Rio de Janeiro does not really need an introduction. The second largest city in Brazil is renowned for its beaches, its lush green mountains, incredible nightlife, and an undeniable passion for football.
Visiting Rio de Janeiro during the FIFA World Cup in 2014 was a dream come true, a perfect trip packed with adventurous activities, incredible meals, caipirinhas on the beach, and celebrations of epic proportions.
I didn’t expect to fall in love with Rio, but looking back now, I know that I simply had no choice. It’s a city that’s impossible to resist.
Best Time to Visit Rio de Janeiro
When it comes to Rio, any time is a good time to visit this amazing city. From December through March the weather is hot (up to 40ºC) and rainy, with showers often breaking out every afternoon. The beaches are crowded and the prices are often sky high. By the time May comes around the crowds and hot weather subside and the accommodation rates come down. In the off season winter months (June to September) the weather is the mildest, but there is still plenty of sunshine to enjoy beach weather and it’s not too hot for sightseeing and adventures.
Spring is the best time to visit Rio de Janeiro, the weather is warm but not yet scorching hot and there are fewer tourists around and which means the prices are moderate.
Top Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Rio is filled with great attractions for every type of traveler. At the top of the list is a trip to the top of Corcovado Mountain, home to the famous statue of the Christ the Redeemer. The adventurous travelers will enjoy a challenging 2-hour hike to the top of Corcovado that starts inside the Tijuca Parque Nacional, located in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. (It is possible to take the train and/or bus to the top as well).
Next is a visit to the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Pão de Açúcar, with its smaller neighbour, Morro da Urca, accessible by 2 funiculars. Make your way up to the top and enjoy the views that are particularly stunning at sunset. At the top, enjoy the well-developed infrastructure with cafes, restaurants, shops, and a cinema.
Enjoying a day on Rio’s beautiful beaches is an attraction in its own. Copacabana is the most famous stretch of sand, but Ipanema, Leblon and Arpoador are equally as enjoyable. Check out Fodor’s great guide to beaches in Rio de Janeiro to find out what beach appeals to you the most.
No trip to Rio is complete without a visit to the Maracana Stadium, the largest football stadium in South America and once the largest on Earth. Local teams participate in the national competitions between May and December, so be sure to catch a match if you are visiting during that time.
After taking in the major sights and getting your fill of caipirinhas on the beach, follow Lonely Planet’s advise for 10 beach-free things to do in Rio. Enjoy a visit to Lapa, famous for its samba clubs, or a vibrant nearby neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. Visit Museu da República that contains artefacts from the nation’s early post-colonial days, or a leisurely stroll through Parque Lage to admire the beautifully landscaped gardens and exhibitions inside.
If you are traveling on a budget, consider Gagling’s suggestions for 10 Free Things to do in Rio de Janeiro
Shopaholics will enjoy Telegraph’s insider’s’ guide to the best shops in Rio de Janeiro. Maybe not as fancy or up to some people’s standards, but I thoroughly enjoyed our shopping experience at the Sunday Market in Ipanema and the Night Market in Copacabana.
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
Most travelers find accommodation in Ipanema, Copacabana, or in Leblon, taking advantage of the close proximity to the famous beaches. Copacabana and Ipanema are the more expensive areas, while Leblon will be a bit easier on the wallet.
Santa Teresa is another popular area to stay in, especially with young backpackers looking to be based close to the nightlife in Lapa. Before you decide, take a quick tour of Rio’s neighbourhoods to determine which one will suit you best.
Don’t be afraid to look outside the norm and experience life in one of the favelas. We spent a night in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela and were fascinated by how much we learned about the day to day life of the locals during our stay. It was an experience that definitely beat the highly touristy activity of “taking a tour of the favela” and the hotel was the cheapest we could find anywhere in Rio.
For those willing to pay for the amenities, the Guardian provides a good roundup of the Top 10 hotels and hostels in Rio de Janeiro featuring options suitable for any budget. Budget travelers will also appreciate this list of 10 Top Affordable Hotels in Rio. Airbnb is also an excellent option.
Where to Eat in Rio de Janeiro
Food in Brazil is unbelievably delicious, so don’t take meal time occasions lightly.
There is no need to search for expensive dining establishments, although according to the Telegraph’s The best fine-dining restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, there is no shortage of those in Rio.
Fodor’s offers another great source of info with their Rio de Janeiro Restaurants Guide, that allows you to sort the restaurants by price, by area and by cuisine.
How Much Time Do You Need in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is not the kind of city you pop into for a few days. With so many wonderful attractions and things to do, it is practically impossible to fit it all into less than a 5 day visit and even that is a squeeze.
Here are a few useful itineraries to help you plan your stay.
- For those really tight on time: 3 Days in Rio de Janeiro
- If you have a few more days to spare: Rio de Janeiro in 5 days or 5 Days in Rio de Janeiro
- and for a more relaxing trip: 7 Day Itinerary in Rio de Janeiro