Rio has a wide variety of attractions, including cliff-top viewing platforms with panoramic views (at Pão de Açúcar and Cristo Redentor, among other places), gorgeous beaches, and museums that showcase the best of Brazilian art, culture and history.
Many attractions in Rio are found in the Zona Sul (south zone), made up of neighborhoods south of Centro. Rio's downtown (Centro) is home to the densest concentration of museums and cultural centers. The vast Zona Norte, which extends west and north of Centro, has only a few key sights, including Maracanã soccer stadium.
Tropical rainforest, towering peaks and sparkling beaches set the stage for a wide range of adventures in this outdoors-loving city. Hiking, rock climbing, hang gliding, surfing and cycling are only a few ways to spend a sun-drenched afternoon. Rio is also a great place to watch sport; nothing quite compares to seeing the mad spectacle of a football match at hallowed Maracanã.
Walking, Jogging & Cycling
Splendid views and the sounds of the ever-present ocean are just two features of the many good walking and jogging paths of the Zona Sul. Parque do Flamengo has plenty of paths stretching between city and bay. Further south, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas has a 7.2km track for cyclists, joggers and in-line skaters. At the lakeside Parque dos Patins you can rent bicycles (R$15 per hour), tricycles or quadricycles (around R$30 per hour). A popular option is to take the seaside path from Leme to Barra da Tijuca. You can also cycle along paths from Copacabana up to Parque do Flamengo. Sunday is the best day to go, as the road is closed to traffic but open to the city's many outdoor enthusiasts.
The short Pista Cláudio Coutinho, between the mountains and the sea at Praia Vermelha in Urca, is closed to bikes but open to walkers and joggers. It's open from 7am to 6pm daily.
Rio by Bike offers excellent tours that combine scenery and cultural insights, with guides pointing out key landmarks and describing events that have shaped Rio. Tours last three to four hours and travel mostly along bike lanes.
Rio has some outstanding hikes along the trails coursing through the Floresta da Tijuca. You can also go for hikes through wilderness areas around Corcovado, Morro da Urca and Pão de Açúcar.
Rio is the center of rock climbing in Brazil, with 350 documented climbs within 40 minutes of the city center. In addition to organized outings, you can also try your hand at the rock-climbing wall in Parque da Catacumba.
If you weigh less than 100kg (about 220lb) and have a spare R$500, you can do the fantastic hang glide off 510m Pedra Bonita – one of the giant granite slabs that tower above Rio – onto Pepino Beach in São Conrado. Flights last about seven to 10 minutes, and no experience is necessary. Guest riders are secured in a kind of pouch that is attached to the hang glider. The winds are quite safe here and accidents are rare.
The price includes pickup and drop-off at your hotel.
The only martial art native to the Americas, capoeira was invented by Afro-Brazilian slaves about 400 years ago. In its original form the grappling style of combat developed as a means of self-defense against slave owners. Unsurprisingly, once capoeira was discovered, it was quickly banned. However, slaves continued to hone their fighting skills out of sight, practicing secretly in the forest. Later the sport was disguised as a kind of dance, allowing it to emerge into the open. This is the form of capoeira that exists today.
Referred to as a jogo (game), a bout of capoeira is accompanied by hand clapping and the plucking of the berimbau (a long, single-stringed instrument). Initially the music was used to warn fighters of the boss's approach; today it guides the jogo's rhythm. Fast tempos dictate the players' exchange of rapid, powerful kicks and blows, while slower tempos bring the pace down to a quasi-dance. The berimbau is accompanied by the atabaque (floor drum) and the pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine).
You can see musicians and spectators arranged in a roda de capoeira (capoeira circle) at the weekly Feira Nordestina in São Cristóvão. If you're in town for a while, you can also sign up for classes; Fundição Progresso in Lapa offers them three nights a week.
Surfing & Paddle Boarding
Rio has some fine options when it comes to surfing, with great breaks just outside the city. If you're not ready to leave the Zona Sul, there are a few options, including fairly consistent breaks in front of posto (post) 10 in Ipanema and posto 11 in Leblon. Copacabana gets an OK break between postos 4 and 5. You'll find better waves near the spit of land dividing Copacabana from Ipanema. On the east side, off Praia do Diabo, there are right and left breaks that can reach up to 2m high, but it's not a good spot for beginners. On the other side of the rocks is Arpoador, which is generally more consistent, with fast, hollow breaks to the left ranging from 0.5m to 3m. The big drawback here is that the place gets crowded, making maneuvering extremely difficult. To beat the crowds, go early on weekday mornings.
If you're serious about surfing, you'll want to head down to the beaches west of Rio. Just past Barra da Tijuca and Recreio is Macumba Beach; its left and right breaks draw both longboarders and beginners. After Macumba is pretty Prainha, which is widely considered the best surf spot in the area, with waves reaching 3m on good days. If it's too packed, you can continue to Grumari, where the swell isn't as good but the crowds are thinner.
You can also get out on the water on a stand-up paddle board.
Conditions, Rentals & Classes
- Surf conditions Find detailed information on all the breaks around Rio at www.wannasurf.com. If you can read Portuguese, check out www.riosurfpage.com.br.
- Rentals For boards and other gear, visit Galeria River or Spirit Surfboards. You can also rent boards on the beach and from hostels such as Mango Tree. You can hire paddle boards by the half hour from outfits located at the southern end of Copacabana Beach. You can also rent a kayak off the beach in Praia Vermelha in Urca.
- Classes Beginners can take classes through informal escolinhas (schools) off Ipanema Beach and off Barra. Rio Surf 'N Stay offers lessons (in English) and accommodation. Outfits at the southern end of Copacabana Beach offer paddle-boarding lessons.
Need to Know
Football at Maracanã
- Ipanema & Leblon Cycling or jogging the beach path.
- Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa Cycling or jogging the lakeshore path. Hikes in Parque Lage.
- Copacabana & Leme Cycling or jogging the beach path; stand-up paddle boarding off the beach.
- Botafogo, Humaitá & Urca Rock climbing up Pão de Açúcar. Walking the short Pista Cláudio Coutinho.
- Flamengo & Around Cycling or jogging through Parque do Flamengo.
- Zona Norte Watching a football game at Maracanã.
- Barra da Tijuca & West of Rio Hikes and climbs in Floresta da Tijuca.
- Maracanã Football Stadium Attending a match here is an unmissable part of a visit to Rio.
- Bike Rio Pick up a bike from a self-hire kiosk and go for a memorable ride along the beachside path from Leblon to Leme.
- Pão de Açúcar The mountaineering ascent up this mountain offers unforgettable views.
- Parque Nacional da Tijuca Scramble through rainforest and up craggy overlooks.
- Prainha With waves up to 3m, this beach has Rio's best surfing.
- Tandem Fly Hang glide off the giant granite slab of Pedra Bonita.
Tours in Rio range from historical surveys to strolls through Atlantic rainforest. Aside from providing context for the city's natural beauty and historical treasures, tours can be another fun way to experience the city, whether by sailboat, helicopter, 4WD or bicycle.
With its magnificent coastline, Rio makes a fine backdrop for a cruise. For an eco-friendly trip around the bay, book a spot on a 39ft sailboat operated by Sail in Rio.
The pioneer of favela (slum, informal community) tourism, Marcelo Armstrong, takes small groups on half-day tours to the favelas of Rocinha and Vila Canoas near São Conrado.
Another recommended guide is Paulo Amendoim, the former president of Rocinha's residents association. He seems to know everyone in the favela, and leads a warm and personalized tour that helps visitors see beyond the gross stereotypes.
Alternatively, you could try Be A Local, a popular outfit that offers daily trips into Rocinha.
Planning Your Visit
Rio's economic crisis has caused a flare-up of violence in the favelas, and previously safe areas have become dangerous. Before booking a tour, check the latest security situation.
Favela tours were once among the most popular day tours you could book, but many visitors now wonder if it's little more than voyeurism to take a trip into the Rocinha 'slums.' In fact, some positive things can come out of the experience. Residents, who feel marginalized by their own government, are often pleased to find that foreigners take such an interest in them. Projects focused on the arts are growing in the favelas, and dining and drinking in the favela or purchasing locally made paintings and handicrafts are among the best ways to support the community directly.
Care is essential in choosing a guide. Try to get the lowdown before you sign up. Does he or she give time or money to the community? If so, how much and where does the money go? Does the guide live in the favela? While the majority of agencies operating in Rocinha are simply opportunists, there are a few who are bringing more than just tourists to the neighborhood. Ask around: those who are interested in seeing Rocinha from the inside, as a volunteer, will discover numerous ways to get involved.
Helisight offers dramtic aerial views over Rio on helicopter tours lasting from six to 60 minutes. These trips depart from various helipads around town, including on Morro da Urca and beside Lagoa.
Excursions led by Jeep Tour travel to the lush Floresta da Tijuca in a large convertible 4WD. These typically take in other highlights along the way, including the Vista Chinesa and Praia do Pepino, the landing strip for hang gliders from nearby Pedra Bonita.
Hikes around Rio offer some magnificent vistas, including climbs up Corcovado, scrambles up Pão de Açúcar, and hikes past waterfalls to rocky heights in the Floresta da Tijuca. Wherever you go, it's best to go with a guide.
Rio has a wide range of lodging, including B&Bs, hostels and guesthouses; there are scores of luxury hotels, particularly in Copacabana. Prices are comparable to what you'd expect in a North American oceanside city such as Miami or LA; an abundance of options keeps rates from going sky high, except during Carnaval and other major events.
Book at least two or three months ahead during high season.
Rio has a few appealing new boutique and luxury hotels, but apart from the upscale options the selection can be somewhat lackluster. Most hotels are in glass-and-steel high-rises, with marble- and chrome-filled lobbies, and comfortable but uninspiring rooms. The best features will be the view (if there is one) and the door by which to exit the room and explore this fascinating city. Amenities to look for include pools, wi-fi and beach service (towels, chairs and attendants).
With more than 100 hostels scattered around the city, Rio does not lack for budget lodging. Hostels are great settings for meeting other travelers, and with more and more Brazilians traveling, your dorm mate is just as likely to be from Porto Alegre as Perth. Rio's hostels vary in price and style. The best options are in Copacabana and Ipanema, though you'll also find some decent crash pads in Botafogo and Lapa.
There are numerous apartment-rental outfits in Ipanema and Copacabana, though you can also go through Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). This site allows you to rent a whole apartment or simply a room in a shared flat, making it a good way to meet cariocas (Rio residents).
If you book an apartment through an agency, nightly high-season rates start at around R$200 for a small studio apartment in Copacabana and R$350 for one in Ipanema. Typically, you'll need to pay 30% to 50% up front; some agencies accept credit cards, and others use PayPal. Make sure you ask whether utilities and cleaning fees are included in the price. Reputable outfits include Rio Spot Homes, Ipanema for Rent and Blame It on Rio 4 Travel.
Living in such a crowded city, cariocas (residents of Rio) can have a terrible time snatching a few moments of privacy. For those living with their parents or sharing a tiny apartment with roommates, an empty stretch of beach, a park bench or a seat in the back of a cafe are all fine spots to steal a few kisses, but for more…advanced action, cariocas take things elsewhere: to the love motel.
Love motels aren't so much a carioca oddity as a Brazilian institution. They're found in every part of the country, usually in the outskirts of cities and towns. Some are designed with lavish facades resembling medieval castles, Roman temples or ancient pyramids, while others blend in discreetly. Regardless of the exterior, the interiors are far removed from the 'less is more' design philosophy. Mirrors cover the ceiling, and heart-shaped, vibrating beds stretch below. Rose-tinted mood lights, Jacuzzis, televisions loaded with porn channels, dual-headed showers and a bedside room-service menu featuring sex toys: all these come standard in most love motels. People need a place for their liaisons, so they might as well have a laugh and a bit of fun while they're at it. Motels are used by young lovers who want to get away from their parents, by parents who want to get away from their kids, and by couples who want to get away from their spouses. They are an integral part of the nation's social fabric, and it's not uncommon for cariocas to host parties in them.
Quality varies. The most lavish offer three-story suites with a hot tub beneath a skylight on the top floor, a sauna and bathroom on the 2nd floor, and a garage underneath (allowing anonymity). These come with all the other mood-enhancing features. The best suites cost upwards of R$500 for eight hours, more at weekends. (Cariocas claim that an equally fine time can be had in the standard rooms.)
Nearly every guesthouse, hostel and hotel serves some form of café da manha (breakfast). At cheaper places this may only be a roll and instant coffee; better places serve fresh fruit, juices, strong coffee, yogurt, cheese, cured meats, fresh bread and perhaps cooked eggs. Oddly, Rio's most expensive lodgings often charge for breakfast.
Favela sleeps are nothing new. Intrepid travelers have been venturing into Rio’s urban mazes for over a decade, but as more and more of Rio’s favelas are pacified (drug traffickers forcefully driven out and security posts installed), hostels and pousadas (guesthouses) are popping up faster than the rudimentary constructions that make up the favelas themselves. Unfortunately, security is now an issue even in once safe favelas: be sure to check out the latest situation before booking.
- Blame It on Rio 4 Travel (www.blameitonrio4travel.com) Excellent agency that rents apartments in Copacabana and Ipanema.
- Lonely Planet (lonelyplanet.com/brazil/rio-de-janeiro/hotels) Recommendations and bookings.
The following price ranges refer to a double room with bathroom in high season (December to March). Unless otherwise stated, breakfast is included in the price. Many hotels add 5% to 15% in taxes and service charges, though cheaper places don't generally bother with this.
$ less than R$200
$$$ more than R$500
Need to Know
Rooms with an ocean view cost 30% to 50% more than rooms without.
- Summer (December through March): rates rise by about 30% and many places book up well ahead.
- New Year's Eve, Carnaval and major events: most accommodations, including hostels, only book in four- or seven-day blocks.
- Carnaval: the better places book out up to a year ahead.
Where to Stay
Ipanema & Leblon
Great location near the beach and the lake, with Rio's best restaurants and bars surrounding. Great views possible: ocean, lake or possibly Corcovado.
Pricier than other locations. Fewer options than Copacabana.
Copacabana & Leme
Wealth of lodging possibilities packed into a long, narrow high-rise-lined neighborhood. Proximity to the beach. Good transport connections to other parts of the city. Good restaurants and bars.
Nightlife more limited than Ipanema or Botafogo. Very touristy; some cariocas avoid it. Sex tourism in some parts; tourist-trap restaurants along Av Atlântica.
Botafogo & Urca
Good neighborhood with restaurants, bars and nightclubs that attract a local crowd.
Not within walking distance of the beach. Noisy, traffic-clogged avenues. Few attractions.
Flamengo & Around
Better prices than the beachside districts.
Few options, mostly budget. Very few restaurants and bars, and very little nightlife.
Santa Teresa & Lapa
Santa Teresa is a charming bohemian district with great architecture and alternative, art-minded residents. Has a handful of good restaurants and drinking spots. Lapa is the epicenter of Rio's samba-fueled nightlife.
Santa Teresa is far from the beaches; poor transport links. Lapa is unappealing and gritty by day.
Barra da Tijuca & Western Rio
Great beaches with a laid-back vibe.
No neighborhood vibe; most locals use cars to get places.
- Casa Beleza Friendly hosts and an enticing pool in a villa guesthouse in Santa Teresa.
- Hotel Santa Teresa Rio's finest boutique hotel, with a great restaurant and bar.
- Pouso Verde Charming guesthouse in a peaceful Jardim Botânico location.
- Maze Inn Unique English-run place with striking views in Tavares Bastos favela.
- Belmond Copacabana Palace Gorgeous, historic hotel with great restaurants and top service.
- Hotel Emiliano Beautifully designed rooms, a jaw-dropping roof deck and a great beachfront location.
By Budget: $
By Budget: $$
By Budget: $$$
- Marta Rio Guesthouse Top-floor high-rise B&B in Copacabana with jaw-dropping views.
- Margarida's Pousada Easy-going option in an ideal Ipanema location.
- Casa da Gente Eco-minded guesthouse above Lapa.
- Casa Áurea Laid-back Santa Teresa guesthouse with a hammock-filled garden.
- Mama Ruisa Peaceful villa in Santa Teresa with high-end rooms and a pool.
Despite top-notch chefs, ethnically diverse cuisine and a rich bounty from farm, forest and sea, Rio hasn't earned much of a culinary reputation abroad. Within Brazil, however, it's a different story, with cariocas (residents of Rio) convinced that there's no place quite like home for sitting down to a first-rate meal.
The Dining Scene
Variety comes in many forms in Rio, which is unsurprising given the large immigrant population. Lebanese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French and Italian cuisines are among the standouts, though there's an equally broad selection of regional Brazilian restaurants.
Diners can sample rich, shrimp-filled moqueca (seafood stew cooked in coconut milk) from Bahia or tender carne seca (jerked meat) covered in farofa (manioc flour), a staple in Minas Gerais. Daring palates can venture north into Amazonia, enjoying savory tacacá (manioc paste, lip-numbing leaves of the vegetable jambú and dried shrimp) or tambaqui (a large Amazonian fish) and other meaty fishes from the mighty Amazon. Cowboys and the gaúcho from the south bring the city its churrascarias, Brazil's famous all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurants, where crisply dressed waiters bring piping-hot spits of freshly roasted meats to your table.
Wherever you end up, try to pace yourself. Brazilian dishes are normally quite large – and some dishes are meant for two. When in doubt, ask the server to clarify.
Most cariocas start their morning with a stop at the local juice bar, where they can enjoy two or three dozen varieties of vitamin-filled elixir, including the very popular açaí (healthful juice made from an Amazonian berry and whipped to a thick consistency – it's eaten with a spoon).
Other unique flavors to try include cupuaçu (Amazonian fruit), caju (fruit from the cashew-nut tree), acerola (tropical cherry), carambola (star fruit), graviola (custard apple), fruta do conde (sugar apple) and cacau (made from the creamy pulp of the cocoa pod; nothing like cocoa). More traditional fruits include maracujá (passion fruit), manga (mango), goiaba (guava) and tomate de árbol (tamarillo).
Juices are made from frozen pulp, with sugar added. To order yours without sugar, request 'sem açúcar.'
Juice bars also serve snacks (on display in the counters), hot sandwiches such as misto quente (ham and cheese) and other quickly prepared bites.
At lunchtime, locals favor pay-by-weight restaurants, which range from simple, working-class affairs to sumptuous buffets lined with fresh salads, grilled meats, pastas, seafood dishes and copious desserts. These are found all across the city, and are a great way to sample a wide variety of Brazilian dishes.
Most places charge around R$60 to R$100 per kilogram, with a sizable plate of food costing about R$40 to R$60.
Snack stands, juice bars and botecos (small open-air bars) serve a wide variety of delicious, if utterly unhealthy, salgados (snacks). After a day at the beach they go quite nicely with a few rounds of chope (draft beer).
A few top picks:
Pão de queijo Bite-size cheese-filled rolls.
Esfiha Triangular pastry filled with meat and spices, spinach or other fillings.
Kibe Deep-fried Middle Eastern snack with a thin whole-wheat crust and a filling of ground beef and spices.
Bolinho de bacalhau Deep-fried codfish balls.
Coxinha Pear-shaped cornmeal balls filled with shredded chicken.
Pastel de carne/camarão/queijo Square of deep-fried dough filled with meat, shrimp or cheese.
Tapioca A crepe made from manioc flour, filled with chicken, cheese, fruit preserves and more. Found primarily at food markets.
The feiras (produce markets) that pop up in different locations throughout the week are the best places to shop for juicy mangoes, papayas, pineapples and other fruits. For an authentic slice of homegrown carioca commerce, nothing beats wandering through a market and taking in the action. The best time to go is from 9am to noon; the feiras end by 2pm or 3pm.
You can also stop in at Ipanema's Hippie Fair on Sunday for delectable Bahian fare.
Cobal do Humaitá The city's largest farmers market sells plenty of veggies and fruit; it also has cafes and restaurants, and a huge open-air pavilion for alfresco dining.
Cobal do Leblon Fruit stalls, as well as indoor-outdoor restaurants and bars.
Copacabana Markets are held Wednesday on Praça Edmundo Bittencourt, Thursday on Ministro Viveiros de Castro and Ronald de Carvalho, Saturday on General Azevedo Pimentel and Sunday on Praça Serzedelo Correia.
Gávea Friday market on Praça Santos Dumont.
Glória Sunday market on Av Augusto Severo.
Ipanema Markets are held Monday on Henrique Dumont, Tuesday on Praça General Osório and Friday on Praça NS da Paz.
Jardim Botânico Saturday market on Frei Leandro.
Leblon Thursday market on General Urquiza.
Leme Monday market on Gustavo Sampaio.
Santa Teresa Friday market on Felicio dos Santos.
Urca Sunday market on Praça Tenente Gil Guilherme.
As distinctively carioca as Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) or Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), the feijoada completa is a dish that constitutes an entire meal, and often begins with a caipirinha aperitif.
A properly prepared feijoada consists of black beans slowly cooked with a great variety of meat – including dried tongue and pork offcuts – seasoned with salt, garlic, onion and oil. The stew is accompanied by white rice and finely shredded kale, then tossed with croutons, fried farofa (manioc flour) and pieces of orange.
Feijoada has its origins in Portuguese cuisine, which uses a large variety of meats and vegetables; fried farofa (an ingredient in indigenous dishes) and kale are also Portuguese favorites. The African influence comes with the spice and the tradition of using pork offcuts, which were the only part of the pig given to slaves.
Traditionally, cariocas eat feijoada for lunch on Saturday, though a few restaurants serve it on other days. Among the top places to sample the signature dish is Casa da Feijoada, which is one of the few places in Rio that serve feijoada daily. Vegetarians can sample tasty meat-free versions of feijoada at Vegetariano Social Club.
6 cups dried black beans
500g smoked ham hocks
500g Brazilian lingüiça (Brazilian sausage; substitute chorizo or sweet sausage)
500g Brazilian carne seca or lean Canadian (loin-cut) bacon
1kg smoked pork ribs
The intrepid can add one each of a pig's ear, foot, tail and tongue
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 strips smoked bacon
salt and black pepper
orange slices to garnish
rice, farofa, kale or collard greens to serve
hot sauce (optional) to serve
After soaking the beans overnight, bring them to a boil in 3L of water and then keep them on low to medium heat for several hours, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cut up the ham hocks, lingüiça and carne seca into 3cm or 4cm chunks, separate the pork ribs by twos and place all the meat into a separate pan full of water and bring to a boil. After the first boil, empty out the water and add the mixture, along with the bay leaves and salt and pepper, to the beans. As the pot simmers, in a separate pan sauté the garlic and onion in olive oil, adding in the smoked bacon. Take two ladles of beans from the pot, mash them and add to the frying pan. Stir, cook for a few more minutes, then add the frying-pan contents to the pot; this will thicken the mixture. Simmer for another two to three hours, until the beans are tender and the stock has a creamy consistency. Remove the bay leaves and serve over rice with farofa and kale or collard greens. Garnish with fresh orange slices. Add hot sauce if desired, and be sure to enjoy with a cold caipirinha.
Need to Know
Most restaurants open from noon to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm. On Sunday many restaurants open only for lunch, if at all. Juice bars open around 7am or 8am and close at midnight or later.
A 10% tip is usually included in restaurant bills. When it isn't included, it's customary to leave 10%. Some higher-end restaurants recommend a 13% gratuity.
Most restaurants accept reservations for both lunch and dinner, so call ahead to avoid a wait. Reservations are essential at high-end restaurants, and the answering host will usually speak English.
Some restaurants serve multicourse lunch specials, which often provide decent value for money. Prices hover around R$35 but can be upwards of R$60 for more elaborate offerings.
Cariocas (residents of Rio) are quite casual when it comes to dress, and dining out is no exception. Even at the nicest places, a pair of smart jeans and a collared shirt or blouse will do just fine.
Brazilians can be fastidious when it comes to eating. Use a knife and fork when eating pizza. In fact, never touch your food with bare hands: always use a napkin when eating sandwiches, bar snacks etc.
- Ipanema & Leblon Best assortment of dining from inexpensive juice bars and per-kilo places to award-winning restaurants.
- Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa Charming upscale neighborhood options, plus dining with views at open-air lakeside kiosks.
- Copacabana & Leme Humble rotisseries, ethnic fare and beachfront kiosks, plus delights tucked away on side streets.
- Botafogo, Humaitá & Urca Creative, high-end eateries along Conde de Irajá; casual open-air options along Nelson Mandela.
- Flamengo & Around Small selection of midrange and down-market options, and a few well-concealed surprises (Lebanese, Japanese and Rio's best pizzas).
- Centro & Praça Mauá Atmospheric lunch options on cobblestone streets near Praça XV, but few dinner options.
- Santa Teresa & Lapa Small but enticing collection of eateries, with the densest concentration around Largo do Guimarães.
The following price ranges refer to the cost of a main course.
$ less than R$30
$$$ more than R$75
- Giuseppe Grill Meals are always memorable at this Leblon icon.
- Zazá Bistrô Tropical Handsomely converted Ipanema mansion with contemporary Asian-inspired fare.
- Aprazível In a beautiful Santa Teresa setting with magical views over the city.
- Oteque Haute cuisine in an atmospheric spot in Botafogo.
- Ferro e Farinha Wonderful pizza in an atmospheric but hard-to-find space in Catete.
- Espírito Santa Superb Amazonian dishes and creative cocktails in Santa Teresa.
By Budget: $
By Budget: $$
By Budget: $$$
- Churrascaria Palace Rio's best all-you-can-eat joint, with sizzling cuts of meat in an elegant setting.
- Olympe An imaginative fusion of Brazilian and French cooking.
- Térèze French decadence at the plush Hotel Santa Teresa.
- Zuka Brilliantly executed dishes on Leblon's main eat street.
- CT Boucherie Juicy grilled dishes and limitless servings of creative sides.
- Venga! Buzzing atmosphere and satisfying tapas.
- El Born Great tapas and beer that pay homage to Barcelona.
- Casa Momus Delicious Mediterranean fare in a picturesque setting in Lapa.
- Meza Bar A trendy spot in Rio's most food-centric neighborhood.
- Bar do David Tasty bar snacks and first-rate seafood in the Chapéu Mangueira favela.
- Stuzzi Italian stuzzichini (sharing plates), great wine and a festive atmosphere.
- Conde de Irajá Several top-class dining rooms tucked close together on a leafy street in Humaitá.
- Barão da Torre Intriguing variety of creative eating spots between Aníbal de Mendonça and Joana Angélica.
- Dias Ferreira Leblon's best restaurants, with open-air spots transitioning into party spaces as the night wears on.
- Garcia D'Ávila Ipanema's high-end shopping strip also has good cafes and bistros.
- Almirante Alexandrino Follow the bonde (tram) tracks a few blocks in either direction from Largo do Guimarães in Santa Teresa to reach the neighborhood's best eateries.
Drinking & Nightlife
Any night of the week you'll find plenty of ways to experience Rio's electrifying nightlife: open-air bars by the lake; festive outdoor drinking spots on the colonial streets of Centro; beachfront kiosks; stylish lounges and nightclubs; and warm and welcoming botecos (small open-air bars) that are scattered all across the city.
As in most places in the world, there are a few different subcultures (models and modelizers, surfers, hipsters and hippies) within the nightlife circuit, though there's plenty of crossover between groups. The well-heeled crowd from the Zona Sul tends to favor high-end bars in Gávea and Barra, while an alternative crowd heads to the drinking dens in Botafogo. Lapa's mix of bars and dance halls attracts a range of people from all backgrounds, who may have little in common aside from a love of samba.
Venues come and go – and the best parties are often one-off events in unique spots – so it helps if you can get the latest from a local source. If you can read a bit of Portuguese, pick up the 'Veja Rio' insert in Veja magazine, which comes out each Sunday. 'Rio Show,' the entertainment insert that comes in the Friday edition of O Globo, also has extensive listings.
For an insight into Rio's drinking culture, familiarize yourself with one of the great sociocultural icons of the city: the boteco. These casual, open-sided bars are found all over town, and draw in a broad cross-section of society. Young and old, upper class and working class, men and women, black and white mix over ice-cold chope (draft beer) or caipirinhas (cocktails made from lime, sugar and sugarcane alcohol), flirting and swapping the latest gossip as bow-tied waiters move deftly among the crowd.
Just as most cariocas (Rio residents) have a favorite team, nearly every local has a favorite boteco. These range from hole-in-the-wall joints where canned beer is handed out to drinkers slouched over plastic tables to classic, wood-paneled bar rooms with murals on the walls, expertly mixed drinks and a history dating back several generations. Wherever you go in the city, you'll find that food is an important part of the experience, as cariocas rate bars not just on the drinks and the vibe but on the menu as well.
Lately the beer scene has improved immensely thanks to the rise of the craft-brewing industry across Brazil. New bars featuring top microbrews from within the state and beyond have opened all across Rio, and cariocas are discovering their inner beer nerd.
Rio has some great places to shake your bunda (booty). DJs pull from the latest house, drum and bass and hip-hop favorites, as well as uniquely Brazilian combinations such as electro-samba and bossa-jazz. In addition to local DJs, Rio attracts a handful of vinyl gurus from São Paulo, New York and London to spin at bigger affairs. Flyers advertising dance parties can be found in boutiques in Ipanema and Leblon, and in the surf shops in Galeria River by Praia Arpoador. You'll save money by getting on the guest list – this usually means adding your name to the club's event-listing page on Facebook.
At many clubs in Rio you'll receive a control card when you enter. Rather than paying for individual drinks, your card will be marked each time you order. At the end of the night, you'll head to the cashier and pay for your food and drinks, plus the admission charge. Don't lose the card, as you'll be hit with a hefty fee (upwards of R$200).
Rio has been a major destination for gay travelers since the 1950s. Back then the action was near the Copacabana Palace, which is still popular with a slightly older crowd (look for the rainbow-hued flag). Today, however, the party has mostly moved on, with the focal point of the LGBT scene, especially for visitors, being in Ipanema. The gay beach at the end of Rua Farme de Amoedo (again, look for the rainbow flag) is the stomping ground of some of Rio's buffest men, sometimes known as 'barbies' in carioca slang. The bars and cafes of nearby streets – Rua Teixeira de Melo and Rua Farme – attract a mixed crowd and are a good spot to explore if you're not quite ready to jump into the beach scene.
Rio also hosts an enormously popular Gay Pride festival. For more info on the gay scene in Rio, including recommendations on nightclubs, bars, cafes and guesthouses, visit Rio Gay Guide (www.riogayguide.com).
Need to Know
- Bars From 6pm to 2am Monday to Friday, from noon on Saturday and Sunday. Most places stay open later (typically till 4am) on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Nightclubs From 11pm to 5am Thursday to Saturday.
Drink & Admission Prices
- Drinks A draft beer costs R$8 to R$12; cocktails cost R$15 to R$25, up to R$40 at pricier lounges. Most bars tack on a 10% service charge.
- Club admission Fridays and Saturdays are the most expensive nights, with admission averaging around R$50. Women sometimes pay less than men.
- The dress code at clubs isn't strict in Rio. Neat shorts and sneakers are fine, though flip-flops and swimsuits are no-nos.
- Groups of single men will have a harder time getting in. Try to join up with a few women.
- Go before midnight to beat the crowds.
- Ipanema & Leblon Lots of botecos, a handful of lounges and nightclubs.
- Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa Romantic lakeside drinking spots popular with couples.
- Copacabana & Leme Beach kiosks, botecos, nightclubs and bars with views in the favela above Leme.
- Botafogo, Humaitá & Urca Several popular spots in Urca; great botecos and creative bars and drinking dens in Botafogo.
- Centro & Praça Mauá Atmospheric after-work drinking spots on pedestrianized streets in Centro.
- Santa Teresa & Lapa Old-fashioned bars and bohemian haunts in Santa Teresa; riotous street parties and samba clubs in Lapa.
Drinking & Nightlife
- Explorer Bar Imaginative cocktails in a beautiful Santa Teresa setting.
- Palaphita Kitch Amazonian-tinged cocktails and serene lakeside views.
- Canastra A friendly French-run neighborhood bar with great food and drinks.
- Bar dos Descasados Romantic outdoor lounge with hilltop views.
- Comuna Creative gathering space for art, music and microbrews.
- WineHouse Rio's most atmospheric wine bar.
- Antônio's A fine spot for taking in the Lapa street scene.
- Jobi Tiny, much-loved watering hole in Leblon open very late.
- Champanharia Ovelha Negra A festive meeting spot for champagne-lovers.
- Ponto da Bossa Nova A mainstay of Baixo Copa's outdoor drinking scene.
- Hipódromo Outdoor drinking fest that happens most nights in Gávea.
- Palaphita Gávea A fun, wildly decorated space, with an adjoining dance club that opens weekends.
- Fosfobox Long-running downstairs dance club in Copacabana.
- Barzin The go-to spot for big nights out, especially on Tuesday.
- Bar Bukowski A party house in Botafogo with a dance floor, an upstairs stage and a games room.
- Leviano Bar Outdoor tables on Lapa's wildest street and dancing upstairs.
- Brewteco A masculine beer-lovers' gathering spot in Leblon.
- Hocus Pocus Top brews from a much-loved Rio-based microbrewer.
- Booze Bar Sip your way through local craft beers in the heart of Lapa.
- As Melhores Cervejas do Mundo A friendly place for beer nerds of all stripes.
- Escondido A casual place to start the night, with good microbrews on tap.
- Delirium Cafe Great global selections in Ipanema.
Gay Clubs & Bars
- Bar Léo Raise a glass over the cobblestones of Rio's oldest neighborhood.
- Baretto-Londra Very swanky party space inside Ipanema's Hotel Fasano.
- Bar do Zé Atmospheric and well-hidden bar tucked away in Glória.
- Bar Astor Luscious cocktails and a great location across from Ipanema Beach.
- Bar Urca Drinking in the open air with views over the bay.
Rio has a celebrated music scene, with enchanting settings in which to catch live performances, from cutting-edge concert halls to intimate neighborhood venues. Dance, theater, classical concerts and opera also have their small but loyal local followings, while cinema is an even bigger deal – Rio is one of the leading film centers in Latin America.
In addition to samba, Rio is a showcase for jazz, bossa nova, Música Popular Brasileira (MPB), rock, hip-hop and fusions of these styles. Brazil's many regional styles – forró (traditional Brazilian music from the Northeast), chorinho (romantic, intimate samba) and pagode (relaxed and rhythmic samba) – are also a part of the music scene.
Venues range from modern concert halls seating thousands to intimate samba clubs in edgy neighborhoods. Antiquated colonial mansions, parks overlooking the city, old-school bars, crumbling buildings at the edge of town and hypermodern lounges facing the ocean are all part of the mix. Rio has a few large concert halls that attract Brazilian stars such as Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento, and well-known international bands visiting Rio on world tours.
Major music festivals include the Rio Music Conference (www.riomusicconference.com.br), held in the Marina da Glória. In addition to established venues, during the summer months concerts sometimes take place on the beaches of Copacabana, Botafogo, Ipanema and Barra da Tijuca.
Rio has produced a number of successful dance troupes, including the contemporary Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker, which spends much of its time touring abroad. One homegrown talent you might catch in town is the Cia de Dança Dani Lima, an avant-garde troupe that weaves provocative pieces together through dance and aerial gymnastics. Also keep an eye out for the Lapa-based Intrépida Trupe, whose talented acrobat-dancers bring surreal works to the stage.
There is no space dedicated solely to dance; performances can take place at many venues around the city.
Rio's biggest dance festival, Festival Panorama de Dança (www.panoramafestival.com), is held in November. For classical dance, try to see a production by the Ballet do Theatro Municipal, which puts on highly professional performances at Rio's most venerable theater.
Best Dance Venues
Brazil has a long history of theater. Literary greats from the 19th century, including the highly imaginative carioca (Rio resident) Joaquim Machado de Assis, lent their vision to the stage. Talents from the 20th century, such as the great Nelson Rodrigues and more recently Gerald Thomas, have kept the flame alive, and you may be able to catch some of their work in Rio's theaters. There are more than two dozen venues in town. Unfortunately, if you don't speak Portuguese, you won't get a lot out of an evening at the theater.
Rio has several symphony orchestras, and irregular appearances are made by chamber groups and soloists. The best new venue is Barra da Tijuca's excellent Cidade das Artes, where the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra plays. Other first-rate places to catch a performance include the Sala Cecília Meireles, which has excellent acoustics, and the magnificent Theatro Municipal. You might also attend a performance at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil or the Fundação Eva Klabin, both of which host orchestral works periodically.
The biggest classical-music festival is Música no Museu, held in museums, churches and cultural centers around town.
Music in the Museum
Classical-music lovers should try to attend a concert held during the ongoing Música No Museu. Held annually over a number of months, this event features dozens of free concerts each month at museums and cultural spaces around the city, including the Museu de Arte Moderna, Museu da República, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil and Parque das Ruínas. Most concerts are held during the day (typically starting some time between noon and 3pm), making them an alternative to the beach if you need a break. Visit the website or pick up a brochure from any tourist office for the current schedule.
There's plenty of variety at Rio's many cinemas. The market here is remarkably open to foreign and independent films, documentaries and avant-garde cinema. The latest American blockbusters get ample airtime at movie megaplexes, while cultural centers, museums and old one-screen theaters offer a more diverse repertoire. Films are shown in the original language with Portuguese subtitles. At weekends, popular shows often sell out, so buy your ticket early. Prices range from R$20 to R$34 per ticket, with cheaper matinee prices from Monday to Thursday and the highest prices (and longest lines) from Friday to Sunday.
The Rio film fest is one of the biggest in Latin America; more than 400 films representing 60 countries show at theaters all across Rio, and there are occasional screenings at the Marina da Glória and other open-air spots around town. In past years the two-week festival has attracted more than 300,000 attendees. Although it screens a wide variety of international fare, the festival often sets the stage for the success of Brazilian films aimed at wide release. For more info, visit www.festivaldorio.com.br.
Need to Know
Tickets & Reservations
- Visit Rio (www.visit.rio) The city's tourism authority maintains listings of major events.
- Rio Show (http://rioshow.oglobo.globo.com) Published inside the Friday edition of O Globo newspaper; has extensive listings in Portuguese.
- Veja (http://veja.abril.com.br)The 'Rio' insert included with this magazine, which comes out on Sunday, is a good (Portuguese only) source of info.
- Ipanema & Leblon A handful of theaters, cinemas and live-music venues.
- Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa Live-music spots at lakeside kiosks.
- Botafogo, Humaitá & Urca Several cinemas and creative venues.
- Flamengo & Around Small concert halls in arts spaces.
- Centro & Praça Mauá Large selection of concert halls and theaters.
- Santa Teresa & Lapa Many live-music venues in Lapa.
- Barra da Tijuca & West of Rio Home to mega-sized concert halls.
- Theatro Municipal Grande dame of a theater that showcases some of Rio's best performing arts.
- Clube Manouche Intimate downstairs club reminiscent of NYC jazz dens.
- Teatro Riachuelo Architecturally stunning new downtown theater with a fabulous lineup of concerts.
- Cidade das Artes Massive R$500-million home to the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra.
- Teatro Odisséia A Lapa mainstay with rock and (MPB) bands.
Jazz & Bossa Nova
- Circo Voador Creative open-air space for top concerts; in the heart of Lapa.
- Barzin In addition to DJs, this Ipanema spot hosts an eclectic lineup of live music.
- Wood's Leblon club where bands sometimes play.
- Fundição Progresso A Lapa showcase for top names and up-and-coming groups.
- Teatro Rival Petrobras Downtown venue where you can eat, drink and catch MPB.
Unsurprisingly, beach and casual wear are a big part of the shopping scene in Rio. Less well known is the great variety of stores selling antiques, custom-made handicrafts, wine and spirits, handmade jewelry, records and CDs, coffee-table books and one-of-a-kind goods found only in Rio.
Markets of Rio
Rio's many markets are ideal places to explore the subcultures beneath the city's surface, whether that means you're brushing elbows with antique-lovers, recent migrants from the Northeast or youthful flocks of fashionistas from the Zona Sul. Several markets, such as the Feira Nordestina and the monthly Feira do Rio Antigo, are as much about food and music as they are about shopping.
A few top markets:
- Music Expand your collection with local favorites such as singers Maria Rita, Diogo Nogueira or Mart'nália.
- Cachaça Buy quality cachaça (high-proof sugarcane alcohol) from Minas from around R$35.
- Swimwear Flaunt your new tan in a tiny sunga (Speedo) or fio dental (string bikini). Ipanema, along Rua Visconde de Pirajá, is the place to look.
- Maracatu drums If the massive Northeastern instrument won't fit on your coffee table, consider the smaller ukulele-like cavaquinho.
- Havaianas Find a pair for every mood at shops all across town, including the spacious emporium in Copacabana.
- Paintings Artists showcase their work at the Sunday Hippie Fair.
- Soccer jerseys Score a jersey for one of Rio's teams. Loja Fla is the go-to place for Flamengo fans.
- Folk art Tap into Brazil's handicraft traditions at stores scattered about town.
Need to Know
- Stores From 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday.
- Malls From 10am to 10pm Monday to Saturday, 3pm to 10pm Sunday.
All stores list their prices with the tax already included, so what you see on the tag is the total price you'll pay for the goods.
Many sales assistants in high-end shops speak some English.
A little bargaining is expected when making purchases at markets, but keep in mind that sellers generally don't inflate their prices and so aren't willing to haggle very much.
- Ipanema & Leblon Loads of boutiques; high prices.
- Gávea, Jardim Botânico & Lagoa Several small-scale but atmospheric shopping streets.
- Copacabana & Leme Countless stores, a few markets and tourist fare.
- Centro & Praça Mauá Wine shops, bookstores and down-market clothing shops; medina-like browsing in the pedestrian streets of Saara.
- Santa Teresa & Lapa A few handicrafts shops and galleries near Largo do Guimarães.
- Gilson Martins Wallets, bags and other accessories with iconic Rio imagery.
- Maria Oiticica Elegant jewelry made from Amazonian seeds and fibers.
- Chocolate Q Exquisite, beautifully wrapped chocolate produced from the cacao beans of a sustainable Brazilian grower.
- Osklen Attractive men's and women's fashion from Brazil's best-known designer.
- CRAB Beautifully displayed crafts from across Brazil.
- Hippie Fair Have fun browsing – and eating street food – in Ipanema.
- Berinjela Used records and CDs hidden in the bowels of a Centro shopping gallery.
- Toca do Vinícius A must for bossa nova fans.
- Arlequim Wide-ranging music selection, plus an appealing cafe.
- Bossa Nova & Companhia Copacabana's best place for delving into Rio's musical legacy.
- Pleidisco Known for its guitars and stringed instruments.