Whether you’re dreaming of lively beaches, spectacular landscapes or delicious caipirinhas, this roundup of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro will sweep you off your samba-dancing feet.
Blessed with an astounding backdrop of extensive beaches, lush hillsides and glittering lagoons, Rio de Janeiro is a place of unmatched beauty. There’s a joyful, contagious rhythm pervading every inch of the city; a scent of salty air with notes of coconut spreads all around from the shores; architectural and natural marvels stand out in every direction.
From the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue to the epic views of Sugarloaf Mountain, there are so many sites not to be missed it can be hard to know where to start. If you’re planning on visiting the city soon and want to make the most of your precious time, we’ve put together a guide on the absolute best things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
Keep scrolling and brace yourself for the adventure of a lifetime.
Best Things to Do in Rio De Janeiro
1. Visit Christ the Redeemer Statue at Corcovado
An indisputable symbol of Rio de Janeiro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 Wonders of the World – Christ the Redeemer is truly a legendary monument. With a height of 40 meters, it’s also the third-largest statue on the planet.
The statue was designed in 1931 by engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, who envisioned the image of Jesus with outstretched arms, embracing the entire city from the Corcovado mountain. From the top, the view is just as incredible as the monument itself. From left to right, you have the entire coastline of Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the Botanical Garden and Ipanema. The statue can be seen from almost every corner of Rio de Janeiro. As you can imagine this is the most popular landmark in Rio de Janeiro, so for your visit we highly recommend getting there before 9 a.m to beat the crowds.
How to get there: there are different ways to get to Christ the Redeemer, but the best one is by rack train. The departing station is located at Rua Cosme Velho 513. Opening hours: daily 8:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. Ticket cost: 79.00 BRL (€17.80), reduced 51.00 BRL (€11.44).
2. Go for a swim at Ipanema beach
Immortalized in the 60s by the famous bossa nova song “Garota de Ipanema”, this beach is one of the most iconic sights in Rio de Janeiro.
There’s no better place to spend your first sunny day in Rio than sunbathing at Ipanema beach. Like most beaches in Rio, Ipanema is divided into different sections called “Postos”: Posto 7, near the Arpoador area, is ideal if you want to go surfing or admire the sunset; Posto 9 is the top hangout for the cool young crowds, with the section in front of Rua Farme de Amoedeo mostly frequented by the lgbt+ community; at Posto 10 you can watch sports enthusiasts playing beach volley, while if you’re looking for a more relaxed family vibe we recommend Postos 11 and 12.
If you’re in the mood for a stroll, all along the promenade you’ll find stalls selling colourful sarongs, swimwear, and handmade jewellery. Grab some refreshing coconut water, or your favourite beer, and admire locals jogging with effortless confidence along the iconic black and white tiled Avenida.
3. Catch some rays at Copacabana beach
While Ipanema is mostly popular among Cariocas (meaning residents of Rio de Janeiro) Copacabana is certainly the most popular beach among tourists. A full 3.4 km long, Copacabana beach is divided into 6 Postos. You’ll find that the busiest sections are right in front of the famous Copacabana Palace and JW Marriott Hotel, where numerous lively kiosks keep the caipirinhas flowing till late in the night.
Along the Avenida of Copacabana beach, you’ll also find numerous sand sculptures created by local talented artists. Their themes are usually related to the latest events happening in the city and are truly fun to watch.
4. Visit the Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain, or Pão de Açúcar, is one of Rio’s most beloved morros, i.e. granite, lush green hills. It was actually at the base of this mountain that in 1565 the first settlements were established in Rio.
Pão de Açúcar is located 400 meters above sea level and offers a 360-degree panorama of the city, including Christ the Redeemer, Botafogo, Copacabana, and Guanabara Bay. To get to the top you have to take two cable cars, the first from Praia Vermelha to Morro da Urca and the second from Morro da Urca to Pão de Açúcar. Both ascents are absolutely spectacular, as you come face to face with the vegetation-covered granite walls and the blue sea below you. We recommend buying your cable car tickets online to avoid wasting time in the queues.
Getting there: the cable car departure point is located at 520 Av. Pasteur. Hours: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm. Ticket cost: full 120.00 BRL (€20.00), reduced 60.00 BRL (€10.00).
5. Explore Jardim Botanico and Parque Lage
Rio houses one of the most valuable botanical gardens in the world, a true natural treasure that was founded in 1808 by Dom Joao VI. With a total area of 140 hectares, the Jardim Botanico showcases a collection of rare, exotic and century-old plants from all over the world. One area of the Botanical Garden is part of the Tijuca Forest and is therefore completely wild. While strolling through the flora here is not uncommon to stumble upon howler monkeys, toucans, and beautiful, rare butterflies.
