Must see attractions in Rio de Janeiro

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ipanema & Leblon

    Ipanema Beach

    One long stretch of sun-drenched sand, Ipanema Beach is demarcated by postos (posts), which mark off subcultures as diverse as the city itself. Posto 9, right off Rua Vinícius de Moraes, is where Rio’s most lithe and tanned bodies migrate. The area is also known as Cemetério dos Elefantes because of the handful of old leftists, hippies and artists who sometimes hang out there. In front of Rua Farme de Amoedo is Praia Farme, the stomping ground for gay society. Posto 8 further east is mostly the domain of favela kids. Arpoador, between Ipanema and Copacabana, is Rio’s most popular surf spot. Leblon attracts a broad mix of single cariocas (residents of Rio), as well as families from the neighborhood. Posto 10 is for sports lovers, where there are ongoing games of volleyball, soccer and frescobol (beach tennis played with wooden rackets and a rubber ball). Whatever spot you choose, you'll enjoy cleaner sands and sea than those in Copacabana. Keep in mind that if you go on a Saturday or Sunday, the sands get crowded. Go early to stake out a spot. The word ipanema is an indigenous word for ‘bad, dangerous waters,’ which is not far off, given the strong undertow and often oversized waves that crash onto the shore. Be careful, and swim only where locals do.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Flamengo & Around

    Cristo Redentor

    Standing atop Corcovado (which means ‘hunchback’), Cristo Redentor gazes out over Rio, a placid expression on his well-crafted face. The mountain rises straight up from the city to 710m, and at night the brightly lit 38m-high open-armed statue – all 1145 tons of him – is visible from nearly every part of the city. Corcovado lies within the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. The most popular way to reach the statue is to take the red narrow-gauge train that departs every 30 minutes, and takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the top. Note that same-day tickets are not available from the cog train station. Buy tickets online or from an authorized seller around Rio (the website lists numerous places to buy under 'Selling Points'); you must select a date and time when purchasing. To reach the cog station, take any ‘Cosme Velho’ bus: you can take bus 583 from Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon. You can also go by Parque da Tijuca–authorized van to visit the monument. These depart from three locations around town: Copacabana (in front of Praça do Lido from 8am to 4pm; adult/child R$74/48), Largo do Machado (8am to 4pm; adult/child R$74/48) and Paineiras, a few kilometres north of the statue (8:30am to 5pm; adult/child R$41/15).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa

    Jardim Botânico

    This exotic 137-hectare garden, with more than 8000 plant species, was designed by order of the Prince Regent Dom João (later to become Dom João VI) in 1808. The garden is quiet and serene on weekdays and blossoms with families on weekends. Highlights of a visit here include the row of palms (planted when the garden first opened), the Amazonas section, the lake containing the huge Vitória Régia water lilies, and the enclosed orquidário, home to 600 species of orchids. There's an outdoor snack bar on the grounds (near a playground) and an appealing cafe just outside the main entrance. The new visitor center shows films (in English and Portuguese) that give the history of the gardens, and has a gift shop selling unique crafts and souvenirs, such as shirts made of bamboo and bowls with pre-Columbian designs made from banana fibers.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa

    Instituto Moreira Salles

    This beautiful cultural center hosts impressive exhibitions, often showcasing the works of some of Brazil's best photographers and artists. The gardens, complete with artificial lake and flowing river, were designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. There's also a craft shop, and an excellent cafe that serves breakfast all day as well as lunch and afternoon tea. On display there's usually at least one Rio-focused exhibition, which taps into the extensive archive here: the IMS has more than 80,000 photographs, many portraying the old streets of Rio as well as the urban development of other Brazilian cities over the last two centuries. Check the website to see what's on when you're town.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa

    Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

    One of the city’s most picturesque spots, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is encircled by a 7.2km walking and cycling path. Bikes are available for hire from stands along the east side of the lake, as are paddle boats. For those who prefer caipirinhas (cocktails made from limes, sugar, ice and high-proof sugarcane alcohol) to plastic swan boats, the lakeside kiosks on either side of the lake offer alfresco food and drinks, sometimes accompanied by live music on warm nights.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Santa Teresa & Lapa

    Escadaria Selarón

    One of Rio's best-loved attractions, the steps leading up from Joaquim Silva became a work of art when Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón decided to cover them with colorful mosaics. A dedication to the Brazilian people, the 215 steps are a vivid riot of color.

