Rio de Janeiro (River of January) is the second biggest, but probably the most famous city in Brazil. The city is the capital of the State of Rio de Janeiro and was the capital city of Brazil for almost 2 centuries until 21st April 1960 when Brasilia became the capital.
Famous for carnival and Bossa Nova music style (Girl from Ipanema), Carmen Miranda, and much more. It has become a tourist magnet for party people and sun worshippers alike. The famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and the famous landmarks of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain, are probably some of the most iconic images in the world. Less well known is the fact that Rio also boasts the world’s largest and second largest urban forests. Forest da Tijuca and Parque Estadual da Pedra Branca sit almost adjacent to each other close to the centre of Rio. It is also home to the famous Maracana football stadium. Once the largest stadium in the world (a crowd of over 199,000 watched the 1950 World Cup Final) it will become only the second stadium to host a World Cup Final twice when the 2014 World Cup Final reaches its climax.
Rio will be busy over the next few years cleaning up its image as a violent city as it prepares for both the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics two years later, when it will become the first South American Country to host any Olympic Games.
View Rio Sights & Attractions in a larger map
On January 1st 1502, (hence the name Janeiro), the first European explorers set foot in Rio. Captain Gaspar de Lemos was travelling in the fleet led by Pedro Álvares Cabral, and under the observation of the legendary Amerigo Vespucci (supposed founder of America). Cabral is also credited with founding Salvador Bahia further north along the coast. A replica of his boat can be seen in Campinas. At the time of the landings, the area was inhabited by the native Tupi, Puri, Botocudo and Maxakalí tribes.
The City of Rio proper was founded on March 1st 1565, and was invaded or attempts were made to invade, on numerous occasions until the 18th Century, primarily by French pirates. It became a more important port than Salvador after the discovery of gold and diamonds in the nearby state of Minas Gerais. These precious cargos along with the existing sugar cargo, lead to the Colonial Captaincy being moved from Salvador to Rio in 1763. Nepoleon´s looming invasion of Portugal meant that the Noblemen and Portuguese Royal Family fled Portugal and landed in Rio in 1808, further enhancing the status of the city. The Kingdom of Portugal had its Capital transferred to Rio, thus becoming the only European capital to be located outside of Europe. This sudden influx of hundreds of noblemen and their families led to many of the current inhabitants being simply evicted from their own homes.
When Prince Pedro I proclaimed independence for Brazil in 1822, he kept Rio as the Capital of his new empire. This lasted until 1889, when Brazil became a republic. With a change in presidency in 1955, the election promise by Juscelino Kubitschek was to build a new capital city for the country. Brasilia was built quickly and at great cost by 1960. On April 21st the Nation had its new Capital.
Do Not Miss
You cannot say you have been to Rio if you haven’t walked Copacabana beach
Ipanema beach is also a "must see".
And, a visit to Rio would not be complete without seeing the Statue of Christ the Redeemer. The easiest and fastest way up the mountain is by train. Queues do form at the station early in the morning when the coach parties all arrive. You can bus or taxi to near the top of Corcovado Mountain, but the last bit is on foot. From here you will see the true magnificence of the City of Rio – out into the ocean, across to Sugarloaf Mountain and the parks, forests, and lagoons that make this such a spectacle.
You should get the cable car that takes you to the top of Sugarloaf as well for similar jaw dropping views. Sugarloaf is actually two mountains, one larger than the other. Sunset from here is truly spectacular. If you have enough in the budget then a helicopter excursion across the city is highly recommended. You’ll have close up fly by’s of all the famous landmarks with commentary in various languages.
Rio is of course synonymous with Carnival, so if you can plan a trip for this time of year (usually February time) then you will witness one of the most vibrant and colourful events the world has to offer.
Other Top Attractions
The large lagoon (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas) in the middle of South Zone is ideal, for jogging, walking, skating, sunbathing or boating. All this and more with the iconic, panoramic views of Rio in your vision. Most of the activities and tours are covered in the relevant section of this web page, but some of the highlights would have to be:
The Tropical Island tour – Over 300 islands make up this archipelago to the south of Rio. Tour the islands on the schooner boat – you’ll have time to sunbathe, time to take a dip in the warm clear seas and lunch is provided – A great way to spend a relaxing, sun-drenched day.
For the more adventurous, the hang-gliding or Para Gliding activities give you a true bird’s eye view of Rio, with an adrenalin rush at take off and at landing, but with the wind in your hair and the feeling of flying over one of the world greatest landscapes. Wow!!
For a bit of the historical Rio, the Santa Teresa tour gives you a walk around the old town area, with its colonial architecture, Latin beats and the smells of true Brazilian cooking, it is a tour for your senses. See where the museums, churches and local craft shops are located on the cobblestone streets. At the end of the tour you hop on the last tram still running in Rio for a 45 minute ride back to downtown central.
