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33 Amazing Things to do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

33 Amazing Things to do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro is one of the most famous cities in the world, and to me, visiting was a dream come true! For starters, the city is so beautiful. The surrounding mountains, white-sand beaches, and greenery make it picture-perfect.

But it wasn’t just the views and beauty that made me fall in love, a city like Rio is so much more than that. The sheer number of amazing things to do in Rio de Janeiro makes visiting a highlight of Brazil.

However, for first-time visitors, it can be hard to know exactly where to spend your time. With so many activities, you’ll need help narrowing it down. That’s why I wrote this blog!

I’ve been to Rio a few different times, and have explored the city a lot! But, let’s be honest, I’m still not an expert. This is why I reached out to a few other bloggers to help me write this blog. Other travel bloggers from around the world have written about their absolute favorite activity in Rio to contribute to this blog.

With these contributions combined with a little bit of my own expertise, what I ended up with was this ultimate Rio de Janeiro bucket list – the perfect place to find the inspiration and info for your upcoming trip to one of the greatest cities on earth!

So without further ado, here are the 33 best things to do in Rio de Janeiro!

Things to do in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

1. Take the gondola up Sugarloaf Mountain

A sunset view from Sugar Loaf Mountain with the gondola in view
Not a bad view of Rio de Janeiro if you ask me!

I’ve had the chance to take many gondola rides around the world. Some were great, and others not so much. But if you asked me which gondola ride was my favorite, I would have to say the ride up Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro is definitely one of the best!

Sugarloaf Mountain is the large peak you’ll see in just about every photo of Rio de Janeiro, and taking the gondola to the top is one of the best attractions in Rio de Janeiro. Of course, the gondola ride isn’t cheap at $21 USD per person, but the views along the way are spectacular and worth the price if you ask me!

Once at the top, you can wander around and enjoy the views and even a meal or drink. I will warn you though, the restaurants at the top are very expensive, so if you’re on a budget, eat before you go.

I went up Sugar Loaf Mountain at sunset and loved it. If the photo above doesn’t tell you just how beautiful the view is, I don’t know what will!

You can book the cable car ticket in advance at no extra cost. However, if you want a “skip the line” ticket, you’ll pay double the price.

If you want a more in-depth experience, you can also join a guided tour for $25 USD. On it, you will also get to see the well-loved Metropolitan Cathedral and Copacabana Beach and cruise around downtown past some of the city’s most spectacular landmarks like The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian.

2. Visit the Selarón Steps

The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Written by: Bruna Venturinelli from I Heart Brazil

No trip to Rio de Janeiro is complete without stopping by the famous mosaic stairs called the Selarón Steps for a photo or two.

Jorge Selarón, a Chilean-born Brazilian artist, created these world-famous steps to add colors to the city’s gray and dull area.

In the beginning, the tiles were green, yellow, and blue because of Brazil’s flag. But because he was a Chilean in his heart, Jorge made sure to add lots of red tiles in tribute to his country’s flag too.

The project became so popular that tourists from all over the world would bring him tiles from their home countries, accounting for tiles from over 60 countries!

The Selarón Steps are in the popular Lapa Neighborhood, one of the best places to stay in Rio de Janeiro and hands-down the best area to listen to samba over a cold beer or two.

The steps are only a 3-minute walk from the Lapas Arch, and because it is so easy to find, it’s often packed with tourists (don’t expect to snap a perfect shot of yourself without the crowds, unless you wake up really early in the morning!)

Still, the colorful Selarón Steps are incredible and should be part of your Rio de Janeiro itinerary!

If you’re short on time, you can combine a visit to the Christ the Redeemer and Selarón Steps on this tour.

It is really well priced at just $44 USD per person and another bonus is that you’ll get to drive through Santa Theresa which is a picturesque neighborhood on the hillside that is known for its vibrant yellow tram and cobblestone streets.

3. Go sailing on a Yacht

The view from a sailboat of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Photo credit: Sail in Rio
View from below deck with Sail in Rio
Photo credit: Sail in Rio

A sailboat tour is a relaxing way to go sightseeing or a nice recovery from a lot of days spent walking around Rio.

On this 3-Hour Sailing Experience, you’ll get to enjoy Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf with a unique new viewpoint from out in Guanabara Bay and the open seas. Plus, gaze out at Rio’s fabulous skyline as you sip on your welcome drink and munch on snacks!

The yacht you will board is 12 meters (40 feet) long and only will board up to 10 passengers at a time so this experience will not feel commercialized.

The cost per adult is $50 USD and pick up and drop off to and from the dock is not included – you will meet at PIER A2 (blue cabin left of waterfront) which can be found by coming down from the taxi drop off area at Marina da Glória.

4. Explore Tijuca National Park

The view from Tijuca National Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This is one of my favorite views of the city!

Written by: Stephanie from History Fan Girl

Tijuca National Park in Rio de Janeiro is a huge tropical rainforest right in the heart of the city. In fact, it’s so big that it is actually the largest urban forest in the world! The park contains amazing views of the city below, about thirty different waterfalls, and acres of beautiful rainforest.

It’s hard to believe while you’re there, but this forest is actually manmade! It was a major (successful) nineteenth-century conservation project to reclaim a portion of the land in the city that had been cleared.

You can visit Tijuca National Park on a guided tour or on your own. There’s no entry fee if you go on your own but you would need to take the bus from the town center or rent a car and drive yourself but I highly recommend going on a guided tour. While it will cost a bit more, you’ll get to learn all about what makes Tijuca special while you’re there.

This Tijuca Forest Tour is great for hitting all the best spots because your guide will drive you all around the national park to stop at the best viewpoints and there is a small portion of the tour where you will do a little bit of moderate hiking to some of the waterfalls in the park. It costs $70 USD and lasts around 4 hours.

