Rio de Janeiro has hosted some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events in the past couple of years, with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and now the Olympic Games gaining the world’s attention. Yet, the Brazilian city is known for more than sport. It is also known for its nightlife, party culture and friendly locals, called Cariocas, with an amazing backdrop of white, sandy beaches, a jungle in the city and views of the Atlantic Ocean from bars perched on mountain tops. Add to that the botanical gardens and museums and Rio is a magical spot all types of travellers. Here are some top Rio experiences outside of the Olympics.
Rio has a great sense of style that is found across luxury boutique hotels, designer restaurants and, of course, fashion designers. Design legends like Oscar Niemeyer, Sergio Rodrigues and fashion brothers David and Simao Azulay from Blue Man are some of the amazing talents hailing from Rio.
Pop into Blue Man to buy fashionable shorts and sunglasses by Rio’s leading designers. The Gavea neighbourhood is the place for home stylists looking for printed tablecloths and other local designs, whereas the Humaita neighbourhood is where the locals go for Brazilian arts and crafts.
For bargains, there are a handful of great markets throughout the week selling antiques, souvenirs and other knick-knacks. Feira Hippie de Ipanema is one of the biggest street markets, selling anything from artwork to jewellery and other crafts. For a more upscale market, visit Babilonia Feira Hype for designer crafts.
You can’t go to Rio and not see its most iconic, albeit touristy, sights. The Christ the Redeemer statue sits atop Corcovado mountain and is one of the best attractions in the world to see up close. You can take the cable car up the mountain but if you’re afraid of heights, Hotel Fasano at Ipanema Beach has great views of the statue on a clear night.
For other great sites around Rio, don't forget Sugarloaf Mountain, which also has a cable car to the top for great views of the city, as well as trails for those who want to stretch their legs after the steep ride. The botanical gardens are a nice spot for flower lovers. With more than 8,000 plant species and 600 species of orchids, the garden is both meditative and relaxing.
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There are many great museums around the city for history buffs and art lovers. The Museum of Art (Museu de Arte do Rio) not only has great classic and contemporary arts from local artists but also great views of the Guanabara Bay. One piece not to miss is the Projeto Morrinho, a giant model of the favelas of Rio.
The Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum is designed by famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and is worth a trip just to see the building that sits on a cliff above the beach. The museum’s permanent collection was created by Brazilian private collector Joao Sattamini, who has one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world.
For Nature Lovers
Rio has some of the most iconic beaches in the world. At the top of the list are Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, which are fun, touristy and full of life, even in winter.
For the trekkers, you can hike up Corcovado from Parque Lage but it is not for the faint-hearted. The trail is about 2.5 kilometres and takes about three hours. Return via a van down.
For families, the Lagoa neighbourhood, which is centred around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, is a good option. Rent a paddle boat, take a stroll, or try a bike ride before grabbing a bite at one of the laid-back restaurants, such as cult favourite Olympe from celebrity chef Claude Troisgros.
For Culture Seekers
Rio's neighbourhoods each have a distinctive feel. Lapa is famous for its bohemian culture, architecture and music. Affectionately known as the soul of Rio, Lapa's nightclubs pump with Brazil’s signature rhythms, choro, forro and samba. During the day, look out for the famous tiled Selaron Steps and colourful graffiti in between antique shops.
Wealthy Santa Teresa neighbourhood has great galleries and artist's studios. Pop into one of the many great cafes and restaurants, such as cheap-and-cheerful Bar do Mineiro, for great drinks and food, with some serious Brazilian hospitality.