Rio de Janeiro: 3 day itinerary in the Marvelous City!

A famous Brazilian song says: “O Rio de Janeiro continua lindo…”, which means “Rio de Janeiro is still beautiful”. The city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro is famous worldwide for its amazing landscapes. We locals, known as cariocas, have learned to refer to our city as “Cidade Maravilhosa”: the marvellous city.

For many years, principally during the 80´s and 90´s, the city saw an increase in the already existing social problems. The violence terrified citizens and drove off tourists.  However, in the last years, some actions have been carried out to improve security, such as thepacification of the favelas  and the police intensification. And with the international events just about to happen in the city; the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, the city expects to retrieve its visitors, who will surely fall in love with it!

To really enjoy your time in Rio, you have to be conscious that the city is much more than just Copacabana Beach and the Christ Statue. Here there are innumerable attractions and entertaining options, located in different neighbourhoods with their own distinct characters. On top of this there is a warm and captivating atmosphere, thanks to the cariocas, who are always welcoming and proud of the city.

Day 1 – Christ Redeemer, samba and feijoada

A great idea to start with while in Rio would be visiting Christ Redeemer, elected in 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders. The statue of Christ is the major symbol of the city and represents the receptiveness of the citizens, with the arms always spread in an eternal welcoming.  

The Christ statue, one of the 7 New Wonders

There are three ways to get to the statue, situated in the top of Corcovado Mountain, at 710 meters above the sea.

1.       The most traditional option is through Trem do Corcovado, the Corcovado train. The journey takes 20 minutes and the train track is located inside the forest, which makes  the path as rewarding as the panorama from the summit of the mountain.
The station is located in the district of Cosme Velho, about 7km from Copacabana,  a 15 minutes ride by taxi or 25 minutes by bus # 583.

2.       Another option is to use the vans which offer  the tour in the door of the train station. The price is the same as the train, but the vans make a stop at Dona Marta Viewpoint. If this is your option, make sure that the company/guide has a tourism credential.

3.       You can also reach the statue taking a taxi to Paineiras Road. From there, you have to take one of the vans offered by the park.

Tip: No matter which you choose, try to arrive early or late afternoon to avoid the crowds, principally during high season (December to March and July).

Another  very important tip is picking a sunny day, without mist, to make your visit. Otherwise it will be almost impossible to see  something from high above, which is quite frustrating, as the highlight of the visit is the view.

For lunch, head to Ipanema and try the most traditional Brazilian food: the feijoada, with beans and meat. The restaurants Casa da Feijoada  and Brasileirinho , both located in General Osorio Square, are specialized in this food.

At night, you can dance in the rhythm of samba! If you´re lucky to visit Rio during Carnival, just pick one of the many street “blocos”  which you will find in many parts of the city and have fun! You don´t need to pay anything to join the street parties in Rio. You just need to know what time and through which streets people will be partying (check here). Believe me: the streets parties are the best part of the carnival in Rio.

Carnival in the streets of Rio
The “huge” Carnival party happens on Sunday and Monday, in Sapucaí. Thirteen samba groups compete among themselves to see who the winner of the year is. To watch the competition, you have to buy a ticket. The price costs from few dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the seats and the view.

If you can´t visit the city during Carnival, no problem… Even out of season, it´s possible to watch a Carnival group practising in their “houses” or even in the Sapucaí, where they practise for about one month before Carnival.

It´s free to watch the practises in Sapucaí. And in the houses, you pay an entrance which generally costs about  10 – 20 dollars.

Check the calendar in the website of LIESA, responsible for Sapucaí and with the main samba groups: Salgueiro, Mangueira, Unidos da Tijuca

Day 2 – Copacabana, Ipanema and the bohemian Lapa

After so many activities the previous day, it´s time to have some relaxation and laziness in the beaches of Rio. Copacabana and Ipanema are the most famous. On Sundays, the streets beside the beach  are closed  and the citizens enjoy their free day riding bikes, exercising, playing volley, football or “foot volley”, bringing the kids out or just getting some sun. It´s a great atmosphere but it´s also the busiest day.

When you get to the beach, you´ll surely be offered to rent a chair and beach umbrella (in general, for the cost of R$4 and R$6 reais, respectively). So, it´s just relax and enjoy your day!

And don´t worry about bringing snacks. The beaches in Rio are famous for its beach vendors, who always have a tasty aperitif: cold beer, Arabian snacks, tapioca flour cookies and ice creams are the most sold items. Of course, always try to bargain! Many times, you can get good discounts.

Tip: Be careful with your belongings in the beach. Try not to take valuable objects, like jewels or expensive cameras, or a large amount of money.

Sunrise in Copacabana Beach

Leblon beach
For a late lunch, try one of the traditional “botecos” (bars). The pubs in Rio are known for their relaxing atmosphere, cold chopp (draught beer) and football on the TV (even the international matches). My suggestion of bars include Botequim Informal, Manuel e Juaquim and Adega Pérola.

Late at night, enjoy the most bohemian and lively district of Rio:  Lapa. It offers plenty of  options to have fun: bars with live music, the traditional pool, shows, dance clubs… Here is my selection:

To play pool, the best place is Sinuca da Lapa.

To dance samba, check Carioca da Gema or Rio Scenarium. These two places are the top in Lapa and for this reason are always very busy. So, be patient.

To watch a show, head to Circo Voador

If you prefer a bar, there will be many options in the quarter around the streets Mem de Sá, Gomes Freire, Riachuelo and the famous Lapa Arcs.

Tip: A good alternative for a cheap drink in Lapa is buying them with the street sellers in Joaquim Silva street, corner with Santa Teresa street. 

Day 3 – Sugar Loaf and Botafogo

In the morning of your third day, head to Sugar Loaf,  another major attraction in Rio. The monolith has two summits: Urca Mountain – the lowest - and Sugar Loaf Mountain, the highest.

To get to the top of  both summits, the best option is the traditional cable car, called Bondinho.

Those searching for a bit more of adventure can climb the Urca Mountain through a path inside the forest, with access through Pista Cláudio Coutinho, just beside Vermelha Beach. The patch is relatively easy, and the walk takes about 30 minutes.
To access, turn left at the sign indicating the path just after the entrance of Pista Claudio Coutinho. When you get to the end of the path, you´ll have two options ahead. Turn left again till you get to the top of the summit.

The alternative path to reach Sugar Loaf summit is not that easy. It´s necessary to use  security equipment and contract a specialized company or guide to climb the rock.

Vermelha Beach
For lunch, head to Botafogo. The top floor in Botafogo Praia Shopping, just in front of the beach, has many restaurants including one named Tiramissu, with a beautiful panoramic view to Guanabara Bay.

The neighborhood of Botafogo also has many restaurants with international cuisine, for those searching for some more familiar food. The Mexican Tacos & Wraps (Rua Voluntários da Pátria, 32); My Thai (Rua Fernandes Guimarães, 82), one of my favourites in the city – or the Japanese Miako (Rua Farani, 20) are some good options.

Late afternoon, you can check Aterro do Flamengo Park. A good idea is renting a bike so you can enjoy the amazing landscape. Bikes are available through Bike Rio, in some stations close to the sea.  It´s necessary to make a previous inscription in their website.

Tip: Avoid staying in Flamengo Park at night and be careful with your belongings, such as cell phones and cameras.

Monument in Flamengo Park
On your last night, head to the kiosks in Copacabana beach, enjoying the atmosphere of the most famous beach in the world.

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