With six million people occupying an area of 1256 square kilometers (485 square miles), Rio is the second largest city in Brazil, after the megalopolis São Paulo. The many neighborhoods of Rio lie in three major zones: the Centro, Sur and Norte or Center, South, and North respectively. The affluent South has the famous beaches, Leblon and Ipanema while the Center contains the historic Santa Teresa and Lapa neighborhoods. The Northern zone contains more suburbs and this is most likely the first stop if traveling by plane since the Galeão airport is located here. The majority of tourist attractions and trendy shopping districts are concentrated in the Center and the South.
The city center is the financial and business district of Rio, however it also contains the most historic buildings in the city. Despite the modernity and skyscrapers, you can still see the National Monument to WWII Soldiers , the Municipal Theater , the National Museum of Fine Arts , the Museum of Modern Art and the famous Sambódromo, where the Carnaval parades take place every year.
Santa Teresa & Glória
A quiet district set on a hillside, Santa Teresa is chosen by many artists as a location for their studios, and was also the hideaway of the infamous train robber Ronnie Biggs. It can be reached by car or tram, through the Lapa tramway, and has a few inexpensive restaurants and attractions like the Ruins Park, with one of the best views of the Bay, and the Museu Chácara do Ceu . The adjoining district of Glória has one of the most charming churches in Rio, the 18th-century Baroque Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro.
Flamengo & Catete
Highly populated areas, and not too expensive to live in. The Republic Museum is in Catete, the Santos Dumont Airport is at the end of the Aterro do Flamengo, closer to the center.
Laranjeiras & Cosme Velho
Mostly residential, with lots of trees and green areas. These two districts are located between Flamengo, Corcovado and the Rebouças Tunnel. The Guanabara Palace , seat of the state government, is in Laranjeiras , while closer to the entrance of the tunnel, in Cosme Velho, lie the colonial-style houses of the Largo do Boticário and the station to take the train up Corcovado Mountain.
Both a residential and business district, Botafogo is the passage between the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and the Guanabara Bay. The main attractions are the Home of Rui Barbosa, a neo-classical museum, the Indian Museum and the Museu Villa-Lobos .
Strictly residential, quiet and secluded, Urca is one of the most pleasant districts in Rio, set between Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and the 17th century São João Fort . Fishermen are also part of the scenery here, and the district is also home to the Yacht Club .
Copacabana & Leblon
With a large population, high-rises and a world-famous beach, Copacabana , hosts not only the ultra-popular New Year's fireworks display (Reveillon as it is called here), but this is where Rio struts its beautiful self. The beach is always filled with an eclectic mix of people, from soccer players to models and families. In fact Copacabana Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world, alongside its beautiful sister, Leblon. Leblon and Copacabana (including the beautiful enclave of Arpoador) have some of the most eclectic nightlife in Rio, with strip clubs, bars, and elegant restaurants and hotels, such as the Copacabana Palace Hotel . To the west, visitors will find the poverty-stricken Rocinha Favela, however, the life and fervor in these areas is displayed with the culture of a people who embody the spirit of carioca.
The definitive trend-setter in Rio, with elegant shops, restaurants and bars; home of the famous song "Girl from Ipanema", and most say the birthplace of Bossa Nova. Go down Joana Angelica street for shops and diversion, or to Arpoador Beach where you can grab a "chope" (draft beer) and try your hand at surfing.
One of the most beautiful views in Rio, with good restaurants and bars, and a few food stalls. The lake shore is also a large public sports complex with a bicycle and jogging track, tennis courts and football fields and a skateboard and roller-skate bowl. There are also some private clubs and public parks where free open-air shows and concerts are frequently staged.
Gávea and Jardim Botânico
Very sought-after residential districts, with quiet streets and lots of greenery. Gávea is the home of the Planetarium and the Parque da Cidade (City Park) with its City History Museum . The magnificent Jardim Botânico neighborhood not only contains the Botanical Garden itself, but the entire area is a natural wonder, from the Floresta da Tijuca (the world's largest urban rain forest) to the beautiful Rodrigo de Freitas lake, one could literally spend their entire vacation here!
