Rio de Janeiro is a city defined by its striking beaches, natural wonders, and complex urban life. The phrase “city of contrasts” has never rung truer than with this magical travel destination. Rio de Janeiro offers a bountiful array of experiences for any fearless traveler.
These days, I believe what really keeps people from traveling to exotic places is the belief that they’re too “hyped up.” We’re all conditioned to expect things to be oversold and not as good as promised.
Movies, TV shows, vacation spots can all be ruined by one person overselling you just enough to raise your expectations too high. I know this feeling, I’ve experienced it so many times, but let me tell you something: Rio de Janeiro is not one of these places!
I know, “But isn’t this a list that’s made to oversell my next vacation?” Actually, no. I’m not hear to oversell you on Rio de Janeiro. I’m here to let you know why this beautiful city lives up to its expectations. And I’ve got 21 reasons to prove to you that it does. Read on to learn more.
1. Breathtaking Coastline
Don’t worry if you’re more of an introverted traveler that enjoys near-empty to empty beaches to really soak in that beautiful scenery. Even as you walk around Rio de Janeiro’s most popular beaches - Copacabana and Ipanema - on their most popular weekends, you can’t help but be awed by the stunning coastline landscape. You won’t be able to deny the breathtaking coastal view in front of you. It won’t take long to understand why these beaches are
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2. Prepped for Tourism
One thing that I think always surprises tourists is the strong presence at the international airport and major tourist sites of people handing out free city maps. This seems like a no-brainer for a city as popular as Rio de Janeiro. “Of course they’d have people handing out free maps.” I mean, it’s such a simple gesture to the people visiting your city, but not a whole lot of them do this.
Imagine how much simpler it is to get from the airport to the city bus and know exactly where to get off at your destination! This kind of helpfulness makes a vacation to a foreign city and culture that much easier and enjoyable.
3. Friendly Locals
Brazilians often seem to be just genuinely friendly and sociable by nature, and that only grows when you’re in their city! Always happy to help give directions to whoever approaches them. It’s a very f
For example, if there aren’t many open seats in a restaurant, people who don’t know each other will squeeze in together and start chatting. It’s just part of their culture. The bigger cities are usually where you’ll meet people who are a little less friendly, but for the most part, Rio’s residents are mostly kind to tourists. Another reason to describe Rio de Janeiro as having a cool vibe.
4. Authentic Samba
There is no music that defines this city better than samba. Whether you’re walking along the beach or wandering through the bustling city center, those pulsating samba beats will always be pumping out from somewhere close by. I recommend checking out the many samba schools to take lessons yourself. Or, watch the mesmerizing dancers make that quick samba footwork look easy.
For a real show, however, head to Pedra do Sal in the center of the city on a Monday and take in the view of live and spontaneous samba jamming sessions while you sip on caipirinhas.
Speaking of this classic Brazilian drink, a trip to Rio de Janeiro is a waste if you don’t taste a caipirinha! It might actually be impossible to visit Rio and not try at least one. This is a party after all. As a warning, however, I have to let you know that they make these drinks strong! Take caution when you drink them, incredible partying and samba dancing is a known side-effect of this drink.
A lagoon being filtered into the Atlantic via an Ipanema canal, Lagoa is decorated with expensive real estate, gourmet restaurants and exclusive nightclubs. Including an eight-kilometer waterfront pathway, Lagoa welcomes fitness junkies, dog walkers, and arm-in-arm couples.
East of Lagoa sits Cobal do Humaita, a fresh food market and jumping nightspot. West of Lagoa, the upscale Gavea is home to shopping malls and the Rio’s prime horse racing track, the Jockey Club. Jardim Botanica sits close by and is strewn with copious amounts of exotic plants.
7. Christ the Redeemer
This is one of the few landmarks in the world that rivals the Eiffel Tower
The ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue in Rio de Janeiro feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is more than worthwhile to see up close. However, a lot of visitors claim that this statue looks the most impressive when viewed from afar; overlooking the city from above.
8. Amazing Hikes
Rio de Janeiro is littered with rocky peaks and imposing mountains. The surrounding land have a wondrous array of hiking locations and trails. Check out the twisting forest trails that deliver enchanting tropical scenery as you pass under broad palms and towering trees. You’ll even catch a glimpse of the occasional marmoset leaping through the overhead canopies!
9. Delicious Food
Foodie globetrotters will delight in the wide variety of different foods that, while a cultural statement of pride to Rio’s locals, barely register on the global cuisine scene. Most of the social activities and daily routines center around food. For example, one would stop at a padaria (bakery) for a strong black coffee and toasted bread in the morning. Following that with a refreshing açaí after some time on the beach.
When you enter a Brazilian bar, you’ll quickly learn that snacks go hand in hand with a chilled beer. Typical bar snacks include dried meat, deep-fried cassava, and generously filled prawn pastries. Famous Brazilian barbecues with Feijoada (a bean stew with chunks of meat) are highlights of Brazilian cuisine!
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A non-alcoholic berry fruit drink that can be eaten with a spoon, Açaí is surprisingly addictive after the first taste. The Açaí Palm, which is the plant the berries come from, is native to Central and South America, and really gained popularity in Brazil. Most people have never even heard of this drink until they get to Rio! After that, it’s all they’re looking for when in need of a tasty treat.
There are dozens and dozens of juice bars all over Rio de Janeiro, so if the hot sun starts beating down on you, a delicious Açaí is just a few feet away at most!
Thanks to Rio’s steep hillsides blanketed with exotic forests, there are plenty of waterfalls nestled between trees and nature trails. Tijuca Forest is a popular spot to find the waterfalls Cachoeira das Almas and Cachoeira do Horto, which both have pools that you can bathe in at their bases.
