(Updated February 2019)
Rio de Janeiro could be the most beautiful city on the planet: The ocean, the beaches, the hills, the vegetation, the views….I could go on and on.
But then there is the poverty, the violence, the hopelessness, the corruption, the dirt….I could go on and on.
However, when visiting Brazil, a trip to Rio is inevitable: The country’s most important icons are not in Sao Paulo, they are neither in Recife nor in Salvador – whether it’s Christ the Redeemer, whether it’s the sugar loaf or world’s most famous beaches Copacabana and Ipanema: all these sights and signs are right here. So – bem vindos no Rio!
Arrival and Departure
If you are just coming to Brazil, you’ll probably arrive at RIOgaleão – Tom Jobim International Airport north east of the city. As a newbie, you’ll probably spend far too much for a cab at a licensed taxi stand – they charge around 120 R$ to the city center.
A metered cab will cost about half of that, then there is a comfy shuttle bus for R$ 15 going to Ipanema, but making stops on the way.
That can be tricky if you’re not familiar with Rio since the drivers are not helpful at all. If you know where you are going and you tell them, they stop. If you don’t know it, they just go.
But I wouldn’t recommend it after a long, tiring flight, anyway. In Rio, you have to be on the alert, and you won’t be when you are exhausted from travelling. Hey, you’ve paid a lot of money for a ticket, just spend some more and get to your final destination safely.
|Like most Brazilian cities, Rio has two airports to fly to.|
If you are coming from a different place in Brazil or another Latin American country, chances are that you’ll arrive at the Santos Dumont airport which is basically in the city center. Here connection is no problem at all: If in doubt, get on the light rail to Cinelândia, there you have connection to the subway system which is really good, reliable and clean in Rio. And taking a cab won’t burn a hole in your pocket, neither.
|Unfortunately, after dark, Rio is not only breathtakingly beautiful.|
If you are coming by bus, you’ll arrive at the Terminal Rodoviário Novo Rio. While the bus terminal is pretty good with many services, the surroundings aren’t, so retain from lingering around especially after dark. If you don’t want to take a cab, you can take the light rail at Rodoviário towards Santos Dumont, get off at Cinelândia and continue on subway from there.
Where to Stay and How to Go
Most tourists and travellers stay in the Copacabana area which is understandable since you have the iconic beach in front of your nose. Yet it is the best place to learn nothing at all about Brazil.
Right behind the Copacabana is the Leme neighborhood which gives you a far better idea of what Brazil is really like.
However, I stayed in the Botafogo district which is great and I can only recommend it: It’s only one subway stop away from the beaches and really close to the – partly a bit too run down – center with all the museums and shopping opportunities. Talking ’bout shopping: There is a big mall right next to the beach in Botafogo.
|Staying in Botafogo means having a great view of the Pão de Açûcar and…|
|…Cristo Redentor alike.|
A beach? Yes, that’s right, there is also a beach, but unfortunately you can only go for a walk there and enjoy the incredible view of the Sugar Loaf since it’s far to dirty to bath or sunbath there.
|Praia do Botafogo against the backdrop of the Pão de Açûcar.|
A huge plus is Botafogo’s location: There is an incredible number of buses passing in front of the shopping mall, the ‘Metrô na Superficie’ – which is just a faster bus and no ‘Metrô’ at all – and two subway lines. It cannot get more convenient!
Very similar is the Neighborhood of Flamengo, only it’s not as centrally located as Botafogo, but only one subway stop away.
I would always prefer the las two neighborhoods for their closeness to Brazilian life.
I also love the neighborhood of Santa Teresa which is on one of the many ‘morros’, the hills typical for Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately it’s located amidst a couple of Favelas, one of theme being the notorious Morro dos Prazeres – Hill of Pleasures. This Favela was considered pacified until recently two tourists were shot there; accidentally, wrong moment – wrong place, but does that really matter?!
|Great view from a dangerous place.
My Portuguese teacher was a bit shocked when I told her that I was walking down the Rua Santa Cristina by myself.