Ensconced below the Rocinha favela and between the wealthy districts of Leblon and Barra da Tijuca, São Conrado is also filled with very expensive flats, despite its location near one of the world's largest slums. São Conrado is also the spot to hang-glide, where daredevils take off from the Pedra da Gávea and land on the beach!
Barra da Tijuca & Recreio dos Bandeirantes
The Brazilian California, with wide avenues and large condos. Barra is the home of the Chico Mendes Park , a protected area for wild animals such as birds and alligators. The largest shopping center in Rio, Barrashopping , is in Barra, as well as the Riocentro Convention Center and the motor racing track, the Autódromo Nelson Piquet, located in the outskirts of Barra, close to Jacarepaguá. The beaches in Barra are the cleanest in Rio, and have areas for surfing and scuba diving.
Floresta da Tijuca
A tropical forest in the middle of Rio. With winding roads that go through the trees and overhang more than a thousand feet, this is where the most spectacular views of the city and the sea can be seen. Besides the awesome landscape, there are some places worth visiting, like the Emperor Table, the Chinese View and the Museu Açude.
North & Suburbs
A series of industrial and residential districts, much less expensive than the South, where the Maracanã Stadium, the Zoo , the Museu Nacional , the International Airport and the Penha Church are located.
Rio's cuisine is a reflection of the people who made this city. It was first the indigenous peoples such as the Tupi and Guaraní who imparted their culinary impressions, then colonization from Europeans brought many African slaves as well as their own recipes. During the 20th Century, more Japanese, Germans and Italians contributed the gifts from their respective kitchens to this gastronomic melting pot.
Additionally, in Rio you can find each kitchen from everywhere in Brazil presented differently, like exotic seafood from the Amazon, spicy dishes from the Northeast, country cooking in Minas Gerais and barbecue from the South. The feijoada, usually made on Wednesdays and Saturdays, is one of the most popular dishes in Brazil and it is almost always served with a side of Farofa (toasted manioc). Within the botecos and restaurants, from the simple to the upscale, you will surrender to the flavors, aromas and colors of Rio's cuisine. Bom apetite!
In the historic heart of the city, the restaurants in the center are packed at lunch hour due to their proximity to business interests. The most crowded ones combine the ubiquitous prato feito (fixed plate) alongside the more typical Rio staple, Galeto (roast chicken plate with vegetables). Street food can also be found everywhere at reasonable prices. Some accessible spots such as Mr. Ôpi , O Navegador, and Esch Cafe are all great choices while sight-seeing in the center. For a more upscale lunch, perhaps accompanied by wine, try Cafe Laguiolle or its neighbor Giuseppe . If you would prefer a taste of Rio from the past, go up the elevator at Albamar or have some tea in the traditional Confeitaria Colombo .
Glória, Catete & Flamengo
Moving out from the center, the quayside district of Glória does not party as hard as the other beaches do, however, one restaurant that merits attention is the Casa da Suíça , a favorite spot for fondue lovers. In the working-class district of Flamengo, Cafe Lamas is one of the vestigial bohemian places from another era. If you are looking for a well-priced churrasco or barbecue, try the Catete Grill in the historical district of the same name.
Copacabana & Leme
From the sophisticated Le Saint Honore and Cipriani to the exquisite Le Pre Catelan , the visitor can find excellent Brazilian cuisine along the Avenida Atlântica on Copacabana Beach. On the beautiful outpost of Arpoador, Siri Mole displays the best of churrasco. For seafood lovers, the popular Marius regales diners with gifts from the sea, and bars with plenty of "chope" (draft beer) like Bar do Teatro are always open in the hip little district of Leme.
