Tucked under the imposing Corcovado Mountain with the watchful Christ the Redeemer on its summit, Laranjeiras is one of Rio’s oldest neighbourhoods, founded in the 17th century. Its location, built around the Carioca River that emerges from the Tijuca forest before disappearing underground in Cosme Velho, gave the region its former name of Vale do Carioca or Carioca Valley. It was later renamed Laranjeiras, which has no relation to its English translation – orange trees. Instead, it reflects its Portuguese colonial past, coined after the neighbourhood of the same name in Lisbon, Portugal.
Remnants of its aged past remain in the colonial buildings and country-style buildings, which adds to the charm of this historic neighbourhood. Although mostly residential, Laranjeiras has a handful of significant landmarks and impressive political sites. The Palácio Guanabara is the region’s finest example of neo-classical architecture and holds an important role as the seat of the state government of Rio de Janeiro. Curious visitors can witness its monumental status first-hand by joining a building tour or wandering around the manicured gardens lined with gravelled paths and decorated with elegant fountains.
The Palacio das Laranjeiras is the official residence of the state’s governor, its splendour matched by the groomed gardens of Parque Guinle – Guinle Park – the area it calls home. Visitors can enjoy the peace of the park, yet the building remains strictly off-limits. For those in the know, Fluminense FC offers several private swimming pools, including an Olympic-sized one, open to locals and tourists that are looking to keep active on a tight budget. Clued-up visitors go there on the weekends for impromptu fashion and food events, where locals gather to promote homemade gastronomy and boutique fashion brands.
Once settled in Laranjeiras, many locals stay put for years, drawn in by the community spirit and undisturbed sense of calm. Yet the neighbourhood is far from humdrum with a flourishing, hipster nightlife scene. Head to Praça São Salvador on weekend nights to mingle with a barmy crowd of young and old who are pulled in by the temptation of cold caipirinhas and beers to sip in the hot, humid nights. The outdoor entertainment there is the real crowd-pleaser, though, with live samba bands and the occasional amateur acrobatics with colourful ribbons and hypnotising hula-hoops.
Nestled in an old colonial building, Mercadinho São José das Artes is the favourite haunt of the locals and quickly charms the more inquisitive traveller who manages to find it. The compact area packs in about eight bars under one roof, setting the scene for friendliness, incredible food diversity and plenty of cold beers that add to the happy hour vibe.
While obscured by its four, large neighbours, Laranjeiras’s close accessibility to these other regions is part of its key appeal. Extending from Laranjeiras is Cosme Velho, best known for its train station that takes visitors up to the Christ the Redeemer. Surrounding Laranjeiras is Flamengo, known for its handful of great restaurants and sweeping beachside park, and Botafogo with its upcoming eateries, boutique bars and wine houses that create its modern, hipster vibe and bustling nightlife scene.