Top 30 Awesome Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil

by Jules on October 5, 2013

The spectacular metropolis of Rio de Janeiro is buzzing right now: travellers are treated to iconic white sand beaches, centuries of fascinating history, verdant rainforests and majestic mountains. It’s time to discover for yourself why this city is dubbed the ‘cidade maravilhosa’ – marvelous city!

Climb Corcovado and admire Christ the Redeemer – Located in Tijuca National Park, the 125-foot Christ the Redeemer statue is recognized by many as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The statue of Jesus Christ sits atop the granite Corcovado Mountain at 2,300 feet, allowing all of Rio to witness its grandeur. And did you know that Corcovado translates as ‘hunchback’ in Portuguese!

Chill out on Grumari Beach – With no luxury hotels, kiosks or restaurants in sight, visitors have plenty of space to stretch their legs along more than a mile of red and white sand while taking in Rio’s distinctive beauty. A favourite beach of local sunbathers, Grumari Beach is far from the crowded, tourist-filled beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.

Explore Tijuca National Park – Spanning a massive 8,300 acres, Tijuca National Park is by far the most immense urban rainforest in the world. Here, visitors can experience a myriad of activities. From admiring the famed Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio to hiking and hang-gliding, a day of fun-filled activities is just a stone’s throw away at this urban retreat. Open from 8 am to 5 pm every day of the week, Tijuca National Park is brimming with activity all day long.

Experience Jardim Botânico – Covering 340 acres, Jardim Botânico is a tropical paradise consisting of more than 6,000 breathtaking species of flora, awing and inspiring hundreds of visitors each day. Originally opened in 1822, the botanical paradise has become a sanctuary for tourists and locals alike. Located only a few minutes north of Ipanema, Jardim Botânico can be easily accessed by numerous buses in Zona Sul.

And together with the Tijuca National Park, the Corcovado Mountain and Guanabara Bay, this region is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Carioca landscape covers the area between the Corcovado Mountain and the Atlantic sea.

Gawp at Ilha Fiscal – Residing on a remote island in Guanabara Bay, the neo-gothic castle of Ilha Fiscal is a little-known gem of Rio de Janeiro. Inside the castle, visitors will discover an antique Brazilian submarine, a helicopter, and a small ship that are remnants from a century’s old Brazilian navy outpost. Guided tours take place three times daily from Thursday through to Sunday. The island can be accessed by boat on weekdays and by bus on the weekends.

Wander Santa Teresa – The enchanting neighbourhood of Santa Teresa is home to charming cobblestone streets, beautiful sidewalk mosaics, splendid art galleries, and grandiose mansions. Located within walking distance of southwest Lapa, Santa Teresa offers a myriad of traditional Brazilian bars, restaurants, and shops. Visitors are often pleasantly surprised by Santa Teresa’s vibrant art scene.

Discover awesome Sugar Loaf Mountain – At over 1,200 feet above the sprawling metropolis of Rio, Sugar Loaf Mountain stands proudly over the scenic Guanabara Bay. The picturesque mountain can be reached by taking a short cable car ride to the base of Morro da Urca. Another cable car takes visitors to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. The cable cars operate from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week, and one-day passes from Praia Vermelha to the mountain can be easily purchased.

Chill out on Prainha Beach – The remote “little” beach of Rio may be 40-minutes from the popular Ipanema Beach, but it is well worth the trip. Surrounded by a verdant rainforest and scenic rolling hills, Prainha is arguably the most beautiful beach in all of Brazil. Here, surfers can be seen vying for the beach’s coveted waves, while locals gather to enjoy spectacular early evening sunsets.

Get active on Barra da Tijuca – The seemingly never ending beach of Barra da Tijuca is popular for sun-seekers of every variety. Visitors and locals alike frequent Barra da Tijuca to experience azure waters and perfect surfing conditions. Dotting the shore, visitors will find a plethora of inexpensive restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops. Here, shoppers can also indulge their shopping desires by visiting Barra Shopping, which is the largest mall in South America.

