Things to do in Rio de Janeiro
Wondering what to do in Rio de Janeiro? Brazil’s former capital is home for several world famous attractions. In just one city, you’ll find picturesque beaches, world’s largest urban forest, hectic city center, mountains and loads of culture. In our opinion, it’s advisable to plan your Rio visit a little bit ahead, to make sure you’ll get the most out of the Marvellous City. Check out here our recommendations of things to do in Rio de Janeiro
See the Obvious Rio Sights
Can you guess which places we refer with “obvious Rio sights”? Yes, of course! The obvious couldn’t be out of our list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro: Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain belong to almost every tourists bucket list visiting Rio. And for a reason!
Christ the Redeemer is the largest art deco statue of the world! This 38 m tall statue stands on a 711 m Corcovado Mountain watching down the Marvellous City. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and shouldn’t be missed while in Rio. In our opinion, the best thing while visiting Christ the Redeemer is the spectacular view of the city. Go on a clear day, and you’ll be able to see the whole city from birds perspective. Read here more about Christ the Redeemer Curiosities and also How to get to Christ the Redeemer.
The Sugarloaf Mountain is another post card landscape from Rio. The dramatic location right between the Guanabara Bay and the Atlantic Ocean will guarantee some of the best pictures you’ll catch during your trip. The most recommended time to visit the Sugarloaf is right before sunset, when the sky is coloured with orange, pink and purple tones. Have a caipirinha and wait for the sun setting, to then admire the city lights of Rio.
You can visit both of these attractions on your own or by joining to a tour. Going on your own is easy though, but if you’re visiting Rio during the high season (New Years, Carnaval, other public holidays) we highly recommend you to buy your tickets in advance online, to avoid standing in a line for hours. If you prefer comfort, privacy and saving time, S2 Rio is an agency with excellent reviews on Tripadvisor and you can get R$20,00 off by clicking here and talking directly to them on whatsapp.
Rio de Janeiro happens also to be home for some of the world’s most famous beaches. Copacabana and Ipanema are two beaches located right by side of each other, on the south zone of Rio. Copacabana beach is actually more frequented by tourists than locals. The neighbourhood itself is very traditional, full of pretty old school style brazilian restaurants and bars.
Ipanema’s atmosphere is much younger and cooler. That’s the beach where you’ll find surfers, futevolei players, and a good mixture of cariocas and tourists. In Rio, the beaches are divided into numbered “postos”. These postos are located about every 1km and are the watching towers for life guards. But actually, they are also ther to make beach-goers life much easier. If you make a date with some body at the beach, it’s easier to find each other at “Posto 9” than for example “under a palm tree in the middle of Ipanema”. Ipanemas streets are full of trendy bars, clubs and restaurants.
As you can imagine, these two beaches can get extremely crowded on a sunny summer day. If you wish for some personal space and queit beaches, you don’t need to go far! One option is to ride the subway until Jardim Oceanico, and from there walk to Barra da Tijuca beach. It’s a 18km long beach, so surely you’ll find a calm spot.
If feeling adventurous, make a day trip to the “wild beaches” of Rio. You find them in Guaratiba, around 40km south from Rio. There beaches are only accessible by trail, or a taxi boat, so don’t expect big crowds, but yes expect wonderful landscape! Visiting Guaratiba, is a whole day trip, but certainly worth it.
Free Walking Tour (the best “free” thing to do in Rio de Janeiro)
Did you know Rio de Janeiro is the only city in the world that once was an european capital, but outside of Europe? That the Portuguese Imperium moved here in the 1800’s to escape Napoleon. Rio is also one of the cities that most changed geographically during history! That’s what we will tell you on our Rio Free Walking Tour
We believe it’s important to learn about the history of the country you’re travelling. It helps you understand the people, their habits, language and culture. We at Free Walker, are very passionate about our city, and love to share our knowledge with travellers visiting our beautiful city.
