A One-Week Itinerary to Rio de Janeiro

Sarah Brown

One week in Rio de Janeiro lets you experience not only the city but also some of the surrounding gems that give you the best of both worlds—the buzz of a thriving metropolis and the calming thrill of a picturesque paradise island. Here’s how to get the most out of your seven days in Rio.

Day One

Welcome to Rio de Janeiro! Unless you flew in from a nearby Brazilian city, it’s safe to assume that your flight was a long one. So today is the perfect day to absorb the atmosphere and take it easy by strolling along the black and white wavy motif promenade in Copacabana before heading over to Ipanema to sunbathe. Watch a dazzling sunset at Arpoador before kicking back at Canastra and enjoying some of Brazil’s finest wines and local cheeses.

Copacabana promenade

Day Two

After yesterday’s chilled out day, it’s time to do some sightseeing. Take the train up Corcovado mountain to visit Brazil’s most iconic landmark, Christ the Redeemer, before heading back down for lunch at the elegant Parque Lage, a restaurant and art school inside a reformed mansion surrounded by the dense, colorful flora of the Tijuca forest. In the evening, take the cable car up to the Sugarloaf mountain to watch the sun perform an incredible light show at sunset before finishing the evening with beers and prawn pastels at Bar Urca.

Day Three

Spend the morning visiting the city center to take in the colonial architecture and bustling atmosphere before heading to the port area to visit the Museum of Tomorrow and the largest street mural in the world, painted by Eduardo Kobra. In the afternoon, go to Santa Teresa, Rio’s creative hub, to check out art studios, boutique shops, and quirky restaurants and bars. For lunch, eat traditional Brazilian food at Bar do Mineiro and wash down with one of their flawless caipirinhas. Later in the evening, go to Mama Shelter for more drinks before finishing the evening with authentic samba at Mercado das Pulgas.

The Museum of Tomorrow

Day Four

It’s time to get out of the city for a couple of days and enjoy the island life. Head to Angra dos Reis or Conceição and take the boat over to Ilha Grande, one of Rio’s most picturesque retreats. To get the times of the buses from Rio de Janeiro to the port as well as the times for the buses, take a look here. When you arrive on the island, take the short hike through the forest until it opens out at Lopes Mendes beach, one of the most dazzling beaches in Brazil, and spend a lazy day there. Head back before it gets dark and enjoy an evening of chilled caipirinhas and seafood at one of the beachside restaurants.

Lopes Mendes beach

Day Five

Ilha Grande—the big island—has plenty to explore and one of its main appeals is the many hikes there. For a hike with an extraordinary view over Ilha Grande, head to Pico do Papagaio, a peak of about 1,000 metres in height and takes about eight hours to reach the top yet the panoramic views make it worthwhile. Some parts are steep, so for inexperienced or solo hikers it’s best to hire a guide from the village. If Pico do Papagaio sounds like too big a challenge, then there are many other smaller and gentler hikes too.

Pico do Papagaio

Day Six

If you hiked Pico do Papagaio, there is a good chance you’re feeling tired today, so spend the morning exploring the old abandoned prison on the island before heading back to Rio de Janeiro. The travel back will probably take the best part of the afternoon, so when you get back prepare yourself for dinner Brazilian-style—an authentic churrasco (barbeque) at Fogo do Chão. For one set price, waiters serve an endless stream of meat from steak, chicken, and lamb, to pork, sausage, and chicken hearts (a Brazilian delicacy) with a buffet salad too. Just be sure to arrive with a big appetite.

Day Seven

What better way to spend the last day then lounging on the beach in Copacabana with a chilled coconut. Start the day at Copacabana Fort for a tropical breakfast served on the outdoor patio that overlooks the sea and the beach. Then, wander down to the beach for a day of sunbathing and perhaps try stand-up paddle boarding—keep an eye out for turtles. Later in the afternoon, hire a bike and cycle along the coastline to Leblon before taking a bus to Vidigal favela, Rio’s safest and most modern communities. Make a toast to your final evening at Alto Vidigal Bar, a bar at the top of the Vidigal hill known for its sweeping hillside views and smooth caipirinhas.

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