Skip to Content

How to Spend TWO DAYS in Rio de Janeiro: An Ideal 2-Day Itinerary

How to Spend TWO DAYS in Rio de Janeiro: An Ideal 2-Day Itinerary

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

So, you’ve got two days to spend in Rio de Janeiro – lucky you! You’d be surprised at how much of this exhilarating city you’ll get to see in just 48 hours. That is if you follow the right itinerary (like this one!), which includes the best Rio tours, the yummiest restaurants, and some hidden gem spots, too (we’re looking at you, Tijuca National Park). 

Below, we’ve included world-famous sights like Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Copacabana Beach. But, this 2-day Rio itinerary will also take you off the beaten path to witness a samba show in a neighborhood known as samba’s birthplace. 

We love Rio and have spent a lot of time here – it’s one of our favorite cities in Latin America. We think two days is the minimum amount of time to spend in Rio. So without further ado, here is your ultimate 2-day Rio de Janeiro itinerary!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Two days in Rio de Janeiro is just enough time to get a taste of this incredible city. On day one, spend time at two of the best beaches in South America and take a tour of Tijuca National Park. Day two is a big day as you’ll tick off Rio’s top sights on a full-day guided tour and in the evening, party at one of the best bars in the world!

Day 1 

Morning – Visit Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach 

Copacabana Beach as seen from Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Copacabana Beach as seen from Sugarloaf Mountain!

Rio is renowned for having some of the best beaches in the world with over 8 kilometers (5 miles) of coastline to enjoy in this coastal city! So, our suggestion is to start your Rio itinerary with a visit to two of the city’s most famous beaches (Ipanema and Copacabana), which will set a great tone for the rest of your adventure.

Both beaches are located next to each other and only separated by a peninsula break. So, it will be easy to tick them both off in one morning.

A little less well-known than its famous neighbor, Ipanema is a 2-kilometer (1.2 mile) white sand beach that’s the perfect place to relax before heading over to the “crazier” Copacabana. Ipanema is more local-oriented, so it has that authentic Rio vibe.

We suggest allowing around an hour here, during which you can go for a swim in its calm waters, join the locals for a game of volleyball, or simply sunbathe. Interestingly, the beach was made famous by the song “The Girl from Ipanema” by Stan Getz. 

Next up, you’ll take a 15-minute stroll along the calçadão, a wide paved promenade that connects Ipanema to Copacabana. Take in the views and the atmosphere, this is one of the most famous beach walks in the world, after all.

The boardwalk at Ipanema Beach
Ipanema Beach!

Just next door, the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) Copacabana Beach is always buzzing with life! Take a stroll along its golden sand at any hour of the day, and you’ll likely come across locals playing soccer, roving beach vendors selling everything from churros to corn on the cob, and tanned tourists chilling on their towels with a caipirinha (or beer) from one of the kiosks. Copacabana is one of the most famous spots in all of South America for good reason!

You can head to different sections of “Copa” (as the locals call it) depending on what kind of experience you’re after – relaxed or party vibes. For example, if you’d love nothing more than a quiet first morning on the beach, head to the south end of the beach towards Ipanema. Party-lovers should head to the beach section opposite the Copacabana Palace

Related Read: Looking for more coastal getaways in Brazil? Head north to Salvador to find the best beaches!

Lunch – Churrascaria Palace

Steak at Churrascaria Palace
Photo credit: Churrascaria Palace
Steak at Churrascaria Palace in Rio
Photo credit: Churrascaria Palace

Thankfully, for lunch today, you don’t have to venture too far as our suggestion is located just a few minutes’ walk from Copacabana. We loved our dining experience at Churrascaria Palace which is famous for its Rio-style meats.

Churrascaria Palace has been around since 1951 and is considered Rio’s most traditional steakhouse. It’s most renowned for its “rodízio,” otherwise known as an all-you-can-eat service, where waiters bring around meat and side dishes constantly. Honestly, you will be so full afterward.

Our favorite dishes from here were the butterfly picanha cut, the lamb shoulder clod in Douro wine, and the prime ribs. I still dream about their lamb shoulder. So yummy!

Afternoon – Explore Tijuca National Park 

The view from Tijuca National Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The view from Tijuca National Park! Wow!

Not many tourists know this, but there’s a huge tropical rainforest that’s nestled in the mountains surrounding the city. Tijuca National Park is the biggest urban forest in the world. It covers a whopping 40 square kilometers (15 square miles). 

So, we say, spend a couple of hours this afternoon experiencing this massive manmade rainforest. It’s home to over 30 waterfalls and boasts some of the best views of the Rio skyline. What you see today is the result of a successful reforestation project in the 19th century. During this time, over 100,000 trees were re-planted here after they were cleared in the 17th century for coffee-growing and livestock.