Free Walking Tour is a model of tourism suitable for every budget.We don’t charge a fix price of our tours, but let the tourists decide at the end of the tour how much the experience was worth it. Everyone is welcome to join!
Free Walking Tour Downtown and Lapa
This is our most famous option, and we definitely recommend starting your Rio visit by joining to the Downtown and Lapa tour. In this 3-hours walking tour, our Walkers will tell you stories about the Portuguese colonialists, the Brazilian Imperium and the Republic. You’ll learn about Brazil’s history in an interactive way, also get good tips of activities to fill the rest of your days in the city.
On this tour, you’ll get a great general idea of you’re surroundings and of course make friends from all over the world. We’ll walk through the historical part of the city, visiting for example Colombo Bakery, the Imperial Palace, Municipal Theater, National Library, Arcos da Lapa and the Selaron Stairs.
Free Walking Tour Olympic Boulevard and African Heritage
A little less frequented area by tourists, the Olympic Boulevard is a part of Downtown that was renovated for Rio 2016 Olympic Games. It’s a few kilometers long beautiful ocean side-walk. Besides the Olympic Boulevard, you’ll see the futuristic Museum of Tomorrow and Museum of Art. This tour is also a must for all street art fans, since during the tour we’ll see the biggest graffiti in the world made by one person!
Another part of this tour, is a visit to a zone called “Little Africa”. This area was one of the biggest african communities, outside of Africa. Visit historically important places like Pedra do Sal, the birthplace of samba and the Valongo Wharf, the largest port in the world to receive african slave ships.
Our Walkers will tell you stories about slave trade and how the Africans influenced to our culture. We’ll also talk about favelas, and the contemporaneous brazilian society. If you want to understand more about brazilian culture, the variety and habits, don’t double think to join to the Free Walking Tour Olympic Boulevard and African Heritage.
Free Walking Tour Copacabana and Ipanema
Want to visit Rio’s two most famous beaches while learning about the real carioca’s lifestyle? Join to our Free Walking Tour Copacabana and Ipanema. This tour doesn’t just visit the beaches, but will walk you through these classic neighbourhoods meanwhile our Walkers sharing their knowledge about these areas urban development.
Copacabana is one of the most traditional neighbourhoods of Rio, and of course, hides many curiosities you wouldn’t discover walking around on your own. Ipanema is the birthplace of one of Rio’s trademarks, “Bossa Nova”. Walk on the same streets as the Girl of Ipanema, Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. We’ll finish the tour with a small brazilian picnic at the Lagoon. This is one of the most scenic views for the sunset by the way!
Things to do in Rio de Janeiro by Night
Rio has an amazing and very casual nightlife. It’s a city where you can go out for a drink directly from the beach! Most of the bars and clubs don’t require strict dressing codes, even havaianas are accepted! The center of the nightlife in Rio is a neighbourhood called Lapa. Every weekend the streets of Lapa get packed of party-goiers.
Lapa has something for every taste and every budget. Bars, restaurants and night clubs playing brazilian and international hits. So whatever you’re looking for, Lapa is your place! Have a look on our Pub Crawl Rio de Janeiro Lapa to experience an unforgettable night out. Learn how to make a caipirinha, dominate the steps of samba and make new friends from all over the world.
Everybody talks about Lapa, when it comes to nightlife in Rio. But Rio is a big city, and has much more to offer for eager out-goiers. Check out the neighbourhood of Botafogo. It’s a trendy area packed with bars and restaurants with very affordable prices. Ipanema and Copacabana both have nice options for drinks. The clubs are more focused on Ipanema, while Copacabana is the place to visit traditional “botecos”, famous places for locals to gather for drinks and snacks.