You can even go on jeep tours like this one where you’re driving with the tops down and enjoying the open air. This increases the chance that you’ll see wildlife on your trip, like the monkeys and sloths that live in the forest. If you book this tour from Monday to Friday you will also make a stop at the Vista Chinesa which is a traditional Chinese pagoda on the mountainside that offers panoramic views!

It is priced at $51 USD per person and also lasts 4 hours.

5. Overnight or day trip to Ilha Grande

Lopes Mendes Beach on Ilha Grande, Brazil
Lopes Mendes Beach on Ilha Grande, Brazil

Ilha Grande is one of the most beautiful islands in Brazil. It’s a well-known tourist destination and a place I loved so much!

Ilha Grande is truly an island paradise surrounded by pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. From Rio, it takes around 3 hours to reach the island first via bus and then ferry. Once on the Island you can join lots of different tours, enjoy short or long hikes, and also party if you’re up for it.

We stayed six nights on Ilha Grande and loved it! The best tour we did was this boat tour of the north side of the island for just $45 USD. On the tour, we visited so many stunning beaches all while enjoying a few drinks on our boat (additional cost). The tour was just what we needed!

Of course, from Rio, you can either book this transfer and spend a few nights, or join a day tour. If you’re short on time I highly recommend this day tour that also visits Angra dos Reis. Throughout the island exploration journey, there will be plenty of swimming/snorkeling stops that will work up your appetite for the lunch buffet on board. Although a long day, missing out on seeing Ilha Grande would be such a shame!

For more info read my complete guide to visiting Ilha Grande!

6. Go hang gliding

Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Those views though!

Written by: Dan Bagby from Honeymoon Always

One of the most thrilling and awe-inspiring things to do in Rio de Janeiro is going hang gliding. Hang gliding is an amazing experience anywhere, but Rio provides a unique experience with amazing views of mountains and beaches. 

Hang gliding happens at Pedra Bonita, a mountain located a 20-minute drive from Ipanema. You do need to schedule your flight ahead of time. However, regardless of who you book with, all of the pilots are certified by the Brazilian Hang Gliding Association and everyone follows the same safety checks and regulations, for example, a pilot can only do 4 flights a day.

Start by meeting your pilot at Pepino Beach who will take you up to the mountain for your flight. They give you all the instructions you need before running off the runway with you and into flight. The experience is like no other I can explain. Running off the mountain was terrifying for me, but was followed by an amazing flight will unreal views of the city.

After several minutes in the air, you touch the ground on the beach where you started!

Flight prices vary based on the season and exchange rates. But for a general reference, expect to pay between $120-150 USD for a flight. I believe hang gliding should be part of every Rio de Janeiro itinerary.

7. Wander Jardim Botanico (the botanical gardens)

Jardim Botanico in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Jardim Botanico in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Written by: Noel Morata from Travel Photo Discovery

One of the most scenic and lush places to discover in Rio is the botanical gardens which is an expansive area with so many fascinating gardens to explore. They are listed as a UNESCO biosphere reserve for a reason!

This historic part of Rio called the Jardim Botanico is located in the southwestern part of the city. It shows the diversity of local and tropical flora from the region and international plantings collected from other botanical regions of the world. 

In fact, there are over 6,500 species of plants and other rare flora that you can find in this special and large botanical space! The first thing you’ll see is an impressive line of giant royal palms all generated from just one mother plant. 

You can take a guided tour or do your own DIY tour to the many sections including the Amazon garden, sensory garden, Japanese garden, an orchid house, a desert garden, and also a series of small exhibits and museum spaces to enjoy. 

There are even lovely restaurants on-site to enjoy a wonderful meal of local specialties from the region. Check out the fantastic La Bicyclette on site which serves French desserts and pastries along with fantastic drinks from its French owners.

The botanical gardens in Rio are definitely the right place to enjoy to get away from the urban jungle. And to me, it was a highlight of my trip to Rio de Janeiro!

You can book this half-day guided tour that visits both the botanic gardens and Tijuca National Park in Rio! It’s a great tour for nature lovers or those who want to learn about the tropical flora and fauna of the region.

Plus, you’ll get to admire Taunay Waterfall and see Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf off in the distance – it’s always nice to get a new perspective! All tickets, transport, taxes, and fees are included in the price of your ticket which is $44 USD.

8. Hike Pedra da Gávea

Pedra da Gávea viewpoint overlooking the beach below in Rio de Janeiro
This is a challenging hike but the view makes it worth the effort!

One of the best but lesser-known hikes in Rio de Janeiro is Pedra da Gávea

Known as the highest peak in Rio, this short 5 km (3.1 miles) out-and-back route is a challenging hike that famous for its epic views over the city. The trail is all uphill, and the last section is a little dangerous and aided with the use of ropes. However, the challenge becomes all worth it once you see the magnificent views. 

You can hike the trail on your own. However, I recommend going on an organized tour as I did. This specific tour includes all your transport, safety equipment, and health insurance for $77 USD. I loved how we also had the change to take a dip in a waterfall if we wanted – it really made the difficulties of the hike not seem so bad after all!

The trail begins a short bus ride out of Ipanema near the Rio Beach Club, and the walk up takes around 2 hours. If you take the tour option the whole experience will take quite a bit longer, estimate 8 hours.

Just make sure you are physically fit before attempting this trek!

9. Helicopter ride over Rio

View from a helicopter of the Christ the Redeemer staute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The scenic flights are out of this world!

Dare to experience one of the most exhilarating ways to see Rio? Booking a helicopter tour is one of the best things to do in Rio for thrill-seekers.

