Rio de Janeiro – the Marvelous City – is one of those places I’ve always wanted to go. Despite this, I didn’t know much about it. Like most travellers, I’d seen Christ the Redeemer in photographs and watched an overcrowded Copacabana beach on TV at New Year’s Eve, but that was it.

When I started to prepare myself for the trip and read more about the city, I got a lot more excited… but also more nervous. Now that I’m back, I know that Rio de Janeiro can be a dangerous place. But, if you’re careful, you will get to see the most beautiful views and experience a great adventure.

When to visit Rio de Janeiro

The summer months in Rio are from December to March and it gets hot, hot, hot! I visited in April and the weather was perfect. The only drawback of it was the days were a little shorter. On the other hand, at least I didn’t have to wait until 9pm to see the stunning sunsets, so I’d recommend it. Here, I’ve compiled my favourite things to do in Rio de Janeiro to inspire you too.

Day 1 in Rio de Janeiro

Landing in Rio and leaving the airport went pretty smoothly. We grabbed a taxi and in less than 30 minutes we were settling into the hotel. We chose PortoBay, located near the famous beach of Copacabana.

I was very happy with our choice. Our room had a massive bedroom and separate living room with a balcony and a wonderful view. It also provided a great free breakfast every morning and a nice pool on top. The staff were always very helpful and the location couldn’t have been better. After unpacking, we headed straight out to see the famous beaches that were our neighbours.

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana is a 4km-long beach with a fabulously wide strip of golden sand, separated from the city by a barrier of high-rise hotels. It’s one of the most visited tourist sites of Brazil and, as a result, is alive with activities to enjoy. Big waves, people playing volleyball or football, tiny bars where you can sit and drink Caipirinha or coconut water with the perfect atmosphere… I remember sitting in one of those places thinking wow, I really am in Rio de Janeiro.

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach is located right next to Copacabana. Somehow, we managed to walk all the way there! Ipanema is a little bit smaller, less crowded and more charming. It’s a perfect place to watch the sunset. Grab dinner in one of the nearby restaurants beforehand, then top it off with drinks in a local bar.

Leblon Beach

Leblon Beach is considered to be a luxury beach despite being right next to Ipanema. There’s only a small canal separating the two. This beach is family friendly and there are many expensive houses nearby.

Of course, there’s a lot more to Rio than Copacabana, Ipanema and Lebon. You will find plenty of other beautiful beaches to explore, but for our limited time we decided to limit our beach-time to what we could fit into a walk. That left us plenty of opportunity to check out more things to do in Rio de Janeiro – on to day two!

Day 2 in Rio de Janeiro

Sometimes, long distance travel and jet lag can be a blessing in disguise. On our second day in Brazil, I woke up right before dawn and when I stepped onto the balcony I saw the most beautiful sunrise of my life. It was so wonderful to be there at that moment, watching the city wake up.

Christ the Redeemer

Our first plan for the day was to visit the famous Christ the Redeemer. An iconic, 38m-tall statue, erected on the granite edge of the Corcovado Hill, there’s no missing it, but it’s surprisingly tricky to get there.

We tried to find the train to take us all the way up through the stunning National Park Tijuca (one of the largest urban forests in the world), however our Uber driver decided to drive us a little bit higher, right to the Paineiras station. Here, you have to buy your ticket from the machine and wait for the shuttle to arrive. There is no room for cars further up, so this is a last stop for cars.

A short, winding ride took us to the Corcovado station, from which you can take 220 steps, a lift or escalators to the monument. We didn’t have the best weather that day but still managed to take some great photos. The Christ itself did not impress me initially. It looked very small from the bottom, and when I was at the top it was just overcrowded. I can’t image what it’s like during the high season! It was still worth the visit though for the views alone. On our way back we found the train, which took us all the way down to the city centre.

Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf is another attraction in Rio de Janeiro, which we decided to visit in the afternoon. “Pão de Açúgar” is a mountain with a relative height of 396m. You can only get up there by cable car. As the tram does not go directly to the top there is a small stop at Moroo da Urca, where you can grab some food, drinks and souvenirs.

By this point, the stunning views have already started, so make sure you walk around. Both rides are relatively slow and they climb vertically upwards. If, like me, you’re not scared of heights, it’s a really unique option for things to do in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio has one of the most beautiful panoramas in the world but what I saw from Sugarloaf was just indescribable. The sunset over Christ the Redeemer, views of Copacabana after dusk, the bay of Guanabara, the surrounding mountains… it was all so amazing I didn’t want to leave! We bought a few beers in a little bar, listened to music and soaked up the view. Perfection.

Day 3 in Rio de Janeiro

Escadaria Selarón

Escadaria Selarón is another place that must be seen in Rio, so we went there the next day. Located between Gloria and Santa Teresa, the famous Jorge Selaron stairs, which the man of the same name covered with colourful tiles from different parts of the world, are very popular with tourists. You can even see them in popular music videos. I really enjoyed visiting this colourful place, so I’d definitely recommend it for your list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a charming little area full of artists and hipsters. You can visit a stunning park called Parque das Ruinas. Not long ago, this was a hot meeting place for intellectuals and all kinds of artists. Today, it stands as an abandoned multi-storey villa.

Lapa

Lapa is famous for fabulous nightlife. The whole area is filled with pubs and bars, where parties last until dawn. If you feel like dancing, this is the place to be. Don’t miss Rio’s annual carnival either – it’s one of the most popular in the world.

