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, active city center, mountains and lots 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 Wonderful 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 Wonderful City. The statue took 5 years to be built and you don’t even imagine the history behind the Christ, since the beginning project that changed a lot (and we can say it was for the best, trust in that) until get to the magnificent monument that we know today.
It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and shouldn’t be missed while in Rio. If besides being enchanted with the view from this monument, you wish to know more details and curiosities of this atraction, see in Christ the Redeemer Curiosities .
We have a good tip for you that is visiting Rio exactly when is raining, before get the tickets try to look the monument from some neighborhood like Botafogo and Lagoa, to make sure that it worth to go in that day or maybe it’s better to wait for a sunny day, where you can see the full city, the way the birds look to it. If you have any questions how to get to Christ we have a post with all the details for you, check it out in 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. There’s two ways to get to Sugar Loaf: once you are in the Urca neighborhood you can buy the tickets for the cable car to get to the both montains, the first one is call Urca Hill and the second it’s the Sugar Loaf Mountain itself.
If you’re more adventurous and would like a program more radical and save some money there’s an alternative way go to the Urca Hill, through Trilha do Morro da Urca (which is for free). Once you’re there you can take the cable car just to go from Urca Hill to Sugar Loaf (the highter mountain) – and it’s cheaper!
The view it’s amazing and some people like even more the view from the Urca Hill. 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 to set, to then admire the city lights of Rio.
You can visit both of these attractions on your own or by joining 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. And who does not find it very pleasant to walk along the edge of Copacabana Beach in the late afternoon and drink coconut water, caipirinha or beer at the kiosks that are all over the beach? According to the AskMen website: Copacabana, it’s the little princess!
The Copacabana neighborhood has many options for all tastes, with many bars and restaurants, good hotels and comfortable lodging for those who want to be close to the beach and well located in relation to other tourist attractions. There are a few other options of points that can be visited in Copacabana such as the Copacabana Fort, which in addition to being a military museum is in a prime location of the neighborhood, has two dining options for those who want a full meal or just a coffee admiring the beauty of the beach. It is well worth visiting.
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. The streets of Ipanema are full of bars, night clubs and fancy restaurants.
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 there to make beach-goers life much easier. If you make an appointment with somebody 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”.
As you can imagine, these two beaches can get extremely crowded on a sunny summer day. If you wish for some personal space and quiet beaches, you don’t need to go far! You can go to the neighborhood of Leblon, which has an easy access through the metro in direction to Jardim Oceânico.
A neighborhood with a beach as beautiful as the other two, but more quiet, besides the many options of kiosks, stores and restautantes. For the ones that travel with kids, the beach has a space for the kids to play, with a pool and toys, so this way kids and parents can enjoy a nice day at the beach and for the ones who wish to enjoy the edge of beach, they can walk, pedal and practice any favorite sports at Leblon, always with options for everybody.
Due to the proximity of the Two Brothers Hill, the view of the sunset is spectacular. The Leblon Viewpoint is a good option for beautiful photos and have a view of the entire length of Leblon Beach, Ipanema, reaching up to the Arpoador. Near the viewpoint of Leblon there is the Municipal Natural Park of the Two Brothers Cliff, a place still little explored by tourists, a very quiet, with an environmental preservation area with a lot of green and offers a children’s play area, a sports court, gardens and a trail for the more adventurous. The viewpoint still offers a view of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, Corcovado and Botanical Garden.
Still want to explore beaches more quiets? The answer is Barra da Tijuca. The beaches in the area of Barra da Tijuca are beautiful and more quiet, since they are more far away from the city center. It’s a 18km long beach, so surely you’ll find a calm spot.
There are kiosks all over the beach, spaces for the post-beach as well. Possible to practice sports on the beach, walk along the beachfront or take a bike ride as well. The Pedra da Gávea trail has access through Barra da Tijuca, in an area known as Barrinha, at the entrance of the Tijuca Forest. Get to know the Island of Gigóia which is an incredible place, and the access is made by boat, with charming alleys and great gastronomic offer, besides taking advantage of the sunset in Lagoa da Tijuca
If feeling adventurous, make a day trip to the “wild beaches” of Rio. You find them in Guaratiba, around 40km south from Rio. Those 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.
Stay inside all the best beaches in Rio de Janeiro, with our post of the top 5!
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! 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, on our Rio Free Walking Tour, 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! We offer three tours in this style through the city and we will explain a little about each one of them. Free Walking Tours are a great option for rainy days, as the cooler weather makes the tour much more enjoyable.
Free Walking Tour Downtown and Lapa
More focused on the history of Rio de Janeiro, if you like to visit historical sights when traveling, I believe you will love our suggestion of Free Walking Tour through Downtown and Lapa.
This is our most famous option. 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. That’s why we recommend you to join this tour in your first days in the city, so you can have a better idea of how to enjoy better your time, money and have a unforgetting vacations.
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 of Rio (MAR).
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. PS: This tour only happens in english.