  • Sights in Santa Teresa & Lapa

    Arcos da Lapa

    A much-photographed symbol of Lapa, the arches date back to the mid-18th century, when the structure served as an aqueduct to carry water from the Carioca River to downtown Rio. In a style reminiscent of ancient Rome, the 42 arches stand 64m high. Today the arches carry the bonde cable car on its way between Centro and Santa Teresa. Located near Av Mem de Sá.

  • Sights in Santa Teresa & Lapa

    Bonde

    The bonde is the last of the historic streetcars that once crisscrossed the city. Its romantic clatter through the cobbled streets is the archetypal sound of bohemian Santa Teresa. Currently the bonde travels every 15 to 20 minutes from the cable-car station in Centro over the scenic Arcos da Lapa and as far as Largo do Guimarães in the heart of Santa Teresa. After a tragic accident in 2011 the bonde was taken out of commission while much-needed improvements to the track were made. After more than four years the line reopened – but now it only travels 1.7km of its 10km of track. Although work on further sections of the track has been promised, the project's estimated cost (around R$100 million) makes it unlikely that the bonde will continue beyond Largo do Guimarães any time soon.

  • Sights in Ipanema & Leblon

    Ponta do Arpoador

    At the far eastern end of Av Vieira Souto, this rocky point juts out into the water and serves as one of Rio's best places for watching the sunset. Throughout the day, you'll spot fishers casting off the rock, couples stealing a few kisses and photographers snapping that iconic length of Ipanema Beach that stretches off toward the towering peaks of Dois Irmãos. You'll also see large flocks of surfers jockeying for position offshore. Around the western edge of the rock is the tiny, secluded Praia do Diabo (Devil's Beach); it's a fine place to take in the views, but swim with caution. A very rustic gym is built into the rocks (wtih Fred Flintstone–style barbells with concrete weights and chin-up bars).

  • Sights in Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa

    Parque Lage

    This beautiful park lies at the base of the Floresta da Tijuca, about 1km from Jardim Botânico. It has English-style gardens, little lakes, and a mansion that houses the Escola de Artes Visuais (School of Visual Arts), which hosts free art exhibitions and occasional performances. The park is a tranquil place and the cafe here offers a fine setting for a coffee or a meal. Native Atlantic rainforest surrounds Parque Lage, and you can sometimes see monkeys and toucans among the foliage. This is the starting point for challenging hikes up Corcovado (don't attempt a hike without checking the latest security situation, as robberies on the trail have occurred).

  • Sights in Santa Teresa & Lapa

    Museu Chácara do Céu

    The former mansion of art patron and industrialist Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya contains a small but diverse array of modern art, formerly Ottoni's private collection, which he bequeathed to the nation. In addition to works by Portinari, Di Cavalcanti and Lygia Clark, the museum displays furniture and Brazilian maps dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, and hosts temporary exhibitions. Beautiful gardens surround the building, and a panoramic view of Centro and Baía de Guanabara awaits visitors.

  • Sights in Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa

    OM.art

    In the Jockey Club, this avant-garde gallery opened to much acclaim in 2018. Expect challenging multimedia shows and big installations that often incorporate interactive components. Film, music, sculpture and photography have all featured in past exhibitions. OM.art was founded by artist and designer Oskar Metsavaht, the creator of the well-known Osklen brand.

  • Sights in Ipanema & Leblon

    Praia de Leblon

    Separated from Ipanema by the gardens and canal of Jardim de Alah, Leblon Beach attracts families and has a slightly more sedate vibe than its eastern counterpart. Parents with little ones may want to check out Baixo Bebê, between postos 11 and 12, where you'll find a small playground on the sand as well as other young families.

  • Sights in Flamengo & Around

    Parque do Flamengo

    Officially called Parque Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, Parque do Flamengo was the result of a landfill project that leveled the São Antônio hill in 1965. It now spreads all the way from downtown Rio through Glória, Catete and Flamengo, and on around to Botafogo. The 1.2 sq km of land reclaimed from the sea now sees every manner of outdoor activity by cariocas (residents of Rio). Cyclists and rollerbladers glide along the myriad paths, while the park's many football fields and sports courts are framed against the sea. On Sundays and holidays, the avenues through the park are closed to vehicle traffic from 7am to 6pm. Designed by famous Brazilian landscaper Burle Marx (who also landscaped Brasília), the park features some 170,000 trees of 300 different species. There are two indoor attractions in the park: the Museu de Arte Moderna and the Monumento Nacional aos Mortos da II Guerra Mundial (Monument to the Dead of World War II).

  • Sights in Flamengo & Around

    Centro Cultural Oi Futuro

    One of Rio's most visually exciting additions is this futuristic space on the edge of Flamengo. Within 2000 sq meters of exhibition area spread across six floors, the center features temporary multimedia installations that run the gamut from architecture and urban design to pop art, photojournalism and eye-catching video art. There's also a permanent exhibition on the history of telecommunications in Brazil. The top floor houses an auditorium, where visitors can attend concerts and plays or catch a documentary.

  • Sights in Flamengo & Around

    Museu da República

    The Museu da República, located in the Palácio do Catete, has been wonderfully restored. Built between 1858 and 1866, and easily distinguished by the bronze condors on its eaves, the palace was home to the president of Brazil from 1896 until 1954, when President Getúlio Vargas committed suicide here. The museum has a good collection of art and artifacts from the Republican period, and also houses a small cafe, an art-house cinema and a bookstore. Vargas made powerful enemies in the armed forces and the political right wing, and was attacked in the press as a communist for his attempts to raise the minimum wage and increase taxes on the middle and upper classes. Tensions reached a critical level when one of Vargas' bodyguards fired shots at a journalist. Although the journalist was unharmed, an air-force officer guarding him was killed, giving the armed forces the pretext they needed to demand the resignation of Vargas. In response, Vargas committed suicide; the 3rd-floor bedroom in which the suicide occurred is eerily preserved.

  • Sights in Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa

    Parque da Cidade

    On the outer reaches of Gávea, this lush park of native Mata Atlântica rainforest and replanted secondary forest provides a refreshing escape from the heavy traffic on nearby Rua Marques de São Vicente. Local residents come to jog here, to go for long walks with their dogs and to let their kids run about at the large playground. A hiking trail connects the park with Solar da Imperatriz, an 18th-century colonial building that is today part of a school for horticultural studies, near Jardim Botânico; it's best to go with a local who knows the way, as the path isn't well marked, and the danger of assault is an unlikely but serious consideration. The trail starts near the small waterfall. The park also has a small chapel, and a 19th-century colonial mansion and museum that remain closed for renovations.

  • Sights in Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa

    Planetário

    Gávea's stellar attraction, the Planetário features a museum, a praça dos telescópios (telescopes' square) and a couple of state-of-the-art operating cúpulas (domes), each capable of projecting more than 6000 stars onto its walls. Forty-minute sessions in the domes take place on weekends and holidays. Visitors can also take a peek at the night sky through the telescopes on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:30pm to 8:30pm (6:30pm to 7:30pm from June to August). The modern Museu do Universo (Universe Museum) houses sundials, a Foucault's Pendulum and other permanent exhibitions, plus temporary displays.

  • Sights in Santa Teresa & Lapa

    Parque das Ruínas

    This park contains the ruins – exterior brick walls and a newly built staircase – of the mansion belonging to Brazilian heiress Laurinda Santos Lobo. Her house was a meeting point for Rio's artists and intellectuals for many years until her death in 1946. There's a small gallery on the ground floor, but the real reason to come is the excellent panorama from the viewing platform up top. There's also a small outdoor cafe-kiosk (open 11am to 6pm) and terrace where open-air concerts and theater performances are sometimes held. Go online for the latest schedule.

  • Sights in Santa Teresa & Lapa

    Fundição Progresso

    Once a foundry for the manufacturing of safes and ovens, Fundição Progresso today hosts avant-garde exhibitions, concerts and samba performances throughout the year. There's also a cafe, a bar and a shop selling locally made apparel and accessories. The building is one of the few in the area that survived the 1950s neighborhood redistricting project to widen Av República do Paraguai. The center also hosts the occasional art exhibition. If you're sticking around Rio for a while, you can sign up for classes in capoeira, dance, yoga and theater arts.