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We're the sisters who founded Across South America 15 years ago... and we're here to help you fall in love with South America just like we are!


Rio de Janeiro, often referred to as the Marvelous City, is a kaleidoscope of culture, nature, and bustling urban life. It’s no wonder that it ranks as one of the greatest cities to explore, with an array of activities that promise to captivate your senses.

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The city’s vibrant atmosphere is palpable, from the iconic Christ the Redeemer Statue offering panoramic views to the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches that define the quintessential Brazilian experience.

Being raised in Rio de Janeiro has left a special place in my heart for this incredible city. I just can’t put into words my love for it! The lively atmosphere, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant culture all make it so special to me. ❤️

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the golden sands, marveling at the lush greenery of the Tijuca National Park, or dancing to samba in the streets during Carnival, there’s an abundance of top things to keep your itinerary filled.

When you’re planning your adventure in the City of Rio de Janeiro, consider crafting a list of the best things to experience to make the most of your visit.

Navigating through the things to do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will lead you on an exhilarating journey through a dynamic mosaic of experiences. Savor the delicious street food, join a football match at the Maracanã Stadium, or set sail on Guanabara Bay as the sunset paints the sky in hues of gold.

Each moment in Rio promises a unique story that you’ll treasure forever.

If you are looking to Immerse yourself in the authentic rhythm of this vibrant city by indulging in experiences that go beyond the ordinary, this is for you.

You will find here my top ideas for the PERFECT off-the-beaten-path visit to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil

At Across South America, we are always searching for Unique experiences for our travelers… A Topic I’m passionate about! And in Rio, there’s a world of hidden treasures waiting to be explored off the beaten path.

I will take you on a virtual adventure through the lively streets and secret treasures of Rio de Janeiro.

Get ready to explore some hidden gems that are not usually on the tourist map!

👉For more tips about traveling to South America and more itinerary ideas, make sure you  Get our free South America Travel Guide here.

Best Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Go to Where you want to go

1. Iconic Landmarks in Rio de Janeiro

2. Beaches and Outdoor Activities

3. Cultural Experiences

4. Local Arts and Samba Circles

5. Museums and Education

6. Parks and Recreational Spaces

7 Local Cuisine and Gastronomy

8.  Scenic Views and Photography Spots

10. Shopping and Leisure Like a Local

11. Festivals and Events

12. Frequently Asked Questions

13. Planning Your Trip to Rio de Janeiro 

14, Top Places to Stay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Iconic Landmarks

Let’s first start with the iconic landmarks.

Have you ever considered visiting Rio de Janeiro? When you imagine it, what comes to your mind? For me, it’s all about the vibrant energy, breathtaking landscapes, and rich cultural heritage that is uniquely Brazilian. It is also about two iconic landmarks that every traveler in Rio should visit, even those who want to go off the beaten path: The Cristo Redentor and Corcovado, and Sugarloaf Mountain and Cable Car.

Cristo Redentor and Corcovado

The Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) stands majestically atop Mount Corcovado, offering a panoramic view of Rio. This New Seven Wonders of the World statue embraces the city with outstretched arms and symbolizes peace. Reaching the top via a scenic train ride, you’ll be enchanted by the 360-degree views of the surrounding Tijuca Forest and city below.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Sugarloaf Mountain and Cable Car

Embark on a thrilling ride up to Sugarloaf Mountain in a glass-walled cable car. Ascend to the first hill, Morro da Urca, and then proceed to Sugarloaf’s summit, where the breathtaking vistas of Guanabara Bay and Rio await.

The cable car experience is a not-to-be-missed adventure that gifts you with a bird’s-eye view of the city’s sprawling beauty.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Maracanã Stadium History

Dive into the rich history of Brazilian football at the iconic Maracanã Stadium. Having hosted both the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics, this legendary sports venue pulsates with the memories of historic matches. A tour here allows you to walk the pitch and imagine the roar of passionate fans during a heated game, making it a pilgrimage site for sports lovers.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Keep your camera ready to capture the essence of this vibrant city as you visit these timeless attractions!

Beaches and Outdoor Activities

Rio de Janeiro offers a dazzling array of beaches and outdoor activities that cater to every taste. Whether you’re looking to relax on the sand under the sun or embark on an adventurous hike through a lush forest, Rio has it all.

Sun and Fun at Copacabana and Ipanema

Copacabana Beach is one of the world’s most famous shores. As you set foot on the soft sand, you’ll find it’s a great place for people-watching, sunbathing, or joining in a vibrant game of beach volleyball.

