Neighbourhoods, restaurants, beach picks, dress code, essential safety rules: here are all the travel tips every visitor to Rio de Janeiro needs to know.
Visiting Rio de Janeiro is, for many people, one of life’s most exciting adventures. From the legendary Christ the Redeemer statue perched atop Corcovado to the iconic sidewalks of Ipanema beach, there are endless possibilities for memorable experiences. And while Rio does have a particular reputation that holds many travellers back from choosing it as a vacation destination, the truth is that anyone with the correct information can have a fantastic time in this city.
From insider tips on where to eat and drink to essential safety tips, below you can find the most important things to know before visiting Rio de Janeiro.
1. You need to pick the right neighbourhood for you
Before jumping on Booking.com it is essential to choose which neighbourhood to stay in. And if you’re visiting Rio de Janeiro for the first time, you’ll probably want to be as close as possible to the action. Here are some great options:
- Ipanema: If you want to be able to walk straight from your hotel to Rio’s most beloved beach, this is where you need to be. Ipanema is one of Rio’s wealthiest and safest residential areas, where all the best restaurants, bars, and shops in the city are located. The iconic tiled boulevard with the view of Morros Dois Irmãos is always packed with the coolest Carioca crowds either strolling or biking. If the budget allows for it, we always recommend Ipanema as the best neighbourhood to stay-in in Rio de Janeiro.
- Leblon: bordering Ipanema, it is the most expensive neighbourhood in Rio, where a lot of elite restaurants and boutiques are. It is frequently visited by local tv personalities and movie stars and is considered to be very safe for tourists. Leblon is the ideal choice for those looking for a privileged location.
- Copacabana: large and chaotic, it used to be synonymous with glamour in the 50s, and is still nowadays the most popular neighbourhood among vacationers. The restaurants here are often tourist-oriented, and pickpockets are slightly more frequent than in Ipanema, but it is still a valid option. There’s a wider range of accommodations compared to Ipanema, which is why we recommend staying in Copacabana if you’re travelling to Rio de Janeiro on a budget.
- Botafogo: nicknamed BotaSoho by a local magazine, this is a recently renovated hip area and is filled with cultural centres and clubs. Its location is ideal to reach several attractions in Rio, including the Botanical Garden, Parque Lage and Sugarloaf Mountain. The only downside is that the beach directly facing Botafogo is sadly not fit for swimming due to pollution, however, Praia Vermelha is just a 15-minute walk away.
2. You need to pick the right Posto for you
Beaches in Rio de Janeiro aren’t just places to sunbathe and swim; they’re full-on travel destinations. Filled with beautiful Cariocas playing beach volleyball, riding waves, and selling everything from dresses to caipirinhas and açaí, the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana are enough to visit the city.
Another peculiarity of Rio’s beaches is that they’re all split into sections called Posto, numbered lifeguard stations, and every Posto attracts a different crowd. In Leblon, Posto 11 is mainly frequented by families with babies, while Posto 10 is more exclusive and posh. In Ipanema, Posto 9 is the place to be seen, populated by the coolest younger crowds, while Posto 8, in front of Rua Farme de Amoedo, is the LGBT+ hotspot. Posto 7, also known as Arpoador, is loved by surfers keen to catch one of those perfect waves. In Copacabana, Posto 6 attract kayakers and stand-up paddlers.
For those planning to hit the beach on multiple days, trying out different sections is a fantastic way to learn all the nuances of Rio’s beach culture.
3. There’s an incredible dining scene in Rio de Janeiro
From the best traditional eateries in Santa Teresa to the fanciest boutique restaurants in Ipanema, here’s where you should eat and drink in Rio de Janeiro.
- Restaurant Oro. Michelin Star restaurant specializes in contemporary Brazilian cuisine. The renowned chef, Felipe Super, is considered to be a true gastronomical magician in Rio, preparing 2010 revolutionary dishes which have changed the restaurant scene in the city.
- Aprazível. Built into a sloping garden overlooking the charming neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, Aprazivel serves a mix of contemporary and comfort food Brazilian dishes. The view from its main deck is stunning, which makes this place perfect for romantic dinners.
- Satyricon. Serving Italian seafood dishes, Satyricon is considered an institution in Rio de Janeiro. The delights start from the moment you step inside, with a display of fresh catch. If lobsters, oysters, and classic spaghetti alle vongole is what you’re craving, this is your place.
- Nosso. A perfect match for a city known for its party soul, Nosso is an elegant three-story bar and restaurant that thrives in both roles. At the large counter, head bartender Daniel Estevan prepares classic recipes and signature creations. In the kitchen, New York-born chef Bruno Katz serves local cuisine favourites, given a slight gourmand spin.
- Sushi Leblon. To the surprise of many, there is a strong Japanese influence in Brazil, which translates into fantastic sushi at your disposal. Sushi Leblon is the most famous sushi restaurant, a staple for the poshest Cariocas looking for their sushi fix.
- Carioca da Gema. This authentic no-frills bar is located in a fascinating old mansion, where a different band plays every night.
- Rio Scenarium. This three-story historic building sells antiques during the day and later becomes a nightclub with live music.
- Confeitaria Colombo. For over 100 years, this beautiful Belle Époque pastry shop has tempted Cariocas and foreigners with everything from Portuguese pasteis de natas to divinely crafted French-style confections.