According to prudent Cariocas, as the people of Rio are called, even the once pacified Favelas are dangerous again. I personally would not go there – especially since I find it a bit weird to go to a neighborhood to see how poor people live. Just ask yourself if you are doing this in your city, too – and then ask yourself why you should do it in Rio.
However, Santa Teresa is beautiful and they have hostels there. I don’t know how people who stay there do – whether they are risking to get mugged on a daily basis or whether they are taking a cab as soon as they leave the premises.
Talking ’bout cabs: It’s very easy to move around in Rio. The public transport system covers the entire city – whether by ‘Metrô’, the subway, by light rail (tramway) or bus – and costs about one dollar per ride. For each of this means you can get a separate card that can be charged. But the only thing you safe this way is time, no money. There is no such thing like a day ticket or some other form of pass, you have to pay for every ticket individually and tickets from one mean of transport to another are not transferable. Hence, I wouldn’t really call it a ‘system’, but it takes you where you want to go easy and relatively fast.
Besides regular cabs, Uber is really big in Brazil, too.
Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro
Let’s just work our way around Rio starting in the west. The south-west, to be precise, and precise is key here since the northern parts of the city are the rough regions while the fartheꞔr south you get, the more sophisticated gets the neighborhood.
About four blocs north of the beach of Ipanema is the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a beautiful lagoon that the wealthy Cariocas enjoy for walking and jogging and hanging out at the posh Clube dos Caiꞔaras.
|Morning work out on the lagoon.|
If you walk westwards around the lagoon, enjoying great views of Rio, you’ll first get to the Hipódromo da Gávea, the Jockey Club. It’s worth to take a closer look at the club’s fence since it’s decorated with a fun mural of viewers of a horse race.
|Your best bet: Watching the race without losing money.|
|The palm-fringed avenue even made it on the
At the end of the club turn left into the Rua General Garzon and you arrive at the north entrance of the Jardim Botânico, Rio’s botanic garden, mostly known for its glorious palm-fringed avenue. But there are definitely many attractions – 9,000 plants from about 1,500 different species beautifully arranged between walkways, on hills, around ponds and fountains.
If you want to spend a couple of hours in a tranquil environment, soothing for the eye and the soul alike, this is the place to go.
Of course you do not have to walk around the lagoon to get to the garden. There are many buses going there – just type your starting point in this map and you’re ready to go.
Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro
Rua Jardim Botânico 1008
Rio de Janeiro
Phone: + 55 – 21 – 38 74 18 08 and 38 74 12 14
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a. m. to 5 p. m. and Monday from noon to 7 p. m.
Entrance fee is R$ 15 and they don’t accept credit cards (which is very unusual in Brazil)
|The manicured cactus garden close to the main gate.|
Well, besides the Cristo and the Sugar Loaf, the southern part of the city is what Rio stands for:
They are city beaches, yes, but for being city beaches, they are very nice and relatively clean.
It starts in the west with Praia do Leblon, leading into the Praia de Ipanema and Praia do Arpoador.
|Beach with a western view: Morro Dois Irmãos, hill of two brothers, seen from Praia Ipanema.|
Here you cannot continue, but have to cross the Parque Garota de Ipanema (that’s right – a park called after the girl of Ipanema) and walk down the Rua F Otaviano before you can get back to the beach – the world famous Praia de Copacabana.
|Beach with a eastern view: Morro de Leme, seen from Praia da Copacabana|
The Copacabana is hemmed with bars and restaurants, there is a market where you can buy souvenirs, there are public bathrooms – they really make sure that tourists have a good time.
|This lady is selling sandwiches – ‘natural’ sandwiches.|
Pão de Açûcar
Behind the Morro do Leme is Urca, another very nice part of Rio, crowned by the Pão de Açûcar, the sugar loaf.
|Even from very far, you can spot the Pão de Açûcar.|
Going up is devided in two parts – first you get to the Morro do Urca and eventually to the Pão. From here you have the most glorious view.