✨Don’t be shy; locals often welcome newcomers to join in the fun. Stroll along the iconic wave-patterned promenade and dip your toes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Just a stone’s throw away, Ipanema Beach captivates with its stunning beauty. It’s not only a fantastic spot for sunbathing but also a great place to socialize and experience the local culture. Make sure to take a walk to the far end of the beach for a picturesque view of the Dois Irmãos mountains—a good idea for a memorable photo.

👉 Local Tip: Try the refreshing água de coco (coconut water) from one of the many beach vendors.

Adventures in Tijuca National Park

Tijuca National Park, known as one of the largest urban forests in the world, is a haven for nature lovers. You can hike through the Tijuca Forest to discover waterfalls, exotic wildlife, and breathtaking views. A trip to Pedra da Gávea will reward you with panoramic vistas of Rio. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring water — being prepared is always a good idea when embarking on these trails.

For a more relaxed experience, visit the beautiful public park, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. This tranquil lagoon is perfect for a leisurely stroll or a bike ride. If you’re feeling energetic, paddling across the lagoon in a rented boat is a delightful way to take in the scenery.

Whether you’re lounging on the beach or exploring the green expanses of Tijuca, the outdoor activities in Rio are plentiful and promise an unforgettable experience.

Cultural Experiences

Rio de Janeiro offers an array of cultural experiences that let you dive into the rich history and vibrant music scene. From the winding streets of Santa Teresa to the historic halls of the Royal Portuguese Reading Room, there is much to explore.

The Vibrancy of Santa Teresa Neighborhood and LAPA

Santa Teresa, a historic neighborhood, is a tapestry of cultural influences and Brazilian history. It’s a place where you can wander along cobbled streets, past colonial mansions, and local artists showcasing their work. The neighborhood brims with colorful murals by Eduardo Kobra, giving a visual representation of Brazilian culture.

At the heart of Santa Teresa is the Lapa Arches, a remnant of the Carioca Aqueduct from the 18th Century. Nearby, the vibrant LAPA neighborhood pulsates with Brazilian music and nightlife. Don’t miss the iconic samba circles where the rhythm of the music is contagious, and you can feel the spirit of the Brazilian people.

Historic Downtown and Royal Portuguese Reading Room

The downtown area of Rio, known as Centro, is home to numerous cultural institutions recalling so much history. Here you can explore centuries-old churches and public buildings that tell stories of Rio through the ages.

A must-visit is the Royal Portuguese Reading Room. This stunning library, a testament to the literary richness of Latin America, contains works dating back hundreds of years. Its gothic-renaissance architecture houses the largest collection of Portuguese writings outside of Portugal.

Local Arts and Samba Circles

Rio’s heart beats to the sound of samba. In the city, local arts and samba circles are fundamental parts of everyday life. Immerse yourself in this traditional Brazilian music genre at neighborhood gatherings where you can enjoy live performances and even try out some dance moves.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Pedra do Sal – Birthplace of Samba

Pedra do Sal is recognized as the birthplace of samba. This historic site was once a slave market but has been transformed into a cultural center celebrating Afro-Brazilian heritage. On Monday and Friday nights, the area comes alive with impromptu samba parties that offer an authentic taste of Brazilian culture and are a great way to connect with locals.

Museums and Education

Rio’s vibrant culture extends to its museums and educational institutions, where you can immerse yourself in both art and science. These cultural centers offer you a deeper understanding of Brazil’s heritage and its vision for the future.

Art at Museu de Arte do Rio

At Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR), you’ll discover a rich tapestry of Brazilian art. This cultural institution showcases both modern and historical works:

✔️Permanent Exhibitions: Delve into Brazil’s multifaceted history.

✔️Temporary Exhibitions: Engage with contemporary artistic expression.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Science at The Museum of Tomorrow

The Museum of Tomorrow is your gateway to exploring science and technology with a focus on sustainability and the future:

✔️Exhibits: Interactive displays on climate change, ecology, and more.

✔️Architecture: Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the building is a work of art itself.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Parks and Recreational Spaces

While touring Rio de Janeiro, you’ll find an array of beautiful parks and recreational spaces perfect for relaxation and nature appreciation. Explore the serene Botanical Gardens or spend some time in Parque Lage, a tropical oasis at the foot of Corcovado Mountain.

✨As your day winds down, don’t miss the breathtaking sunset at Arpoador!