There’s an island off the coast of Rio named Ilha Grande, which has several larger waterfalls that are more ideal for swimming. If you want the most exciting waterfalls, however, you should check out Paraty. It has falls you can toboggan down if you feel brave enough!
Rio de Janeiro is one of the very few places in Brazil where you can visit a favela safely. Two of the more popular favelas for tourists are Rocinha and Vidigal. The latter has been blossoming into an artistic hub and thriving nightlife location.
Visiting favelas can be extremely useful to tourists that have questions about these social communities, and it can remove or correct ill-formed preconceptions. Many visitors are pleasantly surprised to find out that favelas are active communities with banks, doctors, and schools, and not faces of poverty and misery some expect.
13. Incredible Views
Picture this: You’re standing atop a peak overlooking Rio. What exactly will you see? Well, for starters, you’ll be able to spot the gorgeous lakes and tropical forests that dot the area, as well as the breathtaking coastlines that outline the city, and the sprawling city zooming below.
These rocky peaks gift you with great viewpoints from Christ the Redeemer and the Sugarloaf mountain. If you’re looking to see the city at all angles, head to Pedra da Gavea, Vista Chinesa, and Mirante Dona Marta. This will give you different, yet equally spectacular visuals.
14. Pop Culture
There are several films and music videos that are inspired by Rio de Janeiro. A large variety of these focus on illustrating the social complexities in favelas throughout the twentieth century. Because of Rio’s thriving economic and tourist attractions, the last few years have seen Rio de Janeiro host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as well as the 2016 Summer Olympics. These worldwide events further adding to Rio’s rich cultural track record.
Sunbathers galore! Copacabana Beach is Brazil’s, and possibly the world’s, most famous beach. Numerous alfresco bars line the promenade to hand you a refreshing chopp (draught beer) or suco (fruit juice) as you marvel at the breathtaking coastline.
Crossing the road you’ll find a row of high-rise hotels. Arguably the most famous of these is the luxurious Copacabana Place. This five-star palace is renowned for its poolside Pergula restaurant, as well as its extensive list of celebrity guests.
16. Pão de Açúcar Cable Car
Another epic spot to add to your vacation to-do list! The Pão de Açúcar is situated on the coast between Copacabana and Rio’s Botafogo neighborhood. Hop into one of the two cable cars and ride up to both cliff tops. There, you will be greeted by the stunning views of your life!
As a little bonus, the cable cars are a little more spacious that you’ll find at the Christ the Redeemer statue. This could allow you some better photos of the beautiful city. Of course, all good things come with a price, and this one is rather pricey at 60 Brazilian Reals for only 1 adult. That’s more than the other famous attractions in the city, but the views make it so worth it!
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Sugarloaf mountain is seen as the point where Guanabara Bay meets the expansive Atlantic Ocean. Known as Pau-nh-Acqua (tall, isolated, pointy hill) to the indigenous Tupi tribes, the Portuguese named this granite outcrop Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf) because of it’s resemblance to the shape of sugar molds used during Brazil’s sugar boom in the 16th and 17th centuries.
A cable car transports sightseers to the 396 meter peak. Famous for it’s marvelous sunset views, queues swell late in the afternoon, so be aware of that before you book a trip.
One of the many treats of Rio de Janeiro, Buzios is located about 170 kilometers north-east of Sugarloaf and used to be a humble fishing village before it was “discovered” in the 1960’s bu Brigitte Bardot. Since then, Buzios is now Brazil’s classiest seaside resort. One can witness luring cruise ships and wealthy cariocas who have holiday homes in the area.
Because of this “classier” atmosphere, Buzios is much more quiet and charming than the rest of Rio de Janeiro - at least during the week. Be sure to check it out in its quieter times, that’s when the lovely beaches are often deserted.
19. Thriving Nightlife
World-renowned for it’s unforgettable nightlife, Rio de Janeiro has several spots that you’ll enjoy! Ipanema and Leblon are known for their sophisticated and chic bars that are perfect for a younger crowd. If you’re more in the market for the legendary, music-thumping nightclubs, the ones located in Barra da Tijuca get going around 1 a.m. and continue until late in the morning.
Lapa, however, is the most popular area for nightlife. The main street is flanked on either side by samba-fueled bars and thriving clubs. The space between (where the street should be) accommodates Rio’s famous all-night street parties. The most famous of these is Carnival, which takes place in February. Since the next Carnival is coming up, I recommend you get your costume on and hit the streets of Rio for the five days of non-stop dancing, drinking, and socializing!
Niteroi is a satellite city that is home to an eye-catching contemporary art museum. This unique museum was crafted as a flying saucer by Oscar Niemeyer, who created Brasilia, the purpose-built city that usurped Rio as Brazilian capital in 1960.
A great fleet of tourist boats give you leisurely voyages around Guanabara Bay, including a regular ferry that will take you from Praca XI to Niteroi.
21. Flamengo Park
This lovely park was part-designed by Roberto Burle Marx, who is the architect responsible for Copacabana’s iconic wave-patterned pavements. Flamengo Park nudges between the once-elite beachside suburbs of Flamengo and Botafogo.
Running tracks are almost always packed with rollerbladers, skateboarders, joggers, cyclists, and strollers. Stupendous views of Guanabara Bay can be seen through the palm trees scattered throughout the park. As well as flashy yachts gliding over the water, bodybuilders pumping iron, and families sipping coconuts in the shade. A delightful resting place in between the hustle and bustle to visit everything you can.