For R$ 80, you can go up every day between 8 a. m. and 7.50 p. m.
Here is how you get to the Teleférico-station to get uphill.
Once you are in the Urca and Praia Vermelha neighborhood, make sure to stroll around a bit – from here you can even walk along Avenida Pasteur to Botafogo – passing the Yacht club and the soccer club house of the rather hapless team of Botafogo.
Cristo Redentor and Trem do Corcovado
To get to the next – and most important – attraction of Rio de Janeiro, you have to leave the coastline and take the subway at Botafogo station northbound to Largo do Machado – which is two stops. There you catch bus #583 that takes you straight to the Trem do Corcovado – the train taking you up to Jesus.
This Christ statue was created in the art deco style by French sculptor Paul Landowski. The sculpture – 30m (98 ft) tall – was constructed between 1922 and 1931. Christ is protecting the city of Rio with his arms opened over a stretch of 28 metres (92 ft).
|With everybody posing around the Cristo, the ambience is not very contemplative up there,….|
|….yet the views through the clouds are breathtaking. Here you can spot the lagoon with the horse race court to the right.|
You cannot buy a ticket for the same day at the trem station. You need to buy the ticket either online or from an authorized dealer. At the trem station’s booth you can only change your voucher against your ticket. Especially during high season I recommend to get your ticket well ahead.
Trem do Corcovado
Rua Cosme Velho 513
Rio de Janeiro
Phone: + 55 – 21 – 25 58 13 29
The Cristo Redentor can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a. m. to 7 p. m.
The train is leaving every 30 minutes and the tickets are R$ 74 during high season and R$ 61 during low season
Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM)
Continue the coastline up north passing Praia do Flamengo and you’ll get the Parque do Flamengo where the quite interesting Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) is located.
|Art and culture everywhere you look: A huge sculpture honoring toilet tissue in front of the museum building designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and built in 1948. The young people were performing some acrobatics and dancing.|
This venue is located in a park designed by one of the most influential landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx (1909 – 1994), actually distantly related to German philosopher and politician Karl Marx, so already the gardens make a visit worthwhile.
|A very creative form of selfies: Employees of the MAM composed self portraits from black squares within a defined space on white paper.|
|Here is a chart of who is who.
I love the idea that people working day by day at this place become part of the exhibition.
Original and respectful from the Italian artist Lucio Salvatore.
|And since we are on it: I became part of a piece of art, too, by taking a selfie with Waltercio Caldas’ installation “Água/Cálice/Espelhos” (“Water/Chalice/Mirrors”)|
Although the museums own a collection of 12,000 pieces, their temporary exhibitions are far more interesting.
|Since at the time when I was in Rio, there was a huge exhibition of Tarsila do Amaral’s oeuvre in New York, I was very happy to have the chance to see at least some of her beautiful paintings in bold colors like “Os Anjos” (“Angels”)|
Escadaria do Selarón
Walk down the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique and turn right into Rua Teixeira de Freitas and follow Rua Teotônio Regadas – here you are, at one of the most intriguing pieces of Rio’s street art, the Escadaria do Selarón.
|There are some pretty cool murals to be admired on Rua Teotônio Regadas before you get to the highlight – the Escadaria do Selarón.|
These stairs leading to the neighborhood of Santa Teresa consist of 215 beautifully decorated steps.
Chile born Jorge Selarón decorated them with tiles from over 60 countries: First the artist used tiles from construction sites and waste dumps, but eventually visitors from around the world contributed.
|The French sent cheese.|
Of the over 2000 tiles, about 300 are handpainted by the artist depicting a pregnant African woman. Selarón claimed he financed his work by selling more than 25,000 portraits of this lady.
