From the panoramic hilltop views to sunsets on the beach, Rio de Janeiro’s beauty does not disappoint. Brazil’s second largest city is called Cidade Maravilhosa, or, in English, the marvelous city. Fortunately, this bustling city is packed into a relatively small space, making it easy to see a lot in a short amount of time.
These top ten attractions in Rio de Janeiro will appeal to most any traveler, whether they are looking for adventure, natural beauty, or art and culture. The most popular of the attractions, Christ the Redeemer statue, the beaches, and the fascinating neighborhoods are all worth exploring.
Climb to See Christ the Redeemer
Rio’s best-known landmark, O Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) sits atop Corcovado in the Tijuca National Park overlooking the city. This Art Deco statue was completed in 1931 and is now one of the seven wonders of the new world. It stands almost 100 feet tall and its outstretched arms span 92 feet. Get there early for the best views (without many other tourists to compete with), or arrive at dusk for a view of the sea and city at sunset.
There are three options to get to the statue. The first is by taking a taxi to the Paineiras car park that is halfway up the Corcovado mountain, where the Christ the Redeemer statue is, and then take the van up to the entrance. The second way to get there is to go on the scenic train ride from the base of Corcovado to the car park and then take the van to the top. And, thirdly, you can hike up. Behind the mansion at the botanical garden is a path that takes you through the rainforest to the top of the mountain. This will take time but will give you amazing views of the foliage and waterfalls. You may even see some monkeys.
One must-do in Rio de Janeiro is to go to Sugarloaf Mountain (called Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese), a solitary peak at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that reaches out into the Atlantic Ocean. To get there, you take a cable car. The ride is divided into two stages: first, visitors ride more than 200 meters from Praia Vermelha to the first hill, Morro da Urca, and then visitors continue to the top of Sugarloaf on the second car. Consider arriving at sunset for an unforgettable view.
The best known botanical garden in the country, Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Botanico spans about 350 acres and includes thousands of plant species. Located right in the center of the city near the former Olympic venue Maracanã Stadium, the garden is easy to access and makes a perfect activity for a relaxing morning or afternoon.
The garden was founded in 1808 and today the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden Research Institute is a federal agency linked to Brazil’s Ministry of Environment and is one of the world’s leading research centers in the areas of botany and biodiversity conservation.
The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden incorporates rare works of art into the landscape and there is a Historical Trail where you can read about the history of the area and botany.
Perhaps nothing defines a Rio de Janeiro vacation better than a day at the beach. Ipanema is located in the Ipanema neighborhood, one of the city’s most affluent areas. The beach stretches for 2 kilometers between Jardim de Alah and Arpoador, known for a big stone separating it from the Copacabana Beach.
The beach made famous by the Bossa Nova tune “Girl from Ipanema” is the place where you can observe Brazilian beach life. Some Cariocas (local citizens) enjoy sunbathing with cold Brazilian beer and beach snacks, while others play soccer and futvolei (foot volleyball), a locally-invented sport in which participants play beach volleyball with their feet.
See the Contemporary Art Museum in Niteroi
This impressive structure was designed by Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer and sits in the area of Niteroi across from Rio de Janeiro. The museum houses a collection of national and international contemporary art, but the views and unusual architecture are the main attraction here.
This contemporary museum challenges visitors to consider both the impact of modern life on the environment and the choices that lie ahead for humanity’s future. The Museum of Tomorrow was designed by prominent Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and is located in the revitalized port area of Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil’s most famous stadium, Maracanã, hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games. Visitors have flocked to see this huge stadium because of its former position as the largest stadium in the world and its history as the site of the first World Cup in Brazil. Currently, the stadium is closed as it fell into disrepair. In 2017, the French group Lagardère signed an agreement to administer the Maracanã and invest millions of dollars to refurbish it, once again.
Visitors can get an aerial view of the stadium from Corcovado while visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue.
This section of the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) offers hikes, panoramic views of the city from the Vista Chinesa (Chinese View), and waterfalls. Check with your hotel or a local tour agency for options for visiting, including guided Jeep tours.
Check Out the Santa Teresa Neighborhood
This funky hilltop neighborhood provides a nice contrast to the glitzy scene in some of Rio’s neighborhoods such as Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon. The Bohemian flavor here can be enjoyed while strolling the cobblestone streets, trying traditional Brazilian dishes at the many small restaurants, and taking a ride up the hills in a bonde (old fashioned cable car).
The Santa Teresa neighborhood is home to Museu da Chácara do Céu, exhibiting European and Brazilian art, and the interesting Ruins Park, with an art gallery built around the ruins of a mansion.
