My girlfriend has this annoying habit of living in Rio de Janeiro, while I have a tendency to live in London. The only upside to us both cursing the Atlantic Ocean for getting between us is that at least I get to visit the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) regularly.  

Back in December a weekend trip to Rio was the jumping off point for a pretty awesome Christmas in Brazil.  Although we notched up visits to Iguazú Falls and Florianópolis in the same visit, I’m going to focus on the weekend in Rio to show you how we stretched our Real.

On the left, a man and woman drink caipirinhas from a plastic glass. On the right, a close up of a caipirinha at sunset with the beach and sea in the background
Spoiler: features caipirinhas © Joe Revill / Lonely Planet

Pre-trip spending

Flights: £769.80 return from London Gatwick to Rio de Janeiro with Norwegian Air. This was at peak season in December and you can normally get flights a lot cheaper with this budget long-haul carrier. I opted for flying on lower class where food wasn’t included but wisely stuffed myself with a cheeky Nando's breakfast in Gatwick South Terminal (£7.30) and stowed away a Boots meal deal and other snacks (£6.98) for the flight. You can order booze from the comfort of your seat, so I had a couple of lagers (£12) while watching The Dark Knight Trilogy

Accommodation: Free! My girlfriend very kindly waived the fee for staying at her pad a stone’s throw from the Maracanã Football Stadium in Zona Norte. If you don’t have an equally generous Brazilian partner and are looking for a good value place to stay, consider Urca, which has a relaxed vibe in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar), or if you want to samba the night away, you should check out hostels in Lapa. For the more obvious accommodation hotspots, you cannot go wrong in Ipanema and Copacabana. Try not to be tempted by the cheap deals you can get for hotels in Centro which is quiet (and dangerous) at night and on weekends. 

Total pre-trip spending: £796.08

On the ground

Friday night

Total: R$56.49 (£10.03), split between two of us (£5.02)

9.30pm: I arrive bleary-eyed but grinning like a madman and we quickly whisk off in an Uber (R$34) to my girlfriend’s flat. I’m not normally much of an 'Uberer' in London Town, but in Brazil they’re often the cheapest and safest way to get around.  

A fluffy black cat with white paws and spots looks up at the camera
The cat's indifference comes for free © Joe Revill / Lonely Planet

We order in yakisoba (R$22.49) and while slurping down noodles pretend I’m not upset that my girlfriend’s cats continue to treat me with abject indifference.


Total spend: R$418.16 (£74.30), split between two of us (£37.15)

10am: We head to Ipanema, opting this time to take the metro (R$3.80 each) to save some dough. The 40-minute trip is just enough time for our stomachs to start rumbling, so as soon as we get to General Osario station, we frogmarch our way to perennial favourite Gringo Cafe. We each order an American-style breakfast and a giant vat of black coffee (R$78) and I tentatively practice my Duolingo-level Portuguese on the waiter – they politely pretend to grasp what I am saying.

11.30am:  I’ve been in Rio for 14 hours now and haven’t yet been to the beach (oh the humanity!). We vow to rectify this immediately and saunter to Posto 9 Ipanema, which I’m reliably informed is the preferred spot to sunbathe for the most beautiful people of Rio. Expecting to be turned away while my girlfriend is admitted, I’m pleasantly surprised that the guy jogging towards us is instead offering us a sunlounger rather than refusing me entry.  

A coconut with a straw in it and a pair of flip flops on the sand
The perfect first morning in Rio © Joe Revill / Lonely Planet

Renting chairs this way at the beach is a good idea – the vendors take you under their wing and ensure a coconut water is never too far away. A chair each and a coconut water for me set us back a very reasonable R$16.

1pm: In typical fashion, we choose to sit on the beach during the only part of the day where the clouds loom over. We are fooled by the heavens into thinking sunscreen needn't apply and suffer the consequences later. Blissfully unaware of our sunburn for the moment, we call time on the beach and grab a beer each at Rayz (14 R$).  