Jorge Selaron settled in Rio de Janeiro in 1983 and began to ‘renovate’ the stairs in 1990. Until his mysterious dead in 2013 he never considered his work done; as soon as he finished one section, he started to work on another one.
|Selarón sorted the tiles according to topics – like musicians or flags.|
Selarón was found dead on his famous steps on January 10, 2013. Until this day the circumstances of his death are unclear.
|Don’t give up – you’re almost there! The is the upper part of the stairs leading to Santa Teresa.|
Once you climb up the stairs – which might take a while not because of the height, but because there are millions of details to be admired – you can continue your walk to the Parque das Ruinas from where you have the best view of all that makes Rio grand.
Little tip: If you don’t have much time in Rio and can make it to only one observation platform, you might consider coming to this park instead of standing in line at the Trem do Corcovado or the Bonde Pão de Açûcar.
From the Parque das Ruinas it’s only a short walk – along cute little specialty shops, you might consider doing your souvenir shopping right here – to the Largo dos Guimarães. From here you can take the old Bonde, the tram, back down to Lapa.
|Largo do Lapa – most of the time occupied by homeless people – becomes a party zone during carnival season.|
It is better to do it this way for two reasons: Climbing the Selarón stairs up gives you a much better view at all the details than taking them down; and while they charge you R$ 20 for the tram when coming up, taking it downhill from Santa Teresa is actually free.
Coming back from Santa Teresa to Lapa, you’ll find yourself in city’s old, historic neighborhoods – and busies business and shopping streets.
|Catedral de São Sebastião: As if Saint Sebastian hadn’t suffered enough, now they had to name the ugliest cathedral on earth after him.
This nuclear power plant-like house of God is also very close to the Largo da Lapa.
Walk down the Rua Evaristo da Veiga to the Praça Floriano dominated on its northern end by the Teatro Municipal, built from 1904 to 1909 in an Eclectic and Art Nouveau style – inspired by the opera house in Paris.
Next to it, you’ll find the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, housing fine international and Brazilian art such as sculpture, painting, drawings, and photography.
Avenida Rio Branco, 199 – Centro (Cinelândia) Rio de Janeiro RJ – CEP: 20040-008 – Telefone: (21) 3299-0600
Terça a sexta-feira das 10 às 18hs; Sábados, domingos e feriados das 13 às 18 horas. Ingressos: R$ 8,00 Sunday free
As you continue on the Avenida Rio Branco, don’t miss the lovely colonial church Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco da Penitência to your left right before Rua da Carioca.
|Don Pedro I has been riding across the Praça Tiradentes since 1862.|
Rua da Carioca ends at the Praça Tiradentes, a rather unspectacular square, but turning right, you’ll see the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, a beautiful library founded in 1837 by Portuguese immigrants in order to maintain the Portuguese language.
|Real Gabinete Português de Leitura – cultivating the Portuguese language.|
|I cannot make up my mind what’s better at Cafeteira Colombo in the old center of Rio de Janeiro, the pastry or the decor.
Check yourself from 9 a. m. to 7 p. m. at Rua Gonçalves Dias 32
Walking from Praça Tiradentes towards the Guanabara Bay, you’ll get to the majestic Assembleia Legislativa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, the Seat of the State Assembly.
|The Parliament of Rio de Janeiro.|
Turn left and walk up north, passing three ladies. What – three ladies? Yes, first to your left is Nossa Senhora – which means ‘our lady’ – do Carino. One blog further to your right Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores and finally at the Praça Pio X the baroque Nossa Senhora da Candelária.
|The first lady: Nossa Senhora do Carino|
When I write north, I’m talking about the northern part of the center. I would never dare to send you to the north of Rio and I cannot recommend to venture there by yourself.
|Museu do Amanha, seen from the Museu de Arte do Rio.
In front of it the Praca Mauá, behind it the bridge connecting Rio and Niterói (see last section of this post).