Live the dream on Copacabana Beach – Surrounded by Zona Sul’s luxurious residences and shops, Copacabana beach is one of the most popular beaches in all of Rio de Janeiro. Complete with beautiful sand, alluring waters, charming mosaic sidewalks, delicious eateries, and luxury hotels, it is little wonder why locals and visitors flock here each and every day. In fact, the beach is often so crowded on weekends that people begin arriving before sunset to find their spot in the sand.

Dance the night away in Lapa – This fun and unique neighbourhood comes alive at night, when Samba music can be heard pouring out of nearly every doorway and locals can be seen swinging their hips away while sipping on tasty cocktails. Filled with row after row of live music venues, tapas bars, and thumping clubs, Lapa is known as the best place in Brazil to experience an authentic good time.

Soak up the history of Arcos da Lapa – Finished in 1750, this impressive structure is one of the only landmarks that has stood the test of time since Brazil’s colonial era. At one time, the aqueduct transported water from the Rio Carioca, but it is now used by the colourful Bondinho de Santa Teresa trolley to connect Santa Teresa to Rio’s downtown area. Spanning 800 feet and containing 42 arcs, the Arcos da Lapa is an excellent example of the area’s architecture.

Admire the heritage of Fortaleza de São João – This ancient colonial fortress was originally built in 1618, but it was refurbished with new cannons and modern weaponry in 1872. It was again remodelled at a later date, but much of the original structure still remains intact. Visitors should add this to their list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro and take time to explore the impressive fortress while taking in splendid views of Guanabara Bay.

Browse the Museum of Modern Art – Rio’s Museum of Modern Art is home to more than 1,700 beautiful works of modern art. Inside the sprawling museum, visitors will find numerous photography exhibits, a cinema and the revered Languiole Restaurant, where you can indulge in the very best of infused Brazilian and French cuisine. The museum is open from 12 pm to 6 pm Tuesday through Sunday and is set in the beautiful Parque de Flamengo.

Explore fashionable São Conrado – This trendy district is a favourite amongst hang-gliders, who often take flight from the majestic Pedra da Gavea that towers overhead. The district also features a terrific beach that is becoming increasingly popular for Rio’s rich and famous as well as its surfers.

Hang out at the Parque dos Patins – This large park in the city centre is perfect for singles or families to enjoy. Here, visitors and locals can partake in tennis, soccer, rollerblading, and many other fun activities. There are bicycles available to rent and numerous food stalls serving up delicious lunchtime fare. At night, people congregate to the park and the surrounding area to enjoy dinner, draught, and live music at the area’s eclectic restaurants.

Browse the intriguing Museo do Índio – In tribute to Brazil’s native indigenous population, the Museo do Índio is an excellent place to discover the history and customs of Brazil’s original inhabitants. Opening in 1953, the museum’s collection contains impressive displays of religious artifacts, musical instruments, tools, and costumes used by the ancient people who once inhabited Rio’s lands.

Watch the beautiful people on Ipanema Beach – Iconic Ipanema Beach has been attracting throngs of tourists for decades. Along the two-mile long beach in the southern district of Rio de Janeiro, visitors will discover cerulean waters, astounding views, terrific music, a variety of sports, excellent food, sun-kissed bodies, and a friendly atmosphere. With so much appeal, the beach is quite popular and densely populated from December to March.

Explore Casa do Pontal – With more than 5,000 sculptures on display from every region of Brazil, the Caso do Pontal has the proud distinction of being Brazil’s largest museum dedicated to displaying the country’s varied folk art. Located approximately 50 minutes from downtown Rio de Janeiro, Caso do Portal is not a short trek, but its proximity to the Serra de Grumari ecological preserve make it an excellent day trip.

Lose a few hours at the Lord Jim Pub – Whether visitors from the UK want to sip on English tea, participate in a lively dart game, or kick back and catch an English Premier League football match, the Lord Jim Pub is the place to be. Complete with a red telephone booth near the door, walls covered in English sayings, a variety of tasty beers, numerous imported teas, and tasty scones, every Brit can get a taste of home at the Lord Jim Pub.

