The Best Things to See and Do in Ipanema, Rio De Janeiro

Arpoador is a popular surfing spot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Arpoador is a popular surfing spot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | © Alexandre Rotenberg / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Sarah Brown
3 August 2021

For glamour and beauty, Copacabana has always hogged the limelight. But, actually, Ipanema is beginning to steal the stage. Which is no great surprise, when you consider its younger crowd, sensational nature views and fantastic bars and restaurants. To make the most of your time here, start with our lowdown on the top things to do and see in this Rio de Janeiro neighborhood.

Museo do Amanha

Building, Museum
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Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava's designed, The Museum of Tomorrow, Puerto Maravilha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
© Andy Caulfield / Alamy Stock Photo
It looks like a spaceship from a Seventies science-fiction film: architect Santiago Calatrava’s brilliant-white environmental museum, hovering over a reflecting pool on the edge of the shimmering blue Guanabara Bay in Central Rio. With such a jaw-dropping exterior, the exhibits have to work hard to compete. They are poignant indeed, comprising interactive displays charting the damage humans have inflicted on the planet as well as possible solutions. The museum is one of several in a cafe-and-arts area that was revamped for the 2016 Olympics.

Jiu-Jitsu

Sports Center
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Brazil is known worldwide for its first-rate martial champions, and, while you’re here, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to give it a whirl. In Ipanema, look for the Jiu-Jitsu school called Brazilian Black Belt. It offers regular classes and is more than happy to welcome drop-ins. The instructors speak Portuguese, English and Spanish and offer classes for beginners up to more advanced. Even if you don’t get the hang of it, Jiu-Jitsu is a great way of immersing yourself in a special aspect of Brazil’s culture. And, of course, you’ll get some serious exercise, too.

Mirante do Leblon viewpoint

Natural Feature
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Beautiful view to people enjoying the ocean view from Mirante do Leblon, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Built around rainforest-swathed hills and half-moon beaches, Rio is a city of stunning views. Few visions are better than the twin beaches of Leblon and Ipanema, though, spread at your feet in a lazy 6km (4mi) crescent, with the hulk of Sugar Loaf Mountain crouching in the distance. The viewpoint is off the international tourist map, but every local cab driver knows how to find it: on Avenida Niemeyer, it’s a five-minute drive from the end of Leblon Beach.

The Hippie Market

Market, Historical Landmark
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Handbags made out of ring pulls from cans, seed jewelry, hammocks and beach shawls patterned with Rio’s famous wavy black-and-white pavement – you’ll find all these and more at the “hippie market” held each Sunday on General Osório Square in Ipanema. There’s food, too – ranging from açaí-berry sorbet to fresh tropical juices and even draught Brazilian pilsner. And, even if you don’t want to buy or browse, it’s a great place to people-watch en route to the beach.

The Beach

Natural Feature
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Ipanema, Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
© Olivia Nitaji / Alamy Stock Photo

With Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Peak) at the far end, and a great expanse of blue Atlantic Ocean in between, it’s easy to see why the beautiful beach in Ipanema attracts such a crowd. At the weekend, things can spiral into a bit of a frenzy, yet this beachy hustle and bustle is always friendly. Cariocas – as the people of Rio are called – go to painstaking lengths to top up their tans, taking regular breaks to plunge into the waves, in between enjoying a kicky caipirinha cocktail or two.

Galeria Cafe

Music Venue
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This small arcade, right off the LGBT rainbow patch at Ipanema Beach, is as colorful and capricious as a chameleon. By day, it’s a cafe, a modish pop-up shop (selling everything from bikinis to jewelry), an extemporary art gallery and a part-time performance space. By night, it’s a sweaty, throbbing club, attracting tanned and well-toned members of Rio’s lively gay scene. The DJs and caipirinhas (made with all manner of exotic fruits, rums, vodkas and sakes) are the best in Ipanema.

Sunset at Arpoador

Park
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RIO DE JANEIRO - People on the rocks at Arpoador jostle for position to view the sunset at Two Brothers Mountain:
© Lazyllama / Alamy Stock Photo

The sun shimmers off the waves rolling in, silhouetting the domes of Two Brothers Mountain and slowly turning the long crescent of Ipanema Beach golden brown. Sitting on the Arpoador rocks at the end of the day and absorbing the view is a Rio ritual. You can’t miss the viewpoint – the rocks jut out from the northern end of Ipanema. Our only advice is to leave valuables behind, and don’t stay after dark, as theft is common.

Surfing

Sports Center
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Surf in Arpoador beach in Ipanema Rio de Janeiro. Image shot 06/2017. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

In Rio de Janeiro, people love to surf – and, to get a feel for it, you can’t beat a session on the swell at Arpoador. Sound out a reputable establishment – say, Escola de Surf Arpoador – and be prepared to begin lessons at the crack of dawn. That way, you’ll get to practice on small but perfect early-morning waves. Lessons are organized for all levels, from beginners all the way up to advanced surfers. Equipment is included in the price, and there’ll be no language issues, as the instructors speak English.

Canastra Bar

Bar, Brazilian, $$$
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Oenophiles should make straight for this spot in Ipanema – it’s famed for an excellent wine selection, not to mention great cheese to accompany it. It’s a tiny place, but that doesn’t stop people massing here every weekend, spilling out onto the streets to drink and chat ar fresco. Top tip: order some of the canastra cheese, after which the bar is named. It’s a light, soft and delicious Brazilian number. And a diary date for romantics: on Tuesdays, they serve fresh oysters, which is why the bar is as rammed as it is on a weekend.

Casa da Feijoada

Restaurant, Brazilian, $$$
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Ipanema Neighbourhood-Rio De Janiero-Brazil-Costa
Filipe Costa / | © Culture Trip
Brazil’s national dish – according to local Cariocas, if no one else – is feijoada, a thick meat-and-bean stew served with slices of orange, spring greens, manioc flour and lashings of cachaça sugar-cane rum. Gathering to eat it communally, over long hours and much chat, is Rio’s answer to the British Sunday roast. And, if you’re not there on a Sunday? No problem, the Casa da Feijoada serves the dish daily. Come with a very empty stomach and without vegetarian friends.

Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on August 3, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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