Ipanema & Leblon
In these districts, you will find some of the most creative establishments, such as Le Panetier , which has a New York type of atmosphere, or Garcia e Rodrigues with its refined French flair and Celeiro , a tasty health-food eatery. Leblon also has many street vendors, where you'll find everything from fluffy pão de queijo (cheese bread) to delicious ice cream made with fruits you can only begin to pronounce at Picole de Morais. For more traditional Portuguese cooking, Antiquarius provides the best from the Old country. For the more adventurous, try Arataca , a small place that features the best of the Amazon. With names of fish like tucunare, pirarucu and tambaqui, don't worry, they are easier to digest than their moniker. Rio also represents the world, and one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city is Madame Butterfly . On your way back from the beach, be sure to stop at Bar Bracarense , a typical Brazilian boteco that's famous for its chope and appetizers.
Botafogo, Lagoa & Jardim Botânico
These districts have recently gained many new good restaurants, including the traditional Portuguese spot, Aurora . If it's brilliant French cuisine you're looking for, some can be found beneath the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer's statue at Carême or Troigros . The younger set prefers the busy places on J.J. Seabra Street like Caroline Cafe . Across the street, you'll find Quadrifoglio and its sophisticated Italian kitchen. For dessert, try the exotic fruit and ice cream shop called, Mil Frutas .
Gávea & São Conrado
These are essentially residential areas with wonderful options frequented mostly by locals. Guimas draws a beautiful, sophisticated crowd that appreciates equally sophisticated cuisine. Teenagers and the young at heart (and stomach) adore the burgers at Joe & Leo's .
Barra, Vargem Grande & Guaratiba
Getting away from the city does not mean leaving good food behind. In the seaside paradise of Barra, you find the only Creole restaurant in Rio, La Louisiane . Some kilometers away, Vargem Grande has several restaurants that are worth the visit, like Quinta . Much further on, amongst the mangrove shores of Guaratiba are hidden such rustic delights as Cesar.
Of course, there are many more regions and exceptional dining places to explore in and around this city. The trip could go on and on as you marvel at the fruits, flora and fauna in this country.
The roots of Rio are in its center. In the heart of the city, office buildings and streets abuzz with workers and chaotic traffic conceal traces of the colonial era to be found in its churches, public buildings, sobrados (houses of two or more stories) and narrow alleys. The area referred to as Centro, or Cidade, is vast. Three full days would be necessary to get to know it completely, but a tentative first exploration could start at the very center of Centro, the Praça XV de Novembro , and proceed to Morro de São Bento. Located at Praça Quinze (XV), the Paço Imperial , built in 1743 to house the first provincial government, is presently a cultural center that features exhibitions, shops and restaurants. While you are in the square, admire the beautifully carved Chafariz do Mestre Valentim, a public fountain built in 1780 on the former footings of the old docks. Where you are standing used to be sea! Cross the square, passing under the Arco do Teles , and head to Travessa do Comercio, an example of old Rio, filled with colonial sobrados. Further on, you will find the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores, a recently restored church and truly a jewel of baroque architecture. Still on the Travessa do Comercio, you will see on your right the Casa França-Brasil , the old customs house, and, on your left, the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil , the biggest bank in Latin America. Don't forget to visit the famed Arcos da Lapa in the bohemian district of Lapa. The Carioca River is where this aqueduct used to get its water and the name “Carioca” is a synonymous with the inhabitants of this “cidade maravilhosa” or marvelous city. Head towards the Carioca underground station, taking Rua Senador Dantas, and you will reach the departure point of the Bonde de Santa Tereza, a tram that will take you to an area considered by many to be Rio's Montmartre. Occasionally, an art festival takes place here called the "Santa Tereza de portas abertas," where many artists show their works and studios. The tram ride is a joy and is like taking a step back in time. Stroll along the streets, noticing the traditional houses of Santa Tereza, and think about the days of yore. There are also many interesting restaurants in Santa Tereza, such as Adega do Pimenta and Bar do Arnaudo . After lunch, don't miss Museu da Chácara do Ceu and its neighbour, Parque das Ruínas, where there are art exhibits and shows. If the evening is coming on and you are still up there, stay and watch the sunset. It's an unforgettable experience to see the Guanabara Bay changing colors and the city lights coming out like stars when the night finally falls. If you are learning Portuguese or would like to find out more about the cities, the culture and daily Brazilian life, the Saraiva Megastore on Rua Ouvidor is a must see, with over 100,000 different products, you're bound to find something.
