This post was last updated on March 19th, 2015
It’s hardly any wonder why the Portuguese first called Rio de Janeiro ‘La Cidade Maravilhosa’.
Shooting up between golden sand beaches and lofty green mountains, Rio de Janeiro is certainly a marvelous sight to behold. But while it’s possible to take in the beauty of the city from any of its vastly different neighborhoods, beaches or gardens, there’s no doubt about it: the brilliance of Rio is best appreciated when viewed from above.
Luckily there are plenty of mountains and lookouts across the city that offer panoramic views of Rio de Janiero. We made it our personal mission to tackle as many as possible and then report back to the blog with our findings.
So where is the best view in Rio de Janeiro? First, let’s have a look at the contenders:
Quite possibly the most accessible view in Rio, the Arpoador is a giant rock that juts out into the ocean between Copacabana and Ipanema Beach. It’s best to go here after a long day of surfing or sunbathing to join the locals as they watch the sun set behind the hills.
Walk along the pedestrian path that runs parallel to Ipanema Beach towards Copacabana (or reversely down Copacabana towards Ipanema). Trust me when I say you’ll see it.
This View in Rio Costs:
Absolutely nothing, though we recommend getting a fresh coconut from one of the beachside vendors to enjoy with your evening view.
Two Brothers Mountain (Dois Irmãos)
Just five years ago it likely wouldn’t have been possible to do this hike if you weren’t a resident of the Vidigal favela, but now tourists shouldn’t worry about coming to explore. (We rented a room in Vidigal for six weeks, and we’ll be writing all about the pacification and gentrification of the favela in a few weeks.) To access this view, you must take a steep trail beginning in the back of Vidigal. The hike is short but intense; if you’re fit it will take around 45 minutes to an hour, but you’ll be sweating like crazy long before you make it to the top. However, the reward is well worth the effort. From the top of the mountain you’ll have absolutely amazing views over Rio, including the areas around Leblon and Ipanema. This is another great view to time with the sunset or—if you’re bold and ambitious enough—the sunrise. Descending down the back of the mountain you’ll also have the opportunity to view Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil.
To Get This View of Rio:
If you’d like to conquer the mountain from sea level, start at the end of Leblon near beach post 12. Walk up Niemeyer Road, past the Sheraton, until you reach your first stoplight. Here, turn right into Vidigal. Then you have a long walk straight up through the favela. Ask the locals or the police stations where you can find the entrance to Dois Irmãos—everyone knows and will be more than happy to point you in the correct direction. Alternatively you can take a guided tour.
This View in Rio Goes for:
Free or the cost of a tour
Urca and Sugarloaf Mountain
Morro de Urca and Sugarloaf Mountain are in the heart of Rio and offer spectacular panoramic views of the entire city. Two separate gondola rides take you from Praia Vermelha to Morro de Urca (220 meters high) and then on to Sugarloaf (528 meters high). Each ride lasts about 3 minutes, and the cable cars have 360-degree windows looking out over Copacabana, Botafogo, Corcovado, Guanabara Bay, Downtown Rio, and the Rio-Niteroi Bridge. You’ll have to share the mountains and gondolas with heaps of other people, but it’s hardly any wonder why. The views here are nothing less than awe-inspiring, and there are numerous vantage points around the mountains that offer unique views of Rio and the surrounding seascape.
To Get This View of Rio:
There are a handful of guided tours available that will pick you up at your hotel and take you to Morro de Urca and Sugarloaf, pointing out various highlights of the city center along the way. If you’re pressed for time and want to see a lot of Rio in a little bit of time, this is the best way to go. Taxis are not all that cheap and traffic along Ipanema and in the center of Rio can be a nightmare. We were invited by Viator to participate in their guided tour to Sugarloaf Mountain, and we were very glad that we did. Along the drive, iconic sights such as the Sambodromo, the Theatro Municipal and the conical Catedral Metropolitana were pointed out and explained to us. But perhaps the best part of going with a tour was that when we arrived at Morro de Urca we didn’t have to wait in line, but were promptly handed our gondola tickets and able to immediately begin our exploration of the two lookout points. We had plenty of time to independently snap photographs and enjoy the view before being returned to our hotel.
It is also possible to take a bus to Praia Vermelha and purchase a gondola ticket independently. It was once possible to hike up Morro de Urca by foot and take the cable car the rest of the way for free, but now you must display a ticket whenever you want to ride the gondola, going up or down. You can still hike up Morro de Urca, but you will also need to hike down.
For those seeking a bit more adventure there are rock-climbing tours that climb the face of Sugarloaf Mountain up to the very top. We had hopes that we would be in good enough shape to do this before we left, but unfortunately it just didn’t happen. Luckily, our tour with Viator was the perfect alternative.
This View of Rio Goes for:
Tours vary but typically cost about $77 USD. A gondola ticket to the top of Sugarloaf costs R$62 for adults and R$31 for ages 6-21.
Tijuca National Park
The Tijuca National Park is an urban forest that was previously cleared and used for growing coffee and sugar. The area was reclaimed and replanted after environmental concerns in the second half of the 19th century. The vegetation is now so dense that scientists estimate the temperature in the surrounding areas have declined by up to 9 degrees Celsius as a result. The park also contains hundreds of species of plants and wildlife, including the adorable and curious coati. The highest peak inside the National Park (and Rio’s highest mountain) is not surprisingly named Tijuca Peak. There are two lookouts on the trail leading up to the point. The first one is named Tijuca Mirim Peak and boasts unobstructed views of Downtown Rio, including the newly renovated Maracanã Stadium where the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final was held. About 10 minutes and a harrowing exposed climb later is the Tijuca Peak. The views at the later are actually not quite as good, but you’ll be able to boast that you made it to the top.
To Get to This View of Rio:
Take a taxi from the city and ask for Parque Nacional da Tijuca. Ask the driver to take you all the way to the top—it’s a long way from the entrance of the park to the trailhead, though admittedly we did decide to walk it all ourselves. Though the hike arrives at the highest peak, the climb is actually not all that difficult.
This View of Rio Goes for:
There is no fee to enter the park, but a taxi from Copacabana will run around R$60.
Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado Mountain)
You see it and instantly you know you’ve arrived in Rio de Janeiro. There are few more iconic statues than Christ the Redeemer, the 38-meter high replica of Christ watching over the city and visible from nearly every corner. To be honest, we never made it to the top of Corcovado Mountain to get up close and personal with the Redeemer ourselves. We saved the outing for the end of our stay in Rio, which was then of course full of cloudy and rainy days obstructing any view at all. At least we now have an excuse to make it back to Rio.
To Get To This View of Rio:
A popular route is via the scenic Corcovado Railway. The 20-minute train ride takes you through another area of the Tijuca National Park. For a quicker ride there are official vans that carry people straight to the top. Lastly, there are several hiking trails that lead to Christ the Redeemer. The main trail begins in the Botanical Gardens in Parque Lage and takes about 2 hours through the National Park.
This View of Rio Goes for:
The Corcovado Railway is R$46 for adults, R$23 for children. The van to the top goes for around R$25.
So those are the contenders, which brings us back to our initial question: where is the best view in Rio de Janeiro?
Honestly, it’s impossible to say. Each vantage point offers its own unique perspective of la Cidade Maravilhosa, and the journeys to the top of each point are different enough to keep things interesting. But while we say do as many as your itinerary allows, make sure you don’t miss Sugarloaf Mountain and Two Brothers Mountain. The two complement each other nicely, and together provide some of the best photo ops in all of Rio.
Have you been to Rio? Where was your favorite view? Which one looks and sounds the most appealing to you?