For football enthusiasts, there is only one place you must go and that is the Maracana Stadium. You can book your transport to and from the stadium and watch a match being played by one of the four local teams - Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama. Evening games are the most spectacular in this cavernous stadium that fills with the most passionate Latin blooded crowd you can imagine. Fever pitch!
Nature lovers will enjoy the Botanical Gardens and Tijuca Forest Jeep Tour. The noteworthy plant species in the botanical garden include imperial palm trees, huge water lilies (Victorias-Regias), and some redwood trees (Pau Brasil). These are almost extinct in the Atlantic forest. Visitors can see more than 500 kinds of orchids in its famous greenhouse.
There is also the biggest urban forest in the world, the Tijuca National Park. It is a fun tour conducted in very comfortable convertible jeeps, by a well-trained team. The guides specialise in ecotourism and there will be stops to enjoy breathtaking views of some great spots like Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Guanabara Bay and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Attraction my not be the right word, although a characteristic sight definitely, are the shanty towns (Favelas) of Rio. Some can be visited, but only with a guide, and each tourist must make up their own mind about the wisdom and ethics of doing so. Information can be found under the heading of tours.
As you might expect there is much accommodation in Rio to choose from, within all price brackets. But as you may also expect, Rio is not cheap. For many it is the start of end of their holiday and they don´t mind the extra cost for a few days. And, for sure Rio is s city not to be missed.
We have listed accommodations in 3 categories, Budget, Moderate and Luxury. If you also want to choose by location you can see a where the accommodations are located on each of the three interactive maps we created.
There are a huge number of tours to choose from in Rio. We will soon add a listing with links so you can book online.
Bars, Clubs, Cafes and Restaurants
There are so many bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs in Rio it is hard to pick out just a few to mention.
All the way along the beaches of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana you will find places to eat, to drink, and to dance. Some of the quirkier and more authentic bars are further away from the beach areas in some of the side streets of Rio. There are lots of very affordable places, some more expensive places and some very prestigious places to go. Please see the map for a few offerings we picked out, but for a more detailed view please visit www.ipanema.com
photo by Marcel Bely
We cannot do a guide to Rio without mentioning its Gay scene. It is one of the Top Gay destinations in the world rivalled only by Sydney for the number 1 spot. It is very easy to fall in love with Rio and some of its inhabitants. The hot weather, the hot beaches and the hot bodies – it has them all. Of course it has ample gay run, or gay friendly places to eat, drink, dance, and meet. Carnival is when the City is at its most colourful, but you are always likely to see brightly ordained drag queens promenading the Copacabana or Ipanema scene.
The beach is the best place to go make new gay friends and find out what is happening, where and when. The gay beach at Farme (part of Ipanema beach just to the east of Rua Farme de Amoeda is known as Barbie land. This is an affectionate term used for the muscled, wealthy guys from Southside Rio who cruise the area. It is a very relaxed and cosmopolitan crowd here, and affection can be shown without any fear. Gays and Lesbians can soak in the sun all day, and the gay bars offer the cool drinks.
There are a wide range of activities available to gay visitors, including the bars and clubs, hotels, cinemas, saunas, cruising grounds, and motels (the safest place to go to for sexual activities without the risk of your valuables being stolen). Please see www.riogayguide.com for all the information with maps of the areas.
There are plenty of sights to feast your eyes on in Rio – not just the stunning scenery of Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado Mountain!!
Safety is a concern, but you should not let this stop you seeing one of the most incredible cities in the world. The best advice is to dress down and avoid carrying too much cash and do not wear or carrying expensive sun glasses, watches, jewellery, sneakers, cell phones etc, or those that may look expensive. Also avoid wandering into areas you are not familiar with without seeking local advice. If you are unlucky enough to be robbed do not resist.
Rio´s International airport is Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (Code GIG). Tel. +55 (0)21 3984597. It is located on the far suburbs of the city, and is served by many national and international airlines. Ground transportation is by bus, airport taxi, or transfer arranged with your hotel. An airport information desk will advise you of the options and costs. It is better not to arrive late because transfers to the city do not operate 24hrs because of security problems in some areas between the airport and the city.
Rio´s City Airport, Santos Dumont Airport (Code SDU). +55 (0)21 2102457. It is located in the heart of the city, and is served by regional airlines. Ground transportation is easy by taxi to most tourist hotspots.
An Inter-State bus station in Brazil is called a Rodoviaria. The one in Rio is Terminal Novo Rio +55 (0)21 3213-1800, and is located at Av. Francisco Bicalho, 1 - Santo Cristo. That is approximately half way between Copacabana and Ipanema, or approx. 20-30mins by taxi. An information desk will give you details of other options. It is better to avoid travelling at night. Map
Google maps are the best way to work out a route and get an idea of the length of your journey and the time it will take. Go to Google Maps and select "Get Directions". Then, enter a start point (A) and a destination point (B), plus a mode of transport.