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12 Places In Rio de Janeiro Only Locals Know About

Picture of Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown
Updated: 9 February 2017
It’s safe to say that Rio de Janeiro has been thoroughly explored with numerous travel guides pouring with information about the must-see tourist points. The obvious places include Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, yet Rio still has plenty of surprises up its sleeve that the locals know about but tend to get overlooked by Rio’s visitors.

Largo do Boticário

Largo do Boticario is a square of neoclassical houses concealed in the neighborhood Cosme Velho, the place of the Concorado train that goes up to Christ the Redeemer. What is especially noticeable about these now abandoned houses is the unique architecture, their vibrant colors and how Rio’s forest is determinedly creeping its way in.

Skeleton Hotel

The Esqueleto Hotel (which translates to Skeleton Hotel) is a massive hotel that sits in the middle of Rio’s tropical rainforest that was abandoned almost upon completion 44 years ago. It’s a little bit creepy, but has amazing views over Sao Conrado and the Tijuca forest, making it one of Rio’s best kept secrets.

Gavea tourist hotel |© still from youtube

Gavea tourist hotel |© still from youtube

Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura

The Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura (Royal Portuguese Reading Room) is a library in Rio’s city center that is as equally famous for its spellbinding architecture as it is for its vast collection of Portuguese literature, the largest of its kind outside of Portugal.

The inside of the Royal Portuguese Reading Room |© Edu Mendes

The inside of the Royal Portuguese Reading Room |© Edu Mendes

Mangueira’s Palacio de Samba

In September, Mangueira Samba School starts rehearsals for its magnificent Carnival performance in February. This is open to the public every Saturday night and the party there is lively, contagious and filled with friendly Brazilians. Expect to see colorful, sensual costumes that leave little to the imagination and be ready for your jaw to drop at the flurry of legs on the smiling, talented samba dancers.

Parque Lage

Parque Lage has been featured in music videos of the likes of Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg and the Black Eyed Peas, yet still remains a wonderfully hidden secret. A former mansion that is now a public park and art school, this stunning piece of architecture is located at the foot of Corcovado mountain, the famous peak that supports Christ the Redeemer.

Cemetery of São João Batista

This maze of the dead spreads over an area of 45 acres in a compact and complex network of graves, tombs and statues. One of the most fascinating features of the Cemetery of São João Batista is its immense diversity of architectural and artistic styles, including neoclassical, eclectic, neo-gothic and art deco. The other noticeable point is that ex-presidents, famous entertainers and musicians are buried there, including the legendary Tom Jobim.

Rio de Janeiro Cathedral

The Rio de Janeiro Cathedral (also known as the Catedral de São Sebastião) is probably one of the world’s most unusual looking cathedrals, with its architecture fitting neatly into the sci-fi category and its appearance resembling a futuristic beehive. The gray outside doesn’t do any justice to the magnificent inside that has four 200 feet walls decorated in colorful stained glass from top to bottom.

Ilha Fiscal

Ilha Fiscal is a small island in Guanabara Bay that is historically famous for being the venue of the last big party of the Empire before the proclamation of the Republic in Brazil. On the island is a large, neo-gothic palace that is nowadays a cultural center with various art exhibitions and other cultural activities.

The palace on the Ilha Fiscal |© Halley Pacheco de Oliveira/WikiCommons

The palace on the Ilha Fiscal |© Halley Pacheco de Oliveira/WikiCommons

The Maze

Located at the top of the hill of favela (slum) Taveres Bastos, The Maze is one of Rio’s most hidden yet thriving nightclubs with epic views across Guanabara Bay. The club attracts an alternative, international crowd and hosts nights of music that range from jazz to electronic. It’s a well-established part of the favela community and fosters a friendly, safe environment.

The Maze at sunrise |© The Maze

The Maze at sunrise |© The Maze

Prainha

Prainha (translating to ‘Little Beach’ in English) is a surfer’s paradise just outside of the main tourist hub of Rio. Its location makes it hard to reach, which in turn makes it an ideal spot to relax away from the tourist crowds on white sandy shores and gives the opportunity to watch talented surfers tackle immensely strong waves.

Prainha, or little beach |© Halley Pacheco de Oliveira/WikiCommons

Prainha, or little beach |© Halley Pacheco de Oliveira/WikiCommons

Arco de Teles

Tucked away in the city center is Arco de Teles, an archway that leads onto a winding cobbled street that is filled with cheap bars and restaurants. For authentic Brazilian food at low cost, try any of the restaurants here for a satisfying lunch or enjoy the rowdy, lively nightlife any night of the week. On Thursdays, a live samba band plays, getting everyone from passersby to businessmen up on their feet dancing.

Arco de Teles |© Filipo Tardim/WikiCommons

Arco de Teles |© Filipo Tardim/WikiCommons

Cachoeira do Horto

In the middle of the dense Tijuca forest is a stunning waterfall, Cachoeira do Horto, that is surrounded by tall trees and gives a snapshot view across the canopies of the jungle. The waterfall is relatively small, so visitors can stand under it before taking a refreshing dip in the icy cold pool in front. To reach the waterfall, there is a small hike with one slightly hairy climb that takes a bit of courage, so it is better to go with someone rather than alone.

Cachoeira do Horto |© Mcalvet/WikiCommons

Cachoeira do Horto |© Mcalvet/WikiCommons