After leaving the cultural centre, on Avenida Presidente Vargas, the big church you see on the left is Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Candelária , the biggest colonial church in Rio, founded in 1609 by Portuguese immigrants. Next stop: Mosteiro de São Bento . The walk is a little longer and you will have to climb a steep street since the monastery is on top of a hill of the same name. But the effort is worth it. A UNESCO World Heritage Monument, the austere, simple and mannerist façade belies the magnificent carvings of the interior in baroque and rococo styles. On Sundays, the ecstasy of devotion expressed in the wooden artwork is matched by the sound of Gregorian chants.
Leblon , Ipanema and Copacabana
Squeezed between the ocean and the mountains, the city spreads westward, and you will not be disappointed if you follow this route. To really enjoy the tour, rent a car. The neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema have two of the world's most recognized beaches and are excellent place to people watch. In Ipanema, you can stop by at the Garota de Ipanema and have some cachaça , a sugar cane liquor that is used in the drink “caipirinha”. This is where the famous song “The girl from Ipanema” was written. Ipanema Beach is one of the most exclusive areas of the city, but remains a bohemian area away from the hustle and bustle downtown. For some authentic Brazilian fare, go to the Casa da Feijoada and enjoy what could be called Brazil's national dish. Feijoada is a stew usually made with vegetables, a type of meat, (preferably lingüiça, Portuguese sausage) and beans. Don't forget to ask for a chope (pronounced show-pee), which is an unpasteurized beer served right from the tap and a local favorite. Copacabana is a neighborhood that explains what the “carioca” attitude is about. This area is a microcosm of the entirety of Brazil, there are residents from Bahia, Minas Gerais, Acre, Sergipe among other regions in Brazil and it is seen in the diversity of faces. You can see the postcard perfect Pão de Açúcar or “sugar loaf mountain” in Copacabana and take a tram up to the top to get a bird's-eye view of Botafogo beach and the bay of Guanabara. During Reveillon and Carnaval, this is where the majority of inhabitants congregate and another added benefit is that both of these festivals take place in the summer months of January and February. From Copacabana, you can also go and directly see one of the iconic images of Rio, at the top of Corcovado stands “Cristo Redentor” or Christ the Redeemer with his outstretched arms cradling the city. From the top of this hill, just behind Copacabana is the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas , a large now, artificial lake in the middle of the city. Take a paddleboat or grab some oars and enjoy some tranquility outside of the boisterous beaches and surrounding urbanity. Another area even more expensive than Ipanema is Leblon , named after a Frenchman called “Le Blond”, it generally is where the jet-set crowd hangs out. When the visitor is in this area, there is an admittedly more budget friendly plaza called Cobal do Leblon , here the drinks and food are cheaper. At the end of Leblon Beach, take Avenida Niemeyer and the seaside drive running alongside the Pedra da Gávea mountain, where the sea-breeze holds aloft a polka-dot pattern of hang gliders in the sky. During the drive, which takes about 40 minutes, you will pass the Favela da Roçinha , the largest shantytown in South America, this area contains more than 80,000 residents tucked upon a hill between the chic neighborhoods of São Conrado and Gávea. If you would like more insight into the daily life of these denizens, there are tours offered daily by knowledgeable guides and are generally safe. On your way, if you happen to fancy a round of golf, head north towards the Gávea Golf Country Club , rated as one of the top 50 places to golf in the world. Travelling along this route, pay attention to how the street changes from Avenida Niemeyer to Mendes de Moraes then to Elevada das Bandeiras and so forth. Finally, you will arrive in Barra da Tijuca .
Barra da Tijuca
In Barra, as it is commonly known, many say this is the Miami Beach of Brazil, and if you continue along Avenida Sernambetiba, you will see why. This avenue runs along the coastline and it seems as it never ends. There is plenty to do here, from shopping to dining. For the football enthusiast, go and watch a game in Laranjeiras stadium, home to the Fluminense Football Club , here people take their soccer seriously and if you happen to mention rival Botafogo, please do so in a derogatory way. And the same goes while you are in the Botafogo neighborhood. For shopaholics there is the Barra Shopping Square , one of the largest in South America with more than 500 shops. For nature lovers, visit the Parque Ecológico Municipal de Marapendi and observe some wildlife. From here another economic alternative is to go on a catamaran and sail on the Atlantic with the Catamarã pela Barra da Tijuca. “Velejando” as it is called in Brasil is a pastime in this area.
