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Rio de Janeiro is a traveling hotspot. Aside from major tourist points, there are also various activities and places that can’t be found in guidebooks but are well worth a visit. We’ve mapped out a four day itinerary that allows you to see major tourist spots yet still have time to experience some of the less well-known places that will give you a slice of the city’s local culture.
The first things to do in the mornings while in Rio are to enjoy breakfast and coffee. Head down to Copacabana and pay a visit to the Copacabana Fort. Inside, you will find an elegantly decorated café with outdoor seating that offers views all across the Copacabana and Leme beaches. Try the cappuccino with cream for a naughty yet extremely nice start to the day, as well as the shared breakfast with fresh fruits, breads, hams and cheeses. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the sea below for a possible sighting of wild turtles! After breakfast, it’s time to hit the beach — head to Ipanema for one of Rio’s most beautiful beaches and top up your tan.
Copacabana Fort, Av. Atlântica, Posto 6 – Copacabana, RJ, Brazil +55 21 2521 1032
In the afternoon, try an açai, a purple berry that is frozen before being blended with ice and is a stable hearty snack in Rio. It may just be a berry, but it is filling and packed with energy — which is good as now it’s time to visit the Christ the Redeemer. Head to Cosme Velho where you can ride the train up to the top of Corcovado and see one of the world’s most iconic statues and the stunning views across Rio.
Go back down to Corcovado and enjoy the lively samba band in the train. From Cosme Velho, take a taxi to Lapa, the nightlife capital of the Rio. Be sure to go to Boteco da Garrafa for a shared portion of carne seca e aipim (dried meat with cassava), which is a typical Brazilian favorite. Then, go to the Arcos de Lapa, grab a caipirinha from one of the stalls and party out in the street until the sun comes up.
After a long night out in Lapa, a good breakfast is definitely needed. Go to Ipanema and try a street-corner bakery; there are plenty to choose from. There, have a typical Brazilian coffee, which is black with plenty of sugar and eat a pão na chapa, which is toasted French bread. Today, make sure you pack some trainers, as next stop is the Tijuca forest to visit the Cachoeira do Horto, a beautiful waterfall that requires a short hike to get there. The waterfall is small and you can bathe under it and enjoy the refreshing natural pool.
Take the bonde (the tram) to the top of Santa Teresa and enjoy a feijoada (bean stew) at Bar do Mineiro. After, head over to Parque das Ruinas to enjoy the spectacular views of the city. Save some time to wander around Santa Teresa and take in the artsy vibes and buy some creative souvenirs.
Arrive at Lagoa before it turns dark and settle down at Palaphita Kitch, a cozy restaurant with low tables and cushion seating. Get your camera ready to take some snaps of one of the most beautiful sunsets in Rio, where the sun dips behind the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Peaks) and throws its colors of reds and yellows over the lake.
Wake up before dawn and get some takeaways from a bakery before heading to Copacabana beach to watch the sunrise. With its delicate hues of pinks and yellows, it makes the early start worth it. Next, go to Posto 5, still at Copacabana beach, and rent a stand up paddle board. Push yourself out from the shore and enjoy the meditative state of floating at sea in beautiful surroundings.
Take a bus to the entrance of Vidigal, Rio’s safest favela, and take a motortaxi to the top. The ride will be hairy and the drivers always seem to cut corners and whizz past vans nonchalantly, but they are experienced and know the route well. Once you get to the top, it’s time to hike to the top of Dois Irmãos. The hike takes about 40 minutes and is relatively challenging, but with plenty of viewpoints on the way up, its can be taken lightly. Once at the top, sit down and marvel at the jaw-dropping view over Leblon and Ipanema — it’s indescribable.
Once back down the peak, get a taxi from Urca to the base point of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). Today is all about the views as you take the cable car up to Morro da Urca and onto Pão de Açúcar to experience another stunning sunset that will leave you breathless. Once you’re back down, go to Bar Urca for bar and prawn pastels on the wall in a calm and serene setting.
Have breakfast in the beautiful Parque Lage, an old mansion turned art school that has a little café with delicious, strong coffees and a selection of fresh breakfast choices. Surrounded by the forest of Tijuca, it’s likely to see wild monkeys and colorful birds. After you enjoy your breakfast, it’s time to go on a favela tour; no, it’s not dangerous, and yes, it’s eye-opening. Take a trip through Rochina, meet the locals and buy locally-made produce. Finish off the morning by enjoying brunch there in the favela.
Parque Lage, R. Jardim Botânico, 414 – Jardim Botânico, RJ, Brazil +55 21 3257 1800
Head to the city center and go to Praca Maua to visit the Museum of Tomorrow. Even if museums aren’t your thing, the architecture of the building is futuristic and stunning. Take a stroll around the Olympic Boulevard to see the largest street mural in the world by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra.
Museum of Tomorrow, Praça Mauá, 1 – Centro, RJ, Brazil +55 21 3812 1800
Since you’re in the city center, go to Acro do Teles to enjoy typical Brazilian food in any of the number of bars and see live samba and forro music out in the streets. Drink cold beers and enjoy the final night in Praca Quinze, known for having live music every night of the week.