This specific 30-minute helicopter flight is one of the top options in Rio! You’ll be in safe hands with Rio2Fly which is the company that provides this tour.

They are a newer specialized company that carefully follows all the maintenance procedures suggested by aircraft manufacturers and by the ANAC (National Civil Aviation Agency).

You’ll be able to see aerial views of Rio’s top landmarks on your flight path including but not limited to Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, Maracanã, the Sugar Loaf Mountain, and Christ the Redeemer. It’s easy to say that those 30 minutes will be jam-packed with impressive sights.

In many places around the world, helicopter tours can be quite expensive but this tour is only $211 USD which from my experience is a very good price so definitely take advantage and book this tour while in Brazil!

10. Hike to Vista Chinesa

The view from Vista Chinesa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The view from Vista Chinesa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Written by: Miguel from Travelsauro

If you’re looking for an alternative to the famous (and packed) Christ the Redeemer viewpoint, I recommend that you visit Vista Chinesa. From Vista Chinesa, you’ll be able to enjoy a fantastic view of the southern area of Rio de Janeiro but without the crowds. Check the weather so you can plan to go on a clear day, otherwise, there is not much to see.

From this viewpoint, you can spot the Christ on the left, Botafogo and the Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon in the center, and the boardwalk on the right.

Located in Tijuca National Park, this viewpoint is easily accessible from Santa Marinha street, in Parque da Cidade. Although some tourists decide to visit the place by taxi or Uber, I recommend that you hike up to the viewpoint, as this is one of the easiest and more beautiful hikes you can find in Rio de Janeiro. The trail is well marked, it can be completed in less than 40 minutes, and it’s surrounded by lush tropical forest all the way up.

Another advantage is that you don’t have to pay an entry fee to access the area, and you can stay as long as you want! On the way back, you can take the opportunity to visit neighboring “safe” favelas, making it a perfect day activity in Rio de Janeiro.

Alternatively, if you prefer having a guide or want to combine your visit with other viewpoints I recommend this jeep tour of Tijuca Tropical Forest that stops at the Vista Cinesa pagoda and also explores a broader range of the national park. There is a good possibility of seeing native wildlife including monkeys too!

Keep in mind that on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays this tour will not visit Vista Cinesa viewpoint.

11. Get the famous photo at Pedra do Telégrafo

Pedra do Telégrafo rock
People hang from the rock and it appears they are hanging over a 30 m (100 ft) drop!

Made famous by Instagram, Pedra do Telégrafo is one of the most well-known hikes in Brazil. Although many won’t know the name, the photo above should be recognizable. 

The classic Instagram shot shows people hanging from what looks like a 300-meter (1,000 feet) drop over the dramatic coastline near Rio. Although the photo looks dangerous, there is actually a ledge below you, and it’s just the camera angle that makes it appear dangerous. 

From Rio, you’ll need to get a taxi or join a tour that includes transport to the beginning of the trail. That’s because the trail begins on Guaratiba Beach, just over an hour’s drive from Rio. 

The hike up isn’t overly challenging, but you will have to climb over 350 meters (1,150 feet) to the top. This takes just over an hour for most people. If you ask me, though – it’s totally worth it! 

Unfortunately, any viewpoint made famous by Instagram does attract a fair amount of people. To avoid the crowds at Pedra do Telégrafo, it is best to arrive by 7 am. For that reason, I recommend this organized tour that leaves Rio at 6 am. They even have a 3 am pick-up option to consider that will get you there for sunrise!

On top of getting your photo-op moment at Pedra do Telégrafo, this tour spends a chunk of the time at a few rugged beaches afterward so you will have the chance to relax too! In total, this is a full-day 8-hour tour that costs $89 USD.

12. Arraial do Cabo

The beach at Arraial do Cabo, Brazil
This place is paradise!

Arraial do Cabo is a small beach town that Brazilians consider to be the Caribbean of Brazil. Your jaw might just drop when you get a look at the almost blinding white sand and bright turquoise waters. The water here truly is unbelievably clear!

There are lots of different ways to enjoy the natural beauty of Arraial do Cabo. You can go on a boat tour, enjoy Cabo Frio Beach, go scuba diving (it’s one of Brazil’s top 5 dive spots), drive a sand buggy, and more!

In order to do all of these activities in your own time you would need to drive yourself, take the public bus, or book this private transfer for a more comfortable ride.

There’s also this decent-priced shuttle bus that picks up from any hotel in Rio and drops off at any hotel/location in Arraial do Cabo.

Alternatively, to save more money than booking everything separately you can go on this Arraial do Cabo with Boat Tour and Lunch from Rio De Janeiro. You won’t spend tons of time doing each activity but you will be able to do a bit of everything in one day (around 12 hours) for a flat rate of $72 USD!

The tour includes 40 minutes of swimming at both Ilha do Farol and Prainhas do Pontal, photos at Blue Grotto, Fenda de Nossa Senhora, Pedra Perfil do Gorila, and a final 20-minute stop at Forno Beach before enjoying lunch at a local buffet.

If you’re interested in this tour make sure to book your spot in advance before spots fill up!

13. Enjoy Samba at Pedra do Sal

A crowd of people at Pedra do Sal in Rio, Brazil
The party is just getting started at Pedra do Sal in Rio, Brazil

Written by: Phoebe from Your Green Grass Project

Move over Lapa! If you want to experience the real street party scene in Rio de Janeiro then you need to head to Pedra do Sal (Salt Rock). Known as the birthplace of samba, by day Pedro do Sal is a historic and religious site in the traditional neighborhood of Saude, but by night, it’s a whole different story!

Pedro do Sal promises a wild night out where you can enjoy the traditional samba show from your perch on some very slippery steps carved into the huge namesake rock. Once the samba is over, you can explore the winding streets filled with locals before ending up in the main square to continue the samba party. It’s definitely a must for any traveler wanting to experience a more authentic side of Rio.

