Rio de Janeiro needs careful planning for the budget backpacker, thanks to prices on a par with those in Europe or America. However, there are plenty of culture-rich opportunities in the city that are absolutely free. Here are some of the best to check out.
Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil
The Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil – otherwise referred to as simply CCBB – is a large cultural centre managed by one of the country’s largest government-owned banks, the Banco do Brasil. The space is free to enter and hosts intriguing and stimulating events such as temporary art exhibitions from national and foreign artists, independent film screenings, theatre, and live music. Set inside a 1906 neo-classical building, it is located in Rio’s downtown.
R. Primeiro de Março, 66 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 3808 2020
Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica
Despite being in the bustling downtown region, the Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica remains relatively hidden due to its location on a small nondescript street. The main attraction here is the wonderful art exhibitions from both national and international artists that rotate constantly to provide new displays. There is also a permanent exhibition of the works of visual artist, Hélio Oiticica.
R. Luís de Camões, 68 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2242 1012
Real Gabinete Português de Leitura
The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura – in English, the Royal Portuguese Reading Room – is arguably one of the most beautiful libraries in the world and holds an important collection of Portuguese literature. The internal architecture is striking, with tall bookcases and dark wooden details. The library is free to enter and open to the public.
R. Luís de Camões, 30 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2221 3138
Centro Cultural Justiça Federal
Like many of Rio’s largest cultural centres, the Centro Cultural Justiça Federal is located in the heart of the city in Rio’s downtown. The historical building is free to enter and has an exhibition hall, hosts theatre performances, and has a library and café with hearty breakfast options open to the public.
Av. Rio Branco, 241 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 3261 2550
Parque das Ruinas
Located in bohemian neighbouhood Santa Teresa, Parque das Ruinas is an extension of the local vibe with its art gallery built within the charming ruins of an ageing mansion. The venue also hosts live outdoor music shows and concerts, and has a wonderful café with wholesome food and delicious drinks. The most rewarding time to go is in the evening to see the sun set over Guanabara Bay.
R. Murtinho Nobre, 169 – Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2215 0621
Museu de Folclore Edson Carneiro
This small yet fascinating museum was founded in 1968 and is the only museum of its kind to exclusively dedicate itself to folklore and popular culture. It has exhibitions of ceramic figurines and wooden sculptures in addition to temporary displays. It is not well-known in Rio, yet its culture-rich content is worth checking out.
R. do Catete, 179 – Glória, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2285 0441
Instituto Moreira Salles
Charming architecture amid blooms of tropical plants sets the scene at Instituto Moreira Salles. The building is the former residence of the Moreira Salles family, and nowadays is a stunning venue famed for its photo exhibitions. One of the most eye-opening displays is the collection of historical photos showing Rio de Janeiro in the past and highlighting its remarkable transformation. There is also a café with delicious breakfast and lunch options.
R. Marquês de São Vicente, 476 – Gávea, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 3284 7400
Museu do Índio
The Museu do Índio offers a revealing glimpse into Brazil’s indigenous tribes and their unique culture. The museum is the result of Fundação Nacional do Índio – also known as FUNAI – and is a scientific and cultural centre to continue the studies and protection of the vulnerable indigenous populations in Brazil. There are samples of clothing, indigenous jewellery, and stimulating videos.
Rua das Palmeiras, 55 – Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 3214 8700
Once the former mansion of Enrique Lage and his wife, singer Gabriella Besanzoni, Parque Lage is now a visual arts school and a public space in which to enjoy the tranquility and peace of the surrounding Atlantic forest. The on-site café serves homemade, delicious breakfast and lunch dishes, with a menu of juices, coffees, and alcoholic beverage options. The Corcovado mountain acts a backdrop for the mansion and creates a serene, tropical atmosphere.
R. Jardim Botânico, 414 – Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 3257 1800
Pedra do Sal
Pedra do Sal, the birthplace of samba, is a free outdoor event that gathers the best samba bands in Rio de Janeiro for a spontaneous jamming session every Monday and Friday night. The site is also a Cultural Heritage Site as declared by UNESCO, and was once the main trading area of the enslaved Africans. The event is totally free and makeshift stalls sell cheap caipirinhas and beers – although it’s totally fine to bring your own drinks too.
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