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Rio de Janeiro | Top attractions and sights in and around the city

Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s second largest city and is said to be one of the most visited cities in South America.  When you think of Rio you think of carnival, fantastic beaches, favelas and famous landmarks such as Christ the Redeemer and of course, Sugarloaf Mountain.  In our few days in the city we visited most of these and had an amazing time.  I was really struck by how wonderful the public transport system was and how easy it was to navigate the city whether by metro, bus or on foot.  We’re sure you’ll have an amazing time and hope that our findings below help with your trip. 

Copacabana beach Rio de Janeiro
Copacabana beach Rio de Janeiro

How did we get to Rio de Janeiro? 

We travelled to Rio from Foz do Iguazu after visiting the magnificent Iguazu Falls both from the Brazilian and Argentinian side. Brazil is such a vast country and the distances between cities can be immense.  A 31 hour bus journey lay ahead of us to get us to Rio, yikes!  The bus company we chose was Pluma but there are other companies that run this route at different times throughout the day.  The times of the Pluma bus suited us better as the departure time meant we’d be arriving late afternoon in Rio de Janeiro rather than at some point during the night.  As it turned out the bus was pretty late in arriving.  We departed at midday and arrived around 6 – 7pm the following day.   The journey wasn’t too bad and the bus stopped plenty of times for food and toilet breaks and welcome chance to stretch our legs.  The cost of this bus was approx £48.00 per person. 

Where did we stay in Rio de Janeiro? 

After spending our time in Foz do Iguazu at the hotel CLH we discovered they had a sister hotel in Rio de Janeiro so we booked that whilst we were still in Foz and were able to get the discount offered to us previously.  The hotel in Rio was one block back from the famous Copacabana beach and was in a fabulous location.  Close to the metro, right next to all the shops, great restaurants and practically on the beach.  It was a superb choice.  The hotel itself was pretty basic.  Large room, decent shower with plenty hot water, a fridge for water and snacks and a buffet breakfast.  The staff, just like the hotel in Foz, were really helpful and ever so friendly. 

Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro

What is there to do in Rio de Janeiro? 

Hit the beach

Rio is famous for its beaches and I don’t think there are many people who haven’t heard of Copacabana beach or Ipanema beach, both made famous through some pretty recognisable songs.  I bet you’re even singing along to one in your head right now.  The beaches are fantastic stretches of white sand lined with beach bars and tourist shops. The beaches are fairly clean and the sea is pretty safe for a little paddle and in some spots have some fantastic waves where you an do a bit of surfing.  There are lifeguard stations and coloured flags to let you know how safe it is to swim on any particular day.  All along the beaches you’ll find sun loungers and umbrellas for rent where you can also get soft drinks, cocktails and snacks.  The price to rent an umbrella and chairs was no more than around £10 per day which we thought was pretty reasonable.  There are also the usual beach sellers of anything from sunglasses to swimwear, fridge magnets to little cakes but they’re not in your face and happy to walk on by if you say no thank you.  We really enjoyed the buttered corn on the cob which as delicious as a snack. 

Chill out at the Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro

One of the really lovely things to do when visiting Rio is take a wander round the botanical gardens.  After spending some hot days at the beach its really refreshing to be amongst the plants and trees hearing the trickle of water every now and again.  The gardens are extensive and you can opt to wander round them independently or jump on a tour on one of the electric vehicles they have which take you round the site.  The gardens house various greenhouses including one dedicated to orchids which was pretty stunning and they have an abundance of bird life and if you’re lucky enough you may even spot a monkey or two jumping through the trees.  

The cost to enter the gardens is R$60.00 for all foreign visitors and half price for visitors over 60, including foreigners, which was a nice surprise.  Children under five go free and students, with a valid ID card get a discount.   There are a couple of cafe’s where you can stop and get drinks and snacks and there are toilets dotted around the park.  It really is a lovely day out.  Just one thing to be aware of, there are several entrances and exits but only the main one was open on the day we visited so don’t follow the exit signs for one that may well be locked up when you get there. 

Botanical Gardens Rio
Botanical Gardens Rio
Use the excellent public transport 

One of the things we love to do when visiting a city is use the public transport.  We’re not really travellers who like using taxis to get about.  They’re expensive and its much more fun using the transport the way the locals would.  Rio has a fantastic public transport system which was ramped up for the 2018 olympics.  It has a fantastic network of buses, underground and overland tram system.   You’ll need a Rio Mas Card (Pink card) to use the system and you can get these from the ticket machines at the tram stops or in some of the underground stations.  The Pink Rio Mas card allows you to use it on the buses, trams and metro and can get you to all parts of the city.  Once you have your card you can just charge it up at any machine in the stations and each time you use it the display will tell you how much you have left.  The card is not transferrable so two people cant use the same card you need one card per person. Make sure you tap the card on the machine when you enter the tube station or get on a bus or tram as there are frequent inspectors that get on and off and do check everyone’s card. 