Samba night is on every Monday at Pedra do Sal located in Saude neighborhood. And the best part is that it’s free! All you need to pay for are the cheap caipirinhas (the national cocktail) from the hundreds of street sellers providing drinks and Brazilian street food.

Your best bet to get there is via Uber but if you’re feeling adventurous then you can head there on the Metro too. Get off at the Cinelandia station exiting via Exit C – Pedro Lessa street and then take the tram heading in the direction of Praia Formosa before getting off at Parada dos Museus. Then, simply follow the sounds of the samba!

If you aren’t a big partier and don’t see yourself staying out late after the samba ends then this Pedra do Sal History and Samba Dancing Tour is a nice alternative! Before the samba begins your guide will show you around and teach you some interesting history about the Saude neighborhood and the origin of the samba. During the party, you enjoy caipirinhas and will be taught some dance moves!

This weekly event is definitely one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro and the perfect experience for anyone looking for a fun party and local experience!

Related Read: We have a crazy story to tell, on our trip we were robbed in Brazil at gunpoint.

14. Hike to the Two Brothers Lookout

Sunrise at the top of the Two Brothers Hike in Rioa
The best place to watch the sunrise in Rio!

One of the most iconic viewpoints of Rio de Janeiro can be found on the Two Brothers Peak (also known as Morro Dois Irmaos.) Although other lookouts around the city give you great panoramic views, the Two Brothers Peak offers breathtaking views of Rio’s most iconic beach, Copacabana.

To reach the peak you will need to do a little bit of uphill hiking and the trail actually starts in Vidigal Favela. Despite being a favela, Vidigal is a safe place to visit. However, for those still worried you can do tours with a guide. I did my tour at sunset. This option only applies to the tour without transport (read more below) but both tours have mid-afternoon departures.

The out-and-back trail is about 3 kilometers (1.8 mi) long and you will gain 327 m (1,073 ft) of elevation.

With that said, you can also do tours during the day like this one without transport for $10 USD, or this tour which includes hotel pickup for $50 USD. Despite missing sunrise, you’ll still get to enjoy that spectacular view. Both tours don’t end there though, and after admiring the view you’ll walk down through the favela to learn all about Vidigal’s life and history.

Overall, it’s a great learning experience and scenic view all in one – and one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro!

15. Visit the Christ the Redeemer

Bailey takes a photo with Christ the Redeemer in Brazil
The classic photo with Christ the Redeemer in Brazil

Christ the Redeemer is one of the 7 Wonders of the World! This massive statue of Jesus Christ is a must-see attraction in Rio de Janeiro as one of Brazil’s most famous landmarks.

There are three ways to visit Christ the Redeemer. The first is by taking the bus or train to the top. This is a very convenient and easy option as you get dropped right at the entrance gates. You’ll just need to get yourself to the lower starting point.

The second is to join this guided tour that visits the Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Maracana, and Selaron. The tour includes lunch and your entrance fees for Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer for $131 USD. It’s excellent value and is the most booked tour in Rio de Janeiro.

The third, and the way I visited Christ the Redeemer, is by hiking up through the forest of Corcovado Mountain. This hiking trail starts in Parque Lage and takes around 2 hours to complete. The trail is mostly uphill, but walking through the forest is beautiful. Along the way, we even saw monkeys swinging from the trees.

Entrance to the Christ the Redeemer is $21-31 BRL ($4-8 USD) depending on the season, and you can only pay with cash at the top. Once you visit the statue, you’ll be able to get that iconic photo, that although is cringe-worthy, makes for a great memory of Rio!

Please Note: There have been reports of people getting robbed on the trail to Christ the Redeemer. Please check recent reviews on TripAdvisor before going. If you are concerned, you can join this guided hiking tour.

16. Tour through Rocinha Favella

13. Tour through Rocinha Favela  from above
Rocinha favela from above! Its huge!

Rocinha is the largest favela in Latin America and the second-largest in the world. Although Rocinha used to be a very dangerous place, these days the favela has become much safer and now visitors can learn about the culture and history of these communities.

This guided tour is run by a Rocinha resident and includes pick-up from your hotel for $32 USD. On the tour, you’ll be guided around the favela to learn about the daily life of the residents and the hardships and difficulties they have faced. Along the way, you’ll admire unique street art and part of the tour price goes toward helping the residents of Rocinha.

The purpose of the tour is education and to give the residents here a voice. Although this tour might not be for everyone, those who want to learn about the darker side of Brazil, as well as the beautiful side, will enjoy it.

17. Celebrate Carnival

Taking a selfie in the middle of a crowd during Carnival in Rio
This block party started at 7 am!!!

There is no bigger party in the world than Brazil’s Carnival and the best place to celebrate Carnival is, of course, in Rio de Janeiro! A couple of years ago, I hit the streets of Rio de Janeiro for a week of craziness. To say the least, I was blown away by the sheer number of people who come to celebrate this amazing event!

Carnival in Brazil runs for 6 days, usually on a Tuesday and ending on a Sunday. The dates change every year but Carnival starts at the end of February and runs to early March.

When you visit Rio for Carnival there are a few ways to enjoy the festivities. The first is to hit the streets and party at the block (or “bloco parties”.) These are essentially street parades that you can join in on. At these events be sure to dress up as crazy as you can!

The second is at the Sambadrome. Now, this isn’t exactly a crazy party but it’s still fun, and seeing the professional samba dancers, the amazing costumes, and the massive floats is a bucket list experience. I recommend spending one night at the Sambadrome but the rest on the streets at one of the hundreds of bloco parties.