There are a few ways to get to Tijuca National Park from Copacabana. If you want to save money and make your own way there (i.e., without a guided tour) – the easiest option is to hop in a taxi for the 20-minute journey. Alternatively, drive yourself in your rental car or head back into the city center to the Novo Rio bus station and catch the 301 or 645 bus. 

But, we believe a guided tour is the best and most stress-free way to get to the park. While it will cost more, you’ll learn about the history and wildlife in this unique rainforest from your knowledgeable guide and get taken to the best viewpoints. 

This 4-hour jeep tour is our favorite way to experience Tijuca National Park, as we were whisked around in an open-top jeep. This allowed us to see a ton of animals like sloths, monkeys, raccoons, and toucans. This tour has a short section of hiking through the lush rainforest, which was really cool to learn the history of this manmade area. We also stopped by Cascatinha Taunay, a 35-meter (115-foot) waterfall!

If you book this tour between Monday and Friday, you will stop by the Vista Chinesa, a traditional Chinese pagoda on the mountainside that offers panoramic views of the city below. This tour starts at 1 pm, and pick-up can be arranged from Copacabana, Ipanema, and other select points in the city. The tour is super reasonably priced, too, starting at $54 USD per person.

Alternatively, this 5-hour Tijuca Forest Tour is a great option for those who’d prefer a little more comfort as it takes place in an air-conditioned vehicle. It is similar to the tour above, as you get to hike some of the trails, look out from scenic viewpoints, and learn about this beautiful rainforest. It’s a small group tour, which allows for a more personalized experience and includes pick-up from most hotels in Copacabana (as well as several pick-up points in the city center). 

This tour also has the option to leave at 1 pm, giving you more than enough time to enjoy Copacabana and Ipanema and have a delicious lunch. You can book this well-rated tour here to take advantage of the 24-hour cancellation policy, and prices start from $89 USD per person. 

Tijuca National Park is definitely one of the best day trips you can take from Rio de Janeiro and a great addition to your quick 2-day itinerary!

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

Night – Pedra do Sal

A crowd of people at Pedra do Sal in Rio, Brazil
A crowd of people at the infamous Pedra do Sal Monday night party!

We suggest heading to Pedra do Sal (aka Salt Rock) in the Saude neighborhood tonight, which is well-known for being the birthplace of samba. Watching a samba show is an absolute must-do while you’re in Rio, as this is where this famous style of dance was born!

Grab a seat on the slippery steps that are carved into the massive “Salt Rock” and watch the most traditional samba show in Rio. But before you do, grab a Capriniha or beer from one of the many tents, or if you’re hungry, there are many street food stalls here, too. 

Samba night takes place every Monday in Pedra do Sal, starting at 8 pm. The musicians usually continue playing until midnight. After that, you can make your way to the main square to party with the locals until 2 am! 

There’s also another, smaller Samba night that happens every Friday night in Pedra do Sal. However, it’s not as famous and is run by a different group to the Monday night event. 

It’s fairly easy to get to Pedra do Sal – you can either jump in a taxi or Uber. Or, if you want to save some money, you can hop on the Metro to Cinelandia station and exit via Exit C (Pedro Lessa Street). Then, get on the tram heading in the direction of Praia Formosa and get off at the Parada dos Museus stop. You’ll hear the music from here, so follow your ears to the best party in Rio de Janeiro.

If late-night partying isn’t your style, then this Samba Night at Pedra do Sal guided tour is a great alternative! Your local guide will meet you at the entrance of Pedra do Sal and show you around the area, sharing the history and culture of samba. When the party starts, your guide will teach you some dance moves and will always be on hand if the crowds get too much. 

You’ll have hours to have fun and feel secure with your guide and the 10 other people in the group. It includes a welcome drink, and I’m sure you’ll work up an appetite from all that dancing, so bring some money for the food stalls. You can book this tour for $39 USD per person.

Related Read: Many people are concerned about safety while traveling, so to have the best trip possible, read up on our safety tips in South America!

Day 2

Morning and afternoon – Full-day tour in Rio 

Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro from the air
Christ the Redeemer really is massive!
A cable car travels up Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The cable car to the top of Sugarloaf is an amazing experience!

Your second and final day in the city is a busy one, as you’ll spend the whole day ticking off Rio de Janeiro’s top sights on this full-day guided tour. It is one of the most booked tours in Rio – you’ll understand why when you see the list of iconic sights included! So, ensure you have enough space on your camera or phone as today, you’ll visit the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Maracanã soccer stadium, and the colorful Escadaria Selarón. 

