We recently spent a month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before we got there, we had heard all of the things that most of you have probably heard: it can be unsafe, dirty and full of partiers. And to be honest we did find some of those things. But after spending some time there we have no doubt that Rio is a fascinating place to visit. Here’s our list of top things to do in Rio. After looking them over see if you feel more inclined to consider a visit.
Christ the Redeemer Statue
You are unlikely to go to Rio de Janeiro without seeing the Redeemer Statue. The huge, iconic figure of Christ looming over the city is one of the first images that comes to mind when you think about the city. So whether you actually decide to scale the mountain or not, you truly can’t miss it.
I’m not saying that making the trip to the statue isn’t without its detracting points. You will have to fight you way through crowds of tourists with their outstretched arms trying to get the ultimate Redeemer photo to bring home. Or have the unfortunate experience of others who hiked the trail to the top (including scaling 3 meters of stone face pulling themselves up with a chain) only to find out that tickets to get in are ONLY sold at the bottom (really?). Despite that you will be well rewarded for your efforts, with views like these.
In order to have the most hastle-free experience plan ahead by going early and avoid the weekend. And be sure to check the official tram website as rules for visiting (such as where you can buy your tickets) can change.
Take a Bike Tour
Rio de Janeiro is a very bike friendly destination. There are pathways throughout the city that will take you past the stunning beaches that have made Rio famous. Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy a cold drink as you decide which area to return to for a closer look. We decided to go along with a guided bike tour in order to learn more about the city and to get some insider tips about what to see and where to eat.
Try the Feijoada
Feijoada is a pork and bean stew. I realize that doesn’t sound very exciting on its own, but Feijoada is so much more than that. An afternoon (or evening) eating Feijoada is a social occasion, filled with many side dishes, drinks and friends. It’s a party that you shouldn’t miss during your stay. Our pick for Rio’s best? Casa da Feijoada.
Take a Hike
Rio has many beautiful places to hike. Not far from the bustling city you can enjoy the quiet of the botanical parks, scale lofty peaks for amazing views and be treated to glimpses of toucans and monkeys (if you’re lucky). We TOOK a hike in the Tijuca National Park and were able to enjoy all of this, plus some amazing views along the way from the China Outlook.
Indulge in a Caipirinha
The Caipirinha is Brazil’s national drink, made of cachaça (distilled sugar cane), mixed with sugar and lots of fresh lime. It goes perfectly with the exotic surroundings and if you enjoy the occasional cocktail, you shouldn’t leave Rio with trying one, or two, or more…
Hit the Beach
Rio de Janeiro wasn’t always known for its beaches. Once the city became an international destination the city actually dredged and land filled in order to create the long gorgeous beaches that it has today. Along the beach you can you can rent a chair and order some refreshments to enjoy while you listen to the waves. Take caution however. Since there was a good deal of dredging the water can get deep, quickly. And those friendly beach vendors, who are supposed to list their prices on their stands, don’t always follow the rules. Check what locals are paying before plunking down your cash. And lastly, check on water quality. Some beaches, such as Flamengo, have fallen prey to pollution.
Pao De Azucar (Sugarloaf Mountain)
This beautiful mountain, with its cable car lift to the top, beckons for a visit. It is also possible to hike to the top, but it involves using climbing equipment and isn’t recommended for a novice or first time visitor. Here’s the official visitors site for more information.
Get An Authentic Brazilian Steakhouse Experience
Have you been a Brazilian Steakhouse? If so, you know about the grilled meat arriving in skewers and the abundance of food. The experience in Rio de Janeiro is the same, only better. Skip the quantity over quality approach of many Brazilian Steakhouses and find your way to the Churrascaria in the Copacabana area. This is what a Brazilian Steakhouse is supposed to be all about.
Climb the Most Colorful Stairs in the World
Ok, I’m not sure if they are the most colorful stairs. Particularly which way you look.
Looking down from above, nothing special.
But looking from below, something different entirely.
The staircase was decorated by Chilean Artist Jorge Selaron who eventually took donations in order to finish his eccentric work. His effort, intended to breathe life into the Lapa neighborhood, has been a huge success. Now the stairs are crowded with selfie taking tourists, all ready to spend their money at local shops and restaurants.
The Selaron Steps can be found in Rio between the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods
Take a Favela Tour
Favelas are Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling neighborhoods that climb the hills surrounding the city. Formerly looked at as Rio’s slum area, the favelas have undergone a gradual transition. There is now a stronger police presence in the area, and drug lords no longer have complete control of the areas. There are many middle class families that make the favelas their homes where they enjoy close-knit life with multi-generations of families living in close proximity. Violence continues to be a reality in some areas where drug dealer occasionally fight over territory. And while this is not common, it is unpredictable. Therefore, guided tours, like the one we took, are still a recommended way to safely see these fascinating neighborhoods.
Take a Cooking Class
If you really want to learn about the history, culture, and people of an area you are visiting, one the best ways is to take a cooking class. Food and its influences evolve over time, with little crumbs of the past mingling with the present. Plus, the classes can be a lot of fun. And when you are back home and decide to cook some of the dishes your prepared, the aromas from the kitchen transport you back to wonderful memories from your time away. We took a cooking class in Rio and learned how to make traditional Brazilian Seafood Stew, Moqueca – as colorful as it is delicious.
Visit the Bar do David
Bar Do David is a small restaurant in the Leme area of Rio. In order to reach the bar, you either have to hop aboard a motor cycle taxi or climb up the steep hill into the favela area. Once you get there, it is likely that you will be greeted by David himself. He is the king of self-promotion and isn’t shy to show off his awards and to sing the praises of his food. We shared the small space with a local TV personality and a sports celebrity who got lots attention from patrons while we were there. And after tasting the food, we realized that maybe all of David’s hype wasn’t unearned. Take the trek yourself and you’ll be treated like family and well fed in the process.
Visit Santa Teresa on the Cable Car
Santa Teresa is a quaint neighborhood that can be accessed by cable car. It has some funky artist studios, beautiful view of Rio, and one of our favorite restaurants in the city. Espirito Santa features flavors of the Amazon, something that is less common in Rio. But the flavors are spectacular and wandering the neighborhood and grabbing a bit at the restaurant makes for a perfectly wonderful afternoon/evening.
Visit a Farmer’s Market
If you are in Rio de Janeiro on the weekend, don’t miss the farmer’s markets. Here you get a first hand glimpse into day-to-day life in Rio. The market is packed with people, loud, and full of everything you can imagine, from fresh caught snapper for dinner or plastic bag containing a live goldfish for your new pet. It’s a great place to sample local fruits and street food and to rub elbows with locals.
Take the Ferry to Paqueta
Paqueta is a sleepy island community that is accessible from Rio within an inexpensive 30 minute ferry ride. Once you set foot on the island you’ll feel like you stepped backward in time. Residents get around via horse and buggy or bicycle and there are relatively few restaurants, stores or hotels to grab your attention. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely stroll to take in the calm and peaceful surrounding.
Stop and Listen to the Music
One of the most infectious things about Rio is the music. There are often drums in the background, music spilling out onto the streets from bars or a seemingly impromptu party that crops up in the park or street corner. This simple celebration, which costs nothing, gives Rio a little bit of extra personality. It’s almost as if everyone started to break out into a samba you wouldn’t be surprised. And also why a visit to Rio may make you feel a little like dancing yourself.
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