You can also join a ton of Carnival tours that visit various parts of the celebration. These are perfect for those who are a little worried about wandering the streets of Rio!

If you want to see the show at the Sambadrome you would want to purchase your tickets in advance to ensure they don’t sell out. Basic grandstand seats start at $30 USD but you can also upgrade to front box tickets for a better view. There is also a package that includes round-trip transportation that begins at $90 USD.

One of the most popular tours that can be done at any time of the year is the Carnival Backstage Tour which will really give you a feel for what this carnival is all about! You will learn how the floats and dramatic costumes are made, and you can even try some of the costumes on and take photos if you want!

You are sure to be informed on some of the cultural histories of this event before being made cocktails and heading to a samba dance class. So even if you miss being there for the actual celebration this is your next best option!

Regardless of how hard you plan to party, Carnival will be an eye-opening experience and is sure to blow you away!

18. Relax on Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach, Rio on a hot sunny day
Copacabana Beach, Rio on a hot sunny day

You simply cannot come to Rio de Janeiro without visiting Copacabana Beach. Copacabana is Rio’s most iconic beach and such a fun place to hang out. The beach is massive, so there’s plenty of space to set up for a day in the sun!

With that said though, Copacabana isn’t really a relaxing beach, instead be sure to get some cocktails or beers from local sellers and spend the day drinking under the sun with the locals. Brazilians love to party and you’ll see that at Copacabana!

Copacabana Beach is also one of the best areas to stay in Rio de Janeiro, and when I stayed there I loved it! Being within walking distance to Rio’s best beach was not only convenient but also a highlight of my trip in Brazil!

Related Read: Check out the best beaches in Salvador, Brazil!

19. Ride the historic Santa Teresa Tram

The historic tram in Santa Teresa in Rio!
This is a great way to tour the Santa Teresa district too!

Written by: Daniel James from Layer Culture

For those into cultural sites and attractions, any visit to Rio de Janeiro should definitely include a trip to Santa Teresa for a ride on the tram.

This historic tramline has been a major part of daily life for residents who want to connect themselves to the bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood which is located within the hills around 10 minutes from the inner-city Rio.

To ride the tram I recommend you walk up to Santa Teresa from the Lapa steps area and buy your ticket once in Santa Teresa. Here, you’ll find a small station where local officials will sell you a ticket for around $4 USD.

I also recommend that you have a credit or debit card at hand so you can pay the fare without any confusion.

This historic tram offers a bumpy but enthralling ride that goes over the top of the Lapa Arches (which is another famous landmark in Rio.) All in all, this is a must-do activity in Rio de Janeiro if you’re looking to enjoy a slice of history and to learn more about the story of this colorful neighborhood.

You can also join this Santa Teresa Tour for $50 USD which includes the ride on the tram but additionally, your guide will show you all around the historic neighborhood. It actually starts out from Rio and passes by a few notable landmarks before you head to the tram station.

Once in Santa Teresa, you’ll follow your guide all around the different streets and alleys. Next, head over to the Centro Cultural Municipal Parque das Ruinas – a park on the ruins of a mansion. It can make for some cool pictures and there’s a great city view here!

20. Spend the day at Ipanema Beach

The boardwalk at Ipanema Beach

Written by: Ivan from Mind the Travel

Have you really experienced South America, and particularly Brazil, if you haven’t visited one of its fantastic beaches? Located in the southern part of Rio, Ipanema is a 2-kilometer-long (1.24 miles) white sand beach – which is almost as famous as the adjacent Copacabana.

Ipanema is safe, has beautiful water for swimming, and is less overcrowded than Copacabana. This is the perfect spot to sunbathe, take a stroll, or just soak up the beach-life vibes. The beach was made world-famous by the song “The Girl from Ipanema” and today it offers a well-organized grid of shops, restaurants, cafes, different theaters, clubs, and art galleries nearby.

Once you’ve made your way to Ipanema Beach, rent a chair or just lay down your towel, bury your toes in the soft white sand, and relax with coconut water or a caipirinha (a drink made with cachaça, Brazilian sugar cane rum, sugar, and lemon). While sunbathing and tanning, beach hawkers will try to sell you everything from swimsuits, beach sarongs, and jewelry to chips, fruit, and grilled cheese.

If you’re feeling active, you can join the many surfers, joggers, or beach volley players.

21. Watch a Brazilian Soccer Match

A soccer match at Maracanã Stadium in Rio
Maracanã Stadium in Rio

Written by: Paula Martinelli from Paula Pins the Planet

As a Brazilian living in the US, my opinion is that visiting Rio de Janeiro without watching a game in Maracana Stadium is like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower – it’s one of those must-do things to do in Rio de Janeiro!

Maracanã Stadium was founded in 1950 and it’s not only the most important stadium in Rio, but the most important in all of Brazil (and there are a lot of soccer stadiums in Brazil!) The two major soccer teams in Rio are Flamengo and Fluminense (the locals call them Fla and Flu), and watching a game between these teams is considered a dream come true for any soccer fan. 

I had the opportunity to watch a Fla vs. Flu game during my last visit to Rio and I have to say, it is absolutely remarkable. The stadium trembles, people from both sides sing songs of support to the teams, and the atmosphere is just indescribable. 

I really recommend visiting Maracanã if you’re traveling to Rio, and if possible, to watch a classic Fla vs Flu soccer game.

You can visit Maracanã any day from 9 am to 4 pm, with average prices of around $5 USD for a 40-minute tour. If you decide to watch a game, you can book this organized tour with a passionate local fan that includes tickets and transport and costs $61 USD. Your guide aims to make this feel as much like an authentic experience as possible so they will actually meet before the match for a bit of a pregame at one of the local pubs – how cool?!

