Once the capital of Brazil and still its most famous city, Rio de Janeiro is the ultimate beach destination. Its large Atlantic coast includes one of the best-known beaches in the world: Ipanema. But dipping your toe in the ocean is only one of many things to do in Rio! In this Rio travel guide you will find the best hotels in Rio, places to et in Rio, as well as some fun things to do in Rio.
This vibrant city is known for many things, like its wild nightlife and carnival. The vibe is colorful, the people are pleasant and beautiful… there are so many faces to this city. Every Rio travel guide will say it’s a city of contrasts, and that’s as accurate as it gets. You can easily become entranced with Rio de Janeiro’s beachy lifestyle, but favelas are always around the corner. These slums are so big, they’re actually cities within the city, with wildly different living conditions. Touristic Rio is very different from the city’s day-to-day, which makes for a wholly fascinating metropolis.
Whether you’re sinking your toes in the sand or going through the favelas, you’ll always find Rio incredible. Samba and beach football, all cohabiting with extreme poverty. Rio de Janeiro is a lot to handle!
One of the great South American cities, experiencing Rio de Janeiro is a must for all cityistas. Enjoy my Rio travel guide, and read more about my Rio experiences in my travel stories Rio – The city that brings eccentric side out of you and Copacanabana – The Beauty & The Beast!
How to Get to Rio de Janeiro? – Rio Travel Guide
As the second largest city in South America’s giant, Brazil, there’s lots of air traffic in Rio de Janeiro. The main Rio airport is directly connected to most major western capitals, and many Middle Eastern and African ones. Lots of flights arrive from the U.S., too, plus many major South American cities.
There are 3 airports in Rio: the first one is Galeão, the biggest and farthest from city center. If you arrive from outside Brazil, this is where you’ll land. Santos Dumont, within city limits, serves Brazilian destinations, like flights to Sao Paulo every 15 minutes. This could be the best choice for those touring this huge and fascinating country. Lastly, there’s Jacarepaguá airport, far from city center. It receives private jets and helicopters, so lucky you if that’s where you’re landing!
In any case, if you’re coming from Europe, Africa, North America or the Middle East, there’s probably a direct flight. Worst case scenario, you’re probably just one connection away from Rio, as Galeão airport is a pretty important hub.
Once you’ve landed in Galeão, there are several ways to reach the city. Premium buses go from the airport to different areas in Rio. As there are many accommodations in town, you should find out where yours is in advance.
There’s also a shuttle bus that’ll take you to the metro, and you can move from there. Taxis aren’t recommended, and there are many stories of drivers taking advantage of tourists. Whenever possible, book an airport transfer in advance; there are many companies specializing in this service.
Living – Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
Although there are many hotels in Rio, the city isn’t well known for its great accommodations. For our trip, we decided on an AirBnB, which might just be the best option. When choosing your home in Rio, try to book a place in Ipanema. Not only is it the trendiest neighborhood in town, it’s also near the beach and a bit more quite than crazy Copacabana!
While hotels in Rio have a reputation of being relatively expensive and less than stellar, we found one we liked. Hotel Fasano stands at Ipanema’s beachfront, a gorgeous structure designed by architect Philippe Starck. While we didn’t stay here, it seemed right up our alley! A beautiful design hotel, it’s owned by a Sao Paulo family with over 100 years in the business. They’re currently expanding throughout South America, and have another hotel in Uruguayan resort town Punta del Este.
Their Rio hotel is richly decorated in earthy tones, a beautiful contrast to the Atlantic’s blue hues. This place’s experience is heavily based on flavor, as the family business began as a brasserie. It’s still among the most remarkable places to eat in Rio!
Even if you’re not staying at Hotel Fasano, this lovely place should make it to your Rio travel guide.
Eating – The Best Places to eat in Rio
Beaches, parties and fresh food: that’s what Brazil’s most famous town is all about! The restaurants in Rio are very varied, thanks to decades of immigration from all over the world. There are plenty of international places to eat in Rio, besides lots of natural juices of South American tradition. Must-tries include Brazilian-Italian food, fresh juices and açai bowls in every corner.
These are some of my favorite places to eat in Rio!
The Great Italians – Simon Boccanegra & Lúlivo Cucina e Vini
This lounge and restaurant quickly made the cut among our favorite places to eat in Rio. A true Italian star, Simon Boccanegra is a testament to the city’s decades of European immigration. While the atmosphere was a little stiff, the amazing food and drinks more than make up for it. A great culinary experience and a must visit for foodies passing through Rio!
Anoter fantastic Italian is Lulivo. A newly opened small authentic eatery with amazing food and vibe and truly friendly owner and waiters!
El Born – Tapas & Barcelona Vibes!
Named after Barcelona’s hippest neighborhood, El Born is all about the Spanish foodie experience. A tapas bar, it differs from other restaurants in Rio in that it has no menu. You just choose which tapas you want to try from what servers carry! Loved the cool concept and the restaurant’s hip vibe.
Churrascaria Palace – The Place for Meat Lovers!
Something every Rio travel guide must include: a grill restaurant! Churrascaria Palace might be a bit touristic for my taste, but the food is good and the portions are huge. A buffet except for the meat on the stick that they carve right at the table. Make sure to book a table in the romantic room to get a more cozy experience!
Riba – Beach Vibes all Day Long!
Right by Ipanema beach, Riba is a great lunch restaurant and one of the best places to eat in Rio. While the design is simple, the food is delish and the vacay vibe, amazing. A classier spot than most eateries along Copacabana and the first part of Ipanema. One of my favorite restaurants in Rio because of its proximity to the beach!
TT Burger – Surfers & Burgers
A surfer hangout between Copacabana and Ipanema beach, TT Burger is fast food, Brazilian style. Nothing too fancy, but great for lunch after a long morning under the sun. True beachy & surf vibes!
Forte de Copacabana – Best Breakfast View in Rio!
The food at Forte de Copacabana isn’t spectacular, but the view certainly is! Located at a military museum, it’s right along the gorgeous Rio skyline. Having breakfast here is pure magic, as you’re surrounded by the gorgeous bay and buildings. You might have to wait for a table, though!
Exploring: 10 Things to do in Rio for an Unforgettable Trip
This is one of the largest cities in the Americas, and a wild one from all angles. For me, these are the top 10 things to do in Rio!
1. Be one with the Beach
The beach is a vital part of Rio, and you have to really live it! Weekends by the beach are spectacular, but Copacabana and Ipanema are wild 24/7. You can’t miss the long boardwalks and party vibes! I would recommend Ipanema part close to Riba for a bit more quiet and peaceful experience!
2. Witness Sugarloaf’s Sweet View
Many of the best things to do in Rio involve the city’s skyline, like going up Sugarloaf. A mountain peak in the city, it’s a Rio landmark and an unmissable sight. Go up in the cable car and get that camera ready! We did a full day trip to Sugarloaf and Chris the Redeemer. A perfect day trip and there are many companies organizing these trips!
3. Marvel at the Christ the Redemme
By far Rio’s most iconic landmark, you can’t visit town without dropping by Cristo Redentor. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, this art deco statue is atop Corcovado hill. It overlooks and guards Rio, its citizens and every visitor to ever pass by.
We had a foggy and almost spooky experience going up there, but it’s such a uniquely Rio promenade and I the view during sunny days must be absolutely stunning!
4. Bike around the Lagoon
The Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon is connected to the Atlantic ocean. It offers gorgeous views of Corcovado and Ipanema, and it’s the best place for biking. Skating and running are also great options to bask in this lovely park!
The Botanical Garden is in this area, and visiting it should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Rio. A 19th century urban garden, it’s the best place to see Rio’s flora and fauna. Fall in love with the colors of the lagoon and the flowers!
5. Visit a Favela
Rio is more than a beach town, and it’s important to see how the other half lives. Everything is different here, and it’s the soul of the city. A humbling experience, especially for Europeans and North Americans, it’s a lesson in how the world works in many places. We visited the largest favela in town, Rochina.
6. Fall in Love with the Selarón Steps
This world-famous set of steps was created by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón as a tribute to Brazil and its citizens. He worked on this colorful piece for the last 23 years of his life, using materials from all over. For him, it was more than a piece of art: it was an obsession. And it’s become iconic for the past few decades!
The Steps are a showcase of artistry and the city’s effect on people. The area around is also very artsy!
7. Live Mardi Gras all Year Long
Let your kooky inner diva take the driver’s seat when you’re visiting Rio. This city is the perfect place to give in to eccentricity and becoming a carnival queen. Channel your inner garota de Ipanema: in Rio de Janeiro, it’s carnival 365 days a year!
8. Bask in the Stunning Sunsets
Head to the Arpoador Rock in the southern side of town and witness the colors of the sunset. The view of Ipanema beach is astounding from this point!
9. Party the Night Away
Rio is one of the great party towns in the world, and you can’t leave without experiencing it. I recommend Rio Scenarium, the coolest and most eclectic place I’ve ever visited. A “cultural pavillion,” it’s the perfect spot to samba your troubles away until early morning. A downright mystic venue!
10. Embrace Rio de Janeiro
Let this immense city feed you its unique energy, unlike that of any other place on Earth. What happens in Rio is only possible in Rio! I have honestly never been to a city that leaves so many impressions and feelings, bot good and sad!