If you’re traveling to Rio de Janeiro anytime soon, chances are you’re planning to party. Whether you’ve got an image in your head of caipirinhas on the beach, of samba dancers at the annual Carnival, of live music at a famous restaurant in Ipanema or simply pounding beats inside a nightclub, Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s premier party city. A trip Rio de Janeiro also presents an excellent opportunity to discover traditional Brazilian music like bossa nova and samba, whether performed live or played over a stereo while you drink or dance.
Just want to have a cocktail, be it a classic Brazilian caipirinha or something else? Here are some of Rio’s best bars throughout the city:
- Bar Astor: Although it’s located right on Ipanema Beach, this seaside spot is not somewhere you can stroll into with your flip flops and bikini. Serving up craft cocktails and fresh oysters, Bar Astor is the very picture of coastal chic.
- Bar Urca: It’s hard to say what’s most to like about Bar Urca, which like other establishments in Urca, offers stunning views of Guanabara Bay. Here’s one: If you tire of looking out on the water with beer and wine, you can order yourself some delicious fresh-caught seafood.
- Bar do Mineiro: If it’s an authentic evening out you’re seeking, look no farther than this Santa Teresa institution. Although it’s not open particularly late (and it’s as famous for its feijoada stew as it is for cocktails made with cachaça rum), there are few more real spots to say “saude” in Rio.
- Galani: Searching for rooftop bars in Rio de Janeiro? Many a search will end at Galani, which sits atop Caesar Park Hotel in Copacabana, and where it’s a competition between expertly-mixed cocktails and stunning ocean views to see which will captivate you more. Galani is open to the general public as well as to guests at the hotel, though you’ll be much more tempted to return often if you’re staying here.
If dancing the night away is what you’re craving after a long day on the beach (or exploring amazing Rio architecture), these Rio clubs might be more up your alley:
- Clube dos Democraticos: Located in Rio’s underrated downtown, this mid-19th-century space is more than just a traditional nightclub, to be sure—and not just because the music is just as often samba as it is more pounding sorts of house music. If you’re craving a night out and don’t mind a trek from the beach, this spot could be for you.
- Comuna: Like Clubes dos Democraticos, Comuna (which is located in Botafogo) is more than just a nightclub. However, while it certainly lives up the other labels it gives itself (“alternative art space” and “cultural center” among them), don’t be fooled—this is a fine spot to get your dance on.
- Fosfobox: Probably the most notable example of a European-style dance club in Rio, with techno and EDM music as plentiful as the young and energetic people who frequent it, Fosfobox is conveniently located in the heart of Ipanema. The crowd here is decidedly international, and so is the selection of music and the DJs that spin it.
- Carioca de Gema: Housed in an old mansion in Lapa, Carioca de Gema bears some similarities to Clube dos Democraticos, both in physical terms as well as the experience you can have within it. It also serves food, which is great if you need some fuel to power your maybe-questionable dance moves.
If it sounds like there aren’t a huge number of massive nightclubs in Rio, it’s because they’re not. On the other hand, Brazilians aren’t shy to dance anywhere there’s music and booze, so if you feel confident in your moves, simply be prepared to move your body anywhere.
LGBT Nightlife in Rio
In spite of the gay rights rollback Brazil’s current president has promised, Rio de Janeiro remains one of the world’s premier cities for LGBT travelers, as these establishments prove:
- Galeria Café: Located right in the heart of Ipanema, Galeria is one of the premier gathering places for Rio de Janeiro’s LGBT community (although it doesn’t explicitly advertise itself as a Rio de Janeiro gay bar, but rather an “inclusive and welcoming space.”)
- La Cueva: Having been open since 1964, La Cueva Bar & Disco is Rio de Janeiro’s longest continuously operating LGBT establishment. Though its relatively dark interior can at times make it feel like the “cave” its name suggests it is, the music that pulses through here late into the night will make you want to do anything but hibernate.
- TV Bar: Situated in Copacabana not far from the beach, TV Bar is a place to drink, dance, and partake in other gay-friendly delights that is as convenient as it is completely delightful. It takes its name from the fact that massive TVs plaster the bar’s walls, though you can never be sure of the images that will dance across the screens.
- Tô nem Aí: With a name that literally means “I don’t care” in Portuguese, this Ipanema watering hole is ambivalent to being labeled as a gay establishment, even if its clientele is primarily LGBT. Whether you come here for a cocktail, to watch football on TV, or to try and find the sexy guy or gal you saw on Ipanema Beach earlier in the day, this is one of the top gay-friendly bars in Rio, even if it feigns not be classified as such.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the gayest cities in the world, which means that you’re likely to feel welcome (and not to be alone) as an LGBT person, couple or group, even if you’re not at an explicitly gay establishment.