22. Get off the beaten path at Red Beach

Red Beach in Rio de Janeiro
Red Beach in Rio de Janeiro

Praia Vermelha (or the Red Beach) lies on the foothills of Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain.) It is a small and quiet beach with an amazing view and relaxing vibes. The beach is named the Red Beach because of its reddish sand and rocks. It is not usually crowded and has fewer vendors than Copacabana and other popular beaches in Rio de Janeiro.

You can go to Praia Vermelha by taking the underground metro to Botafogo Station, which is 2.3 kilometers (1.4 mi) away from the beach. It is a 30-minute walk to the beach and it is safe because of the several military bases in the area. The metro ticket costs $4.30 BRL (which is equivalent to 0.80 USD.)

You can also get there by taking a bus to Urca, which is 350 meters (1,200 ft) away from the beach. The bus ticket costs $3.6 BRL (0.70 USD)

Praia Vermelha has a few beach “Barracas”, which are huts renting beach chairs and umbrellas. These Barracas also sell cold beverages and cocktails, making your beach experience even more relaxing with the famous Caipirinha cocktail.

If you want, you can rent a stand-up paddleboard for $60 BRL ($11 USD). There is also a very nice restaurant at the end of the beach where you can have a decent lunch and enjoy the charming view of the beach and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Hot Tip: Since Praia Vermelha lies next to Pao de Acucar, most travelers visit both the beach and Sugarloaf Mountain on the same day.

23. Take in the street art in Lapa

Street art in Lapa on an old building
More street art in Lapa, Rio

Written by: Julie from Wandering Sunsets

Rio de Janeiro has one of the most vibrant street art scenes in the world. Finding and photographing street art in the city is easily one of the best things to do in Rio!

Street art was officially legalized in Rio in 2009. Since then, many murals and individual pieces have popped up all across the city. The best area to find street art in Rio is by far the neighborhood of Lapa. If you wander around the viaduct and the Selarón Steps, you will come across incredibly colorful murals decorating old buildings. Many of these murals are very detailed and complex.

Aside from Lapa, you can also find interesting street art in the Santa Teresa neighborhood and the streets around the Botanical Gardens. You can, of course, set off on an adventure to find street art on your own in Rio (which is completely free) or take a guided urban art tour if you are someone who gets lost easily or if you want to learn the impact street art has had on Rio.

This particular tour also includes a visit to a local gallery and a microbrewery for around $75 USD!

Related Read: If you love graffiti, checking out amazing graffiti is also one of the best things to do in Sao Paulo, Brazil!

24. Go scuba diving

Scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro
There’s plenty to see on a clear day!

Not many visitors realize that Rio de Janeiro is a great place to go scuba diving. Of course, the nearby dive sites have suffered from Rio’s huge tourism boom, but many scuba-diving tours take you to beautiful places such as Arraial do Cabo or Cagarra Island.

The best part is, even those who have not dived before can enjoy these tours. In fact, I was shocked to find out that first-timers can tag along with a divemaster for a 30-minute dive. So although you won’t dive very deep, staying primarily close to the surface, you’ll get to experience this amazing activity I and many others love!

This specific tour costs $169 USD and includes two dives for accredited divers or one dive for first-timers. The tour travels to Arraial do Cabo, which is well-known as one of Brazil’s best dive sites.

25. Climb Arpoador Rock

The views from Arpoador rock in Rio
The views from Arpoador rock in Rio

Written by: Bruna Venturinelli from I Heart Brazil

Whether you’re traveling with your significant other, solo, or with friends, watching the sunset at Arpoador Rock is a must!

Arpoador, which literally means “harpoon thrower” in Portuguese, is a rock formation by the sea in Rio.

This rock borders the eastern end of Ipanema, one of the best beaches in Rio de Janeiro to sunbathe, people watch, and soak up the summer vibes! Just a little before sunset, locals and tourists head over to the Arpoador, find a place to sit, and take in the view of Rio.

The landscape will surely leave you speechless!

From here, you can see Ipanema Beach sprawling towards the Two Brothers Hills, while everything in between is being painted with orange hues as the sun sets on the horizon – it’s an unforgettable moment!

To top it off, this scenic spot is entirely free. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and walk carefully as the rock is full of uneven paths.

26. Visit the largest mural in the world by Eduardo Kobra

The mural by Eduardo Kobra
This thing is huge!

Written by: Chrisoula Manika from Travel Passionate

Eduardo Kobra’s mural on Olympic Boulevard in Rio de Janeiro is thought to be the largest street art mural in the world, spanning 32,300 square feet! This Guinness World Record-breaking mural runs for 187 meters (560 feet) along the waterfront in Rio, paying homage to the colorful 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The work celebrates the diverse nature of the world, with the mural depictions portraying people from each corner of the globe (America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Oceania) as represented in the five rings of the Olympic symbol. The idea behind the mural was to represent the common wisdom and ancestry of humankind, which is clear when you read that the mural was originally entitled “Todos Somos Um” (We Are One).

The mural is a real feast for the eyes, with splashes of color and intricate faces. Renowned street artist Kobra is thought to have used around 100 gallons of white paint, 400 gallons of colored paint, and 2,800 cans of spray paint to complete the project; taking this run-down area of the city and making it into a tourist destination!

If you’re into street art then Olympic Boulevard is the place to be as not only is it home to Kobra’s mammoth work, but it also features pieces by other graffiti artists including André Camila Cadiz, JR, and Rita Wainer.

You can obviously find it on your own but if you want an informed guide to easily show you to Eduardo Kobra’s mural in conjunction with other spots then consider this Rio Street Art Tour. It costs $35 USD, lasts around 3 hours, and includes transportation if you request it.