If you’re not lucky enough to spend weekend in Rio, don’t cry! Rio is such a big city, that it has things going on every night of the week. On a Monday night, go to the samba street party on Pedra do Sal. A street square in the middle of Little Africa gets full of locals and tourists listening and dancing a good samba every Monday night. On Tuesdays night, the best option is for sure our Pub Crawl Ipanema
Can you imagine any other big city in the world with so much green areas right in the city? Rio de Janeiro has the biggest urban forest of the world! And apart of it, the city counts with hundreds of parks and squares full of trees.
Tijuca National Park is an enormous forest right in the heart of Rio. Corcovado mountain, where Christ the Redeemer locates, is inside this park. The park is the lungs of Rio, because without the forest, Rio’s annual temperature would be 3 or 4 celcius degrees higher. Tijuca National Park is full of hiking paths, viewpoints and waterfalls to refresh on a hot summer day. There are hikes for all different levels, the shortest and easiest hikes are doable for anyone with a basic physical condition. For adventurers, Tijuca National Park counts with several day hiking options, but in these case it’s a wise idea to go with a guide.
It’s not necessary to hiking to enjoy the nature in Rio though. In our opinion, one of Rio’s bucket list destinations is the Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico). Founded by the Portuguese Royal Family in 1808, Rio’s Botanical Gardens counts with hundeds of different trees, plants and wild animals. Keep your eyes open, and maybe you’ll catch a sight of some exotic birds and monkeys.
Right by the side of Botanical Gardens there is a public park called Parque Lage. This park is one of Rio’s hidden gems, and you can’t possibly find more romantic place for a date than Parque Lage. Inside the park there works a School of Arts. As the park is attached to the Atlantic Rainforest, it’s very likely you to see some wildlife. Just remember, don’t feed the monkeys!
Extreme Sports – Different things to do in Rio de Janeiro
Adventure junkies, pay attention here! If you’re looking for some extra adrenaline, Rio is a right city for you. Whether you want to fly like a bird, summit the Sugarloaf rock-climbing or learn how to surf, Rio is your destination. Here you’ll find all this right inside the city, no need to travel far!
In our humble opinion, Rio de Janeiro is the most beautiful city in the world. Which would be a better place to jump from a 600 m rock with a paraglides and see the city from an actual birds angle? Pedra Bonita is the place where the hang-gliders take off, and on a clear day you’ll have amazing views of Rio’s south zone.
Any rock-climbers there? Rio de Janeiro also happens to be one of the world’s top destinations on rock climbing. Our granite rocks, or mountains, such like Corcovado or the Sugarloaf have tens of different level routes to summit. There are climbing tours for the beginners and experienced level climbers, the best season to climb is in the winter, when the sun isn’t boiling hot.
Arpoador and Barra da Tijuca beaches are the most famous in between local surfers. If you’re a beginner, head to a surfing school in Arpoador and practise with small waves. If you already know, besides Arpoador and Barra we recommend you to check out the East Zone beaches like Prainha, Grumari and Joatinga.
Rainy day in Rio? Don’t worry, the city is plenty things to do in Rio Janeiro on a rainy day. There are many amazing museums and cultural exhibition centers. Most of them have explanations in English. If you’re travelling on a budget, visit the museums on a free entrance day. Each museum offers a free entrance one day in a week, and this day varies on every museum.
The Museum of Tomorrow is a project of spanish Santiago Calatrava, and it was designed for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. This museum works with solar energy, and the themes inside discuss about the history and the future of our planet, the climate change and today’s society. It’s an interactive experience, the museum of full of screens, special features and sounds. Free entrance o Tuesdays!
Museum of Art of Rio (MAR) is an art museum near by Museum of Tomorrow. It counts with monthly changing exhibitions including photography, sculptures, art and historical knowledge. At the moment there is an amazing exhibition about samba. Rooftop has a terrace where you can visit for free and admire the view of Maua Square and the Guanabara Bay. Also free entrance on Tuesdays.
History lovers should definitely visit the Natural History Museum. They have a huge exhibition about that explains you everything about Brazil’s history, since the pre-colonization until today. You’ll see antique items, pictures and texts are written in English as well. Sunday is a free day!
