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20 Things To Do In Rio De Janeiro

August 6, 2015

With the 2016 Olympics right around the corner, the host Rio De Janeiro is getting a face-lift. The attention and renewed life into the city have revamped this gorgeous Brazilian gem back into a traveler’s paradise, with authentic South American vibes, affordability and increased safety.

And the Olympics aren’t the only reason visitors should reconsider traveling to Brazil. The city has a lot to offer in its own right, from one of the Seven Wonders of the World to world class rock climbing to some of the best metropolitan shopping. There is plenty to explore in Rio De Janeiro, even though it still remains a somewhat hidden gem before its big debut next year. Check out some of the best excuses, adventures, and activities for travelers who are lucky enough to reach Rio De Janeiro.

 

1 Hike to Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado

No trip to Rio De Janeiro is complete without visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which is also one of the most iconic and famous landmarks on the globe. The Christ the Redeemer statue is over 125 feet tall, and has been gazing down on the city from the pinnacle of Corcovado since 1931. While the climb can be challenging, with 220 steep steps to reach the summit, the panoramic views as well as the thrills of seeing such an iconic figure up close are well worth the effort.

Because of it’s popularity, be prepared to wait in line; however, you can more easily escape the crowds by visiting as early in the day as possible. And the view of the sun still low in the sky over the ocean isn’t one you’ll want to miss anyway. The first train to the mountain top leaves at 8:30 am.

 

2Have a Beach Day at Copacabana

The Copacabana is the heart and soul of Rio De Janeiro, and a beach day there is a must for any Rio traveler. This beach is the the beach most people think of when they picture Rio De Janeiro’s beach; the mountains in the background, the ever evolving downtown skyscrapers, miles of white sand, and famous mosaic tile sidewalks. Street vendors line the beach, which gives visitors a great excuse not to pack lunch and instead enjoy anything from coconut water to grilled shrimp. Grab a drink at the many bars that line the beachfront, or stay late enough to join in the football games that start in the late afternoon right on the beach.

 

3Walk around the Botanical Gardens

Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Botanico holds over 6,000 species of plant life within its 300 acres. The park is one of the best places to detox after a long stint in the city, and visitors can easily spend a half day wandering around the different gardens and landscapes. Plant life isn’t the only nature worth seeing; monkeys, birds, cicadas, squirrels and several species of fish all call the gardens home as well. Don’t spend all your time gazing in; The Jardim Botanico also offers stunning views of the mountain landscapes and Christ the Redeemer as well.

 

4View a South American Castle at Ilha Fiscal

Tucked away on an island in the middle of Rio’s Guanabara Bay, Ilha Fiscal is a beautiful castle of neo-Gothic style.  The setting and architecture alone are romantic enough to entrance any viewer; at night the castle is illuminated in different colors for a true South American colorful feel. Ilha Fiscal can be accessed either by boat or causeway, depending on the day. There is much more to explore besides just the castle’s architecture; Ilha Fiscal also has a ship, submarine, and even helicopter for visitors to explore.

 

5“The Girl from Ipanema” at Ipanema Beach

Embrace the bossa nova sound and feel free to sing the famous lyrics that were inspired by this iconic beach as you stroll along over two miles of gorgeous sands. This beach has iconic mountain views that are Brazil at its best, and the views while sunbathing or swimming are priceless. If you’re feeling like getting your sweat on before jumping in the ocean, join in one of the many games of futvolei, a native Brazilian game that is similar to volleyball but doesn’t use your hands. The beach is famous for futvolei tournaments, and locals often gather to play along the beach.

 

6Go Sightseeing in Santa Teresa

If you’re in the mood for wandering around without a map or agenda, it doesn’t get much better, or more iconically Brazilian, than walking around the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Located in the hilly region of Rio De Janeiro, visitors can stroll through old, windy corridor alleys and streets while feasting their eyes on the artsy bohemian architecture and shops. The entire neighborhood celebrates the creative, with mosaic strewn sidewalks, hole in the wall art galleries, and smells of authentic Brazilian cooking wafting in through the streets from the local restaurants.

 

7Visit the World’s Largest Urban Rainforest at Tijuca National Park

Too many “tourists” make the mistake of visiting Tijuca National Park and only seeing the Christ the Redeemer statue, located on Corcovado inside the park. But Tijuca National Park has so much more to offer; visitors can hike, see wildlife up close, and even hang glide inside the park’s 8300 acres of rainforest. The park gives you a glimpse of Rio De Janeiro before civilization, and a greater peak into the rest of Brazil’s rainforests if you can’t afford an actual trip into the Amazon Basin. Entrance into the park is completely free, and you are welcome to explore on your own.

 

8Be Mesmerized at the Museum of Modern Art

You don’t have to visit the Louve in Paris to see some of the world’s best and famous pieces of artwork. The Museum of Modern Art in downtown Rio De Janeiro houses over 1700 pieces of artwork inside it’s brilliant modern architecture. Take a break from viewing modern pieces and stroll on the outdoor garden on the second floor, which is a work of art in its own right. Admission is much cheaper than other art museums across the globe, and you can even grab a bite to eat inside at the museum’s restaurant.

 

9Cheer at the Maracana Soccer Stadium

Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you won’t want to miss out on a chance to watch Brazilians in their element. Built in 1950, the stadium is one of the largest and best of its kind in the world. The atmosphere alone is charged and captivating; even the most sports apathetic traveler will find themselves cheering at the top of their lungs along with the crowd at the Maracana Soccer Stadium.