Other events not to be missed:
- Tuesdays at Canastra Bar. Canastra Bar is one of the hottest local spots and the perfect place for people-watching. On Tuesdays, they get fresh deliveries of oysters from the southern Brazilian city of Florianopolis – they’re caught in the morning and served by the afternoon. Make sure to get there before 6:30 PM to get your hand on a table.
- Friday at The Maze. One of Rio’s best-hidden gems, The Maze is a guesthouse on a hillside overlooking the city. The first Friday of every month, they host one of the best jazz nights in the city.
- Saturdays are for Feijoada. Feijoada is, in short terms, a Brazilian stew prepared with black beans and pork, accompanied by seasoned flour and all sorts of delicious side dishes. Bar do Mineiro, in the traditional neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, is considered one of the best restaurants to try feijoada, and makes for a great lunch spot during your Santa Teresa explorations.
- Sundays are for Churrasco. Churrascarias are all-you-can-eat steakhouses which serve a variety of grilled meats, all at will with a buffet of accompaniments included. For those ready to indulge in a Churrascarias degustation, try out Casa da Feijoada in Ipanema.
4. You should keep an eye on the weather forecast and be flexible
Rio de Janeiro has a humid, tropical climate. It can be quite rainy from December through to March, with most of the precipitation in that period coming in the form of quick rainstorms lasting 2 hours before clearing up. As you can imagine, the majority of the city landmarks (like Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain and Parque Lage) are not at their best on a rainy day. That is why it’s important to keep a flexible schedule in Rio, so as to allow you to be at the right place at the right time.
On a rainy day in Rio, you should visit, instead:
- The Museum of Contemporary Art
- The Museum of Tomorrow
- The Museum of Modern Art
- Real Gabinete Português da Leitura
5. Christ the Redeemer is best visited on a weekday
On the weekends, thousands of Brazilian tourists flock to Rio de Janeiro. This translates into huge crowds at all top attractions in the city, Christ the Redeemer above all. If you have time to visit the wonder of the world on a weekday, do it, as you’ll be able to save yourself a lot of stress and make your experience way more pleasant.
There are several ways to reach the summit, like minibuses, taxis, or the famous train from Mount Corcovado — the latter being the best overall. On the train, make sure you sit to the right on the way up and to the left on the way down, as the views are incredible.
6. Havaianas, shorts or cangas are the only must-haves
Rio is a very forgiving place when it comes to dressing code, and foreigners stand out from the crowd even when they’re not really trying. T-shirts, light shorts, dresses, flat sandals or flip-flops are what everyone usually wears during the day. And speaking of flip flops, make sure to get yourself some Havaianas as soon as you get to Rio de Janeiro.
If you’re really set on blending in, don’t bother bringing any towels to the beach. Cariocas only use cangas — light cotton sarongs — to cover their rented beach chairs.
7. Carnival truly is the world’s greatest party
Rio de Janeiro Carnival is the largest in the world, a party so spectacular that almost everyone has heard about it. Cariocas say it’s the greatest show in the world, and we fully believe them. If you’re planning on joining the fun in the next years, there are a couple of things you should know.
First of all, you should know that Rio’s Carnival last for full five days, from Friday night until noon of Ash Wednesday. The exact dates change from year to year but the festivity typically takes place in February or March.
Secondly, Rio’s Carnival sees its greatest expression in two types of events, where samba is always at the core. One is the official Carnival parade located in the Sambódromo, which lasts for a total of 10 hours. The parade is a competition between the top 14 samba schools in the city and you must book tickets well in advance to see it. The other is a Carnival Bloco, a citizen initiative led by moving vans that trail slowly with streams of samba music blasting all around. Over the course of 5 days more than 400 Blocos are organized in Rio, with vendors, people in costumes and music at every turn.
8. Rio is a hiker’s Paradise
Although travellers associate Rio de Janeiro mostly with beaches, you should know that this tropical city is actually a hiker’s paradise. Rio’s bay is located quite literally in the middle of the Tijuca rainforest and is fully surrounded by peaks and mountains of all kinds of beauty.
If you’d like to see Rio from above, there are two trails you absolutely must hike:
- Dois Irmãos. This hike will take you to the summit of the two iconic mountain peaks visible from Ipanema beach, and as you can imagine the view from up there is absolutely incredible.
- Pedra Bonita. Two things are worth trying here: the relaxed 30-minute hike to the top with views of the west area of Rio, and hang-gliding.
9. Electronic payments rule in Rio
Electronic payments are accepted nearly everywhere in Brazil, even for amounts less than 1$.
Want to buy a magnet at a stall? One piece of gum at the market? Or a canga on the beach? You can easily pay it with your card. Take little cash with you, and it is really not necessary around here.
10. You should not be scared to visit Rio de Janeiro, but you should be careful
No article about Rio would be complete without talking about safety, and yes, Rio does some serious safety issues. However, with the right precautions and some extra attention, we fully believe anyone can have an amazing time here. The main touristic areas are considered relatively safe, but you must know that petty thefts can happen everywhere. Some practical advice to keep you far away from any unpleasant surprises:
- If in doubt, always take an Uber, especially at night
- Avoid using your phone while walking on the street
- Don’t wear any jewellery
- Be extra careful of your belongings at the beach
- Be careful at cash points, and check for unusual devices or cameras.
- Leave your passport in the hotel and only carry a copy
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