Live Music in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro’s live music scene is not as robust at what you find in, say, São Paulo, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find live rock and pop music. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear musicians playing on Ipanema or Copacabana Beaches, although these are more often than not buskers or “unofficial” artists, as opposed to anyone on a stage. (At least outside of Rock in Rio, a music festival that comes to Rio de Janeiro every September and October.)
A big exception to this, of course, is traditional Brazilian musician like bossa nova and samba. Popular Samba venues in Rio de Janeiro include Bip-Bip in Copacabana and Casa Rosa in Laranjeiras, while Bossa Nova blares from Vinícius Show Bar in Ipanema most every night of the week. Additionally, many mainstream pop and rock artists come through Rio during their South American tours, which means your trip could conceivably coincide with one.
Rio’s Best Late-Night Eats
Brazilians eat dinner relatively late by North Americans standards as is, but here are some guaranteed spots to whet your appetite at (almost) any time of night:
- Garota de Ipanema: Although this Ipanema institution (where the song “The Girl from Ipanema” was written) is “only” open until 2 am, it’s still the perfect place to satisfy your (relatively) late-night craving. In particular, the tender grilled beef here tends to hit the spot after a day on the beach.
- Eclipse: Perhaps Rio’s most-famous 24-hour eatery, Eclipse, is most famous for its wide variety of stone-fired pizzas, which are particularly tasty long after the sun has set. Coming closer to dawn than dusk? Enjoy a selection of perfectly greasy breakfast options.
- Cervantes: Like Eclipse, Cervantes is located in Copacabana, not far from the beach, and specializes in the sort of comfort food that tends to define late-night cravings. However, unlike the pizza and eggs most people seek at Eclipse, Cervantes specializes in sumptuous grilled sandwiches, filled with meat, cheese, and a slice of pineapple that’s become its signature.
- Boteco Cabidinho: The Portuguese word boteco can mean many things, but generally refers to a casual street-side eatery that also serves booze. To be sure, if for some reason you happen to tire of the shrimp empanadas for which this Botafogo bar and restaurant is famous, the draft beer never stops flowing.
Speaking of botecos, there are many such places without websites or internet buzz that are open all hours of the night and worse dropping a few reai at. Keep your eyes open—and don’t be shy to practice your Portuguese, especially if you’re a bit tipsy.
Rio de Janeiro Carnival
One Rio de Janeiro nightlife aspect that sits in a category all its own is the city’s annual Carnival celebration, which takes place every March (and sometimes begins in late February). Drawing literally tends of thousands of visitors from all over the world, and centered around parades and street celebrations that incorporate traditional Brazilian dance and music (not to mention debauchery of a more universal sort), Carnival is the epitome of nightlife in Rio de Janeiro, even if it is limited to a few days a year.
If you’re planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro and want to make sure you can be there for Carnival, begin planning as early as possible (at minimum, September of the previous year). Also, know that regardless of how early you book, you’ll pay a hefty premium to stay in the city center during Carnival. You’ll be lucky to find accommodation at all if you wait too long to iron out the details!
Tips for Going Out in Rio de Janeiro
No matter how you choose to say “saúde” the next time you visit Rio de Janeiro, there are some general tips you should keep in mind:
- Pace yourself. It’s not uncommon for the party in Rio de Janeiro to start around lunchtime on Copacabana or Ipanema and stretch until after sunrise the next morning. There’s nothing wrong with letting loose, but drink responsible (and hydrate mindfully) to avoid getting sick.
- Be careful who you dance with (or accept a ride from), especially if you’ve had a lot to drink. Rio de Janeiro is not the safest the city in the world—and the more drunk you are, the more likely harm is to befall you.
- Limit the amount of cash you carry on your person. Brazil has reasonable acceptance rates for credit cards and other cashless payments, which means you needn’t burden yourself (and, potentially, place yourself at risk) by carrying tons of cash with you.
- Explore different facets of Rio de Janeiro nightlife. What’s the point of visiting a colorful, eclectic city like Rio and limiting yourself in any respect? Whether you visit several different types of establishments in a single night or try to see a different side of Rio’s party scene each day, variety is the spice of (night)life.
- It’s not uncommon for locals (and some tourists) to party on the beach or street. Assuming you’re in a relatively safe part of the city, you needn’t be inside a bar or club to drink or dance. Grab a beer (and, ideally, a local you know) and join up with people who are having a good time on the street, sand or sidewalk.
Want to know more about things to do in Rio de Janeiro, apart from dancing (or drinking) the night away? Check out TripSavvy’s guide to Rio de Janeiro attractions.