Top 7 Must-Do Things in Rio de Janeiro

Written by Peter Lauffer
April 6, 2023

Rio de Janeiro, also known as Rio, is the second-largest city in Brazil and a highly diverse and vibrant destination. It boasts of Carnival celebrations, samba music, and awe-inspiring natural beauty. For those planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro, there are numerous attractions to choose from. In this article, I outline the top 7 must-do things in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to make your visit unforgettable.

Corcovado Rack Railway

A trip on the Corcovado Rack Railway

No trip to Rio de Janeiro is complete without visiting the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue at the top of Corcovado Mountain, one of the World's New Seven Wonders. This 30-meter-tall statue offers breathtaking views of the city and can be reached through a scenic journey on the famous Corcovado Rack Railway. The railway track, spanning 3,824 km (2,376 mi), comprises four stations, with the historic base station situated in Cosme Velho and the summit located atop Corcovado mountain.

Corcovado Rio de Janeiro

Every year, over 600,000 people make their way up to Christ the Redeemer using this century-old railway line that highlights not only its engineering brilliance but also its cultural and historical significance in Rio de Janeiro. With a trip duration of around 20 minutes and a departure frequency of every 20 minutes, the railway can accommodate up to 540 passengers per hour. However, due to its limited capacity, visitors may have to wait for an extended period at Cosme Velho's entry station.

Sugar Loaf Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf Mountain Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf Mountain, also known as Pão de Açúcar, offers a breathtaking view of Rio de Janeiro, the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). To make the ascent, two cable cars will connect you to the summit, 395m (1296 ft) above Rio. The most rewarding time to visit is during a clear sunset. From the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain, you can see Corcovado Mountain and Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) to the west and Copacabana Beach to the south. Although it's a must-visit destination, be prepared for heavy crowds. It's best to go early in the morning and avoid cloudy days when possible. 

Morro da Urca, Rio de Janeiro

The first cable car ascends 215m to Morro da Urca, offering stunning views of Baía de Guanabara (Guanabara Bay) and the winding coastline. On the ocean side of the mountain lies Praia Vermelha. Morro da Urca is also home to souvenir shops, snack bars, and a concert venue (Arena Morro da Urca). From Morro da Urca, take the second cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain and enjoy even more breathtaking views of Rio de Janeiro. 

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach is a stunning fusion of land and sea, boasting a long, undulating shoreline that stretches for approximately 4km. The vibrant beach is teeming with activity: enthusiastic football players belting out their team's anthem, locals and visitors queuing up at kiosks for refreshing caipirinhas, favela kids proudly showcasing their soccer prowess, and beach vendors loudly advertising their wares amidst the sun-kissed bodies. Every group stakes its claim to a specific patch of sand on Copacabana Beach. If you're looking to explore Copacabana Beach, the area between Copacabana Palace Hotel and Rua Fernando Mendes is not to be missed. Here, you'll find a vibrant gay and cross-dresser section known as the Stock or Stock Market, which is easily recognizable by the rainbow flag. Along Rua Santa Clara, young football and futevôlei players dominate the courts.

Copacabana Beach

For a mix of favela kids and carioca retirees, Postos 5 and 6 are your go-to spots. Meanwhile, next to Forte de Copacabana lies the colônia dos pescadores (fishermen’s colony). As you continue north along Copacabana Beach, you'll reach the quieter sands of Leme (with Av Princesa Isabel serving as a boundary between the two neighborhoods). While the beach can be a breathtaking sight at night, it's important to prioritize safety. Even with police presence in the area, it's not advisable to venture out there after dark. Instead, stick to the lively beach kiosks where there are plenty of people around. It's also worth noting that Av NS de Copacabana can be scary, especially on weekends when shops are closed, and locals are scarce. For a safer outdoor adventure, consider exploring Tijuca National Park instead.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach is a picturesque expanse of sun-kissed sand that is partitioned by posts, delineating distinct subcultures that are as diverse as the city itself. Posto 9, situated off Rua Vinícius de Moraes, is the preferred destination for Rio's most toned and bronzed individuals. Locally known as Cemetério dos Elefantes, this area sometimes draws old leftists, hippies, and artists. Praia Farme, also referred to as Farme de Amoedo beach and located in front of Rua Farme de Amoedo, is a popular spot for gay society to congregate.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Posto 8 is mainly dominated by favela kids. Arpoador between Copacabana and Ipanema is Rio's most renowned surf spot, while Leblon attracts single and family Cariocas from the neighborhood. If you are a sports enthusiast, Posto 10 is perfect for you, offering ongoing games of volleyball, soccer, and beach tennis played with wooden rackets and a rubber ball. No matter which spots you choose on Ipanema Beach; you can enjoy cleaner sands and sea than those in Copacabana. However, remember that the sands may get crowded on weekends, so it's best to go early to secure your spot.