27. Go on a pub crawl

Live music at Café Cultural Sacrilégio
Live music at Café Cultural Sacrilégio, a stop on the pub crawl!

It’s no secret that Rio de Janeiro is one of the best places to party in Brazil. However, it can be challenging for first-time visitors to know where to go and if it’s safe to go. For that reason, I love joining organized pub crawls in a new city.

With a local guide, you’ll be taken to some of the best bars in Rio de Janeiro and get to meet a lot of other travelers while you’re at it!

This pub crawl tour costs $38 USD and visits four different bars in the party area of Lapa. Along the way, you’ll get discounted drinks and free shots throughout the night, play fun games, and participate in a treasure hunt to win a prize! Free transport is provided between venues. It’s a great introduction to Rio’s crazy nightlife!

28. Celebrate New Years Eve

A group of poeple dressed in white get ready to celebrate the New year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Make sure you wear white!

Written by: Halef from The Round the World Guys

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro is one of the top events you should experience for yourself in Brazil. Head out to Copacabana Beach for a spectacular fireworks display from the floating boats in the center of the harbor.

Start your evening at Ipanema Beach for the traditional candlelight ceremony of building a simple offering to the ocean. Follow it up with a concert at the beach. Then, before midnight, head to Copacabana for the big party with your bottle of champagne.

The horseshoe-shaped beach is the perfect setting to watch the huge fireworks at the stroke of midnight. The fireworks launch from several vessels in the center of the harbor.

For the best experience, you can stay in one of Copacabana’s beach hotels, such as the Hilton Rio de Janeiro Copacabana or Grand Mercure Rio de Janeiro Copacabana. That way, you can easily head back to your hotel after the celebration is over – or whenever you feel like enjoying it privately in your room.

Related Read: After you’re done with Rio there are so many other great places to visit in Northeast Brazil!

29. Admire the Museum of Tomorrow

the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio
The Museum of Tomorrow in Rio

The Museum of Tomorrow has one of the most striking exteriors that you’ll find across Rio. Designed by ‘starchitect’ Santiago Calatravauilt and built back in 2016 this museum caters to architecture lovers and those interested in the future of science.

This science museum offers a fresh new take on how the next 50 years could look depending on the choices our society makes in the present. Inside there are 7 main exhibitions that you can explore inside – 2 of which are interactive experiences.

On the outside grounds, you will find gardens, cycling paths, and a reflection pool. It is located right on Rio’s coast on top of the pier connected to Maua Square. It’s definitely a beautiful setting to simply just walk around!

On-site facilities include bathrooms, a cafe, a gift shop, and a restaurant.

If you choose to visit on your own admission for adults is $5.50 USD, $2.57 for kids, and free for seniors. You can buy these tickets on the museum’s website.

However, if visiting on your own seems a bit overwhelming that you can also opt for a guided tour that includes entry, your guide, and transportation. This package can be booked here online and costs $50 USD.

The Museum of Tomorrow is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm (with the last admission at 5 pm).

30. Take a Brazilian cooking class

Cook in Rio cooking class
Photo credit: Cook in Rio

During your time in Brazil, the food is sure to take a lot of time in the limelight – Brazilian flavors are so diverse that you’ll see different regional specials all throughout the country.

Taking an authentic cooking class with a local is always the best way to learn about the flavors and ingredients used, the culture, and the traditional dishes of the area.

In the Southeastern part of Brazil (where Rio is) you will encounter lots of beef and bean dishes like Feijoada (beef, beans, and pork), Picadinho (beef stew), and Filé à Osvaldo Aranha (steak, fried garlic, potatoes, rice, and farofa).

Additionally fresh seafood, roasted chicken, and fried cod fishcakes are some of the other main highlights you’ll find in coastal areas which include Rio de Janeiro.

A tour I recommend that will make one of the dishes mentioned above is this small-group cooking class that is held inside a small cooking studio. It costs $85 USD per person.

You’ll get to choose to make either a black bean feijoada or Bahian seafood Moqueca. This 4-hour class will also include learning how to create 4 starters, a cocktail, and a dessert.

Your experience may vary slightly from the sample menu depending on ingredient availability and the time of the year.

I recommend booking online in advance to secure your preferred time and date!

If you are plant-based then try this Plant-based Brazilian Flavours Cooking Class as an alternative!

31. Tour a coffee farm

A coffee picker on a tour from  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I never knew coffee started as a red fruit!

Fazenda da Taquara is a coffee farm located in the Brazilian countryside. Being that the national drink of Brazil is coffee this is one visual learning opportunity you don’t want to miss out on! I also think this is a great day excursion to take a break from the busy environment of central Rio.

On this guided coffee farm tour can go directly to the meeting point or opt to be picked up from your hotel and from there you’ll head 2 hours outside of the city to Fazenda da Taquara (the coffee farm).

Once you meet with your guide they will share with you a lot about Brazilian history including the Brazilian Colonial and Imperial Eras.

As you walk through the farm you’ll get to witness all of the different stages of coffee-making and producing, learning about the history of coffee as you go. Of course, you won’t miss out on trying an authentic cup of Brazilian coffee.

After seeing the behind-the-scenes parts you’ll be shown the main coffee house that still has all of its original furniture.

Finally, end your visit by stopping at the Slavery Memorial and Coffee Museum, and then walking around the coffee plantations.

This tour costs $140 USD for a full-day 8-hour experience but I would say it is definitely worth the cost if you are a coffee fanatic!

Make sure to book your spots here in advance!

32. Day trip to Petrópolis

The Imperial Museum in Petrópolis
The Imperial Museum in Petrópolis

Petrópolis is a city inside the Órgãos Mountains within the state of Rio de Janeiro that is located 68 kilometers (42 miles) outside the city’s center.

