Best Things To Do in Rio de Janeiro

When you think of Rio de Janeiro, samba, soccer, beaches and, of course, Christ the Redeemer come to mind. The time has come to discover its essence during your trip. Let's go!

Rocío Villaescusa

Rocío Villaescusa

9 min read

Best Things To Do in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro | Florencia Potter

Rio de Janeiro is a city of experiences and places. It is not the typical destination of monuments and history. Getting to know the city means soaking up its customs, its life and its flavor. And you will understand why when you see how many things there are to do in Rio!

Besides the Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer, it is impossible not to see a soccer match at the Maracana stadium. Nor can you leave without visiting some of its favela neighborhoods, taking a tour to explore its beaches and bays, hiking through its stunning natural surroundings, or tasting (even cooking) its exquisite gastronomy.

1. Discover the Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer| ©Jass Hop
Christ the Redeemer| ©Jass Hop

Christ the Redeemer is undoubtedly the biggest icon of Rio de Janeiro (I would even dare to say of Brazil), and is an essential stop if you visit Rio. To get there and get to know it, you have several options. Read on and I'll tell you more.

Don't miss anything with a guided tour

The major points of interest in the area are the Selarón, Book the Christ the Redeemer and the Christ the Redeemer tour. With a complete tour with local guide included, you will have transportation, the cable car ride, and even a delicious lunch at a barbecue! Of course, to choose this option, you have to reserve a whole day.

Ride up to Christ the Redeemer on the cogwheel train

If you prefer to visit this famous monument without investing a full day of travel, I recommend you to book your tickets for the rack train that will take you to Christ the Redeemer. This way, the access will be comfortable and fast, and you will have more time to enjoy the magnificent views.

Flying over the Sugarloaf

Speaking of views, you can literally fly over them in the cable car that links the Sugar Loaf to Morro da Urca. Book your ticket and access with a flexible schedule so you can go without rushing during your visit.

Book your tickets to the Sugarloaf Mountain cableway

2. Tour the favela neighborhoods

Favelas of Vidigal| ©Bernie GALLIMAGES
Favelas of Vidigal| ©Bernie GALLIMAGES

You may have heard of the favelas, but you may not know what you can find in these Brazilian neighborhoods. If you want to get to know the street life of Rio de Janeiro, you can take guided tours through some of these neighborhoods. I recommend three of the best favela tours for you to choose which one you would like to take during your trip:

  • Vidigal favelas tour: If you are visiting the Vidigal favela, you have the perfect opportunity to also hike the Two Brothers hill. If you feel like setting aside a day to wander and enjoy nature in equal parts, this tour is perfect.

With it, you'll have a guide to accompany you through the Vidigal neighborhood, and then you'll enjoy the area's wildlife as you hike up the hill.

With this guided tour, you can discover all the spots that appear in it, and you'll love its handicraft stores, colorful houses and urban art.

  • Book the Rocinha favelas tour: To get to know the most human side of Rio, I recommend you to visit the Rocinha favela. By booking a guided tour through its streets, you can learn first-hand about the educational projects being developed here, talk to its neighbors, and wander among breathtaking views.

3. Vibrate with Brazilian soccer in Maracana

Inside the Maracanã| ©Bruno Ramos
Inside the Maracanã| ©Bruno Ramos

To enjoy Rio de Janeiro at its most soccer-loving, you have two mutually compatible options: visit the Maracanã stadium and experience a soccer match in the stadium itself or in the Nilton Santos stadium.

Pelé, Romario, Ronaldo... Brazilian soccer has the most outstanding stars of international soccer, so watching their teams live is a spectacular experience.

The Maracana Stadium is the largest in Brazil, so even if you only visit it when there is no match, it is already an experience worth booking in your travel agenda.

On the other hand, the Olympic Stadium Nilton Santos is known as the Botafogo. It is not as famous as the Maracana, but it hosts some of the most relevant soccer matches in the city, so it is also interesting to see if during your trip there is a match in this stadium.

Speaking of sports, if you are a big soccer fan, don't miss the Flamengo Museum. Walk through the history of the Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, one of the most famous in Brazil.

Get your tickets for a soccer match

4. Shake your hips at a samba school

Carnival carousel| ©Jonas de Carvalho
Carnival carousel| ©Jonas de Carvalho

Are you going to visit Rio de Janeiro during Carnival? Of course, it's a great time to come. And the fact is that watching the Samba School Carnival parade is one of the most impressive experiences that Rio and Brazil have to offer.

If you have seen pictures of this parade, it is not only a unique dance show in the world. The floats that parade will leave you speechless, I assure you, join the Carnival and celebrate it like a Brazilian!

Reserve your tickets for the Carnival Parade

5. Dare to go paragliding or hang-gliding

Paragliding in Rio| ©Bert
Paragliding in Rio| ©Bert

If you are going to share this trip with someone special and you are adventurous, I have the perfect plan for you. There's only one thing you have to choose: paragliding or hang gliding. I'll tell you more!

The perfect paragliding tandem

Earlier I told you about flying over Rio de Janeiro with the Sugarloaf cable car, but this? This is another level. Dare to fly over Rio de Janeiro by paragliding, enjoy the views and take pictures and videos as a souvenir of this incredible experience. Don't worry, you will have a flight instructor who will help you with everything so that you only have to worry about enjoying every second of the flight.

Feel free to hang glide

If paragliding doesn't convince you, you have the option of hang gliding! This experience departs from the Tijuca Forest, and during the flight you will have unique views of the Rocinha favela, Christ the Redeemer or the Atlantic Forest. Impressive, isn't it?