 

10Party in the Streets in Lapa

Any night in Lapa is a night you won’t forget. The entire neighborhood comes alive at night with street performers, music, dancing, and enough drinks to last until morning. While the best party and people watching is out in the streets, the spicy Brazilian atmosphere continues into the clubs and bars that line the neighborhood. Brush up on those dance moves before you go; a Friday night in Lapa isn’t one you’ll be likely to forget.

 

11Visit the Zoo

Rio’s Zoo is a great place to see some of the incredible variety of wildlife Brazile has, including several endangered species you are unlikely to see in the wild. A trip here can easily take an entire day; there are over 2500 animals, each in their own large habitats and areas within the zoo. While you are in the neighborhood, you can also visit Rio’s Natural History Museum right next door to learn more about Brazilian culture and history. If you’re in the mood to stretch your legs, head over to the recreational park adjacent to the zoo to join in a game of soccer with the locals.

 

12Admire the Catedral Metropolitalina

Viewing the Catedral Metropolitalina from the street isn’t enough to fully appreciate this iconic and unusual Rio building, although it certainly is easy enough to find. Visitors really need to go inside to appreciate the cone shape building that towers over the city. Only on the inside does the dramatic shape make sense, as the light pours through the windows to illuminate the stained glass. The building seems almost more representative of a Mayan temple than a cathedral, but this building has been a place of worship since its construction in the 1960s.

 

13Ride a Cable Car up Sugar Loaf Mountain

For some of the best views of Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding area, make your way to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Located right over Guanabara Bay, Sugar Loaf towers over Rio De Janeiro at almost 1,300 feet. Visitors can ride a series of cable cars up to the top, and enjoy the views along the way in the glass trams. The panoramic scenery is best from the very top, and is a great place to watch Rio De Janeiro sink into night as the sun warms the white cityscape into softer hues.

 

14Worship at the Candelaria Church

It is hard not to be converted into heaven itself once you enter the Candelaria Church in downtown Rio De Janeiro. The church took almost a century to build, and the sheer amount of detail inside in the paintings and statues is awe inspiring. This Catholic church is perfect blend of Europe and South America, of Baroque and Renaissance style, of Portuguese, English and French influences. A trip to the church should not be missed by those who wish to experience authentic true Brazilian heritage and culture; entrance admission is free, and the church is beloved by locals as part of them.

 

15Go Surfing at Barra Da Tijuca

Barra Da Tijuca beaches are a welcome haven from the craziness of the more popular Rio beaches, and are just as much worth visiting. Some of Rio’s best surf is located here, and surfers can catch waves without worrying about running into swimmers and paddleboarders. The beach still boasts white sand, beautiful views, and great water temperatures, but with a much more relaxed surf vibe. The locals who beach here are as warm as the water, and be prepared to make more than few friends.

 

16Dance the Samba at the Carnival

Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is the largest in the world, and quite possibly the oldest; Brazilians have been partying in the streets every year prior to Lent since the early 1700s. Over 2 million people gather in the streets each day to party, dance, play music, and celebrate. While the Carnival has a lot of aspects to its celebration and much to see, the biggest draw is the sheer quantity of live music. Everywhere you look during the Carnival locals light up their dance moves and play some of the best South American music throughout the day and night. It’ll be crowded, but traveling to Rio De Janeiro during the Carnival is an experience you won’t want to miss.

 

17Escape the Crowds at Grumari Beach

Rio’s exotic location, beautiful beaches, and affordability can transform parts of the city into a traveler’s nightmare, with tourists packed on top of each other and lines miles long. If you want to get off the beaten path a bit and escape the tourist crowds, head out to Grumari Beach. There you can still enjoy the iconic white sands of Rio De Janeiro and mountain views without the luxury resort crowds.

 

18Bike around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

The Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is a saltwater lagoon located right in the center of the action in Rio De Janeiro. If you want to stretch your legs and see Rio from a different perspective, you can rent bikes and bike around the entire lagoon on a trail that edges the water. The trail is 4.5 miles long, and gives you a great glimpse into the heart of Rio while getting in some great exercise. Street vendors line the path, and always have fresh drinks for sale for the end of your ride.

 

19Go Shopping at the Barra de Tijuca

While the Mall of America may seem large at 400 stores, Barra Shopping in Barra de Tijuca easily dwarfs that, with over 577 stores in its complex, and is currently undergoing construction which will make it the largest mall in South America. If you can’t find it here, you probably can’t find it anywhere. Once you’re done shopping, you can head out to the 11 mile long beach that lines the coast for some of the best sunbathing and swimming in Rio De Janeiro.

 

20Rock Climb the Pedra da Gavea

If you don’t have time to wait out the crowds at Christ the Redeemer, you can still head over to Pedra da Gavea for some breathtaking scenery and even better rock climbing. Located within the boundaries of Tijuca Forest, the mountain is the second highest point in Rio De Janeiro after Corcovado and  offers equally breathtaking panoramic views of Rio De Janeiro that are often overlooked.

Reaching the summit involves hiking as well as rock climbing, and the views will leave you just as breathless as the work out! Hiking and climbing the entire trail takes visitors about 3 hours, and should only be attempted by those who are ready to be physically challenged. The first part of the ascent up the mountain is mostly through rainforest, which allows you to view Rio’s beauty up close before heading to the top to view all of Rio’s coastline from a distance.

 

Before you book that trip to Rio de Janeiro, check out Treckeffect to find places to stay and plan your trip before enjoying some of the best beaches, nightlife and adventure South America has to offer!

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Bryn Wied
Bryn Wied is an outdoor enthusiast and serious travelaholic. She explores every inch of the globe in her Sanuk flip flops with her favorite travel buddy/hubby Matt. Matt and Bryn live in California where they blog, surf, snowboard and raise kids in between road trips and camping adventures.