Rio is a vibrant and colorful city with a nice climate throughout the year. Even in July (winter here), we had a sunny 28 degrees during the day and many people from Argentina were spending their winter holiday in Rio.
The numerous different neighborhoods make it impossible to see Rio in one day. So, take your time to stroll along the nice Flamengo walk and marvel at the stunning bay with Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar), visit the sights in Lapa and drink a Caipirinha at Copacabana beach. Read the chapter about safety information in my I love Brazil travel guide before you go to Rio.
From the airport to the city center
From the international airport (GIG) to downtown the quickest and easiest way is an Uber for about 80 BRL.
If you arrive during the day you can also check on Google maps, which connection with public transport works out the quickest to get to your accommodation. I traveled on buses, the metro, and the tram during daylight hours and felt safe.
Go to the BRT station at the airport and make the connection to Vicente de Carvalho metro station. From there, you can ride the metro trains and switch onto other lines until you reach the desired destination. You need a RioCard to enter the trams and buses. It costs 5 BRL and you have to top it up with money. When you get it, you can also get a map of the metro and tram system and check for the current prices. It depends on which kind of transport you ride and whether you combine several methods of transportation of how much it will cost. A ride on a bus usually costs 4.05 BRL, a tram ride costs 3.80 BRL and a ride with the metro 4.65 BRL.
If this sounds too complicated you can catch the official airport bus that leaves from outside Terminal 2 and stops in the Center, Gloria, Catete, Largo do Machado, Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, and Barra da Tijuca, and costs 16 BRL.
Arriving at Novo Rio Bus station
Outside the bus station, you can also catch buses or trams into the downtown area where you can switch onto a Metro, which is quicker. The buses can be paid in cash to the driver as well.
What to do in Rio
Even the locals (called Cariocas) who live here all year round say that in this city, you can never get bored. Rio welcomes you with great museums, colorful neighborhoods, iconic sites, cheap Caipirinhas and all of that is set next to the glistering ocean.
Wander through Lapa and Santa Theresa
Here you find colorful buildings, stunning murals and the Escadaria Selarón (Selaron Steps) which offer great picture opportunities. But don’t just get your picture and leave. Take your time to study the individual tiles. There should be one for each country.
Also, at the bottom of the stairs, you find the cheapest Caipirinha in Rio. Be careful though, they are very strong, and one glass might be enough to make you drunk! And when you are drunk, you will probably get robbed. I heard many stories of this kind.
I felt very safe on the walk around Lapa as there were many other tourists around us taking pictures as well. But in case you want a more guided experience, join a well-done free walking tour which starts at 10.30 a.m. every day at Carioca Square.
Visit Christ the Redeemer (El Cristo Redentor)
From many spots in Rio, you will see this statue watching over the city on clear days. It’s possible to hike up to the entrance to the statue. For that, take the bus to Parque Lage and then ask for the hike to Christ the Redeemer (caminhada para Cristo el Redentor). It’s steep, humid, and will take you about 1.5 to 2 hours. Plus, it’s along a busy road and you have to avoid the vans that come and go. Hence, it’s neither a nice nor a safe walk. At the top, you have to buy the entrance ticket for 22 BRL.
We chose the van as a transport option from Largo do Machado. Apparently, it was low season in April as we had to wait for other people to arrive and fill up the van. However, I heard that in high season, the lines are very long. You can also board a van at Lido Square in Copacabana and at Barra da Tijuca outside Citta America Shopping Center. We paid 51 BRL at the counter. In high season it would cost 62 BRL. You can also purchase the tickets online and skip the lines in case it’s busy.
They brought us to a first viewing platform with a climatized van. There, you switch onto a different van which brings you to the impressive statue. You can stay up there as long as you like. Take in the view of the many white buildings in front of the blue sea and the green hills. There also is a café in case you are hungry or thirsty.