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!
Free Tour Copacabana and Ipanema
Things to do in Rio de Janeiro by Night
The nightlife of Rio is amazing and very casual, with options for everybody. 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. This district is considered the most bohemian of Rio de Janeiro, is located in the Center of the city so it is a district considered historical and with many cultural attractions, since it is very close to many important tourist attractions in the city. Every weekend the streets of Lapa get packed of people that likes to have fun.
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 dominate the steps of samba and make new friends from all over the world.
Pub Crawl in Lapa
As we mentioned Lapa has options of bars, restaurants, nightclubs for all styles, and if you want to know more about the places in the neighborhood we leave you our post about the best bars in Lapa, but if you want to know about nightclubs, this post is for you with the best nightclubs in Lapa.
Everybody talks about Lapa, when it comes to nightlife in Rio. But Rio is a big city, and has much more to offer for people that likes to have fun. Check out the neighbourhood of Botafogo.
Many parties and nightclubs can also be found locally, even have a more alternative footprint and for the public who likes rock, many spaces are dedicated to the musical style. If you want to know more about the best bars in Botafogo we leave you a post with all the best options.
It is a young area, the nightlife of the neighborhood is very lively and well-paced, every day has a bar to meet friends and chat, good restaurants and on weekends the place is very busy, difficult to find a empty table.
Ipanema and Copacabana has great options for drinks. Evenings are more located in Ipanema, while Copacabana is the place to visit the traditional botecos and famous places that the Cariocas drink and eat, besides the edge of the Beach that in all its extension offers a great variety of kiosks, for the goers of the beach, and many of them also offer live music. See here more options of the best bars in Copacabana and Ipanema.
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 at 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. Many other programs are possible to enjoy the night in the city, read our post about the nights in Rio de Janeiro.
On Tuesdays night, the best option is for sure our Pub Crawl Ipanema. If you want to enjoy an incredible tour with lively people, getting to know the best bars and finishing the night in one of the best parties in the neighborhood, surely you should join our tour. We specialize in making your vacation more fun and unforgettable!
Are you one of those who likes to go out and dance the night away? We have a very cool post about the nightclubs in Rio de Janeiro, see the best places to have fun!
WHAT TO DO ON RAINY DAYS
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, it was designed for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and this was the last museum to be inaugurated in Rio de Janeiro. 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 is full of screens, special features and sounds. The museum runs from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (attention, the last entry is 5:00 p.m.). Free entrance on Tuesdays! It costs R$ 20.00 whole and R$ 10.00 half. A cool tip is to download the application from the museum (it’s free) and very well done. Then you already see the exhibitions, confirm information and schedule your trip!
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. 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. If you plan to go another day, take a look at the MAR website, because there are several ways to save and even get free, otherwise, it costs R$ 20.00 whole and R$ 10.00 a half.
TIP: If you are interested in getting to know the two museums and will not be able to visit them on free days, you can do a combo: MAR (Museum of Rio Art) + Museum of Tomorrow for R$ 32,00 and R$ 16, 00 half. See how we help you?
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. I recommend it more for anyone who really enjoys history (like me) or for anyone who has visited several places listed above. Sunday is a free day! Other than that R$ 10.00 whole and R$ 5.00 a half!
LIBRARIES AND CULTURAL CENTER
The National Library of Rio de Janeiro is a very important space for the history of our Brazil. With the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family, the National Library was created to replace the old Royal Libray, and when Dom João came here, he brought a good part of his collection, with about 60,000 works.
The National Library is one of the 10 largest libraries in the world by UNESCO and the largest in Latin America. Is beautiful! Guided tour in Portuguese, English and Spanish. It’s free but you need to bring a photo document. On the National Library website, information is always updated!
If you are walking around downtown and have time, get to know the Royal Portuguese Reading Office. It’s stunning! This is a traditional Portuguese librarie, with a beautiful architecture and a significant archive of Portuguese literature. It is open for visitation during the weekdays and does not charge entrance fees. At the moment there are no guided tours, and anyone who has the time, can only take a peek. Very worth it!
Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (or CCBB) is one of the most visited museums of the world! The Banco do Brasil Cultural Center was once the first bank in Brazil and has a part dedicated to this part of our history, with coins, banknotes, architecture, and bank furniture from before! The art exhibits, sculpture, photography, movies, and music change every month! Oh, the lift from there is just a charm! The CCBB closes on Tuesdays and admission is free every day.
Besides these museums and cultural centers there are many other spaces that are worth to be visited, when the weather does not allow you to enjoy that beach day, or even when you prefer quieter activities, we have a great text about it: Rio de Janeiro in cloudy days.
MAR (Rio Art Museum)
WHAT TO DO IN RIO DE JANEIRO – DIFFERENT ATTRACTIONS
This neighborhood is a charm, right next to the animated Lapa, Santa Teresa is a quiet and artistic place. Many artists lived and until today they live there, so it is common to see paintings on the walls of the neighborhood, galleries and boutiques all around the area.