The Royal Portuguese Gabinet of Reading is a traditional portuguese library, with a beautiful architecture and a significant archive of Portuguese literature. It’s open for visitation during week days, and doesn’t charge entrance fees.
Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (or CCBB) is one of the most visited museums of the world! The entrance is free every day. They have monthly changing exhibitions or art, sculptures, photography, movies, music…you name it!
Brazil is a football country, and for many cariocas, their football teams success go above religion. Rio has four major football clubs: Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco. The biggest and most popular club is Flamengo, which actually is the biggest football club in the world if you count the supporters.
If you’re in Rio while the football season is on, add to your list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro to watch a game, especially if they play in Maracanã, Brazil’s official football ghetto. Normally the games are on Wednesdays and Sundays, but exceptions happen. You can buy tickets online or directly at the stadium, or you can join to a tour where everything is organized in advance. Outside the stadium they sell football shirts that you can buy and get to the right athmosphere.
Food things to do in Rio de Janeiro
Brazil is a huge country, and the culinary in different parts varies a lot. Luckily, Rio de Janeiro is a melting pot of different cultures, customs and gastronomy. A big part of Rio’s population actually come from other states of Brazil, which means that in Rio is easy to discover traditional food from all over Brazil!
For a lunch, our recommendation is to head in one of Rio’s “per-kilo restaurants”. These are buffets, with huge variety of brazilian food, and the price depends of the weight. A price per kilo normally varies in between R$30 to R$70. These buffets are great for vegetarians as well and they are found all over the city.
Obviously you can’t visit Brazil without eating in a traditional “churrascaria”. A famous brazilian barbeque, where you’ll taste various different brazilian meats. Make sure you’ll go with an empty stomache, and don’t fill it with just rice and french fries.
A few common street snacks that you’ll see all over Rio are for example “tapioca” and “açaí”. Tapioca is kind of a taco or a crepe made out of mandioca flour. You can fill it with chicken, ham, cheese, tomatoes or with sweet toppings like banana, coconut and nutella. Tapioca is a very famous quick grab they sell on the streets. Açaí is a berry that originates from the Amazon region. It’s considered as a super food, and has a lot of energy and vitamins. Here in Rio, people are used to eat açaí as a form of sorbet. Normally it’s mixed with other fruits like banana or strawberries, guarana syrup and granola. The quality of açaí in Rio varies a lot, so we recommend you having your açai in one of these places: BIBI Sucos or Amazonia Soul. Both of these places sell pure 100% açai.
Best Sunsets of Rio de Janeiro
Don’t leave this place without watching a sunset. This is one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro has basically two seasons, summer and the winter. During winter the sun sets really early (around 5:30PM), while during the summer months December to March cariocas can enjoy the sunlight until approximately 8 PM. Rio has wonderful spots to watch the sunset, even if you spend longer time in Rio, you’ll be able to catch a different sunset view every day!
Probably the most famous place to admire the sunset is the Arpoador rock at the end of Ipanema Beach. Every day hundreds of cariocas and tourists gather to the rock and aplause as the sun sets behind the horizon.
Head to Mureta da Urca for drinks and delicious bar snacks a little before sunset time. Location is very priviledged right by the side of the Sugarloaf mountain, with a great view over the Guanabara Bay, Christ the Redeemer and Botafogo beach.
Praça Mauá in the Olympic Boulevard has an extremely beautiful but very underestimated sunset. If you happen to be on the area, make sure you’ll stay until the sunset time. On a clear day, a view from Praça Mauá is spectacular! You’ll see all the way to the other side of Guanabara Bay and to the mountain range of Teresopolis.
And last but not least, of course we have to remind you about the sunset at the Sugarloaf Mountain. You’re not going to be the only person doing so, so the crowds might be big, but we promise the views is wortwhile.