Enjoy the view from Sugarloaf Mountain
This is the most iconic landmark of Rio apart from Christ the Redeemer. You can take a modern cable car up to a viewing platform. The cheapest ticket costs 104 BRL and is best bought online as you will have a 10% discount. Check on Google Maps how to get to Bondinho Pão de Açúcar (Av. Pasteur, 520 – Urca) with public transport or on foot. If the cable car is too expensive for you, there apparently is a path you can hike, however, it really is not advisable to walk up there regarding safety. Perhaps, you enjoy it more to look at the mountain from the boardwalk along the beaches or from the viewing platform at El Cristo anyway.
Stroll along Flamengo Walk
This walk leads through green parks and along the beaches of Flamengo, Botafogo, and Gloria. You will encounter many cyclists and runners and could buy a fresh coconut from one of the street vendors. Here you forget that you are in a big city.
Eat at Fogo de Chao
This restaurant is at the start (or end) of the Flamengo walk in Botafogo. It’s a chain churrascaria restaurant which you can also find in Sao Paulo. Their buffet is huge and offers a big choice of healthy and delicious salads. If you only eat from the buffet without the hot meat it costs 60 BRL. This, of course, is more expensive than other restaurants, but you have to see the buffet! There even is salmon, ceviche, salami, bacon, cheese, and antipasti apart from all the salads. Hence, it’s possible to have a great meal there without ordering the steaks or chicken. There is plenty of delicious food without it. Plus, this restaurant is set right in the bay and has a terrace overlooking the boats, sea, and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Visit a museum
The three best museums in Rio are the Museum of Tomorrow, the Rio Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum.
- The Museum of Tomorrow is an impressive building designed by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava. The whole area is worth to take a stroll around. Along the tram tracks, you see huge graffiti by famous Brazilian artist Kobra (this is free). The science museum itself offers a great, interactive exhibition about what challenges we are facing in the future, regarding sustainability. The entrance fee is 20 BRL. It is closed on Mondays.
- The Art Museum of Rio is right opposite the Museum of Tomorrow and you can look at paintings from famous artists from all around the world. The entrance fee is 20 BRL and it’s free on Tuesdays! If you visit both the Museu de Arte and the Museu do Amanhã the combined ticket costs 32 BRL.
- The Museum of Modern Art is located in a park (Av Infante Dom Henrique 85, Parque do Flamengo) where many locals gather to do sports like rollerblading, yoga or dancing. Hence, it’s an entertaining area even if you don’t enter the museum as modern art might not be the taste of everyone. The admission is 14 BRL and it’s free on Wednesdays.
Get perfect Instagram photos
Where? In a library. Yes, Rio might have the most beautiful room full of books in the world. It’s called the Royal Portuguese Reading Room (Real Gabinete Português da Leitura). It’s free to enter, you just have to sign in at the entrance. The address is R. Luís de Camões, 30 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro.
Surf at Copacabana or Ipanema Beach
First of all, I have never seen such crowded beaches. Not even Kuta on Bali. Therefore, it’s not a very relaxing beach stay but people clearly enjoy hanging out on the sand and playing around in the waves. Vendors will bring you food or drinks and the view on the hills at the end of the beach is quite unique.
Be warned that anything you bring to the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema might get stolen. Don’t wear a necklace or they will rip it off (heard that this happened to several girls I met) or even if they were laying next to their backpack and had their foot on it, they sometimes got stolen. Therefore, only leave your stuff at the beach if you are in a group and bring it in a plastic bag (not in a backpack). Best don’t take your phone with you. If you only come for a walk and don’t sit down on the sand, you should be fine with taking pictures. I saw other people with their big cameras, and I took pictures while I was on a walk as well and I am still in possession of all my belongings.
If you want to do sports, you can rent a surfboard or boogie board for 40 BRL per hour. Good waves for advanced surfers were on the left side of Ipanema near the rocks. However, there were so many people in each other’s way that it wasn’t enjoyable at all. I liked the spot in the middle of Copacabana much better, where smaller waves rolled in consistently, and the people could spread out a bit more.