Hang gliding over Rio de Janeiro

6. Taste and cook

Food in Brazil| ©Riotur.Rio
Food in Brazil| ©Riotur.Rio

Tasting the local gastronomy during a trip is easy, but do you dare to cook? You can take a crash course in Brazilian cuisine with a master class where you will learn how to cook 6 classic Brazilian dishes, which you will then try with some caipirinhas. Ready to put on your cooking apron?

Book a Brazilian cooking class

7. Take a very tropical hiking tour

Hiking in Rio| ©Elias Rovielo
Hiking in Rio| ©Elias Rovielo

If you don't want to miss the opportunity to connect with nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, your perfect plan is a hiking tour. I'm going to make a few recommendations, and choose the one that most catches your attention, they are all beautiful!

Dare with the rainforest

Get your explorer side ready for the Tijuca Rainforest Excursion. 4 hours, a jeep, and the largest urban forest in the world, doesn't it sound like the perfect plan? Cachoeira de Macacos, Vista Chinesa or the Atlantic Forest are some of the places you will visit in this excursion where the fauna and flora are the protagonists.

A route not to lose altitude

If you are more into mountains and climbing, I also have a plan for you. Spend a day touring Pedra da Gávea climbing up to 844 meters. From the top, you'll see a breathtaking view of Rio de Janeiro that will take your breath away (although that may also be partly because of the hike).

Pedra da Gávea hiking route

8. Sail along Rio's coastline

Boat ride| ©
Boat ride| ©

Well, if when traveling to Rio you feel like more beach and sea, keep reading, because I propose some plans that you will love. Get your swimsuit ready and I'll keep telling you about them.

  • Book your tour to Arraial do Cabo. Beaches, caves and good food. Need I tell you more? Sail through the Brazilian Caribbean, enjoy the Prainhas do Pintal do Atalaia and Praia do Farol and fall in love with the Gruta do Amor. In addition, you can enjoy a buffet lunch to regain strength after an unforgettable day.
  • Get your tickets for a boat ride. If you want to enjoy the sea, but spending less time, I recommend you to book a boat trip to see some of the most emblematic places of the city.

In about 2 hours, you will tour the famous Guanabara Bay, with audio guide included and exit to the upper deck.

  • The crystal-clear waters of Angra dos Reis. How about a schooner ride through dream islands? This is what Angra dos Reis has to offer. In a day trip, you can do water sports, eat on board a boat, snorkel while swimming among the fish in the area... I think that with all this, I have already convinced you that this is the perfect plan to enjoy the sea.

Book your excursion to Angra dos Reis

9. Visit Copacabana and Ipanema beaches

Copacabana Beach| ©Boris Kasimov
Copacabana Beach| ©Boris Kasimov

When you hear these names, golden sands and Frank Sinatra singing "Girl from Ipanema" come to mind.

On the one hand, Copacabana is the perfect place to drink caipirinhas, and became famous in the 50's, when it became one of the most touristic and glamorous areas of Rio de Janeiro. One of its tourist attractions are the spectacular sand sculptures that are made here. In addition, to buy souvenirs you will find a lot of jewelry stalls and craft stores among the shopping streets of the area.

The truth is that one of the things that makes it more special is the wonderful perspective of the hills of the city, so it has a unique skyline!

Ipanema beach, meanwhile, is a favorite for surfers. In addition, its history is closely associated with music, as it is one of the cradles of the bossa nova. It is not as "exclusive" as Copacabana beach, and has a certain interesting bohemian charm. In its surroundings there are art galleries, a large shopping street, Visconde de Pirajá, and the church of Nossa Senhora da Paz.

On this beach, you are sure to see people jogging, and if you want a beautiful sunset over the sea, here you will find the perfect viewpoint: the Ponta do Arpoador.

10. An unforgettable walk through the center of Rio de Janeiro

RIo Tramway| ©Rodrigo Soldon
RIo Tramway| ©Rodrigo Soldon

To complete your visit to Rio de Janeiro, let's go to the most essential part of the city: its historic center and its music. What do you think?

Santa Teresa, Lapa and a streetcar

A city is its neighborhoods. And you can't miss on your visit to Rio de Janeiro the neighborhood of Santa Teresa, one of the most traditional of the city. In addition, I recommend you see the Arcos da Lapa, walk the Passeio Público, the spectacular Selarón staircase, the Parque das Ruinas and the Cinelândia square, the largest in Rio. Take advantage of the walk to stop at the Confeitaria Colombo café and cross Santa Teresa on its mythical streetcar...

Rio Scenarium: a spectacle for the senses

And in the evening, music, dinner, and an open bar to toast to the good times! Rio Scenarium is one of the most outstanding nightclubs in Rio de Janeiro, and I propose you to spend an authentic Brazilian night with live music while enjoying a first class dinner with an open bar afterwards.

Traveller Tip

Prepare your best poses for the pictures you take at Rio Scenarium. This place used to be an antique store, and it shows.

11. Caipirinhas in the sky

Caipirinhas| ©CristinaPessini
Caipirinhas| ©CristinaPessini

We've talked about views, but this scenery might be missing a drink in your hand, don't you think? I'm going to recommend you some of the best rooftops in Rio de Janeiro so that watching the sunset with a caipirinha goes from being a dream, to a memory.

Sky Leme Rooftop & Lounge

At the top of the Novotel Rio de Janeiro Leme is this place where you can relax with spectacular views of Copacabana beach. Pool, DJ, cocktails and views at your fingertips.

Yoo2 Rio de Janeiro

If you can imagine this experience with a view of Sugarloaf, Yoo2 Hotel has the perfect rooftop. It is located on Botafogo beach, and has a chic and modern atmosphere that will win you over.