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Palace at Ilha Fiscal  | © Pedro Kirilos | Riotur / Flickr
Palace at Ilha Fiscal | © Pedro Kirilos | Riotur / Flickr

The Most Impressive Buildings in Rio de Janeiro

Picture of Sarah Brown
Updated: 1 May 2017

Rio de Janeiro is famed for its natural beauty, yet it doesn’t fail to inspire on an architectural level too. The buildings reflect a complex and rich history that left its mark in various architectural forms. Culture Trip explores some of the city’s most impressive buildings.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro

Standing on the top of a small hill in Gloria, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro is a tiny church more commonly referred to as the Igreja da Gloria (The Church of Gloria). It dates back to 1739 and is one of Brazil’s best examples of national colonial architecture. As well as the pretty façade of the church, the views overlooking Flamengo Park and Guanabara Bay give another reason to go there.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro, 

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room defies its somewhat plain exterior by presenting a breathtaking neo-Manuelino design inside. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases overflow with the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal, with approximately 350,000 volumes, with rare editions from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, R. Luís de Camões, 30 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2221-3138

Museum of Tomorrow

The Museum of Tomorrow is one of the highlights in Rio’s recently transformed port area. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, whose fondness for neo-futuristic styles is reflected in the buildings eye-catching enormous roof that juts out across the pier, designed the structure. The museum provides information about sustainability, climate change and future possibilities of our planet through a series of interactive and visual displays.

Museum of Tomorrow, 262gih, Praça Mauá, 1 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 3812-1800

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum

One of Oscar Niemeyer’s finest works, the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum attracts just as many visitors to see the exterior as it does those who want to go inside. The striking building, constructed in 1996, resembles a flying saucer with a curved concrete path winding around to the elevated entrance. A reflecting pool surrounds the base of the museum, adding another surrealist element.

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, Mirante da Boa Viagem, s/nº – Boa Viagem, Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2620-2400

Palace at Ilha Fiscal

The distinctive lime-green palace on Ilha Fiscal is remembered as hosting the final party of the empire in 1889 before Brazil was declared a republic. Today, the palace presents a fine example of the neo-Gothic style and is a cultural centre managed by the Brazilian navy.

Palace at Ilha Fiscal, Avenida Alfredo Agache, s/n – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2104-6025

Largo do Boticario

What was once a popular hangout spot among the elite, rich and famous, Largo do Boticario now stands abandoned. The six houses that make up Largo do Boticario surround a small square, and despite their decaying appearance, the neo-classical style and vibrant colours of the houses’ exteriors continue to remain impressive.

Largo do Boticario, Beco do Boticário, s/n – Cosme Velho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Palácio do Catete

Built in 1858, the Palácio do Catete is one of the region’s most inspiring buildings, with its pink granite and marble façade and lavishly decorated interior replete with paintings, sculptures and marble finishings that date back to the 19th and 20th centuries.

Palácio do Catete, R. do Catete, 153 – Catete, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2127-0324

Metropolitana Cathedral

Inspired by Mayan architecture, Edgar Fonseca designed this modernist cathedral, which resembles a huge grey beehive on the outside. Step inside to see the jaw-dropping stained-glass windows that stretch from the floor up to the roof. It lies in Centro, between metro Cinelandia and metro Carioca.

Metropolitana Cathedral, Av. Chile, 245 – Centro – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, +55 21 2240-2669