This full-day tour in Rio is 8 hours long and, as I said, super popular with tourists. In the morning, you’ll travel through Tijuca Forest (which you explored yesterday) to Paineiras, where you’ll board the train to the top of Corcovado. This is where the Christ the Redeemer statue is situated. It’s hard to miss at a massive 30 meters (98 feet) tall. Plus, it’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!

Next, your guide will take you out front of the Maracanã Stadium, aka the most important soccer stadium in Brazil. Soccer is like a religion here, and taking a tour of this massive stadium, which can hold up almost 79,000 people, will be a dream come true for any sports fan. 

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

The Rio city tour continues by visiting the brightly colored Escadaria Selarón, more commonly known as the Selaron Steps. Located in the Lapa Neighborhood, these mosaic steps were created by Jorge Selarón, a Chilean-born Brazilian artist whose purpose was to add color to this once gray and dull area. The art project quickly garnered popularity, and tourists from across the world started bringing him tiles from their home countries. Today, you will see tiles from over 60 countries on the steps. 

You’ll make a few other stops between these main-ticket activities, such as a samba store and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. Eventually, you’ll stop for lunch at one of the best Brazilian steakhouses in the city! You’ll be hungry after all this exploring, and so ready for some meat-filled lunch.

For your last stop, you’ll visit one of the most iconic places in Rio, Sugarloaf Mountain! You’ll be transferred to the Urca neighborhood, where you’ll hop on the cable car to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain – no hiking necessary. We’ve been on lots of cable car rides during our travels, and I must say the ride up Sugarloaf is one of the most beautiful! At the top, you’ll have a bit of time to wander around and take in the mesmerizing views.

After reading all that’s included, I’m sure you can understand why this is one of the most popular tours in Rio de Janeiro. And you can book this full-day tour here for $162-$176 USD per person, depending on the day you book. That’s for the all-inclusive option, which includes lunch and your entrance fees for Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer, as well as pick-up and drop-off from most Rio hotels.

Night – Party at Rio Scenarium

Rio Scenarium - Pavilhão da Cultura
Photo credit: Rio Scenarium
Rio Scenarium - Pavilhão da Cultura club in Rio
Photo credit: Rio Scenarium

It’s time to party the night away once again. Except for tonight (your final night), we suggest something a tad different from the evening before. Our recommendation for this evening is a kooky nightspot called the Rio Scenarium nightclub in the Lapa district. 

This multi-level nightclub is famous for its samba shows, but it’s also a museum of sorts, showcasing film props, costumes, antiques, and other historical artifacts. During your time here, you can get up and join in the samba dancing (the locals will show you how it’s done) or sit down at the on-site restaurant and just drink it all in. 

Rio Scenarium has actually been listed as one of the top 10 bars in the world! What’s great, too, is if samba isn’t your thing, you can listen to other live performances on one of the other levels. 

If you’d love to see this unique club through the eyes of a local, then a guided tour to the Rio Scenarium is the way to go. This is a great way to meet new friends, as the group can accommodate up to 20 people, and learn all about the history of this eclectic place from your local guide. They offer hotel pick-up and dinner (get ready for more Brazilian BBQ!) before you head to the show.

You’ll have about 3 hours at the Rio Scenarium to dance, enjoy the music, and have fun with your new friends. This tour includes dinner, entrance to the show, and transportation so you can simply relax and enjoy the evening out. You can book this tour in advance for $150 USD.

This is the perfect tour if you’re backpacking in Brazil, as it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

Related Read: Continuing with the party theme, the most famous party in Rio is Carnival. You can read all about celebrating Carnival in Brazil here!

Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro

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 around $22 USD per night. It’s only 2 blocks away from Copacabana Beach and a 15-minute 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 social personalities! You can book a room on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

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 bread, 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 $16 USD in a very safe neighborhood of Rio. It’s only 2 blocks 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 kilometers (1.2 miles) away. It’s also easy to book on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

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 sauna that all guests are welcome to use as well as a 24-hour help desk if you need anything. For the price of $180 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 $630 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 $70 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! You can reserve a room on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

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 $169 USD.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey poses for a photo at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) in Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Thanks for reading!

And that’s a wrap on the best 2-day Rio de Janeiro itinerary. Having visited here countless times, we know this city very well and are confident this guide covers only the best destinations and experiences. You’re sure to have a memorable time in Rio, and hopefully, this isn’t the last time you visit this city!

I hope you loved this guide, and if you need more travel inspiration, then be sure to jump over and check out all our other Brazil travel guides. We have a ton of resources to help your planning, see some of these related articles below!

10 Things to KNOW Before Going Scuba Diving in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

8 BEST Places to Visit in Northeast Brazil and Travel Guide

COMPLETE Guide to Exploring Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil