The beaches of Rio are the city's wondrous and carefree backyard. It's where cariocas from all walks of life – rich and poor, young and old, black and white, model-thin and beer-bellied – come to play and socialize against a backdrop of crashing waves and the ever-present green peaks towering over the city.
The Perfect Crowd
Although the mix is incredibly democratic, postos subdivide the beach into different sections, with each subculture drawn to its particular posto, whether drawing favela kids, volleyballers, well-heeled families or the beauty crowd.
Sports are a big seaside draw, and entail surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, jogging, cycling and skating the beachside path, football, volleyball and futevolei – that uniquely Brazilian combination of volleyball played with football-style rules (no hands allowed!). There's also frescobal, a simple game where two players with wooden rackets stand 10m apart and pound a rubber ball back and forth.
Sit Back & Relax
Many beachgoers, however, would rather just relax and enjoy the scene. For sun-lovers, there’s much to take in: the sand, the sea, the food and drink vendors, the passing people parade...
- Leave valuables back at the hotel. Take only the cash you need for the beach.
- Don't use a towel on the beach – instead, sit on a chair or a kanga (sarong); Brazilian men stand or sit on the sand.
- Choose your spot; find a barraca (stall) you like, hire chairs and sunshades from it.
- Don't bother bringing food or drink to the beach; support the local vendors.
By night, the energy on Rio’s streets is electric. All-night street parties in Lapa, old-school gafieiras (samba clubs), impromptu jam sessions at outdoor bars, riotous dance floors presided over by celebrated DJs – Rio's nightlife is all this and much more. The only thing you have to do is show up.
Epicenter of Rio's samba scene, there's always something afoot in this atmospheric neighborhood on the edge of Centro. On weekends the party takes over, and the city closes the streets to traffic.
A much-loved institution in Rio, the boteco is a casual open-sided bar where cariocas gather over ice-cold chopes (draft beer) and snacks. Eating is an essential part of Rio's drinking culture.
The pretty lagoon behind Ipanema and Leblon is a favorite spot among couples at night. Lakeside kiosks serve up cocktails and live music (as well as food) in tranquil open-air settings.
Blessed with tropical rainforest, towering peaks and sparkling seaside, the Cidade Maravilhosa offers some captivating ways to spend a sun-drenched afternoon. You can go hang gliding, surfing, biking, hiking, running and rock climbing amid spectacular scenery without leaving the city limits.
In recent years, many of Rio's favelas have been transformed. Although controversial, the pacification plan – police invasions to drive out drug traffickers followed by the installation of security posts – has been largely successful. Public investment has poured into these safe harbors, helping to unite them with the rest of the city.
No matter where you are in the city, you won't have to travel far to get a dose of nature. Rio has abundant parks and green spaces, some quite small and manicured (Parque do Catete) and others veritable wildernesses (Floresta da Tijuca).
Parque do Flamengo
The landfill-turned-green space is best on Sunday when through-streets close to traffic, and runners and cyclists claim the long curving paths skirting the bay.
These stately royal gardens make for a fine break from the beach. Here you can take in rare orchids, see massive Vitória Régia lilies and other Amazonian flora and admire the royal palms planted when the Portuguese royals ruled from Rio.
Parque do Catete
Behind the former presidential palace, this small but elegant park is complete with a swan-filled pond and a gallery (and cinema) adjoining the green space.
Sítio Burle Marx
Far west of town, but worth the trip, the gardens of Rio's famous landscape architect bloom with thousands of plant species. The lush estate is full of history, which you'll discover on a guided tour.
Floresta da Tijuca
Rio's wide rainforest-covered expanse is teeming with plant and animal life. You can take scenic or challenging walks, including rewarding scrambles up its 900m-high peaks.