Visit Christ the Redeemer

This statue is an iconic emblem of not only Rio de Janeiro but of Brazil itself. It’s the fourth largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world, the largest Art Deco-style sculpture on the planet, and to top it all off, in 2007 the statue was deemed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World along with Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China and the Roman Colosseum.

How do you get to the statue?  The most popular way is by the funicular tram that takes you to the top, the Trem do Corcovado. To get to the funicular by metro you will need to get off at Lago du Machado station and jump on the 538 bus in the direction of Cosme Velho.  Get off the bus in front of São Judas Tadeu Church which is at the Corcovado Train station.  Once at the funicular you will need to buy a ticket and the ticket will be for the next available trip.  I would advise pre-booking in the high season as this attraction can get pretty busy.  You can pre-book tickets on their main website here.  Tickets cost R$93.50 per adult in the low season and R$117.50 in high season.  There are discounts for children and seniors (Brazilian only) and children under four go free.  

Once at the top its a short walk up and round to the statue and there are elevators for those who don’t want to walk.  There are toilets available and gift shops for you to browse whilst you’re there. 

Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer
Take a walk up or down the Escalier Selaron

Escalier Selaron or the Selaron Steps are a set of world famous steps in Rio created by an artist from Chile, Jorge Selaron.  This was his tribute to the Brazilian people.   The staircase spans two major neighbourhoods of Rio, Lapa and Santa Teresa and when Jorge moved to Rio he noticed the staircase was in pretty bad condition and decided to repair it using tiles.  He started with blue and green and yellow as a tribute to not only the Brazilian people but to the football team and gradually added red which was in recognition of his home country Chile.  He sold his paintings to buy the tiles but was never a rich man and people from all over the world started to bring him tiles and there are over 2000 tiles from over 60 countries incorporated in the staircase.  The staircase has been seen in many recording artists videos and remains an icon of Rio de Janeiro to this day and one of the cities most visited attractions.  

Take a cable car ride up to Sugar Loaf Mountain 

Again this is one of the iconic attractions in Rio de Janeiro.  The views from the top are stunning.  To get there you need to head to the Urca area of the city.  You can do this by using both bus & metro which is probably the easiest and quickest way to get there.  We decided to walk and from our hotel at Copacabana beach it only took about 45 mins to walk helped by google maps.  If you are taking the metro & bus option then you need to get off the metro at Botafogo station and there you will look for bus number 583 which will take you to Urca.  The cable car station is only a short walk from the bus stop.   There is a really great beach nearby if you want something to do either before or after your trip up the mountain. 

Once you reach the cable car station you get your tickets which take you first to Urca mountain or Morro da Urca and then its a short walk at this station to the second cable car to take you up to Sugar loaf mountain.  The ticket office opens at 8.00am and the first cable car up is at 8.10am.  The last journey down from Sugarloaf is approx 8pm.  Times change with the seasons so its best to double check before you go.  The ticket price is R$78.00 with a discount of 50% for anyone over 60 years of age, students and children under 21 whether Brazilian nationals or foreign.  

There are plenty of facilities at each of the stations ranging from toilets, cafe’s, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and other stalls selling things like ice cream and jewellery.  The main entertainment at each of the stations though is the view, its spectacular.  Check out the planes landing at Rio airport, they sweep in from the mountains and come really close to the mountain before lining up for the runway.  Its mesmerising. 

Sugarloaf Rio de Janeiro
Sugarloaf Rio de Janeiro
Santa Teresa & the Tourist Tram 

Santa Teresa is a quaint little bohemian neighbourhood nestled in the one of the many hillsides of Rio.  Filled with boutiques, restaurants, bars and charming colonial mansion houses overlooking the bay its definitely worth a trip up on the quirky little tourist tram for a delightful wander rounds its steep cobblestone streets.  

The Santa Maria tram is a historic tramway which was used to connect the centre of Rio with the hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa.  Nowadays its used solely as a tourist tram and is a delight to ride.  Both tourists and locals still use this service and is one of the oldest street railway lines in the world.  The tram ticket costs R$20.00 per person and you have to pay at the downtown station.  The ticket is for a return journey.  To reach the downtown station you can take the metro to the Carioca station and from here its only a two min walk to the tram station.  

Bonde rio
The Bond Tram

Our view

We loved Rio.  This was Chris’s second time visiting the city and my first and it has an amazing vibe.  From visiting all the attractions to lazing on the wonderful Copacabana beach it lived up to all expectations.  For eating out you have a variety of options ranging from the local rice and bean with meat type of meal to some really fancy high end food.  One of the best meals we had was on the beach where we were served a plate piled high with breaded prawns.  Mmmm delicious.  I’m sure you’ll find whatever you fancy in this charming city.  

Booking resources for your stay in Rio

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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