After departing from Barra and past Recreio de Bandeirantes, you will reach Estrada da Pedra da Guaratiba, where the Sítio Burle Marx is located. Previously named Sítio Santo Antônio da Bica, it was bought in 1949 by landscape architect and artist Roberto Burle Marx, who transformed the site into an ecological sanctuary for more than 3,500 tropical and semitropical plant species. When you get here, head to the reception room where the 90-minute guided tour begins. As well as the gorgeous gardens, don't miss the Santo Antônio Chapel, built in the 17th century, and Burle Marx´s atelier-residence, which houses artworks by Burle Marx himself and a collection of glasses, baroque images, pre-Columbian pottery and ancient Brazilian ceramics. After the visit, cross the gate and the road to the restaurant Cesar, owned by and named after Marx's former cook. Sit at one of the outside tables and, while waiting for your seafood, taste a genuine caipirinha. Not far from Cesar is the Casa do Pontal , the largest museum of Brazilian folk art, exhibiting about 5,000 sculptures by more than 200 artists from every region of the country. By now, the afternoon is drawing to a close. If you want to see even more art, go to Prainha, sit down and watch the orange sunset, the blue ocean and the green hills.
Floresta da Tijuca and Jardim Botânico
When you picture yourself in Rio, you see the beach in the summer, the blue ocean, the sun. But nature in Rio is not just the ocean. The city has the biggest urban forest in the world, with a varied fauna and flora and, best of all, lots of shade and cool air. So, wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and don't forget your camera. We are going to explore the woods! On top of Corcovado , enjoy the panoramic view of the city far below you and see if you can spot a place you recognize. Recovering your breath after so much beauty—and so many steps—continue the tour by heading to Paineiras , a road closed to cars on weekends, where you can walk, jog, or ride your bike peacefully. The road ends at Alto da Boa Vista, where you will find the main entrance to the Parque Nacional & Floresta da Tijuca . Stop at the parking lot near the waterfall and take a look at the map. There are many interesting places to visit and you can either walk or drive. The rain forest is the largest urban reserve in the world and is filled with waterfalls, creeks and natural beauty. Afterwards, for a bit of culture, take the exit that leads to the road for the Museu do Açude. This beautiful residence contains many interesting objects and tiles or “azulejos” reminiscent of the old country, Portugal. From there, follow the road to Vista Chinesa , and on the way, you will pass by Mesa do Imperador. Keep going down, until you reach Jardim Botânico, another urban oasis which contains more than 6,000 plant species and is a favorite among the Cariocas. Time for lunch yet? Two great nearby options are Couve-flor and Delírio Tropical . After the meal stroll leisurely down the tranquil paths of the botanical garden. Do visit the orchid greenhouse and don't forget to stop and smell the roses.
The day couldn't have been more refreshing, but you still have to taste the fruit ice-creams made by Mil Frutas , or maybe have an ice-cold beer at Caroline Cafe . Or have some coffee at Ponte de Tábuas bookstore, or just browse the quaint things for sale at the neighboring garage sale. After all, you're back to civilization!
Arts and Culture
Rio began to fall in love with art while it was still a colony. Theaters, museums and a national library were created and the tradition continued even after the republic replaced the monarchy. Today, the museums in Rio house incredible temporary exhibits and permanent collections from collections all over the world.
One of the most complete modern art collections is shown at the MAM , the Museum of Modern Art, which is located in Parque do Flamengo amidst recently-restored gardens designed by Burle Marx. From MAM, walk towards Cinelândia and you will find a beautiful collection of buildings with European-influenced architecture: the Teatro Municipal , the Museu Nacional de Belas-Artes and the Biblioteca Nacional .
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Hang Gliding Tours
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