It’s hard to believe that it has now been years since we were reveling in the beauty of Rio de Janeiro attractions. It seems like yesterday that we were drinking caipirinhas, swaying to sultry samba beats, and bouncing from one beautiful beach to the next. Rio de Janeiro is easily one of our favorite cities we have ever visited. We loved the perfect combination of Rio’s abundant natural beauty, and enticing city vibes – not to mention the people are some of the funniest, most welcoming around.
So what is it that makes ‘The Marvelous City’ so, well, marvelous?
Here’s an introduction to our favorite Rio de Janeiro attractions — and what makes the city so unique!
The Vidigal Favela: A Welcoming Community With Spectacular Rio Views
Clockwise from Top Left: Sunrise Over Vidigal, Yoga On Our Roof, Working Online Overlooking Ipanema, The View From Our Room.
Many of the highlights of our trip to Rio de Janeiro occurred inside Vidigal. Vidigal is a pacified favela just past Ipanema Beach. While it used to be considered dangerous, today you’ll find a warm, welcoming community. We stayed in Vidigal for six weeks and felt safer here than in many other parts of Rio de Janeiro. That said, gentrification is a complicated issue, as are favela tours. For more on what it’s like to stay in Vidigal and visit the favela in an ethical way that empowers the community, read: What It’s Like To Stay In A Pacified Favela: The Highlights of Vidigal Favela in Rio de Janeiro.
Inside Vidigal, you’ll discover great restaurants and bars, spectacular views of Rio de Janeiro (in our opinion, some of the best in all of Rio), and the trailhead to one of our favorite hikes (Dois Irmaos.)
The Best Beaches In Rio de Janeiro
Clockwise from Top Left: Crowded Ipanema Beach, Relaxing With A Cold Coconut, Playa Prainha, Ipanema Looking Back At Two Brothers Mountain.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the beaches in Rio de Janeiro. Ipanema was our beach of choice as it was within walking distance of our house. We loved lazing away on the flawless golden sand beach, going for jogs on the boardwalk, and sipping caipirinhas from the beach vendors and then enjoying a sunset. Other favorite beaches in Rio de Janeiro included the iconic Copacabana, Barra de Tijuca, and Praia Vermelha.
Surfing is a huge part of the culture in Rio de Janeiro—and another reason why we spent so much time on Rio’s beaches! Dan was able to pick up a used board that he re-sold at the end of our stay, but it’s easy to rent a board from the many surf shops for shorter visits. The Arpoador (the giant rock that sticks out into the ocean between Ipanema and Copacabana) has gentle but consistent waves. We’ve heard that the locals have been standoffish of tourists taking over their waves in recent years, though, so only surf here with proper surf etiquette. Ipanema has surf breaks, though where and when depends on the tide and the day. Another stunning spot to surf is Joatinga, but know you’ll need to take a taxi or Uber to arrive, and then tackle some steep, rocky steps.
For a lesser-known and slightly more secluded beach, Praihna is an excellent choice. While others battle for a quiet sandy spot at Ipanema and Copacabana, you’ll enjoy the pristine white sand beach, perfectly turquoise water and lush surrounding mountains—all crowd-free. There are only a handful of kiosks selling food and coconuts, and renting out surfboards, so don’t expect many amenities. This is also one of Rio’s top surfing spots!
The Best Viewpoints in Rio de Janeiro
Clockwise from Top Left: Tijuca Mountain, View Of Copacabana From Urca, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ The Redeemer Statue.
We have yet to visit a city that has as many natural scenic views as Rio. Pick any one of the mountains for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding city landscape. Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer are two of the most iconic Rio de Janeiro attractions and undoubtedly worth a visit. Tijuca National Park is home to the cities highest point. Two Brothers Mountain is our favorite view, hands down. You can see all of them in our post In Search Of The Best View In Rio De Janeiro.
Public Spaces in Rio de Janeiro: An Attraction In Their Own Right!
Clockwise from Top Left: Escadaria Selaron, Surfing at Playa Vidigal, Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, Botanic Garden and Alley of Palms.
Though Rio de Janeiro is quite spread out, the number of public spaces and greenery means that Rio doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle. We loved exploring much of Rio on foot, tucking into verdant parks and colorful neighborhoods.
Tijuca Forest holds claim to the world’s largest urban forest and contains hundreds of exotic plants and wildlife species. For a man-made attraction in the park worth your while, stop by the Vista Chinesa, a gazebo boasting exquisite views of Lagoa and Ipanema.
The Botanical Gardens in Rio is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll. With elegant palms and gardens, an excellent view of Christ the Redeemer, and the occasional cheeky monkey, the botanical gardens are unlike anything elsewhere.
The Escadaria Selaron is another must-see Rio de Janeiro attraction; the colorful mosaic steps were handcrafted over 20 years ago by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. At the top of the Escadaria Selaron, you’ll find the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa and its historic 19th-century mansions, chic boutiques, cobbled streets, and puttering, old-fashioned tram.
Other Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Clockwise from Top Left: Ready For A Night On The Town, Rock Climbing Gym, Volunteers Handing Out Impenetrable Soccer Balls, The Rio Scenarium.
From dancing the night away to rock climbing to surfing to cycling to volunteering with the local after-school soccer program, there is no shortage of things in Rio de Janeiro. For a guide to some of our favorite outdoor adventures in Rio, don’t miss this post.
Rio is a city of nightlife, and one of the most photogenic spots to get your party on is, without a doubt, the Rio Scenarium. Here you’ll find three floors, each decadently decorated with interesting vintage items. Balconies overlook the dance floor on the 1st floor so you can enjoy your beverages while admiring the skilled samba dancers. The Rio Scenarium is a touristy spot, but it’s still well worth the visit and attracts local expert dancers.
Many of Rio’s best street samba parties are local affairs, tucked away in neighborhood squares. Ask around for the best spots. That said, there’s always a party happening in Lapa, where you’ll find many of Rio’s best pubs and bars. The party tends to spill out onto the street, where local caipirinha vendors can mix up watermelon, strawberry, or mango variations of the classic cocktail.
What To Eat in Rio de Janeiro
Clockwise from Top Left: Eating Acai, Street Vendor, Various Alchoholic Beverages, Fresh Salad.
I’m pretty sure my mouth has a permanent purple hue after all of the acai we had during our stay in Rio. The variety of food in Rio de Janeiro is world class. We were able to find everything from street side tapioca pancakes to colorful salads to stylish sushi restaurants. And don’t even get us started on the caipirinhas!
While you’re in Rio, don’t miss feijoada. This classic, hearty Brazilian dish typically consists of black beans, an assortment of meats, and farofa (cassava flour.)