Because it is situated in the valley there will be great mountain views! It is famous for its alpine architecture and some of the best tourist attractions here are the Imperial Museum, Cervejaria Itaipava, and the Yellow Palace.

To get to Petrópolis from Rio you can rent a car and drive yourself or take the bus.

If you want less hassle or prefer a bit more structure then go on this private guided tour instead that includes transport! On the ride there you’ll get to stop for pictures at a couple of different scenic viewpoints of the Serra dos Órgãos National Park.

The next section of the day is history themed – you’ll get to tour both the Quitandinha Palace and the Imperial Museum.

Afterward, eat a traditional Brazilian lunch before your guide takes you on a walking tour of the city’s most scenic streets. You’ll be able to see the contrast of building styles from different eras. Then you can relax with a beer from a local brewery!

This particular tour to Petrópolis is one of the best available and costs around $117 USD. However, don’t just take my word for it, you can also search for other similar tours here.

33. Ride the Rio Yup Star

Yup Star Ferris Wheel Rio View
Photo credit: Yup Star
Yup Star Ferris Wheel Rio
Photo credit: Yup Star

No matter if you love ferris wheels or not the Yup Star in Rio De Janeiro is worthy of its place on this list as it is the first and tallest of its kind anywhere in Latin America! It stands at 88 meters (2,900 feet) tall.

From the top you’ll get a view of Pão de Açúcar, Christ the Redeemer, the Central do Brasil Clock, Guanabara Bay, the Rio-Niterói Bridge, Samba City, the Museum of Tomorrow, and more!

It’s also an affordable activity costing just $11 USD per adult, $7.22 for students, seniors 60 and up, and children up to 11 years old.

You can purchase your ticket in person or reserve your spot here online in advance for a little bit higher of a rate.

Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The view of the pool and Copacabana Beach at PortoBay Rio de Janeiro
PortoBay Rio de Janeiro Hotel in Copacabana! Photo credit – PortoBay Rio de Janeiro

As you can imagine, Rio de Janeiro is filled with unique places to stay all over the city. However, the three most popular areas to stay in are Copacabana, Ipanema, and Lapa/Santa Teresa. Each location offers its own unique stay, with Copacabana and Ipanema being close to the beach and Lapa and Santa Teresa in the more historical part of the city.

Copacabana

Budget travelers will love Pura Vida Hostel. It’s clean and social with lots of space to party just like a local, and dorm beds start at $17 USD per night. It’s only 2 blocks away from Copacabana Beach and a 15 min walk to Arpoador which has plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, and pharmacies. The staff is warm and welcoming and makes your stay even more fun with their socal personalities!

If you can spend a little more, Nacional Inn Rio Copacabana is a popular choice that’s a few blocks from the beach and has a pool with an excellent view. Although the rooms are on the small side that shouldn’t matter too much if you plan to spend most of your time outside of the hotel. They offer a fresh breakfast with breads, meats, cheeses, and fruits. There’s an on-site bar and a sauna to take advantage of.

Luxury travelers should stay at PortoBay Rio de Janeiro. It’s a 4-star beachfront hotel with a rooftop pool, gym, spa, and sauna. If you want you can book a room with a sea view for around $200 USD. It is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and popular bars. The on-site La Finestra restaurant serves really delicious Brazilian dishes as well as other international cuisine. The complementary breakfast buffet has fresh fruits, juices, and hot and cold choices.

Ipanema
Ipanema Beach House
 is the best budget option with dorm beds starting at $15 USD in a very safe neighborhood of Rio. It’s only 2 blocks walling to reach the beach and also has a pool at the Ipanema Beach House just a block from the main building which is also where the metro station is if you need to use it! The other more popular beaches aren’t as close, about 2 km (1.2 mi) away.

For medium-budget travelers, Arena Ipanema Hotel is a beachfront property with stunning views, a restaurant and bar, and a rooftop pool with lots of lounge chairs to work on your tan. There is a fitness center and sauce that all guests are welcome to use as well as a 24-hour help desk if you need anything. For the price of $130 USD a night, it’s a great value. 

Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro is another fantastic option for luxury travelers. You can’t get any closer to the water and with a rooftop pool and all the facilities you’d expect such as a wellness center offering massages with a gym and sauna, a fine-dining Italian restaurant, a sunroom, and a nightclub – it’s perfect! A bed here will set you back $450 USD but your room will have modern furnishings, a minibar, robes, and a TV. Some even have a seating area and a bathtub.

Lapa and Santa Teresa

I love the Selina Lapa Rio de Janeiro for budget travelers. This chain hostel is trusted all around the world for being clean and modern vibe with excellent facilities. Rooms are air-conditioned and you can choose a dorm room for around $20 USD or a standard private room for $85 USD. The property is close to nearby happening bars and restaurants but Selina’s restaurant is loved by its guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or for coffee from the coffee house – give it a try!

The Mansion Aline is located in Santa Teresa and would suit the medium to high-end budget. The hotel has a rooftop jacuzzi as well as breathtaking views over the city. The deluxe suites have their own spa baths, a patio, and a private kitchen with a minibar and coffee maker. All rooms have a view of the city and river/garden views. One night here will average $155 USD.

Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!

If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!

SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.  

We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)

It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey stands on Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Thanks for reading!

Rio de Janeiro is truly a magnificent place to visit filled with amazing things to see and do. Reading this blog sure makes me miss the city! For those of you lucky enough to be heading to Rio I truly hope you enjoy yourself and make the most of your visit using this travel guide.

Thanks so much for reading! If you have any questions at all just leave us a comment below! Also, check out all our other Brazil blogs here or these related articles below:

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Complete guide to Ilha Grande, Brazil

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