I was staying in Copacabana. Basically you can go up to the salad bar to fill your plate with salad, then waiters come around with various cuts of meat on skewers and carve them at your table. The meat keeps coming until you say no and they supply you with a little badge that indicates ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on which way up you place it. Don’t make the mistake of filling up on all the salad, rice and plantains. Meat is the priority here!
6. Wander around the Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens are really gorgeous and definitely worth visiting if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The park covers 140 hectares, with thousands of species of flora and fauna as well as views of Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer). You can also spot monkeys and various types of exotic birds pottering around.
7. Sunbathe on Copacabana Beach
Many people will tell you to go to Ipanema Beach or Leblon Beach as they are considered a bit ‘safer’, but my personal favourite is still the famous Copacabana Beach. On the weekend Copacabana is great for people watching as it’s full of locals who bring along their own deck chairs and spend the day kicking a football about or soaking up the sun. There are lots of vendors who come around selling sarongs, lemonade, coconuts and empanadas. I spent many a day chilling on the beach, drinking a caipirinha or two and kicking it on the beach till sunset.
8. Sundowners at Palaphita Kitch
If you’re looking for a romantic spot to watch the sun go down, head on over to Palaphita Kitch Lagoa, which sits right on the lake. Order a cocktail and some snacks to share, then sit back on the bamboo sofas and enjoy the view. There’s also has a toilet shaped like a throne, which is pretty novel.
9. Samba at Rio Scenarium
Rio Scenarium is a really great place to go for a night out to experience the music culture of Brazil. Spread across three floors decorated with antiques, Rio Scenarium offers live music and samba dancing all night long. You can strut your stuff on the dance floor next to the stage, or watch over the dancers from the balconies on the first floor. The venue attracts a mixture of foreigners and locals and like many bars in Brazil it operates a card system where you pay for your drinks on the way out. There’s usually a long line outside, but it goes down quickly and you can buy refreshments while you wait.
10. Go to a football game
Brazil is a soccer-loving country so it’s definitely worth checking out a football game while you’re there. You can watch games from the three most powerful teams in Rio – Flamengo, Botafogo and Fluminense and experience the thrill and passion of the game. Even if you’re not a huge football fan it’s still worth taking in the electric atmosphere. The Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro is one of the biggest stadiums in the world.
11. Visit a Favela
The hostels advertise favela ‘tours’ and ‘favela parties’ but I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Yes I was curious to see what life is like in a favela, but I was worried I would look like an idiot going on a tour with my camera to see how the poorer half live. I had spoken to some backpackers who had been to one of the favela ‘parties’, but it wasn’t a real party- just one designed for tourists. You basically take a bus to a favela, hang out and drink with other backpackers, then take a bus back- not a proper local party at all.
But then my friend Caitlin and I got chatting to a Brazilian guy- Victor- one evening and he said he would show us around a favela, so we took him up on the offer. Being a little cautious about my belongings (it is Brazil after all) I didn’t take any valuables with me, but Victor took his Go Pro and his iPhone too. In hindsight I wished I had taken my camera as there really wasn’t anything to worry about. We went to Santa Marta favela, which is incredibly colourful and has a statue of Michael Jackson at the top because he filmed the music video “They Don’t Care About Us” there. The view from above is incredible but to get there we had to climb up many, many stairs as the lower cable car was broken. Kids were playing football and there was a little souvenir shop where you could buy crafts with images drawn by the children.
12. Go out in Lapa on a Friday Night
Rio de Janeiro is a party city and the best place to go on the weekend is Lapa. Come night time the neighbourhood is transformed into a party zone and there are vendors everywhere selling snack food and caipirinhas. Most people tend to meet up beneath the Arcos de Lapa and have a few drinks in the street, before hopping from bar to bar. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays the streets are closed for pedestrians and people can be seen dancing on every street corner.
13. Have brunch at Santa Satisfacao
I passed by Santa Satisfacao several times while walking around Copacabana and eventually decided to stop by for brunch. It’s a cute cafe with outside tables serving cocktails, coffees, omelettes, salads, carpaccio, pasta and sandwiches- a great spot to go with friends or family on the weekend.
14. Wander around Centro
The Centro “center” neighbourhood is really charming to walk around, with colourful buildings and historical architecture. It’s certainly worth having a wander down the pedestrian alleyways and stopping for a beer and a pastel (deep-fried finger food with various fillings).
15. Wear swimwear like the locals
Brazilian women wear itsy bitsy teenie weenie bikinis to accentuate their very round bottoms. As soon as you touch down in Rio, head to the mall and buy yourself a Brazilian thong so you fit in with the locals on the beach. Don’t be shy- there are butts on show everywhere, of all shapes and sizes. If you’re a guy, get yourself a pair of the tight speedo-style shorts. Brazilian men wouldn’t be seen dead in board shorts!
16. Try Globos & Acai
There are some foods that you really should try while you’re in Rio. One is Globos, which are basically donut-shaped rice cracker-type snacks. You’ll see guys walking past selling them on the beach. Acai is basically a frozen dessert with a dark brown poo colour; it’s made using acai berry juice, ice, sugar and lots of guarana syrup. I found it a bit too sweet by my friend Caitlin loved the stuff! You can even add toppings like sliced bananas and granola.
Getting There & Away
I flew from Manchester to Rio de Janeiro on Air France– you can search for airfares here. You can also check out their destinations guide, follow them @AirFranceUK on Twitter and keep up to date with the latest news on their Facebook page.