How to get there: Rua Jardim Botanico 920, southwest of Rio. Hours: daily 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Ticket cost: full BRL 15.00 (€3.40), reduced BRL 7.50 (€1.70)
Not far from Jardim Botanico is Parque Lage, an English-style garden dating back to 1840 surrounded by the Tijuca Forest. The park’s most beloved attraction is perhaps its majestic 19th-century mansion, which houses an art school and restaurant overlooking the courtyard pool. The Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage is known for hosting art exhibitions, cultural events and concerts.
How to get there: Rua Jardim Botanico 414, southwest of Rio. Hours: daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Ticket cost: free entrance
6. Explore Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa is a bohemian neighbourhood perched on the hills of Rio de Janeiro. This area owes its name to the Carmelite Sisters convent that was founded here in 1750 and is characterized by uphill alleys filled with colourful houses, graffiti, crafts shops and art galleries. Some Brazilians have nicknamed it the Montmartre of Rio de Janeiro, although we find it somehow reminiscent of Lisbon’s Alfama too.
Santa Teresa can be reached by taking the famous, free tramway line called the Yellow Bondinho. Highlights of the area include the Museo da Chacara do Ceu, which houses the private collection of patron of the arts Raymondo di Castro Maia, and the Parque das Ruínas. Another stop is the Museo Casa de Benjamin Constant, an 1860s residence where you can admire valuable books, art collections, artefacts, and photographs of Rio de Janeiro.
When visiting Santa Teresa, make sure to stop at Aprazível restaurant to taste some excellent Brazilian dishes and enjoy the gorgeous view.
7. Walk up the Escadaria Selaron
Between Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods, just 5 min from Arcos da Lapa, is the beautiful Escadaria Selaron designed in 1990 by artist Jorge Selarón. Covered with about 2.000 tiles and azuleyos from all around the world, the 215-step staircase is 125 m long and 4 m wide, lined with side pools that serve as pots for lush plants. As Selaron himself stated, “It is a collection of colours, designs and stories from all over the world.”
8. Stroll along Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas
Enclosed between Morro Dois Irmãos and Pedra da Gávea, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is a very peaceful green area frequented by sportsmen and families. It’s an oasis of peace and the perfect place to organize picnics, take paddleboat rides on the lake or simply sunbathe. In the evening, the area comes alive, as the numerous lakeside venues offer live music performances.
9. Go on a hiking tour
As you may have learned by now, Rio de Janeiro is home to numerous, magnificent mountains and the Tijuca National Forest. This peculiar morphology has blessed Rio with some incredible hiking trails, some of them being relatively easy, while others are more technical and challenging. Among the most spectacular hiking trails in Rio, we highly recommend:
- Pedra Bonita – With a panoramic view of Barra da Tijuca, Leblon and Ipanema, Pedra Bonita is arguably one of the most scenic hikes in Rio. It is also very easy and only takes about 30 minutes to get to the summit. The top Pedra Bonita is flat and large, so you have plenty of room to chill and admire the view after the hike.
- Pedra da Gavea – Pedra da Gávea sits at 840 meters high and is much closer to the shore than Pedra Bonita. From the top you will get jaw-dropping views over to Barra da Tijuca and Recreio, as well as Ipanema and Copacabana. You can choose different routes depending on your level of preparation, with the hardest one taking up to 3 hours and requiring the use of special equipment.
- Pedra Telegrafo – If you use Instagram at all, we’re certain you have already seen Pedra Telegrafo without even knowing it. Have you ever seen a photo in which trekkers appear to be hanging off a rock into what looks like a huge abyss? That is precisely Pedra Telegrafo. You should know that there is actually a large ledge below the rock and that those pictures are all about perspective. Yet, that doesn’t stop dozens of tourists from hiking up to the top to take some spectacular shots there. It does help that the hike itself takes about 40 minutes and is relatively easy.
Whatever your choice, please mind that for safety purposes it’s highly recommended to hike with a group of 6+ people, or even arrange a tour.
10. Watch the sunset at Mirante Dona Marta
Mirante Dona Marta is the most imposing lookout in all of Rio de Janeiro, and the best place in the city to watch the sunrise or the sunset. It is located in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood, not too far from the Corcovado base train station. The view from up there is truly unrivalled, as you can see the Sugarloaf Mountain, Maracanã, Guanabara Bay on one side, and Christ the Redeemer and Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon on the other. You can get to Mirante Dona Marta by Uber or Taxi, but make sure to arrange with the driver beforehand that he should wait for you, as there’s little to no phone reception up there.
