The Top Things to See and Do in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

Arpoador is an atmospheric spot from which to soak up views of the ocean and the coastline of Copacabana
Arpoador is an atmospheric spot from which to soak up views of the ocean and the coastline of Copacabana | © Lazyllama / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Robinson

The name is as immortal as it is musical: Copacabana, where bossa nova rhythms were born, along with the inspiration for a million and one nightclubs around the world. It’s one of the best-known districts of Rio de Janeiro, and while its golden age may have passed, its epic oceanfront beauty seen by bike or from Arpoador, framed by rolling hills and blue sky, definitely has not. Here are the best things to do and see in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro.

1. Climb the Morro do Leme

Natural Feature

Scenic karst mountain landscape of the Morro do Leme at the end of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
© Lazyllama / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s a steep hike up cobbled roads at the far eastern end of Copacabana to the Duke of Caxias Fort, atop Leme Hill. But it’s worth the sweat, as the views are wonderful: Copacabana Beach stretches at your feet, the Christ statue glints high on Corcovado and in the distance loom the hulking shapes of Dois Irmãos and Gávea mountains. It’s easy to see wildlife in the trees. And as part of a military reserve, it’s always safe.

2. Explore the Forte de Copacabana

Architectural Landmark

Copacabana Fort, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
© Bjanka Kadic / Alamy Stock Photo

This historic Portuguese-colonial fort, sitting on a rocky cape at the far southern end of Copacabana, is still a working naval base – soldiers stand by beside heavy cannons guarding the entrance to Rio. There’s a small military museum charting the history of the army through the colonial, imperial and republican periods, but the real reason to come is to have coffee and cake with a sweeping Copacabana Beach view, in the Confeitaria Colombo, Rio’s most famous café.

3. Hear live music at Bip Bip

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Brazilian, Beer, Wine, Cocktails

A Bossa Nova, Choro or Samba band playing live acoustic music at the Bip Bip - a long-established Samba, Choro and Bossa Nova venue - in Copacabana
© John Michaels / Alamy Stock Photo

Just a wave’s splash from the ocean, this tiny hole-in-the-wall bar played a key role in Brazilian musical history. All the bossa nova greats performed here in the 1950s – from João Gilberto to Nara Leão. There’s still live music every night from some of Rio’s best artists, who gather for impromptu performances with friends. You won’t hear much bossa, though – it’s fallen out of fashion in Rio. Nowadays Bip Bip plays mostly sung samba or jazzy chorinho.

5. Visit a Feira Livre

Architectural Landmark

Outdoor food market in a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
© BiR Fotos / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

The best-value shopping in Copa? It’s at the feiras livres – or open markets – that dot the neighborhood’s streets and squares. The most celebrated is the weekday night market on the seafront between Miguel Lemos and Almirante Gonçalves streets, which begins right after sunset. There are also daily fruit, food and bric-a-brac markets, including Omulu market on Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana and Praça Bittencourt market in Bairro Peixoto. For the best buys, come late and ask for the pré-xepas, or end-of-market sell-offs.

6. Cycle along the boardwalk

Architectural Landmark

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - APRIL 24, 2015: Young Brazilian woman rides her bicycle along the boardwalk at Copacabana Beach. Rio de Janeiro , Brazia.
© Александар Тодоровић / Alamy Stock Photo

Bikes can easily be rented through hostels and hotels, and Copacabana Beach lies at the heart of a bike path that runs for 11mi (18km) along the shoreline of Guanabara Bay and the Atlantic coast, all the way from Santos Dumont airport to the far end of Ipanema. It’s a beautiful ride, especially in the early morning when it’s cool and the light is low over the ocean. But avoid cycling after dark, as sections of the route are poorly lit.

7. Play (or watch) footvolley

Sports Center

RIO DE JANEIRO - FEBRUARY 10, 2015: Young Brazilian men play a game of footvolley, a sport that combines football and volleyball
© Lazyllama / Alamy Stock Photo

Football and volleyball are Rio’s favorite beach sports. Put them together and you have futevôlei – volleyball played with all parts of the body except the arms and hands. The game is very similar to the ancient Southeast Asian sport of sepak takraw, and demands similar levels of acrobatic skill and dexterity. You can see it being played most afternoons on Copacabana Beach, or if you’re lithe enough and fancy a game, Pelé da Praia can organize one and teach you futevôlei rudiments.

8. Stroll through Parque da Chacrinha

Park

Crouching over Copacabana Beach, just five minutes’ walk from Cardeal Arcoverde metro, this little patch of Atlantic coastal rainforest is one of the oldest protected areas in the city. On an early-morning or late-afternoon stroll, you can expect to see marmoset monkeys, toucans and brilliantly colored, sparrow-sized tanagers in the trees. You’ll also find cooling springs and wonderful views of Copacabana. But always take local advice and go in a small group, as muggings are not uncommon.

9. Enjoy the view from the Arpoador

Park

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - August 10, 2019: amateur surfers having fun with small waves at arpoador beach on a sunny Saturday morning
© João Paulo Tinoco / Alamy Stock Photo

The Arpoador is one of the greatest places to surf and fish in Copacabana, but also an atmospheric spot from which to view the sea and the coastline of Copacabana. Meaning “harpoon thrower” in Portuguese, this rocky outcrop creates decent waves for surfers year-round. That’s not the only reason to come – the sunsets here are amazing, but try to get here on a weekday night, as crowds descend on the weekend.

Benjamin M. Smith contributed additional reporting to this article.

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