A Local's guide to Rio De Janeiro
- By travel photographer and local Ricardo Braz
Hey guys! Sharing a few tips of my hometown and favorite city in the world – Rio de Janeiro!
First of all, it is important to say that Rio is not more dangerous than any other big city in the world, unlike what the media normally says. It is, obviously, important to stay alert of your surroundings and to avoid certain areas at certain times, but if you behave normally, everything will be fine.
A few tips for first-timers in Rio:
- Public transportation is good, but limited. Buses can take you anywhere, but they’re difficult to understand especially if you’re a foreigner. We don’t have any apps or fixed schedules to count on, so I’d recommend not taking them unless you’re too sure. The subway is incredibly good – built for the Olympics in 2016, it’s new and works perfectly. Although we have only one line, it’s easy and recommendable to use. Transportation apps as Uber, 99 Taxis and Cabify are legal and fairly inexpensive, so it’s the best way to explore the city. Yellow taxies that are run by the government run by the meter and are more expensive.
- Rush hour can be intense, so avoid driving around around 5pm-7pm on weekdays. If you can, use the subway at that time.\
- Weather in Rio is hot. Our summer (November – March) is very, very hot. If you come from cold countries, you’ll be likely to suffer as temperatures can get to 100+ degrees F (43C) during some days. If you are planning a warm and beach vacation, that should be the perfect timing for you. Our winter (June, July, August) is, for me, the best time to visit. Temperature never drops below 60F (18C), the days are always sunny and pleasant with temperatures around 80 degrees F (26C). Shoulder season (Abril, May and September, October) are also good months to visit. Rio is, honestly, a year-around destination as weather is constant and we don’t really have a peak season except New Years and Carnival.
- Be aware of our national holidays. As we’re a very religious country, we have a lot of holidays that can change your travel plans. Carnival, for example, is one of the biggest parties in the world and an event that a lot of people look forward to experience it.
- Knowing a local will really change your experience in the city. Make sure to try to connect with locals on the internet or even in Rio itself.
Where to stay:
Said that, let’s get more specific. Rio is a big city and our public transportation is not necessarily the best in the world, so which area is better to stay? All around the city you’ll find a great range of accommodations, from hostels to high-end hotels. Here are a few options and its pros and cons:
- Leblon and Ipanema: The trendiest area of the city and also the most expensive. Quick access to beach, the best bars, nightlife and restaurants and safety are what make this area one of the best options to stay in the city if you have a decent budget.
- Jardim Botânico and Gávea: Residential neighborhoods with lots of options for food and shopping. 10-15 minutes from the beach and a big sense of “local living”
- Copacabana: Probably one of the most famous beaches in the world, the neighborhood has lost it “cool” fame to Ipanema and Leblon a while ago. “Copa” is messy, noisy and there’s a lot of traffic. But it’s just by the beach, has tons of options of restaurants, hotels and shops and it’s considerably cheaper to live.
- Centro (Downtown): It´s the historical part of the city with a beautiful architecture, museums and galleries. It´s very busy during the day as it is the financial district, but totally empty (and potentially dangerous) at night. A small part of Centro called Lapa is where all the action happens at night – it basically becomes a huge open-air party with live music and caipirinha every day.
- Botafogo: A residential neighborhood and not a touristy area, but it has become trendy in the last years. Well served by public transit, it´s known for its many small bars and clubs, especially for the alternative scene. You can easily go to major landmarks from there and it should be less expensive than Copacabana. The beach is not good for swimming, but it has one the most beautiful views of the Sugar Loaf.
- Santa Teresa: This area has been trendy once, but it’s not anymore. There are a bunch of accommodation options here, but the area has become isolated from the rest of the city and quite dangerous at night. It does have one of the best views of the city, but I wouldn’t recommend staying there and instead just spending a day exploring the neighborhood.
Must do’s and attractions:
Let’s start with the most touristic:
- Christ the Redeemer – One of the 7 wonders of the world, it should be on the top place of everyone that’s visting the city.
