Rio de Janeiro is the former capital of Brazil and the 2nd largest city after Sao Paulo. It’s located along the coast and has some beautiful, famous beaches that are the subject of many songs. My friends’ wedding in 2016 was the reason for me to travel to Rio de Janeiro for the first time. Then I returned briefly the following year on the way to Pantanal. In addition to the lively day and nightlife in the city, the surrounding nature is beautiful. One can’t miss the views from the Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer.
Another highlight of the city is the food. There is a huge variety of breakfast foods and snacks. One of my favourites was the grilled banana and cheese sandwich. Who knew this could be such a delicious combination? Of course, eating Brazilian BBQ in the country of origin was a treat. And I enjoyed all of the fresh fruits each day at the local juice bars. Surprisingly, the sushi was excellent too!
Although some people are worried to travel to Rio de Janeiro due to safety issues, I think it is worth it and you just need to be cautious. My friend did tell me off once for walking in the evening as he said that is definitely not safe. During the day in the beach and tourist areas is fine for walking, otherwise it is better to take official taxis or Uber. You don’t really need a tour guide though I recommend it if you want to visit a favela (slum area). Rio has many things to offer!
- The Beaches, including Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Vermelha
- Pedra do Arpoador for the sea view
- Christ the Redeemer on a clear day
- Escadaria Selarón aka Gloria Steps
- Sugarloaf and the cable car
- Visit a favela such as Rocinha with a tour
- Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro
- Copacabana Fort
- Pedra da Gávea for hiking
- Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro
- Monumento Nacional aos Mortos da Segunda Guerra Mundial
- Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro
- Museu do Amanhã – science museum
- Museu de Arte do Rio
- Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon
- Eva Klabin Foundation – old house with art
- Try Brazilian bbq, fresh fruits including açaí, feijoada, Pão de queijo, pastries, sushi
Before you go
- Be cautious with valuables as there are thefts; also be aware at cash machines and in general at night
- Favela is a word to describe the slums or ghetto; some are dangerous but now in Rio there are some tour companies that take tourists for a visit and it’s relatively safe
- The weather is usually warm to hot with sunshine. However, during there can be sudden rain and fog.
- Rio has a lot of mosquitos, especially during wet periods
- Buy the ticket for Christ the Redeemer in advance or it may sell out. However, also keep an eye on the weather as there will be no view on a cloudy day
- Yes, you can really visit Copacabana and Ipanema, places that are in many songs!
- Many people in the touristy areas speak some English, but most taxi drivers I met did not speak English. It is useful to have a translation app for Portuguese
- In Rio, there are two main airports. International flights arrive at Tom Jobim International Airport. The domestic flights often go from Rio de Janeiro Airport RJ Santos Dumont, which is much closer to the city centre. We did almost miss our flight because we did not check which airport!
- You can walk around the beach areas during the day, though be aware of pickpockets
- In the evening, it is safest to take official taxis. Instead of picking them up along the street, I either used an app or found a taxi stand. Fir the airport pick-ups and drop-offs, I was lucky to have my friend’s former driver, Pedro, to drive me with the friendliest service!
- Uber also works in Rio
- AirBnB has a lot of options in Rio and during my first visit we shared an apartment in the Copacabana area. It is especially useful if you want to have a kitchen and/or washing machine
- In Rio, I also stayed at the Hotel Atlântico Rio, which was central and comfortable. It has a pool and a nice buffet breakfast
- Our friend stayed in the Novotel Rio de Janeiro Leme, which was very close to the beach. It was an upscale hotel, very clean and comfortable
- One thing to consider is the weather. During hot weather, you may want to choose a place that has air conditioning
One of the most famous parts of Brazilian cuisine is Churrascaria, or barbecue. We had a group dinner out at Fogo de Chao, which has brancgers all around the world including in London! There are all types of meats off the grill including chicken hearts, liver, chicken, pork, beef and sausages. I’ve noticed that they tend to bring the cheaper meats first, so be patient and pace yourself.
Another typical Brazilian dish is Feijoada, a hearty stew of assorted meats mixed with black beans, which is often topped with cassava flour (farofa). While I was in Rio, I had this as a takeaway from a tiny restaurant. The boxes were arranged very neatly with the bean stew in one box and the rice, green vegetables and roasted cassava flour (farofa) in the other box.
Due to the large Japanese population in Brazil, there are many Japanese restaurants. The sushi, ramen and other foods are excellent! Sushi Leblon in Rio is a favourite! They give you thick slices of delicious sashimi and have a great variety of maki sushi too. My favourite drink is a type of local tea called mate.
For seafood, I enjoyed the fish at O Caranguejo in Copacabana. In fact, I found it by chance because it was near my hotel when I searched on the map for a seafood restaurant. They were very friendly and gave me a lot of food.
Confeitaria Colombo was a lovely seaside location for brunch at the Copacabana Fort. They also have nice baked goods including cupcakes!
Balada Mix and Baby Lanches were our go to places in Rio for breakfasts, juices and açaí bowls. I discovered the grilled banana cheese sandwich in Rio, and it is a very tasty combination! Café e BAR BICO was another fun place for breakfast, and I loved their corncake. Pão de Queijo is a bakery that sells pão de queijo, and actually most bakeries have these tasty cheese bread balls. I once bought some mix in London from O Mercadin to recreate them at home and it wasn’t too bad.
If you like strong alcohol then having a caipirinha is very Brazilian. It is made with Cachaça, sugar and lime juice. However, there are many variations with other fruits including the unusual cashew fruit. Be careful because they taste very good, but are deceptively strong!
Q: Do I need a tour guide?
A: No, not to explore Rio de Janeiro. However, if you would like to visit a favela then I recommend a tour.
Q: Do people speak English?
A: Some speak English, but it is useful to have an app like GoogleTranslate for Portuguese.
Q: Is it a walkable city?
A: Yes around the beach areas, though I have been told it is not safe to walk at night. It’s better to take taxis, which are not too expensive
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