The neighborhood is very residential and preserves the houses with more colonial style and old. The most charming tip is to take the Bondinho Santa Teresa and go through the Arcos da Lapa enjoying the wonderful view of the promenade.
One of the most tourist attractions in the neighborhood is the museum known as Parque das Ruínas, this was the residence of the singer Laurinda dos Santos Lobo in the 1920s and today is a cultural space that preserves the structure in ruins and apparent bricks and there we have an incredible and privileged view of Guanabara Bay and the city center and all this with free admission, hint: the photos there are incredible.
After the Ruins Park you can visit the Museum of the Chácara do Céu, it’s very close and in this museum has a large collection with works of Brazilian and European artists. After these two spaces, you can visit Largo do Guimarães which is a gastronomic point. There is plenty of bars and restaurants, a bohemian center in the neighborhood, a cool place to spend an afternoon and enjoy the air of Santa Teresa.
Brazil is a football country, and for many cariocas, football 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, the greatest symbol of our football. 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 a tour where everything is organized in advance.
If you are not lucky enough to watch one of the matches at the stadium, tours are offered at Maracanã for football lovers. Tours run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Guided tours cost R$ 65,00 (R$ 32,50 for students). You can see the backstage of the show, except that the sensation of entering such a stadium is sensational!
Of course Rio de Janeiro has many other nice places to visit and we leave you with many other tips in this post about the 5 different places in the city.
WHAT TO DO IN RIO DE JANEIRO – ACTIVITIES IN CONTACT WITH NATURE
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, the Garden was created to acclimatize the species that came from different parts of the world.
There was an old gunpowder factory in the area! Today, the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro is one of the most important institutes in the world for botanical research and conservation of biodiversity! Some spaces of the Botanical Garden are very interesting to be visited as the orchid with more than 2500 species, a Lake of Victory-Regia and a session of medicinal plants, for example.
The Botanical Garden of Rio has hundreds of different trees, plants, including the wood that gave rise to the name of the country, Pau-Brazil is part of the species that are in the garden, cocoa and yellow ipê, as well as a variety of wild animals. Keep your eyes open, and maybe you will see some exotic animals 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 (we even left that suggestion for a possible date, HAHA). Inside the park 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!
The place is part of the historical memory of the city, it functioned as a sugar mill and in 1957 it was listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) as a historical and cultural heritage of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Parque Lage is a beautiful garden with European romantic style inside the Atlantic Rainforest Native Forest, and just as the Botanical Garden has very special species such as the imperial palms, lakes and islands, caves spread by its extension, in addition to inlaid aquariums on the walls with several fish.
The setting is perfect for a family visit as well, as it offers a good structure for children’s fun with outdoor spaces, and is a great option for a picnic.
The building that is located in the park is a 19th-century mansion, and currently operates a Lage Park Visual Arts School (EAV) and offers a variety of training for beginners, trainings and schedules with exhibitions, lectures, seminars and displays of visual content. The space still has a library and a small auditorium.
I believe that you have already seen photos on the social midias of friends who visit Parque Lage, with a beautiful pool inside the palace, in this central patio in the interior works the Bistro Plage famous for offering the main meals with organic products that can be enjoyed by the visitors and even participate in on-site events that take place throughout the year.
Part of the most common and well-known options for all wonderful city visitors, we leave you with different attractions that you can visit and activities to do in the city.
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 practice 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.
Sugar Loaf Climbing
BEST PLACES TO WATCH THE SUNSET
Certainly watching the sunset cannot miss on your list of “what to do in Rio de Janeiro”. Rio de Janeiro has basically two seasons, summer and winter. During the winter the sunset usually happens very early (around 5:30 PM), while during the summer months from December to March the locals can enjoy the sunshine until approximately 7:30 PM.
Rio has incredible places to watch the sunset, even if you’ve spent more time in Rio, you’ll be able to see a different sunset for each day! I suppose you have heard of the sunset at Arpoador (a rock between Copacabana and Ipanema), right?
Probably the most famous spot to watch the sunset. Every day thousands of locals and tourists gather on the beach to applaud as the sun sets on the horizon. You already know what to do when you follow this spectacle of nature!
Another very very famous and beautiful place is at Mureta da Urca for drinks and delicious snacks before sunset. The location is very privileged right next to the Sugar Loaf, with a good view of Guanabara Bay, Cristo Redentor and Praia de Botafogo.
Of course we have to remind you about the sunset on the Sugar Loaf. You will not be the only one doing this, so the crowd can be big, but we promise the view is worth it.
And finally, in Plaza Mauá on the Olympic Boulevard has a wonderful and understated sunset. If you are in the area, make sure you stay until sunset. On a clear day, the view of Plaza Mauá is spectacular! You will see the other side of the Bay of Guanabara and the mountains of Teresópolis.
Wow, a lot to do, isn’t it? What did you think of our tips? Do you have any other suggestions of tours to tell us?