Let’s start this guide by acknowledging one thing: Rio de Janeiro is not for amateurs. Before you go to the wonderful city you should do research on how to get around, which areas are safe and etc... In every big city, Paris, NY, London, you should be aware of your surroundings. Multiply that kind of awareness by ten (or fifty) and you’re ready to go to Rio!
This unique city has literally everything. So I’ve decided to split this guide into a few different categories.
Probably the first thing people think about when they hear Rio and that’s accurate. Rio has an insane amount of beaches spread all over and all of them have a unique character and personality. My personal favorites are Grumari and Prainha. They’re less touristy and full of surfers, which is always fun to watch. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, I still can’t get over it. Copacabana is a must. As a local, I don’t go there very often but you have to. It’s always full of life and people/animals and some of the kiosques actually sell really good food and drinks. For sunset, my absolute favorite, Arpoador, located in Ipanema. You can join everyone else on the big rock and watch the sun go down in between two mountains, the city, and the ocean. Yeah, I know.
Yes, forest. How can one city have all of these things? I really don’t know, but Rio does. Tijuca Forest is the biggest urban forest in the world. There are plenty of trails and hikes to do there but, if that’s not your vibe, you can also drive around and enjoy all the green surrounding you. I’ll put Parque Lage and the Botanical Gardens in this category as well just because of all the nature in those two places.
If you enjoy hiking, my favorite ones are Pedra Bonita (easy, 40 minutes up and an insane view) and Pedra da Gávea (definitely not easy, around 4 hours up, but the view is even more insane). Mirante Dona Marta is another amazing viewpoint and possibily the prettiest one. There’s a big parking lot there, so no need to hike. If you feel adventurous I would recommend watching sunrise from this place.
There is definitely a lot to do downtown! Just know that this area of town is usually better during the day unless you’re going to bars at Lapa. Speaking of Lapa, you can not miss seeing Arcos da Lapa and the neighborhood trolly going by on top of them! In the same area, you’ll find the famous Selarón Stair Steps, also a must-see while downtown. Lastly, you can’t miss what we call “Porto Maravilha”. It’s the port area that was completely renovated for the 2016 Olympics and it’s full of fun things to do. Make sure you see Museu do Amanhã and the biggest graffiti wall in the world, the famous Mural Etnias, do artista Kobra.
I named this category this way because this is just all the places that everyone knows you should visit when in Rio, and they’re all very very touristy but really, you should go. Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ The Redeemer are one of the most amazing landmarks in the world and you CAN NOT go to Rio and not see them. It’s worth the crowds, tourists and whatever else you have to face it. Maybe plan to go on a weekday and it will be more enjoyable! But seriously, go.
On a side note, Rio is best seen with a local. Having someone that truly knows the city to take you around is much better than trying to figure it all out by yourself or hiring day tours.
And lastly, know that my husband Stephan has been to Rio de Janeiro 3 times in his lifetime. A total of 9 weeks or more. And he still hasn’t seen or done it all. And that is also why I called this a “mini guide” of Rio, because I definitely didn’t cover it all.
So depending on how much time you have don’t feel bad if you can’t do absolutely everything, that just means you’ll have to come back.