This captivating hillside neighborhood overlooks Rio’s downtown and serves to highlight the many facets the city has to offer other than beachside antics. The area is dotted with 19th-century mansions – some crumbling wrecks, others carefully preserved in their former glory –which serve as a reminder of Santa Teresa’s economic boom. In the 1800s, it was mostly unreachable, with a few dispersed farms and a forest refuge for escaped slaves, but the coffee industry golden days brought rich industrialists to the hills, along with their boastful mansions. Nowadays, it’s an artistic retreat and a popular tourist go-to area.
Head to Largo dos Guimarães, which is the main square in the centre of Santa Teresa. It’s also the drop-off point of the neighbourhood’s famous bonde (tram) and the key meet-up spot. From here, some of the area’s best bars and restaurants are just a short walk away.
Black-and-white photos of famous musicians, colourful posters and indigenous handicrafts line the walls of Bar do Mineiro, one of Rio’s most beloved Brazilan restaurants. Try the feijoada for a taste of classic Brazilian food, and wash it down with a strong yet tasty caipirinha.
Espirito Santa serves Amazon-inspired dishes to its guests, who can sit on the terrace that overlooks the city below. After eating, head to Explorer Bar for gorgeous cocktails that excel in both taste and looks. Then move on to Mercado das Pulgas, which has roda de samba (live samba bands) on the weekends, attracting a young party crowd.
Parque das Ruinas, the skeleton of an old mansion, offers wonderful views of Guanabara Bay. The site is also an important cultural center, with theater, circus and music programs throughout the week. The Museu da Chácara do Céu holds a small yet comprehensive collection of art, including both national and international works, as well as vintage Brazilian memorabilia. In October, Santa Teresa is home to the Arte de Portas Abertas, a weekend event in which local artists open the doors to their homes and studios in an open-air exhibition.
Casa Cool Beans is a cosy bed-and-breakfast that’s fresh and modern without being too cute. Its ten guest rooms provide an intimate feel, and the lush gardens and pool can be enjoyed on lazy days when the beach just feels that little bit too far away. For the ultimate luxury retreat, stay at the Hotel Santa Teresa, one of Rio’s finest boutique hotels, which comes equipped with an award-winning restaurant, a spa with full services and gorgeous rooms. Check airbnb.com for listings, because staying in a local home can give an exclusive peek into the artistic lifestyle of this charmingly tranquil neighborhood.