The Serenity of Botanical Gardens

At the Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botânico), you’ll be enveloped in a tranquil setting showcasing nature’s splendor. Established in 1808, the gardens feature over 6,500 species, some of which are rare and exotic. The Japanese Garden within is a testament to harmonious design, offering a peaceful retreat.

Main Attractions:


✔️Japanese Garden

✔️Avenue of Royal Palms


✔️Visit during weekdays to avoid crowds.

✔️Don’t miss the sensory garden, designed for the visually impaired.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Parque Lage – A Tropical Oasis

Parque Lage is a free-to-visit, beautiful public park, which provides a good option for both recreation and cultural experience. The park blends natural beauty with historical architecture, featuring a mansion-turned-visual arts school. The walking trails and picnic spots here are nestled amongst lush forests, creating a perfect setting for a leisurely day.


✨Art exhibitions


✨Guided tours of the mansion



✨Public swimming pool


Sunset at Arpoador

Head to Arpoador for a memorable sunset experience. This rocky outcrop is a popular spot for its panoramic views of Ipanema Beach and Two Brothers Mountain. As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky paints a picture of natural beauty, making Arpoador a great place to end your day. Remember to arrive early to secure a good viewing spot as it can get crowded.

✔️Best Time to Visit: 30 minutes before sunset for the full experience.

✔️What to Bring: Camera for stunning photos. A light jacket as it might get breezy.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Local Cuisine and Gastronomy

Explore the rich flavors and diverse eateries Rio de Janeiro has to offer, from traditional dishes to excellent local spots that promise a memorable dining experience.

The Flavors of Feijoada and Street Food

Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, is a must-try when you’re in Rio.

This hearty stew of black beans, pork, and beef is traditionally served on Wednesdays and Saturdays. For a truly local experience, visit a good place with a local guide who understands the city’s culinary landscape – they’ll know the best spots to savor this local delicacy. Street food is another vibrant aspect of Rio’s gastronomy. You’ll find a great spot on almost every corner serving popular snacks like pastéis and coxinha, perfect for when you’re on the go.

Bust visit Restaurants you can’t miss in Rio de Janeiro

Rio’s restaurant scene is vibrant and there are several eateries that you simply can’t miss. Here’s a quick list of my favorites:

✔️Confeitaria Colombo: An elegant confectionery that’s been around since 1894.

✔️Bar do David: Known for its Afro-Brazilian cuisine and award-winning feijoada.

✔️Aprazível:Are you searching for a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro that boasts a stunning panoramic view of the city? Aprazível is located in the hills of Santa Teresa and its unique design resembles a treehouse village. You’ll have stunning panoramic views of Rio de Janeiro while surrounded by lush foliage, creating a welcoming atmosphere. Ana Castilho, the owner, uses seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers to create a curated menu that highlights Brazilian cuisine. The restaurant offers a blend of rustic and comfortable seating options, and you even have the option to reserve a private gazebo for a more intimate dining experience. So, if you’re looking for a unique and delicious dining experience, Aprazível is the perfect choice!

✔️Oro: If you’re after a more sophisticated dining experience, Chef Felipe Bronze’s tasting menus are both innovative and rooted in Brazilian culinary traditions.Oro is one of the restaurants in Rio de Janeiro with 2 Michelin stars.⭐ Remember to make reservations in advance, especially for weekend visits. Also, don’t forget to dress smart-casual.

✔️Oteque: It’s not just one of the most outstanding restaurants in Rio, but in the world! The restaurant’s ambiance is as eclectic as its food, blending concrete and art installations to create a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. Seating arrangements are intentionally minimal to maintain an aura of exclusivity. Chef Alberto Landgraf expertly employs local ingredients to construct his narrative on the plate. If you’re a luxury traveler, the chef’s symphony tasting menu is a must-try. And to complement the flavors on your plate, try one of the cocktails made with Brazil’s local spirit, cachaça.

Scenic Views and Photography Spots

Rio de Janeiro offers a myriad of breathtaking photography spots where you can capture the essence of the city’s picturesque landscapes. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just looking to snap a few memorable shots, the following locations will provide you with stunning vistas.

Picturesque Praia Vermelha and Urca Hill

Praia Vermelha is a small, intimate beach flanked by lush greenery and imposing granite mountains. It’s not just a beach but also a good place to start your photo journey with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain in the background.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

To reach the vantage point at the top of Urca Hill, you can take a pleasant walking trail. The ascent rewards you with panoramic views of the city. From this perch, you can take in the expansive seascape, nearby beaches, and the majestic outline of Christ the Redeemer in the distance.

