How much can you really fit into a week in Rio? Planning a trip during Carnival was always going to be a challenge. This week more than 700,000 tourists descend on the city for the famous festivities and so finding tranquillity was always going to be difficult. Crowds are bigger, queues are longer and let’s face it, you want to be partying in the Blocos, not visiting museums.
But, if like me, you want a bit of balance, it is still possible to pack a lot into a week in Rio, even during the carnival festival. So here are my top 10 places to visit in Rio de Janeiro.
- Christ the Redeemer – Cristo Redentor
Known by the locals as Cristo Redentor, the enormous statue of Jesus Christ is a must-see. The Iconic feature can be seen all over Rio, as it watches over the city and it is one of the first things I spotted when travelling from the airport.
Not only is it the number one attraction in Rio, it is also one of the seven new wonders of the World, making it essential to any trip to Brazil. There are a number of options for visiting Cristo, including hiking, and taking a van, but we chose to take the tram and to make the most of the stunning views on the way up.
If you have time, I would recommend getting a guide, because as stunning as he is, there is very little in the way of information when you reach the top.
It is best to visit in the early morning, or in the late afternoon, because getting a decent photograph is next to impossible in the high sun.
I was especially excited for this part of the trip, because Cristo was officially my 4th of the 7 wonders of the World. Pretty Cool eh?
- Selarón Steps – Escadaria Selarón
Well if it’s good enough for Snoop and Pharrell, it’s good enough for me! These steps became known in pop culture after featuring in the Music video for the duo’s single “Beautiful”. But they are beautiful in their own right. The work of Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, these brightly coloured, tiled steps straddle the areas of Santa Teresa and Lapa.
The steps are a relatively new addition to Rio. Selarón began renovating the steps in 1990 with scavenged tiles, but eventually began receiving tiles donated by tourists and locals. For this reason, you will see tiles from many different locations around the world featuring in Selarón’s masterpiece. Sadly he never considered it to be complete and he continued to work on the steps until his death in 2013.
- Sugar Loaf Mountain – Pao de Acucar
Rio de Janeiro is famous for its mountainous coastline and one of the most famous peaks is the aptly named Sugar Loaf Mountain. Just like Cristo Rendentor, the sugar loaf is easily visible anywhere in Rio as it dominates the skyline.
You can ride a cable car to the top of the mountain to experience the amazing panoramic views of the city. We first took the cable car (or bondinho) to the smaller peak of Morra da Urca and then followed on to Acucar. At the top of the mountain you can get some food and drink and take in the spectacular views of the city. It was unfortunately quite overcast when we visited, so I can only imagine how wonderful it would look with a clear blue sky. I tucked into some refreshing Acai- a local healthy alternative to ice cream, which was just divine!
- Sambadrome – Sambódromo
I won’t go into too much detail on the Sambódromo. You can read a little more about my experience here. But if you are going to carnival this is a must-see. It is much more commercialised than the local blocos, and prices can be high, depending on what night you go, but it is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
- Copacabana Beach
Where music and passion is always in fashion… or so the song says. Copacabana is probably one of the most famous beaches in the World. During Carnival it can get very very busy, so come prepared, bring as little as possible and soak up the atmosphere. Women of all shapes and sizes wear bikinis and confidence seems common-place here. Another must visit.
If you are a football fan, then it is worth hopping on the Metro to the Maracanã stadium, which is a little bit outside of the city centre. The stadium itself is steeped in history and was built for the 1950 World Cup. It is now used for matches between major football teams in Rio de Janeiro such as Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminese and Vasco da Gama. It has seen infamous players such as Pele and Didi.
I would advise that you check before your visit, as there was a non-football event running during our visit, which meant that the pitch was covered. This was a big disappointment, but it was still interesting to visit and hear of the history of Brazilian football.
- Ipanema Beach
Another area with a musical reference is Ipanema. Famous for the song “Girl from Ipanema” that I promise you have heard before, this part of town is popular with tourists.
For a less hectic beach experience you can go to the Ipanema beach just next to the Copacabana. This area has a lot more tourists than locals and is more relaxing. You can grab coconut water or buy a Caipirhina Cocktail while chilling out and enjoying the relative quietness!
Rumour has it, that the sunset from Ipanema is breath-taking, but we were not so lucky with Mother Nature on our visit. If you do get a chance to experience sunset at Ipanema let me know!!
- Botanic Gardens
When I first arrived in Rio de Janeiro a taxi driver recommended the botanical gardens telling me that they were is favourite place in the whole city. If you like nature I would recommend that you visit. As botanical gardens go, they are possibly the biggest I have seen so far. There is a clever contrast between the natural features and modern art sculptures throughout.
The botanical gardens are also home to one of the World’s biggest Orchard collections and some very unique species indeed. Above all else it is nice to get away from the crowds for a bit and this was possibly the quietness most tranquil place I visited in Rio. Now I understand why the taxi driver liked it so much!
- National Art Museum -Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
Being as pale as I am, I try to get out of the sunshine where possible. I decided to visit the Museu de Belas Artes. Again, this place was quiet and not near as busy as some of the other tourist attractions.
I really enjoyed rambling around the exhibits which ranged from modern sculptures to classic portaits. There were some particularly thought provoking pieces. If you enjoy art, I would recommend taking some time to visit.
- Metropolitan Cathedral
It feels like I never visit a city without going to see a church. (And I didn’t even have Himself with me this time!). On my final day I took the Metro out to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, which is more commonly known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio. It is quite a distinctive structure, with the architecture reflecting the style of the Mayan pyramids. Inside it is the vertical panels of stained glass that catch you attention. Certainly worth going to see if you are in the area!
And while you are doing all of this, there is still the important matter of all of that partying! Anyway, there you have some of the top places in Rio de Janeiro to visit. If you are planning to visit, stay safe and have fun!