- Sugar Loaf: The second most famous postcard of our city and also a must-visit. Go up to the top with a cable car or hike (it’s free!) to the first viewpoint that has an amazing view already.
- Arpoador Rock – For sure the best place to watch the sunset after a sunny day at the beach. Locals and tourist gather in the rock to applaud the sun as it goes down, its truly a spectacle of nature. Local tips: There’s an abandoned skate bowl 2 minutes away from the rock in a small hill that offer great panoramic views and also another beach on the other side called “Praia do Diabo” or “Devil’s Beach” which is great for photographing the sunrise.
Confeitaria Colombo: One the most classic restaurants of the city and a great place for breakfast at both locations.
Parque Lage: An old house used by our Emperor during the 19th century right in the middle of the city. A great getaway to escape the crowds and noise of the city and go for an afternoon stroll. Also a great place to have breakfast during the weekends.
Ipanema and Leblon beaches: The best way to spend a hot day in Rio. Right in the heart of the city, it’s a great place to go for a run, bike ride or just lay back and enjoy the sun and the breeze.
Museum of tomorrow: Recently built, this modern museum has a beautiful architecture and their surroundings are great to explore.
Escadaria Selaron: This spot got famous after Michael Jackson filmed a video music there. Colorful stairs in a bohemian area, great to visit in the afternoon and staying for the night to get some cheap street caipirinhas.
Then, a little bit more local:
Pedra do Telegrafo: This place got popular in the last few years, so if you go make sure to visit it early in the morning. There´s a specific shot that draws people to this place – an optical illusion that you are hanging on a cliff.
Pedra Bonita hike: A very easy hike (less than 20 minutes and minor elevation) with stunning views. If you don’t want to hike, simply check the view at the Hang gliding ramp.
Pedra da Gavea hike: One of the most famous and beautiful hikes in the city, but quite challenging. A 3-hour hike with steep sections and even some rock climbing will bring you to the top of Rio with 360 degree views. There are epic photo opportunities here and I highly recommending having a guide or a local.
Hand Gliding: This will be one of the best experiences you can have in Rio. Highly suggest contacting @guigamafly, the first person to hang glide in Brazil and a legend of the skies.
Jardim Botanico: perfect for a morning stroll.
Mirante Dona Marta: Probably the most scenic spot in Rio and the best to photograph. It’s a viewpoint on top of Dona Marta favela with beautiful views of the sugarloaf and the Christ. It’s not a dangerous place, but I recommend going with a local or a trusted driver if it’s your first time. Sunrise is the best time for photographing, but you can visit it all-day long.
Go on a helicopter ride: A panoramic flight is for sure to best way to see the city. Contact @rio.onair for great English-speaking service. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that. I’ve lived in Rio for 25 years and it was the most magical experience I’ve had in the city.
Go for a boat trip at Baia de Guanabara: See the city from a different angle and refresh yourself swimming in the ocean with stunning views of the city. Contact @rioislandboattour for more info.
Joatinga beach: A beautiful secluded beach located inside a residential area, a real gem in Rio.
Hire a bike (you can find many orange stations around city with the name of Itau) and cycle around Lagoa – normally the locals do this for daily exercising and we take for granted how beautiful it is. A relaxed an easy 7km bike ride around Lagoa is a great way to spend your afternoon in Rio.
Watch a game in Maracanã Stadium: Brazilian fans are known for their passion for soccer and when there’s a game in town, people go crazy. Make an effort to see a Flamengo game!
Secret beaches Perigoso, Meio and Secreto: These beaches are very hidden and in fact many locals have never heard about it. They’re located a bit outside of the city, so you’ll need a car to reach them. Then, a 1-hour easy hike will take you the best kept-secret beaches in Rio. It’s not so easy to find them, so better do it with a local! After that, have lunch in Guaratiba, a village nearby and watch the sunset there.