So the most northern area for us is the Praça Mauá where you’ll find the spectacular Museu do Amanha – the museum of tomorrow, dealing with all different aspects of planet earth and its inhabitants. Interesting facts and fun hands-on exhibitions – but also the unusual appearance of the building, designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2015, make this museum a must-see when in Rio.
|The globe explaining many important facts regarding planet earth is one of the coolest features – at the same time decorating the gorgeous entrance hall.|
Museu do Amanha
Praça Mauá 1
Rio de Janeiro
Phone: + 55 – 21 – 38 12 18 12
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m., entrance fee are R$ 20
Across the Mauá square is another museum, the Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR), housing different exhibitions on Rio-related topics.
|Museum with a view.|
|May I present my favorite piece – a man helping another escaping through a….tabletop.
Gustavo Rezende “Qual é a matéria do sonho?” (What’s the material of the dream?)
To be honest, the most impressive thing about this venue that was opened in 2013, is the building itself – designed by Paulo Jacobsen, Bernardo Jacobsen e Thiago Bernardes – and the fantastic view of the adjacent Museu do Amanha and the Baía de Guanabara, the Guanabara bay.
Museu de Arte do Rio
Praça Mauá 5
Rio de Janeiro
Phone: 21) 3031 2741
Much better art can be seen along the adjacent Avenida Rodrigues Alves where not only graffiti super star Eduardo Kobra painted his epic mural “Ethnicity” on the occasion of the Olympic Games in 2016, but also other muralists perpetuated themselves.
|“Ethnicity” – five portraits by Eduardo Kobra|
The Avenida Rodrigues Alves is also the perfect place to grab a bite – or a souvenir – and watch people strolling by between old structures of the former store houses – the global gentrification you find in basically every bigger city.
The last northern stop was not for me, but it will be for you, you soccer aficionados: If you walk back to the Praça Pio X and take the subway at the Uruguaiana station, it will take you right to the soccer mecca, Estádio Mário Filho, better known as Maracanã.
|Soccer on the beach – good enough for me.|
The stadium can be visited, The tours last an average of 40 minutes, but on days when a match is taking place, the last tour finishes three hours before the game.
Estádio Mário Filho
Avenida Presidente Castelo Branco
Rio de Janeiro
Phone: + 55 – 21 – 983 41 19 49
Can be visited daily from 9 a. m. to 4 p. m.
A guided tour costs R$ 60, a non-guided tour costs R$ 50
The last place I’d like to introduce is located on the other side of the Baía de Guanabara – it’s the town of Niterói. It’s worth the visit for three reasons:
A) You cross the Baía de Guanabara on a comfortable, relatively cheap ferry.
B) You have a great view of Rio de Janeiro looking across the bay.
C) You get to visit one of the most important buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói.
|Taking the ferry to Niterói, you’ll also have a good view of the beautiful palace on the Ilha Fiscal.|
There are two ways how to get to Niterói: You can go by bus crossing the Ponte Rio – Niterói, which is completely pointless and deprives you from above mentioned reason number one. You should take the ferry that leaves Rio at the Estação das Barcas at Praça Quinze de Novembro behind the State Assembly (see above). The ferry operates daily from 6h às 23h30 and costs 6 R$ one way. It takes you to the Praça Arariboia in Niterói in about 20 minutes.
|View of Rio de Janeiro from Niterói.|
As you leave the terminal, you will spot a little mobile tourist information where you can obtain a map for free. Hence, you don’t really need it: Just turn right and walk along the road as it’s turning along the shore. It’s a scenic walk of about 3 km / 2 mi.
|At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niterói, form beats content big time.|
I will not lie to you: When I visited the museum, there were two completely pointless exhibitions and I’ve heard from others that the venue cannot exactly pride itself on showing breathtaking art. The visit is still worth it – for the building and for the views.
And another thing: You don’t have to walk there, there is a bus circling between the port and the Mirante, the observation point the museum was built on. Actually I’d recommend to walk there – which will take about 30 minutes – and take the bus on your way back.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. and entrance fee are R$ 10,00
Wanna know how I perceived Rio de Janeiro while I was there? Check out these lessons of my Class of Brazil series:
Do you want to read about all the other cool places I’ve visited in Brazil?
Then go to the main post and take your pick!
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