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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is one of the most amazing cities in the world, and in this blog, I’m going to tell you exactly why that is with 19 AMAZING things to do in Rio de Janeiro. These activities and attractions will help you explore the city and have the best trip possible!
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 both exciting and interesting.
However, with this comes almost too many things to do and as such, no visitor can possibly cross them all off – which is why I’m writing this blog about the absolute BEST things to do in Rio de Janeiro a little differently. Instead of just telling you about the best things I did in Rio, I called up some of the best bloggers from around the world to also share their personal favorite experiences in Rio de Janeiro!
What I ended up with was this ultimate Rio de Janeiro bucket list and 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 19 best things to do in Rio de Janeiro!
1. Take the gondola up Sugarloaf Mountain
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 one 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. The gondola ride isn’t super cheap at R$105 per person, but the views along the way are spectacular and totally worth the cost 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 not cheap so if you’re on a budget, eat before you go.
I personally went up 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!
2. Visit the Selarón Steps
Written by: Bruna Venturinelli from I Heart Brazil
No trip to Rio de Janeiro is complete without stopping by the famous mosaic stairs for a photo or two.
Jorge Selarón, a Chilean-born Brazilian artist, created these world-famous steps to add colors to a gray and dull part of the city.
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!
3. Explore Tijuca National Park
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 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.
You can even go on jeep tours 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 that live in the forest.
4. Go hang gliding
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.
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.
5. Wander Jardim Botanico (the botanical gardens)
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.
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 is definitely the right place to enjoy to get away from the urban jungle. And to me, it was a highlight of my trip in Rio de Janeiro!
Tour recommendation: 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.
6. Hike to Vista Chinesa
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 here you’ll be able to enjoy a fantastic view of the southern area of Rio de Janeiro but without the crowds.
From the 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.
7. Enjoy Samba at Pedra do Sal
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 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!
This is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Rio de Janeiro and the perfect experience for anyone looking for a fun party and local experience!
8. Hike to the Two Brothers Lookout
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 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 personally did this sunrise guided tour and loved it. The Two Brothers Peak is the most amazing place to watch the sunrise in Rio de Janeiro.
You can also do tours during the day like this one and 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!
9. Visit the Christ the Redeemer
The Christ the Redeemer is one of the 7 Wonders of the World! Despite not quite being worthy of that title in my opinion, this massive statue of Jesus Christ is still a must-see attraction in Rio de Janeiro as one of Brazil’s most famous landmarks.
There are two ways to visit Christ the Redeemer. The first is by taking the bus or train to the top. This is the more costly option but very convenient and easy as you get dropped right at the entrance gates.
The second, 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 R$18-24 (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 it’s cringe-worthy, it makes for a great memory of Rio!
10. Celebrate Carnival
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! In 2017, I hit the streets of Rio de Janeiro for a week of craziness. To say the least, I was blown away by the sheer amount of people who come to celebrate this amazing event!
Carnival in Brazil runs for 6 days usually starting 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 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.
Regardless of how hard you plan to party, Carnival will be an eye-opening experience and is sure to blow you away!
11. Relax on Copacabana Beach
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’ 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 walking distance to Rio’s best beach was not only convenient but also a highlight of my trip in Brazil!
12. Ride the historic Santa Teresa Tram
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 which local officials who 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.
13. Spend the day 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 white sand beach – which is almost as famous as the adjacent Copacabana.
Ipanema is safe, has good water quality, 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.
14. Watch a Brazilian Soccer Match
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 Maracanã 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 around $5 USD for a 40-minute tour. If you decide to watch a game, you can get your hotel to organize tickets and transportation for you, and that costs an average of $80 USD per person.
15. Get off the beaten path at Red Beach
Written by: Moheb Wessa from The Wanderer Pharaoh
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 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 R$4.30 (which is equivalent to 0.78 USD.)
You can also get there by taking a bus to Urca, which is 350 meters away from the beach. The bus ticket costs R$3.6.
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 R$60. 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 the Sugarloaf Mountain on the same day.
16. Take in the street art in Lapa
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 love graffiti, checking out amazing graffiti is also one of the best things to do in Sao Paulo, Brazil!
17. Climb Arpoador rock
Written by: Bruna Venturinelli from I Heart Brazil
Whether you’re traveling with your significant other, solo, or with friends, watching the sunset at the Arpoador Rock is a must!
Arpoador, which literally means “harpoon thrower” in Portuguese, is a rock formation by the sea.
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.
18. Visit the largest mural in the world by Eduardo Kobra
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 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.
19. Celebrate New Years Eve
Written by: Halef from The Round the World Guys
Celebrating the 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.
Before you go…
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: