Rio de Janeiro does not really need an introduction. The second largest city in Brazil is renowned for its beaches, its lush green mountains, incredible nightlife, and an undeniable passion for football.
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With so many things to do in Rio de Janeiro, it’s no surprise it tops many a travel wish list, including ours!
Visiting Rio de Janeiro during the FIFA World Cup in 2014 was a dream come true, a perfect trip packed with adventurous activities, incredible meals, caipirinhas on the beach, and celebrations of epic proportions.
We didn’t expect to fall in love with Rio as much as we did, but looking back now, we know that we simply had no choice. It’s a city that’s impossible to resist.
Best Time to Visit Rio de Janeiro
When it comes to Rio, any time is a good time to visit this amazing city. From December through March the weather is hot (up to 40ºC) and rainy, with showers, often breaking out every afternoon. The beaches in Rio de Janeiro are crowded and the prices are often sky high. By the time May comes around the crowds and hot weather subside and the accommodation rates come down.
In the off-season winter months (June to September) the weather is the mildest, but there is still plenty of sunshine to enjoy the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and it’s not too hot for checking out all the Rio de Janeiro landmarks and having a few adventures.
Spring is the best time to visit Rio de Janeiro, the weather is warm but not yet scorching hot and there are fewer tourists around and which means the prices are moderate. It also means visiting Rio tourist attractions are slightly less busy and more comfortable to explore.
Top Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
There are so many great Rio tourist attractions for every type of traveler at every twist and turn in this city. Here are are a few of our top picks of fun things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
Hike to Christ the Redeemer
At the top of the list of what to do in Rio de Janeiro is a trip to the top of Corcovado Mountain, home to the famous statue of the Christ the Redeemer.
The more adventurous travelers will enjoy a challenging 2-hour hike to the top of Corcovado that starts inside the Tijuca Parque Nacional, located in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.
If hiking in the heat is a little too much like hard work then you can also visit the iconic Rio de Janeiro landmark by taking the Corcovado cog train to the top. Booking online allows you to skip the queues for a relaxing and stunning train ride up through the Tijuca National Park.
Watch the Sunset from Sugar Loaf Mountain
Next is a visit to the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Pão de Açúcar, with its smaller neighbour, Morro da Urca, accessible by 2 funiculars. Make your way up to the top and enjoy the views that are particularly stunning at sunset. At the top, enjoy the well-developed infrastructure with cafes, restaurants, shops, and a cinema.
If you prefer to visit during the day, which is just as fun, then why not do a Sugar Loaf Mountain Guided Tour? The tour takes just 1 hour and is a great way to learn more about the views below.
Visit the Best Beaches in Rio de Janeiro
Enjoying a day on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro is an attraction in its own. Copacabana is the probably the most famous of the beaches in Rio de Janeiro, but Ipanema, Leblon and Arpoador are equally as enjoyable.
Check out Fodor’s great guide to beaches in Rio de Janeiro to find out what beach appeals to you the most.
Or, take a guided tour of Rio’s hidden beaches and discover the best beaches in Rio de Janeiro according to the locals.
Check out the Maracana Stadium
No trip to Rio is complete without a visit to the Maracana Stadium, the largest football stadium in South America and once the largest on Earth. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, it’s worth a spot on your list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro. Local teams participate in the national competitions between May and December, so be sure to catch a match if you are visiting during that time.
Or, take a 3-hour behind the scenes tour and explore the history behind this Rio de Janeiro landmark. The tour includes entrance fee, a guided tour and transport to the stadium.
Free Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
After taking in the major Rio tourists attractions, sights and getting your fill of caipirinhas on the beach and enjoy a visit to Lapa, famous for its Samba clubs, or a vibrant nearby neighbourhood of Santa Teresa.
Visit Museu da República that contains artifacts from the nation’s early post-colonial days, or a leisurely stroll through Parque Lage to admire the beautifully landscaped gardens and exhibitions inside.
Explore Rio’s Markets
Shopaholics will enjoy Telegraph’s insider’s’ guide to the best shops in Rio de Janeiro. Maybe not as fancy or up to some people’s standards, but we thoroughly enjoyed our shopping experience at the Sunday Market in Ipanema and the Night Market in Copacabana.
Best Places to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
Most travelers find accommodation in Ipanema, Copacabana, or in Leblon, taking advantage of the close proximity to the famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Copacabana and Ipanema are the more expensive areas, while Leblon will be a bit easier on the wallet.
If you aren’t afraid to splash the cash and are looking for a hotel in Copacabana Rio de Janeiro, then the Belmond Copacabana Palace is the place to be. You’ll find luxurious rooms, marble bathrooms and panoramic sea views and it’s located right on Copacabana’s beachfront.
Arena Ipanema Hotel is also a good choice, located just 100 meters from Ipanema Beach. Enjoy the hotel, Rio de Janeiro and Ipanema for around $130 per night.
Santa Teresa is another popular area to stay in, especially with young backpackers looking to be based close to the nightlife in Lapa. Before you decide, take a quick tour of Rio’s neighbourhoods to determine which one will suit you best.
Stay in a Favela in Rio de Janeiro
Don’t be afraid to look outside the norm and experience life in one of the favelas. We spent a night in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela and were fascinated by how much we learned about the day to day life of the locals during our stay. It was an experience that definitely beat the highly touristy activity of “taking a tour of the favela” and the hotel was the cheapest we could find anywhere in Rio.
Airbnb is also an excellent choice offering over 300 accommodation options in Rio de Janeiro, suitable for any budget.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive up to $40 USD credit to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
Where to Eat in Rio de Janeiro
Food in Brazil is unbelievably delicious, so don’t take mealtime occasions lightly. Eating is definitely one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro!
There is no shortage of places to eat in Rio. Here are a few of our top Rio restaurant picks:
If you are looking for delicious vegan or vegetarian food, then head to the cute and colourful .Org Bistro. They make hearty homemade dishes using only local, seasonal, and organic ingredients.
Vegans and non-vegans alike will be impressed with the culinary delights of Teva. It’s a popular place so you may need to queue for a table, but it’s definitely worth the wait. Not really traditional Brazilian food, but the flavours are amazing and portions huge.
For something a little bit different, Spazziano offers a plant-based all you can eat buffet. They offer a wide range of soups, salads, beans, rice, pasta, and vegetable dishes plus desserts. They use organic vegetables from their own garden with seasonal greens, grains, and fruits. Go hungry and fill up guilt-free on wholesome food!
If you’re craving some pizza or pasta then Bio Carioca offers delicious vegan versions of your fav comfort foods. They have a pretty decent menu with lots of choices including gluten-free options. They even have a vegan version of the Brazilian national dish, feijoada. But save room for desserts, as they are the bomb!
If you are looking for a quick breakfast bite or a lunch snack while keeping it vegan, then Dona Vegana is the perfect option. It’s perfectly located smack bang in the centre of Rio. You can sit in or takeaway dishes such as feijoada, soups, falafel, pizzas and pastries, all vegan and all delicious.
How Much Time Do You Need in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is not the kind of city you pop into for a few days. With so many wonderful attractions and things to do in Rio de Janeiro, it is practically impossible to fit all of Rio tourist attractions into less than a 5 day visit and even that is a squeeze.