The Greatest Place on Earth.
That’s how I would describe Rio de Janeiro, an impossibly magical city, filled with gorgeous Cariocas, breathtaking views, delectable food, and of course, samba-fueled nightlife. After spending two (sweaty) weeks in the Brazilian tourism capital, my list of recommendations grew longer each day. But if you only have little time to spare, I’ve compiled my Rio Hit List to check off the major sights.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN RIO DE JANEIRO
#1: SAY HELLO TO CHRIST THE REDEEMER
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, a visit to this famous statue should be on every visitor’s bucket list. Yes, the crowds are thick, the tickets are expensive and the entire time, you’ll wonder why you’re putting yourself through this nightmare. But when you get up there - WOW.
Pro Tip: as of December 2018, there have been numerous robberies on the trail leading up to Christ, so please take precaution and use the tram or van services available.
#2: VISIT SUGAR LOAF MOUNTAIN
My Sugar Loaf experience was a lot calmer and tranquil than the one for Christ the Redeemer. The funicular ride is spectacular, only surpassed by the views once you’re at the top of Sugarloaf. Maximize your experience here by timing it with the sunset, it’s pretty incredible.
#3: HIKE THROUGH TIJUCA NATIONAL PARK
I completed a 7-hour hike through this urban rainforest, and barely scratched the surface in terms of things to see. You’ll encounter waterfalls, exotic flora and fauna, and hear hundreds of different kinds of birds! It’s a hiker’s paradise, and an excellent way to work off the previous night’s caipirinhas.
#4: SUNBATHE IN COPACABANA & IPANEMA BEACHES
Copacabana & Ipanema are arguably the most famous beaches in the world. But they’re not just a tourist haven; you’ll encounter cariocas (Rio natives) from all walks of life enjoying their city’s waters. My favorite part were the scores of vendors selling everything from beers, food to bikinis.
#5: EAT & DRINK IN SANTA TERESA
While a bit dodgy in certain parts, Santa Teresa is Rio’s bohemian neighborhood filled with eclectic restaurants and bars. I’d recommend eating at Bar do Mineiro, known for its excellent feijoada (beans) and caipirinhas (my favorite in the city). After that, try your luck at Favela Hype for some samba, or see if there’s a samba concert going on at Samba Dos Guimaraes.
#6: DANCE SAMBA IN LAPA
The Lapa neighborhood was the #1 recommendation by anyone we spoke to in the city, with good reason. It has cheap bars, decent restaurants and best of all, live samba any day of the week. Even on a Wednesday night, we visited Bar Leviano, packed to the brim with locals having a great night. Get sweaty with a friend or two while picking up some samba moves from new friends.
#7: VISIT THE ESCADARIA SELARON STAIRS
Admittedly, I didn’t get a chance to visit these stairs myself, but it does come up on every Rio recommendation. It’s also located in the Lapa neighborhood, and a nice introduction to this lively section of the city.
#8: TAKE A TRIP TO ILHA GRANDE
While not in the city of Rio itself, Ilha Grande is a must-see destination in its own right. It’s located 3 hours from Rio, so you’ll need at least a couple of days set aside to make it happen. But once you arrive, you’ll forget all your troubles staring at the clear blue waters sipping a cold Brahma.
Pro tip: Rent a boat for the day with a skipper - it’s expensive but absolutely worth the cost. You’ll get to snorkel in clear water and join boat parties in ocean coves.
#9: VISIT THE MUSEUM OF TOMORROW
Again, I didn’t get a chance to visit myself but my friends who did had lovely things to say about the exhibits. It’s a bit out of the way, so set aside half a day for this adventure. Since it rains frequently in Rio, plan it around a cloudy day.
#10: WATCH THE SUNET AT BAR URCA
The Urca neighborhood and within it, Bar Urca, were my favorite activities in Rio. Head there right before sunset, pick up some snacks and cold beers and claim a spot on the concrete balastrade overlooking the bobbing boats right on the water. There are a host of beautiful cariocas to gawk at while watching a beautiful sunset on the beach.