✔️Best Time to Visit: Late afternoon for golden-hour photography

✔️What to Bring: Camera, tripod for long exposures, and water

👉Tip: Stay until evening to capture the city lights twinkling under the night sky

Boat Tours Around Guanabara Bay

Experience Guanabara Bay in a unique way by embarking on a boat tour. Glide across the calm waters:

✔️Duration: Usually 2 to 4 hours

✔️Departure Points: Marina da Glória and other accessible piers

✔️Sights: Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio-Niterói Bridge, and the Chryst the Redeemer statue from a distance

✔️Best Time to Go: Late afternoon for a spectacular sunset

Boat tours offer you the best way to appreciate Rio’s skyline and iconic landmarks encircled by the bay’s natural beauty.

best things to do in Rio de Janeiro brazil

Guided Forest Hiking Trails

Discover the richness of Rio’s green landscapes through guided hiking trails. Here are some key points:

✔️Locations: Tijuca National Park offers multiple trails

✔️Guidance: Knowledgeable local guides

✔️What to Wear: Comfortable, breathable clothing and sturdy hiking boots

✔️What to Bring: Water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellent

With a guided tour, you’ll safely navigate through picturesque trails while learning about the flora and fauna that make Rio’s forests so vibrant.

Shopping and Leisure like a local

When you’re in Rio, shopping and leisure activities offer a slice of local life. Discover exclusive boutiques and score unique items at bustling markets.

Boutique Finds and Market Bargains

Rio de Janeiro brims with small boutiques sprinkled throughout the City Center where you can find local designers offering exclusive fashion that captures the city’s vibrant style.

Rua Garcia D’Ávila is a must-visit for boutique lovers, known for its upscale shops. For more budget-friendly options, head over to Rua da Alfândega in the City Centre for affordable street fashion.

Markets are a treasure trove for bargain hunters and cultural enthusiasts. You’re likely to hear recommendations for Saara Market, a local favorite crammed with stalls selling everything from clothing to spices at competitive prices. Don’t miss the opportunity to haggle; it’s part of the fun and fully expected.

Feira do Rio Antigo – Antique Market

On the first Saturday of each month, the Feira do Rio Antigo, or the Antique Market, unfolds along Rua do Lavradio in the bustling Lapa District. It’s where you can browse a massive assortment of antiques, handcrafted goods, and vintage finds. This market is not just about shopping; it’s also a cultural experience. The street becomes a lively festival with music, performances, and local food vendors. This is the perfect place to pick up one-of-a-kind souvenirs and gifts while soaking in the local atmosphere.

Festivals and Events

Rio de Janeiro is a vibrant city that offers an array of festivals and events for you to experience. From electrifying live music to cultural exhibitions, there’s something for everyone.

Carnival Festivities and Live Music Shows

👉Carnival: Without a doubt, the Rio Carnival is the highlight of Rio’s event calendar. It typically occurs in February or early March, during the peak of the Brazilian summer. The festival is known for its extravagant parades featuring samba schools, elaborate costumes, and impressive floats. Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí is the epicenter, where you can witness the main parade and feel the rhythm of Brazilian music.

✨Best Time: It’s advisable to plan your visit well in advance as the city fills up quickly during this peak season.

👉Live Music Shows: Rio’s cultural centers and live music venues regularly celebrate the rich tapestry of Brazilian music. You’ll find a variety of shows highlighting genres from traditional samba and bossa nova to contemporary Brazilian pop and rock.

✨Cultural Centers: Such as Casa da Música and Fundição Progresso offer year-round schedules with performances and events.

👉Summer Olympics: While not an annual event, the legacy of the 2016 Summer Olympics remains. You can visit the Olympic venues, many of which have become cultural and sporting centers, hosting events throughout the year. Keep an eye on their event schedules to catch concerts and shows that often feature both local and international artists.

✨Note: Visiting these Olympic sites can offer you a unique glimpse into the city’s recent history and its ongoing cultural developments.

READ MORE Punta del Este & Rio de Janeiro New Year’s Eve (luxury awaits!)

Frequently Asked Questions

Get ready to dive into the heart of Rio de Janeiro with these frequently asked questions that cover everything from romantic outings to free activities and day trips.

👉What are the best sightseeing spots in Rio de Janeiro?

Your visit to Rio must include the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and the panoramic views from Sugarloaf Mountain. Don’t miss the historic Santa Teresa neighborhood and the picturesque Selarón Steps.

👉Can you suggest some romantic activities in Rio for couples?

