A guide to making the most out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: what to do and what to see

What to do in Rio

Hi friends! In part one I went over how to prepare your trip to Rio de Janeiro. Today let’s talk about what to see and what to do once you’re there! I’ve linked most place names to Google Maps “pins” to help you plan your time in Rio. In no particular order, here are the things you should do your best to experience.

Lie on the beach at Praia Vermelha

One of the most – if not the most – beautiful beaches I have ever seen, Praia Vermelha is tucked behind the Sugarloaf Mountain and is less well known than the Ipanema or Copacabana beaches. Complemented by its lush settings (think palm trees and small fishing boats), it feels more intimate and relaxing than the larger beaches. You’ll probably have to take a bus or taxi to get there, but it’s worth it for a little taste of paradise.

Praia Vermelha and Sugarloaf, Rio de Janeiro
Praia Vermelha in the evening, with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain

Watch Brazilians play football

They don’t call it the national sport for no reason – even if you’re in Rio for a short time, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to witness locals taking part in one of their favourite pastimes. Depending on your commitment, you could buy tickets to watch the pros at the Maracana stadium. Or just sit back at the beach and watch talented children, or in the middle of the night, Cariocas (locals) who have just finished their shift. If you are looking into buying tickets, the main teams based in Rio are Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama. When they play each other it might get eventful!

Party!

Even to a self-confessed old lady like myself, Rio’s party vibe does appeal. Options for partying abound in Rio, but a good place to start is Praça São Salvador for a relaxed evening of al fresco drinking and, late in the week, probably music. If you’re in Rio on a Monday night and you’re not scared of getting your hands (and feet… flip flops, don’t ask) dirty to listen to some samba in the street, head to Pedra do Sal. Meanwhile, the neighbourhood of Lapa is always available for a no-frills experience involving cachaça and varied characters of Rio’s nightlife.

Buy fruit, veg and snacks at one of the many markets

I love markets, so you’ll find this recommendation again and again in future travel posts. Rio specifically does have lovely markets, with a friendly atmosphere and ridiculously cheap fruit and veg. My favourite so far is the Glória Sunday market, but use this website to find markets for every day of the week. Note: Domingo is Sunday, Segunda is Monday, Terça is Tuesday, and so on.

Visit the Botanical Gardens or the Parque Lage

Toucans in trees. That’s all I’m going to say. (Though if you’re not lucky enough to spot them, either of the two parks makes for a lovely walk anyway.)

Botanical Garden Rio de Janeiro
Me wearing an appropriate top in the Botanical Gardens

Enjoy a refreshing beer

Many Cariocas have a couple beers when they get out of work. Late afternoon or early evening might be a good time to enjoy a cold beverage yourself. Skol, Brahma and Antarctica are the main varieties available. I particularly love the idea of sharing a large bottle with friends using little cups.

Taste a real caipirinha

On a similar note, you cannot go to Brazil without sampling the national drink. And this comes from someone who barely drinks alcohol anymore! Caipirinhas are made of cachaça (a spirit made from sugarcane), sugar and lime. You can order them basically anywhere in Rio.

Drink from a coconut

If you don’t drink alcohol (or if you’re hungover) drinking straight from a coconut will definitely feel refreshing and tropical! Many stalls and shops will sell them – look for água de coco.

Try a juice with mysterious fruit

My last drink recommendation is to try a suco from one of the main juice bars in Rio. I can remember a lot of them being in Copacabana, but anywhere with fruit spilling all over the place is a good bet. Pick a random tropical fruit you’ve never heard of – or a combo. You may be positively surprised.

Take the bonde up to Santa Teresa

The bonde is a quaint tram that heads up to the artsy neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. It was undergoing work while I was in Rio, so this is something that I really look forward to experiencing next time I’m town. Santa Teresa used to be the home of aristocrats, as evidenced by the crumbling mansions, and became a bohemian culture hub. Have a look around and possibly some lunch – there’s quite a concentration of good places to eat near the Largo dos Guimarães.

Santa Teresa Rio de Janeiro
Take the tram to Santa Teresa, then venture out on foot!

Dine ethically

There are many options for meat-eaters in Rio – churrascarias come to mind (restaurants that served unlimited barbecued meats for a fixed price). But it being a big city, there are also quite a few veggie-friendly options. To be sure to find something that suits you and possibly discover hidden gems, use the Happy Cow website or app to search for places to eat out.

Talk to people

In my experience, Brazilians have shown themselves to be very chatty and friendly, as well as patient and understanding with my Portuguese. Give it a go, try some small talk too, you never know what adventures or friendships it could lead to!

Go up to Christ the Redeemer

Yes it’s teeming with other tourists, but going up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer is worth doing. The train ride up is a lovely experience in itself! This is the one thing that you should probably book in advance as numbers are limited and you might not get admitted on the day.

Christ the Redeemer Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer, photographed by my mum

Watch the sun rise or set at Arpoador

Arpoador is a rock outcropping between the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Its position allows you (and all the other people who congregate there) to enjoy a beautiful sunset or sunrise over the Atlantic. Sometimes people even clap when the sun disappears behind the horizon!

Walk / cycle / run / rollerblade along Copacabana or Ipanema

Both beaches are well-known and an important component of them is their promenade. Have a stroll along Copacabana or Ipanema and observe the diversity of beautiful people there and on the sand. There’s a posto (lifeguard watchtower) every kilometre with toilets that you can use for a small fee, as well as plenty of opportunities to purchase snacks, drinks and souvenirs from beach vendors. One of my favourite mementos is a canga – what Brazilians use instead of towels to lie on the beach.

Beach promenade Rio
Ipanema promenade – photo by gabyps on Pixabay

If you want to buy Rio-inspired things when you get home, you can check out my Redbubble collection here. You can get clothes, decor and stationery adorned with Rio landscapes, while supporting a local NGO: I donate 50% of my profits to Catalytic Communities.

So, which of these experiences will you try? Which have you already done? Do you think I’ve forgotten an unmissable carioca experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And if this post was helpful to you, please do share it!

What to eat drink and see in Rio

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