11. Explore the cultural and artistic treasures of Rio’s city centre
There are two must-see landmarks we suggest visiting in the city centre: the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) and the Real Gabinete Português da Leitura.
Built in 2015, the futuristic Museum of Tomorrow is a recent addition to the harbour and skyline of Rio de Janeiro. It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who was inspired by the bromeliads of Rio’s Jardim Botanico. The museum houses a permanent exhibition and explores the fundamental concepts of a sustainable future. We highly recommend visiting the museum to get a glimpse into the future of Brazil, but also of the entire planet.
How to get there: Praça Mauá, 1; Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Ticket cost: full price: R$ 30; Half price: R$ 15.
One of the hidden treasures of Rio de Janeiro – at least until Instagram gets to it – is the Real Gabinete Português da Leitura. Holding more than 350,000 volumes, this is the largest library outside of Portugal of works written by Portuguese authors. Even if you’re not a huge bookworm, you will be amazed by the architecture of the rooms, and by the size and hues of the showcased books.
How to get there: Rua Luís de Camões, 30; Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. Ticket cost: free entrance.
12. Explore Prainha and Grumari beaches
If you have a spare day and the sun is out, we highly recommend renting a car and exploring the beaches southwest of Rio.
Your first stop should be Prainha, a pristine beach located inside a natural reserve. The presence of high cliffs creates strong currents and waves that rise up to 3 meters high, which is why Prainha is a popular destination among experienced surfers.
Right after Prainha, you will find Grumari beach, the most immaculate among Rio de Janeiro beaches. Just like Prainha, this 3-kilometre-long sandy beach is part of a nature reserve, which is why you’ll find no buildings in sight except a few very useful kiosks. Surrounded by high green hills and spectacular rock formations, Grumari is much more calm and quiet, and locals come here to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Rio De Janeiro Travel Tips
When is the best time to visit Rio de Janeiro?
The best time to visit Rio de Janeiro is from April to September when temperatures are milder, there is less chance of rain and the crowds are manageable. However, Rio can be visited all year round, with Christmas time, New Year’s Eve and Carnaval being the most popular periods.
Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro?
Ipanema and Leblon are the best (and safest) neighbourhoods to stay in Rio de Janeiro. You’ll be close to the most popular beaches, and the lagoon and most landmarks are just a quick Uber ride away. You’ll be able to choose among luxury hotels and low-priced hostels, and there are numerous options in terms of restaurants and bars for every taste, too. On a rainy day, Leblon Shopping can serve as a pleasant shelter. Copacabana is a good choice too, although it’s more touristy and slightly less safe.
How to get around in Rio de Janeiro?
The best way to get around in Rio de Janeiro is by Uber. It is considered extremely safe (safer than regular taxis) and the fares are very cheap. A subway is a good option too for those on a budget, as the city’s metro system consists of three lines that cover a good portion of the tourist areas.
How many days should you spend in Rio de Janeiro?
To visit all of the city’s main attractions, you’ll need to spend a minimum of 5 days in Rio de Janeiro. And if you’d rather travel at a more relaxed pace, then 6 days in Rio de Janeiro will give you a bit more time to truly enjoy your time there. If you’re thinking of staying only 3 or 4 days in Rio de Janeiro, you should know you’ll still be able to see the major landmarks, but you’ll miss a lot.
Is Rio de Janeiro safe to visit?
Rio can be dangerous for tourists, more than the average European or American city. This is purely a fact. That being said, by taking small precautions it is still absolutely possible to enjoy and explore having a blast:
- The most important thing to do, we would say, is not to walk around with any precious objects that might attract attention. No jewellery, no earrings, no necklaces, possibly no watch, no passport but only a photocopy of it.
- Your camera or your iPhone must never be left in sight.
- At the beach, never leave your backpacks unattended when you go swimming in the sea because thefts are quite frequent even in Ipanema.
- NEVER stroll through deserted streets, or walk directly on the beach once the sun has set, but rather choose the side of the buildings.
- In the evening it is always good to move around using Uber.
Follow these rules, and you’ll be fine.
Is Rio de Janeiro worth visiting?
Rio de Janeiro is absolutely worth visiting. The combination of incredible natural landscapes, cultural heritage, exciting nightlife, vibrant arts scene, and warm, friendly residents makes Rio de Janeiro one of the world’s most exciting cities to visit.
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