Rio de Janeiro, the unofficial capital of Brazil, is truly one of the world’s great cities. It is draped across some quite spectacular, almost otherworldly scenery of domed mountains, lush green forest and golden beaches, and it buzzes with one of the most charged atmospheres of any metropolis on the planet.
It’s little wonder Rio’s nickname is the ‘Cidade Maravilhosa’, which simply translates as Marvellous City.
If possible try to spend at least 10 days here, not only to tick off the big sights, but also to allow yourself ample time to soak up the city’s unique personality.
During the day you’re spoilt for choice for things to do in Rio. A good place to start is the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue on the peak of Corcovado mountain. The peak forms part of Tijuca Forest National Park, which makes for a great walk afterwards. For equally stunning views take the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, another icon of Rio.
If you’re feeling brave, head to Pedra Bonita, where you can take to the skies in a tandem hang glider and float down to the sandy safety of Sao Conrado Beach. This is a classic Rio experience and if you’ve got a head for heights, make sure you don’t miss out!
When exploring the city, keep in mind that it’s divided into a few different areas, and each has its own identity and unique attractions.
The South Zone – or Zona Sul – is the most touristy area and the best place to stay. It’s here you’ll find the popular neighbourhoods of Copacabana, famous for its amazing beach, and Ipanema, where you’ll find the city’s best restaurants and nightclubs.
The Downtown district comprises the historical and financial core of the city, and is where the best museums, funkiest art galleries and prettiest churches are located. The Lapa neighbourhood is particularly pleasant; a bohemian enclave characterised by its colonial architecture and cool dance clubs.
The West Zone has turned into a magnet for the rich and famous, and is dominated by luxury skyscrapers and high end shops. It can feel like a world away from the more authentic experience of Zona Sul, and in truth there isn’t a great deal to do there.
Similarly, the North Zone is devoid of traditional attractions – apart from Christ the Redeemer, of course – but it is the best place to get a flavour of Rio’s working class population.