Ipanema Beach, named after an indigenous word meaning 'bad, dangerous waters,' is notorious for its strong undertow and towering waves that crash onto the shore. As such, it's important to exercise caution when swimming and only do so where locals recommend. Nevertheless, with its stunning scenery and vibrant atmosphere, Ipanema Beach is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the best of Rio de Janeiro's coastline.

Tijuca National Park, Rio de Janeiro

Parque Nacional da Tijuca

Tijuca National Park, covering 39 square kilometers, is a lush green expanse situated to the left of the Atlantic rainforest surrounding Rio de Janeiro. This tropical jungle preserve boasts stunning trees, creeks, waterfalls, mountainous terrain, and high peaks. Thanks to an excellent trail system that is well-marked, visitors can easily explore its beauty. Along the roadside, one can see offerings made by Candomblistas (followers of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé) while families enjoy picnics amidst this picturesque setting. For serious hikers seeking a challenge, the 1012m (3320 ft) summit of Pico da Tijuca awaits them at Tijuca National Park. The Tijuca National Park's Alto da Boa Vista area is the beating heart of the forest, boasting a plethora of natural and man-made wonders.

Tijuca National Park, Rio de Janeiro

This stunning park is home to several breathtaking waterfalls, including the Cascatinha de Taunay, Cascata Gabriela, and Cascata Diamantina. It also features a charming 19th-century chapel known as Capela Mayrink, along with numerous caves such as Gruta Luís Fernandes, Gruta Belmiro, and Gruta Paulo e Virgínia. Additionally, visitors can enjoy a lovely picnic spot at Bom Retiro and dine at two fantastic restaurants - the sophisticated Restaurante Os Esquilos and Restaurante Barão a Floresta, located near the ruins of Ruínas do Archer (Major Archer). All these attractions make Tijuca National Park an absolute must-visit destination for nature lovers.

Carioca Aqueduct, Rio de Janeiro

Historical Santa Teresita Tramway and the Carioca Aqueduct

Experience the rich history of Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, by riding the city's historic tramway from the Carioca Station to the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The Santa Teresa Tram, also known as “Bonde de Santa Teresa,” is a charming way to explore the neighborhood's colonial architecture and bohemian vibe. This historic tram line connects the city center with Santa Teresita, an inner-city residential neighborhood in the hills immediately southwest of downtown. The Santa Teresita Tram is a popular tourist attraction in Rio de Janeiro, designated as a national historic monument in 1985.

Santa Teresita Tramway, Rio de Janeiro

The tramway system offers a unique experience as it takes you through the picturesque Santa Teresa Hill, providing a bird's eye view of the city. One of the highlights of the journey is crossing over the Carioca Aqueduct, which stands tall at an impressive height of 45 meters (148 ft). This former aqueduct from the 18th century is truly awe-inspiring and definitely worth capturing with your camera - don't forget to take a photo from the bottom too! While motor vehicles share most of the route, nothing beats experiencing Rio de Janeiro through the charming and historic Santa Teresa district.

Maracanã Football Stadium, Rio de Janeiro

Maracanã Football Stadium

Maracanã Football Stadium in Rio holds a special place in the hearts of football enthusiasts. This colossal arena has witnessed historical triumphs and devastating losses. It gained global attention during the 2014 World Cup as it hosted pivotal matches, including the final showdown between Germany and Argentina. Additionally, it served as a venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Regardless of which team competes, Maracanã Football Stadium, with its impressive seating capacity of 78,800, never fails to come alive on game days.

One of the best places to experience a quasi-psychedelic atmosphere is at Maracanã Football Stadium. It's home to some of the most thrilling football matches in the world, especially during championship games or when local rivals Flamengo, Vasco da Gama, Fluminense, or Botafogo face off against each other.

Maracanã Football Stadium, Rio de Janeiro

Games are held throughout the year and typically take place on Saturdays or Sundays (starting at 4 pm or 6 pm) and on Wednesdays and Thursdays (around 8:30 pm). Seating at Maracanã is divided into sectors A through F. The north (sectors E and F) and south (sectors C and B) seats are located behind the goals and are generally the liveliest and most affordable sections. Maracanã Football Stadium offers prime seating options in the East (D) and West (A) sectors, boasting superior sight lines at a premium price. These numbered seats are popular among passionate fans who add to the lively atmosphere during games. For those seeking a touch of luxury, Maracanã Mais is situated in the West sector and includes a buffet service with your ticket. The cost of tickets for most games ranges from R$40 to R$80. 

Santa Teresita Tramway

Rio de Janeiro is the place to be! 

Looking for a destination that has something for everyone? Look no further than Rio de Janeiro! This vibrant city boasts beautiful beaches, a rich cultural scene, and legendary nightlife. To make the most of your trip to Rio de Janeiro, don't miss out on the top 6 must-do things in this fantastic city. With so much to see and do, you will surely have an unforgettable experience in Rio de Janeiro. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get ready to discover all this amazing city has to offer!

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