Take a sunset cable car ride to Sugarloaf Mountain or enjoy a stroll through the lush Jardim Botânico. A dinner at a beachfront restaurant offers a perfect ending to the day.

👉What are the top free activities to enjoy in Rio de Janeiro?

You can sunbathe on the famous Copacabana or Ipanema beaches, hike in the Tijuca National Park, or explore the colorful street art in Lapa without spending a dime.

👉Where can I find live events happening tonight in Rio de Janeiro?

Check out the latest listings in local entertainment guides like Time Out Rio or the Rio Times. Venues like Vivo Rio and Theatro Municipal often host a wide array of nightly live events.

👉How can I spend a perfect week exploring Rio?

Spend your days visiting landmarks like the Maracanã Stadium, Museu do Amanhã, and the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden. Allocate time for beach days, a trip to the nearby Ilha Grande, and exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

👉Could you recommend any day trips from Rio de Janeiro?

Consider visiting the imperial city of Petrópolis, the beach town of Búzios, or the tropical Ilha Grande. Each offers a unique experience from the hustle of Rio.

READ MORE: When is the Best Time to Visit South America

My Top Places to Stay in Rio de Janeiro Brazil 

Have you ever gone on one of those “group” trips where you are locked into other people’s schedules?

Have you felt like accommodation was just another boring chain hotel you could find anywhere else? Yes, an Impersonal and Predictable hotel.

I have. And I hate it.

Choosing your Lodging for your trip is more than just choosing a place to stay.

Why? An excellent hotel (and the right hotel for you!) allows you to travel more authentically, visit unique spots, and dig a little deeper into each place;

Finding the best places to stay for you is a very important part of our job ( and honestly, I LOVE this part of our job!)

I know that finding great accommodations can be challenging, but I have some wonderful options for you in Rio de Janeiro that I’m eager to share.

If staying at great hotels is important for you… and you want the best Places to stay in Rio  de Janeiro, this is for you. 

You will find here my top ideas for PERFECT accommodation FOR YOU in Rio. 

We are always searching for Unique Lodging ideas for our travelers… A Topic I’m passionate about!

Just a couple of things that I want to mention before listing our selection of the best places to stay in Rio de Janeiro.

First, Rio has plenty of excellent hotels, so you can almost always find a desirable room. But if you want the BEST hotels, book in advance. 

Second,  I think it’s important to mention that this list of places to stay in Rio de Janeiro  ( as it is with our Guide About the best resorts in Argentina or Chile )  is based on Maria’s and my personal preferences and not on a ranking (or an Affiliate program) -We or someone from our team have personally visited them and love them!

So here is our list of the top places to stay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If you’re planning a trip there, you’ll definitely want to check it out! And if you’re curious about why we picked these particular spots, you can read all about it in our blog article: Top Places to Stay in Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

✔️Belmond Copacabana Palace, Brazil’s iconic palace overlooking Copacabana Beach 

✔️Emiliano Rio, Boutique, Classy, Unique

✔️Fairmont Rio de Janeiro Copacabana, A Luxury Resort in Rio 

✔️Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro, Big attention to details

✔️Janeiro Hotel Chic in the Leblon

I know that finding great accommodations can be challenging, but I have some wonderful options for you in Rio de Janeiro, read more about them here.

Your Dream Trip to Rio de Janeiro

Have you ever imagined traveling to the hidden corners of South America, creating your own unique itinerary, experiencing the best food, enjoying authentic experiences, and pampering yourself with the best accommodation without compromising on comfort?

And what’s even better than this? You can enjoy an extraordinarily personalized trip-planning process that saves you countless hours, and expertly coordinates all the nitty-gritty logistics of your trip.

YES, It is possible. We can help.

Born and raised in South America, we know how to enjoy the best of South America without compromising on security or comfort. 

 😊 We’ll help you create that trip of a lifetime with unique lodging.

Are you in? 

Here is one of our suggested itineraries to South America to visit Rio de Janeiro. 

Charming South America : Brazil, Argentina & Peru Highlights 14 Days

When you are ready to start planning book your Consultation Call with us. 

Your dream trip to South America is waiting 😉

Love, Maria

Ps. Curious about our service? Take a look at how we work and what to expect when booking your trip with us here.

As a travel company, we have a direct relationship with our hotels and guides, allowing us to get differential rates; However, the main reason travelers book through us is to gain access to our profound South American expertise and extensive network throughout the countries.

Our service is ideal for travelers who appreciate expert assistance and meaningful, personalized experiences.

Best Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Go Off the Beaten Path

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