Centro

Centro is right in the heart of the city, where modern skyscrapers rub shoulders with old, colonial tenement houses. This is a great place to visit during the week, when the streets are full of life as busy businessmen and women look for a bar for lunch.

There’s also wonderful architecture to admire, like Theatro Municipal. This is a beautiful building consisting of six huge stone columns and gold ornaments. Catedral Metropolitana, a sacramental structure in a conical shape, is also well worth a visit.

These places are very close to each other, so we decided to walk around, explore some side streets take in Rio’s buzzing atmosphere.

Day 4 in Rio de Janeiro

Beach bliss

On our last day we had made plans for things to do in Rio de Janeiro, but the weather had other ideas. It was just too hot (and we were too tired!) to do much, so we chose to relax before our long flight the next day. Copacabana beach was our base for the day, but if we had had the time and energy, here are the other things to do in Rio de Janeiro that we had planned.

Parque Lage

This is the park at the foot of Corcovado, from where you can start the trip to Christ the Redeemer. The park is also an ideal oasis for rest, with exotic vegetation and small, agile monkeys to spot.

Maracanã

Once the largest stadium in the world, today this attracts the biggest football fans.

Santa Marta

This is a colourful favela that you might know from Michael Jackson’s video ‘They Don’t Care About Us’.

Jardim Botânico

This is a botanical garden where you can admire the diverse vegetation from around the world with lots of alleys, waterfalls and palm trees.

I only had four full days in Rio de Janeiro, but it was enough to fall in love with the city. Home to one of the most wonderful views I’ve ever seen, the people, the food and the colourful streets were equally enchanting.

It is still one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but I didn’t feel as unsafe as I thought I would. I hid my phone in my underwear and stressed out a lot to start with, but after my first walk I realised, in my experience, that it wasn’t that bad. I might have been lucky, or maybe I was just careful enough, but I don’t regret the risks of taking each photo. Now I get to share those wonderful memories with my family, friends and you guys.

Don’t let your fear stop you booking your flight. This wonderful city is well worth exploring and with my guide to things to do in Rio de Janeiro, it’s never been easier to get out and do it! Still deciding on your destination? Be inspired by my guide to where to visit in South America and plan your trip today.

19 COMMENTS

  1. This really made me want to add this city to the list of must-dos! I absolutely love the vibrant colours of the buildings. The view from Sugarloaf is STUNNING, what a photo.

  2. Super inspiring!! I don’t know why, but Brazil has fallen lower on my list of where’s next. However, reading this has inspired me again to visit what looks like an incredible culture with awesome people and things to see. Those cable car views and the mountains are amazing!

  3. I have heard so many negative things about Brazil, it has only scared me to even think of traveling there regardless of the importance and the beauty that this place holds. I would love to visit it during the Rio carnival though. And your article surely washes away some of my misunderstandings about the place.

  4. Brazil has always had a negative impression but your article surely takes away that impression and have shown a lot of positive sides of the city. Been my bucket list destination for too long now. I would want to visit it in Rio Carnival though.

  5. This post and those pictures really make me wish I could visit Rio but the airfare from India would cost an arm and a leg. Would you recommend Rio to a solo female traveller?

  6. What an amazing vacation! I have not been to Brazil but I hope that will not be for much longer. This was a wonderful introduction to Rio and I will be using this when I visit! Thanks!

  7. Glad I came across your blog. This is such a detailed and informative post. I loved all the beach pics especially the picturesque Ipanema Beach. Brazil is on my list and would love to visit Rio for sure.

  8. I am so paranoid about getting mugged everytime I am in a new country. It is the worst feeling! So I am happy that you felt safe. Maybe one of these days I can visit at peace. BTW love your sunset pictures! Where are the best places for sunrise?

  9. Rio is very high on my list of places to visit but the safety factor continues to stress me out and I keep putting it off. Perhaps if we only stick to the touristy spots it might be better. The beaches are absolutely stunning. Miles and miles of sand. Glad to hear that you didn’t feel as unsafe as you thought you would.

  10. That sunrise is beyond incredible! I always get overwhelmed when planning trips to big cities and love posts like this that point out the highlights. Of course, Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Beach are iconic. We have a friend in Brazil, so will use this post when we make our trip there.

  11. Absolutely love Rio de Janeiro. It’s such a colourful and vibrant city. But infamous for mugging. It’s great you were safe there. Will keep this post handy to plan a holiday there.

  12. Rio, I am sure is in bucket list of all travellers. The beaches are fascinating but what I liked most is the view from the cable car. The colourful stair is another lovely place – it must be a hit with Instagrammers. Truly a lovely city.

  13. Loved your post and the photos. R.I.P. is on my top list to visit places and like you the only thing I know at this point is Christ the reedemer and copacabana beach. So much to see and do apart from that. Your post is great and really helpful. Thanks for sharing a great post.

  14. I loved your post on Rio-de Janeiro as you have covered all aspects of this city. Be it a nature, luxury beach, busy city life, colorful houses or view from top, Rio has many things to offer for all kinds of tourists. Leblon beach looks stunning and good to know that this city is safe for visiting.

  15. I really like your photographic impressions. Truly amazing and they give me such cool and chilled vibes.
    To be honest I have a bit mixed feelings about Rio, on the one hand it is a place I definitely want to see. On the other hand I am not so sure if I really want to pay so much attention all the time to feel safe and not getting robbed or anything cos traveling should be pure fun as well. Glad to see that you were lucky and nothing happened. I guess there is almost nothing worse than to experience a robbery or something like this during a trip. Thank you for sharing these beautiful impressions.

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