Rio de Janeiro is a lush paradise in the southeast of Brazil; plentiful in mountains, beaches, and festivities (though not without political connotations). With music alive in the streets and nature hugging every corner of concrete, the city has a certain magic about it. You could easily embrace the Carioca lifestyle for eternity. But when time is of the essence, get the most out of your trip with this shortlist of top experiences to guide you through “The Marvelous City.”
1. Grab a Caipirinha along the Mureta da Urca
A walk along the muereta, or small wall, offers impeccable views of the Guanabara Bay and the Sugarloaf summit in the distance. Locals flock to Bar Urca, situated in this prime location to take in a dramatic sunset while quenching their thirst with a delicious Caipirinha (the national cocktail made of lime, sugar, and cachaça).
2. Reach New Heights on Corcovado Mountain
With tram rides, bus tours, and your own two feet there’s plenty of ways to get to the pinnacle of this “top" pick--though if you’re able, a hike through the Tijuca Forest National Park is a peaceful albeit challenging route to reach the 100 foot Christ the Redeemer Statue. The massive soapstone art deco Jesus is an almost surreal sight to behold as is the endless view of Rio down below.
3. Catch a Wave and some Rays
Not surprisingly, Rio is famed for its stretches of sandy beaches including household names like Copacabana and Ipanema as well as the slightly less lyrical Leblon. Most beaches are in close proximity to tile-laden promenades and high class restaurants and shops.
4. Take it One Step at a Time in Santa Teresa
The artist village of Santa Teresa not only throws the best blocos (street parties) during Carnaval season but isn’t bad on the eyes either. Escadaria Selarón is just one photo-worthy example. A gift to Brazil from Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón, the 215 stairs of the world famous Escadaria Selarón is a labor of love and features thousands of scavenged tiles from over 60 countries across the globe.
5. Get your Antioxidants at Takaka Sucos
Despite its unassuming diner-like appearance, Takaka notably serves up the best açaí in town. Less syrupy sweet than most açaí abroad and topped with mounds of self-serve granola and tapioca, you’ll be surprised how much of this refreshing treat you can put away in a sitting.
6. Flamengo Park at your Leisure
One’s trash is truly another’s treasure at this landfill-project-turned-popular-park. Stretching 1.2 square KM, Flamengo Park, or, officially, Parque Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, is the innovation of famed Brazilian landscaper Burle Marx and features 300 species of trees, not to mention recreation areas, museum, and monuments.
7. Go Green at the Botanic Gardens
The aptly named Jardim Botânico district is home to the Jardim Botânico or Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden. Nearly 150 species of birds and over 6.500 species of plants can be found within the square mile of the gardens which also includes a museum, research center, art collection, and cultural centers as well as a darling little cafe. Meander through Amazon jungle greenery, cacti, bonsais, and even some plants of the carnivorous variety! And don’t miss the splendid Avenue of Royal Palms lined with 134 specimens, all descendants of a single palm tree once known as the Palma Mater.
8. Sample some Samba
If you’re lucky enough to be in Rio during Carnaval, the week-long celebration that begins the Friday before Ash Wednesday (but in reality lasts months!) you’ll want to grab tickets to the Sambadrone Parades that take place in the Marquês de Sapucai Sambadrome. Here, the top schools in the nation compete; showing off their music and dance skills, spectacular costumes, elaborate floats, and oftentimes biting political commentary. If big crowds aren’t your thing, the parades are just as fun to watch on TV at a local bar.
9. Gain Perspective atop the Sugarloaf
Named for its likeness to refined sugar before the introduction of today’s sugar cube, this peak offers amazing panoramic views of the city, Guanabara Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. Just take a glass-walled cable car from Praia Vermelha to the Sugarloaf Mountain, stopping at the tourist center atop Morro da Urca along the way.
10. Hit the Town in Botafogo
Once led by Lapa, the quirky neighborhood of Botafogo is now where it’s at for nightlife in Rio. Here you’ll find samba circles, outdoor cafes, pubs, wine bars, dance clubs, karaoke, and even what was voted the best craft brewery in Rio: Hocus Pocus.