Prainha and Grumari: The best beaches in Rio without a doubt. Empty, pristine and stunning. Quite far from the city, so it’s better to have a car for transportation.
Chinese View: one of the most beautiful views of the city, surrounded by the jungle.
Pedra do Sal: birth of samba, it gets really crowd on Mondays and Fridays evening where drinks are very cheap and entrance is free.
Visit a Samba School, where rehearsals for carnival take place. They don’t happen all-year around, so make sure to contact your hotel or someone local to get information on where and when they’ll take place.
Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura: (Royal Portuguese Reading Room) – nominated one of the the most beautiful libraries in the world. Make sure to check opening times before going.
Parque da Cidade: Located not actually in Rio but in Niteroi, the park is located high in the mountains that makes the perfect spot for sunset. When the weather is clear you can see all the mountains of Rio in a distance.
What to eat:
The food in Brazil must be one best in the world. We do use a lot of meat in our dishes but it should be easy to find vegetarian food in Rio. Our national dish is called “Feijoada”, which consist in a stew of beans with meat, normally served with rice, farofa (manioc flour), cabbage and a small orange. It’s delicious and a must-try. Also very common in the country are the famous steakhouses, where waiters bring you meat on these huge sticks. They’re all-you-can-eat style and more expensive than other restaurants. “Juice houses” are found on literally every corner of the city and are a great option for cheap and healthy eats – they normally are a “grab-and-go” style and have infinite choices of natural juices, sandwiches and other local foods. Street food is generally safe and a very good option for getting to local the local cuisine. As we’re a tropical country, fruits are available everywhere and cheap. Another food you have to try:
Açaí: Traditionally from the Amazon, this fruit is becoming popular globally and probably a lot of you have heard about it. Mix it with fruits and granola!
Tapioca: Dried cassava powder that can replace bread or a tortilla – it´s natural, healthy and delicious.
Pão de queijo: “Cheesebread” are perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
Pastel: similar to an empanada, these deep-fried pastries are incredible tasty, especially when found on street fairs
Brigadeiro: our most famous sweet – condensed milk with chocolate powder.
These are all fantastic places located next to Rio that you can do a day-trip, but I highly suggest having a few extra days to spend a couple nights exploring these areas.
Arraial do Cabo: Often compared to the Caribbean, the beaches in Arraial have one the clearest waters in the country. It’s a great place to hire a boat and explore the less-known beaches and also scuba diving.
Buzios: A bohemian coastal city full of good hotels and restaurants. There are more than 15 beautiful beaches in a very small area. Considered one of the top places in the world for kitesurfing also.
Saquarema: The Meccah for surfers in Rio, this small city hosts the World Surf League in Brazil.
Paraty: A colonial city full of history, colorful houses and good vibes. There are many live shows on the streets and food trucks everywhere – not to mention beautiful beaches too.
Angra dos Reis: 365 beautiful islands and a small port surrounded by a steep and forested coastline. Ilha Grande, the biggest of them, is a famous place for camping trips.
Parque dos Três Picos: A beautiful mountain area with jagged peaks and lots of hiking opportunities.
Itatiaia: One of the biggest national parks in the state, with endless hiking trails, waterfalls and local wildlife. Great place for stargazing.
Serra dos Orgaos National Park: The best place for multi-day hiking in Rio. 2 of the most famous are called “Pedra do Sino” (Bell’s Rock) and “Travessia Teresopolis-Petropolis”. They can be combined on a 3-day epic hike in a mountain range that is considered the most beautiful of our country. You do need a guide or someone that have been there before for this trek. A must-do for avid trekkers.
Petropolis: This mountain city offers a cool and calm environment with plenty of historic architecture from the 19th century, and offer good restaurants and charming hotels. It was used as the official house of our King in the 17th century, so there are plenty of museums about Brazilian history.
Article written by travel photographer and local- Ricardo Braz follow him here.