Sail away to the Ilha de Paquetá – Visitors can hop on board a boat to the most scenic island in Guanabara Bay and escape Rio’s crowded city beaches for a day. A popular destination for local families, Ilha de Paquetá is dotted with interesting souvenir shops and charming colonial buildings. Ferries depart to the island from downtown nearly every day of the week.

Experience the Biblioteca Nacional – As the largest library in Latin America and housing over eight million books, Brazil’s National Library is a must see. In addition to the books, visitors can also delight in the library’s stunning neo-classical architecture and intricate Corinthian columns.

Tackle the Pedra da Gávea – Adventurers and nature lovers can often be found climbing to the summit of this 2,800-foot mountain, providing them with spectacular views of the beaches and city below. One of the more adventurous things to do in Rio de Janeiro, although less ambitious visitors can opt for a guided tour, which will transport them to the summit in no time at all.

Learn a little at the Terra Encantada – At Terra Encantada, visitors can learn all about Brazil’s cultural heritage and have a boatload of fun in the process. As a Brazilian interpretation of a Western theme park, Terra Encantada features numerous thrilling rides for children and grown-ups alike. From roller coasters and water rides to an IMAX simulator, there are a myriad of rides to thrill every visitor.

Enjoy Convento de Santo Antônio – Finished in 1620, Convento de Santo Antônio is by far the oldest church in all of Rio, and it was a powerful religious centre during the area’s tumultuous colonial times. The sprawling church exudes the very essence of colonial architecture and tells the story of Rio’s deep ties to Christianity and colonialism. It is definitely a worthy stop for every visitor to the golden sands of Rio’s shore.

Be a part of the legendary Rio Carnival – Undoubtedly the awesome Rio Carnival is the biggest and brightest festival on earth. Street bands flood Copacabana and Ipanema beaches with lively music, the Rio Scala plays host to magnificent balls and the many samba schools dominate the main parade with their flamboyant music which accompanies the outrageous costumes. Rio Carnival 2014 runs from 28 February to 4 March. 

Admire stunning Igreja da Candelária – The impressive baroque style and massive façade of the Igreja da Candelária is difficult to ignore. Taking nearly 90 years to build from start to finish, it was deemed complete in 1898, and was Rio’s most expansive church for a number of years. Inside the church, visitors will find a colourful blend of intricate marble statues, altars, and massive columns.

Experience Scala I for yourself – Famous for its scintillating samba and mulatas shows, Scala I is a popular destination for many visitors in search of a good time and a unique Brazilian experience. The casual atmosphere creates the perfect setting to enjoy exquisite dancers moving their hips to classic Brazilian music. The professional musicians on hand will also play any tune that a customer requests.

Gawp at the Catedral Metropolitana – Strikingly similar to a gigantic space-aged version of a Mayan pyramid, it is impossible to miss this wonderful feat of architecture while in downtown Rio. Although the project began nearly 40 years ago, it is still considered incomplete. Nevertheless, it has the capacity to hold more than 200,000 visitors. With a cavernous interior spanning 300 feet high and no supporting columns in sight, it is a must–see for every visitor to Rio.

Admire the colonial history of Largo do Boticário – This charming little square is a colonial sanctuary in the heart of Rio. Nearly every house in this historic neighbourhood date back to the 19th century, and most are decorated with lovely and colourful Portuguese tiles. Featuring cobbled streets and a picturesque fountain in the center of the neighbourhood, Largo do Boticário is a pleasant reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Rio.

Shop til you drop at the Praça XV de Novembro – Revered by many as the true heart of Rio, Praça XV de Novembro is one of the city’s oldest markets. Here, visitors can find paintings, local handcrafts, various foods, and much more. Anyone desiring an authentic Rio experience and urban adventure should spend the afternoon perusing the market’s various wares and colourful personalities.

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