We head for lunch at La Carioca Cevicheria and gleefully sip the first (of many!) caipirinhas of the trip as well as a sharing platter of fried prawns and a ceviche each. My half of the bill comes to R$92.40

3pm: A quick dash to the pharmacy for some emergency sun cream (see 1pm) and we decide to walk off all that Peruvian food with a constitutional around Rio’s Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The lake has some great views of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) as well as Rio’s giant Christmas tree floating in the middle. You can hire a pedalo to explore more, but we settle for another coconut water (R$2) and a gentle amble around (free).

The author holds a glass of beer and a fried stuff pie. A busy restaurant is behind him
Pastéis and beer make for a good, cheap meal © Joe Revill / Lonely Planet

4pm: We take the metro (R$3.80) back home and grab another beer each at a local bar. It is incredibly hot at this point, so the chope (beer) is perfect for cooling down. As night falls, we head to lively Bar Do Bode Cheiroso for some food. This place has standing room only with scores of cariocas (Rio locals) enjoying a post-work drink and a natter. The food is award-winning and so we order loads of pastéis (fried stuffed pies). A table finally becomes available but it is indoors and so hot the Brit in me is dying.  Sensing my discomfort the waiter gives us both a free chope but even this means we don’t linger too long.  We spend R$83.60

9pm: We’ve pre-booked tickets (R$53.40 for two) to see the new Star Wars film premiere in the Cinelândia part of town and take an Uber there (26.70 R$). We have a few more pre-show beers at Amerhilino de Cerveceria (R$22) before heading to a galaxy far, far away.  After the film, we take an Uber back home (R$22.46).


Total spend: R$297.90 (£52.91), again split between us (£26.46)

11am: It’s a late start thanks to the midnight screening of the night before. We dash for brunch at Parque Lage in the heart of Rio’s botanical gardens. Brunch is served within an old crumbling mansion with phenomenal views of Christ the Redeemer. The only downside is a constant stream of Instagrammers shuffling up to get the perfect picture. Still, if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em, I say (un-influenceresque quality photo below).  There’s a set brunch that comes to R$48.

A small pool in the middle of a stone mansion with tables and chair. In the background, Corcovado mountain stands with a statue of Christ the Redeemer at the very top
An unbeatable brunch view © Joe Revill / Lonely Planet

We go for a walk around the charming botanical gardens (free) before hailing a cab and heading to Urca (R$18.60).  

2pm: It’s a clear day so we decide to head up Sugarloaf Mountain for some amazing views of Rio. You can get a cable car up two mountains to reach the summit, but instead we opt to take the hiking trail up the first mountain, Morro da Urca. It’s a good trek through the forest and there are amazing views all the way up. Reaching the top, we take the second cable car (R$44 for two) to Sugarloaf and stay for half an hour gawking at the utter beauty of Rio de Janeiro from above.

5pm: All this walking is thirsty stuff, so when we get back to earth, we take a stroll through lovely Urca to my favourite place in the world for a drink. Bar Urca does a mean caipirinha and cariocas come from miles to order a drink, stand by the sea wall and watch the sun go down. We stretch out a couple glasses of the green stuff for a few hours and have some shrimp pastéis to go along with them (R$68).

A path with two joggers and forest on either side. The mountain is in the background.
Heading towards Sugarloaf Mountain © Joe Revill / Lonely Planet

8pm: We catch another Uber to Botafogo (R$18.50), which is quickly emerging as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Rio. There’s tons of great restaurants along main street Rua Nelson Mandela. We settle on some tapas at Liceu Grill which costs (R$83.50). We ponder ordering another glass of wine before realising with a sudden jolt that we’ll need to wake up for our flight to Iguazú tomorrow at 3am.  We settle up and, with a final Uber (R$17.30), go home to pack.

The final tally

Overall spend: R$772.55 (£137.24) between two; so R$386.27 (£68.62) + flights (£769.80) = £838.42

More spending diaries

What my family spent on a 3-day trek to Machu Picchu
What I spent on a two-day trip to Kraków
What my family of four spent on one day at Disneyland Paris

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