Best known for Carnival, Rio is also a city of fabulous beaches, beautiful people, fine dining, and music and dance. The samba beat is the soundtrack to this glorious South American hotspot.
It's a great choice for sports fans as well as for beach lovers and there are lots of outstanding events to be found throughout the year. From beach volleyball and soccer to surfing, swimming, and hiking, there are also plenty of activities for all age groups to enjoy.
Add historic sites like the Monastery of St. Benedict and the Candelária Church, Art Deco architecture, and spectacular landmarks like the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and you can understand why visitors adore Rio de Janeiro.
Rio's beaches are so magnificent that songs have been written about them. Copacabana is the most famous as well as the most popular with tourists. It's known for its spectacular New Year's Eve party and it's the perfect spot to enjoy a beer or fruit juice. Alternatively, head to the white sands of Ipanema or Leblon in the South Zone and join locals as they soak up the sun.
The city's most famous landmark and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the amazing statue of Christ the Redeemer looks over the city and the Atlantic Ocean from its perch atop Corcovado. Take the cog train to the top on a clear day for superb views.
Stretching west from the Corcovado (Hunchback hill), Tijuca is the world's biggest urban forest. Follow its walkways to waterfalls and limestone caves or spot toucans, parakeets, and monkeys among the foliage. For the best views, take a tandem hang-glider flight from Pedra Bonita (Pretty Rock) in Tijuca.
Rio de Janeiro is the home of samba and it's also home to the world's biggest and most famous carnival. Festivities start on the Friday prior to Ash Wednesday and floats and samba school parades, music, events, and parties culminate with the winner's parade to the Sambadrome on the Saturday after Carnival ends.
Should you go for its magnificent open spaces like Flamengo Park or Quinta da Boa Vista where the zoo is located? Maybe you'd like to learn all there is to know about Brazil's most popular game at the soccer museum in the Maracana Stadium, the largest stadium in South America. Perhaps it's the view from Sugarloaf Mountain or the arty hilltop village of Santa Teresa, or maybe you'd just like to relax on the beach before hitting the nightspots. Everyone is catered for in Rio de Janeiro.
Rio's iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer is by far the most famous image of Brazil, drawing visitors from all over the world. Nearly 100 feet tall, the staggering Art Deco sculpture looks down on the city from its perch atop Corcovado Mountain. Beyond the ever-impressive figure, the cityscape stretches down the hillside towards the azure water and the Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance. The incredible statue is lit up at night, and can be seen from the city as well as the surrounding forest.
Among Rio's beaches, the most famous has to be Copacabana, the ultimate place to see and be seen. Take a dip in the cool Atlantic, spend the day sunbathing in the sand, take a walk along the bustling promenade, or rent a bike to take in the scenery. There are classically Brazilian vendors left and right, and the mixture of local fanfare with international visitors from around the world never gets old. Just south down the coast, Ipanema offers another song-famous alternative...
These world-famous steps are the work of artist Jorge Selarón, an inspirational project that reaches thousands every day. A living work of art, the 200+ steps are covered in ever-changing mosaics. The pieces were first excavated from the city of Rio but newer pieces have been donated from over 60 countries around the world, as the stairs have gained international recognition. Celebrate diversity and togetherness on this moving path, and take a second for an essential photo op.
Rio's dynamic city center is jam-packed with delightful sights. Check out the Parisian-style Municipal Theater, where ballets and performances are put on year round, or stop by Biblioteca Parque Estadual and the Museu do Amanhã to appreciate some contemporary architecture. The Candelária Church is the city's most famous, with its lavish marble interiors and time-worn facade. You can also explore Brazil's Naval History on Ilha Fiscal, or enjoy the fine arts at Museu Nacional de Belas Artes.
At the foot of Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer towering above, this world-class Botanical Garden gives a safe home to thousands of plants and trees both local and foreign. Some endangered species are preserved here too, and a walk through the gardens will have you deeply appreciating the value of diverse natural life. Japanese gardens, sensory experiences, lily ponds and palm trees are set against the wild, uncultivated part of the park that extends up the hill - truly a magical place.
The most expensive time to visit Rio is from November to March when peak season rates mark the approach of the city-wide Réveillon (New Year's Eve) celebrations and Carnival. It's also the summer season and high temperatures make the beach a popular spot. If you prefer less crowded beaches and attractions and cooler temperatures, visit from June to July. March and April bring the annual rains, and localized flooding is common.
Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG), commonly known as Galeao International Airport, is the point of entry for many travelers. The airport is 12 miles from the city center and premium buses operated by Real 2 can be found outside the arrivals hall. There are four routes to choose from and tickets range from R$12 to $16.50 depending on your destination in the city. Fast BRT Transcarioca buses also depart from both terminals and a trip to the city with one stop at Vicente de Carvalho costs R$3. Yellow taxis will take you to Ipanema for R$60.
Although the city's Central Station is worth a visit to see the setting for the 1998 film of the same name, it's only served by commuter trains at present.
Take BR-116 if you're driving to the city from the south or BR-101 if you're coming from the north or northwest. Those traveling from central and western regions will find the BR-040 more convenient.
Operators like Green Toad Bus run buses to Rio de Janeiro from several Brazilian cities including Sao Paulo and Florianópolis. A ticket from Sao Paulo costs R$100. Buses terminate at Rodoviária Novo Rio in the Santo Cristo neighborhood in the North Zone. Local buses depart for Ipanema, Copacabana, and other central districts from outside the station.
Mick Jagger, Princess Diana, and Elton John are just some of the celebrities who have stayed at the Belmond Copacabana Palace on Atlantic Avenue across from the beach. However, there is lots of accommodation to suit everyone in Rio de Janeiro. The city's most luxurious hotels like the Fasano and the Sheraton Grand Rio Resort tend to be near the most famous beaches, but there are also good mid-range hotels like the Windsor Palace Hotel and Best Western Plus Copacabana Hotel to choose from. Or, try hotels in the West Zone like the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro and Windsor Barra Hotel.
Centro - the financial center includes the Lapa and Santa Teresa districts. It's known for its historic buildings and landmarks like Pedro Ernesto Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian.
Zona Sul - the most popular area for tourists. This is where you'll find the city's most famous landmarks like Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer or Corcovado as well as the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, and Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.
Zona Oeste - this developing district hosted most of the 2016 Olympics. It has excellent beaches like Barra da Tijuca and one of the district's most popular green spaces Barra Woods.
The city's buses are frequent and convenient and a great way to get around the South Zone. A single journey costs R$3.80. You can purchase a RioCard Expresso for R$40 that can be used on buses and the subway for convenience, but a single journey still costs the same. The city's subway system is very easy to navigate. A single journey is R$4.80 or you can buy a rechargeable IC card for a R$5 deposit and top it up as required.
Yellow Taxis can be flagged on the street or you can ask your hotel concierge or receptionist to call a radio taxi. Radio taxis are considered the safest option for tourists as the price is generally agreed beforehand. Rio taxis aren't particularly expensive though the distance between neighborhoods can be longer than you'd imagine. A trip from South Zone to Centro is R$38, for example.
Car rental is worth considering if you want to visit various parts of the city. You can rent a car at multiple locations in the city and at the airport. A compact car from major brands like Hertz, Sixt, or Avis is R$166 per day.
Try the upscale malls like Shopping Rio Sul and Shopping Leblon in the South Zone or Barra Shopping and Sao Conrado Fashion Mall in West Zone for designer fashions. The city's boutiques and exclusive stores offer an impressive range of bikinis and beachwear, while the Sunday hippie market at Ipanema's Praca General Osorio is the best place for jewelry, trinkets, and souvenirs.
Supermercado Zona Sul is popular with visitors and there are several branches in Ipanema, while Supermercado Pao de Acucar is another good option. You'll pay R$7 for 12 eggs and R$4.06 for a quart of whole milk.
Rodizio restaurants are like Spanish tapas restaurants and a great way for visitors to try various local snacks and dishes from a buffet selection. Try Rio/Brasa, an all-you-can-eat steakhouse and barbecue with a Jewish, Middle Eastern, and Japanese buffet featuring 40 cuts of meat and great cocktails. You'll also find health food shops that sell an incredible variety of drinks and sandwiches. Rio has a large Japanese population, so sushi is popular. Visit Sushi Leblon or Haru Sushi Bar & Caffe for some of the best. Expect to pay from R$109 for a basic meal for two or R$220 for dinner for two with wine in an upscale restaurant.