With the help of a couple Rio locals (formally knowns as cariocas), we've worked to compile this EPIC bucketlist of things to do in Rio that you can't miss.
Before we get started, it's important you know WHEN to visit Rio De Janeiro. So what is the best time to visit Rio De Janeiro?
- First, it’s important to remember that overall, there is no wrong time to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Even the “winter” of months of June through September tend to offer sunny days (although you will certainly get cooler evenings and likely plentiful burst of rain)
- The December through March summer season is by far the most vibrant and festive. The period especially in between Réveillon (New Year's Eve) and Carnaval (usually mid to late February) is basically a nonstop party in the city, with events, concerts, and samba recitals to attend nearly every week. That said, this period is also the most congested with tourists, and the most expensive—it's not uncommon for many accommodations and establishments to raise their prices just for the summertime. For more on Carnaval season, check out Rookie's Guide to Brazilian Carnaval, Rio Carnaval Itinerary, and How to Pack for Carnaval
- Spring and fall are lovely times to visit in that the crowds will be lighter and the heat is not as intense. You can still enjoy the beach life while perhaps not sweltering to the max. It's highly recommended to especially check out the months of November and April as alternatives to the summer high season.
Without further ado, here is our compilation of the 11 Absolute Must things to do in Rio De Janeiro for you bucketlisters!
A trip to Rio would be incomplete if you don't see this world-famous landmark. Beautiful views, incredible scenery, and throngs of tourists 365 days a year. If you want to do the Christ the Redeemer hike, check out this link. If not, when you get to the base of Corcovado Hill in the Laranjeiras neighborhood, where everyone goes up to the monument, they will be selling train tickets or van tickets. The train tickets cost way more and usually will have a huge line. IT IS NOT WORTH THE WAIT! Just get a van and go up—trust me. I would highly recommend going early as it is usually PACKED up at the top, sometimes to the extent that getting an unobstructed photo of the statue itself can be impossible. The recommended time for this activity is about 3.5 hours including transportation there and back.
Address: Parque Nacional da Tijuca - Alto da Boa Vista, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, Brazil
Hours: Open daily 8am to 7pm
2. Parque Lage and Jardim Botanico
Both of these are great visits. Jardim Botânico, Rio’s botanical garden, refers to both the big beautiful park and the neighborhood in which it’s located. The garden is worth taking an hour to walk around. Alternatively, you could even take half a day and picnic here. Parque Lage, on the south side in the Jardim Botânico neighborhood, is a short walk away from the garden and is worth visiting as well. The park’s main attraction is a beautiful old museum with a historic Portuguese-style courtyard that sits at the foot of Morro do Corcovado Hill, beneath the Christ. There is a restaurant there, but I wouldn't recommend eating there as the food isn't necessarily special and the place is always full of bees and bugs. Parque Lage (and Lapa; see next) is featured in Snoop Dogg and Pharrell's classic video, Beautiful.
Parque Lage Address: Rua Jardim Botânico 414 | Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro, State of Rio de Janeiro 22461-000, Brazil
Parque Lage Hours: Daily 8am - 5pm
Jardim Botânico Address: Rua Jardim Botânico 1008 | Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro, State of Rio de Janeiro 22460-000, Brazil
Jardim Botânico Hours: Mondays 12 pm to 5pm, and from Tuesday to Sunday from 8am to 5pm.
Lapa is a GREAT and very local part of the city that many upper-class cariocas detest—purely because it was historically dangerous and they shun it. But if you want to capture a sense of Rio’s true cultural soul, replete with live street music, spontaneous art, and delicious caipirinhas, don’t miss it! I would recommend going at about 8pm on a Friday night during the high tourist season: this is a night when lots of visitors are out and about, and there are plenty of police on patrol. Walk around the aqueducts and tuck back into the main alleyway behind the Lapa vendors area to find the the famous Escadaria Selarón, or Selaron Steps in English. You can ask just about any local (or police officer) how to get there. Please note meanwhile that it’s not recommended to go walking about just any back alleyway in the Lapa area, especially at night—please stick to where there are crowds of visitors and exercise discretion! Then around 9 head over to Rio Scenarium - This is one of Rio's most interesting restaurant-clubs. You can either have dinner right in front of the club (there are like 4 restaurants there) or you can go into Rio Scenarium to eat. Plan on spending your Friday night there, with more than 6 rooms of music and a seating capacity of over 2,000, the place turns into quite a unique, great time!
4. Visit Pão de Açúcar
These are beautiful mountains around Botafogo Beach and that hang over the upper-class neighborhood of Urca. You can hike up to the top of the first mountain (there are two) or you can ride the famous bondinho (cable car) up to it. Then you can take the same gondola up to the second mountain as well. I would recommend 3-4 hours for this activity. You can buy tickets in English here!
Hours: 8a.m. - 7:50p.m. for tickets
A trip to Rio is incomplete without some hiking. The jungle metropolis is covered with large boulders to climb to see some of the best views in the city. Of all the hiking options, I feel that Pedra Bonita is THE BEST bang for the buck. Why? Not only is it manageable from a time perspective (1.5 hour round trip), but the difficulty is moderate (which will especially keep you from sweating bullets if you visit during the summer months). Most importantly, it's all about the Views from this lookout. You can see everything from Christ the Redeemer in the distance, to the division between the South Zone and West Zone districts, to the various boulders that shape the Rio skyline, to the city’s classic blue coast line.
Address: Estrada da Cascatinha | Tijuca National Park, Rio de Janeiro, State of Rio de Janeiro 20531-590, Brazil
6. A night out at Bagatelle Rio
Sure, you can go to a Bagatelle in other cities—especially New York. But even that, lit as it might be, wouldn’t be Bagatelle in Brazil. The experience of hitting Bagatelle in Rio is one that speaks for itself. This upscale French restaurant transforms into a club in the matter of just a few songs. Before you know it, you’ll be standing on top of your seats boogying, and the restaurant staff will be dressed in costume and flying through the dining space with champagne bottles and sparklers. It's an experience you absolutely want to be a part of!
Address: Praça Santos Dumont, 31 - Gávea, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22470-060, Brazil
Hours: Closed Monday, Tuesday - Sunday opens at 7pm.
7. Sunday's Ipanema Hippie Fair
Every Sunday by Ipanema beach, the locals set up an artisan crafts fair. This is a great place to get gifts for your loved ones back home. You can purchase local art, jewelry, and clothing and souvenirs that might have more of a genuine local touch than those at the airport or a traditional gift shop. Keep your eyes out for specialty local foods—even those from outside of Rio—such as acarajé from Bahia state, as you stroll about.
Address: Praça General Osório - Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20410-020, Brazil
Hours: Usually, around 10 am through about 5 pm, or sundown.
8. A great spot for Thursday-Saturday night is Maze
Maze is a jazz bar up in a favela outside of the Flamengo, which generally speaking is a pacified, safe favela. Maze really fills up on the weekends and has great city views. I recommend going early (around 9pm).
Address: R. Tavares Bastos, 414 – Casa 66 – Catete Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 22221-030, Brazil
9. Spend an afternoon going to check out The Fort of Copacabana
Enjoy an almost French-style breakfast or lunch, complete with tasty fresh pastries, while enjoying a great view at Café 18 do Forte. Check out a classic Brazilian military fort in the surroundings, and just take in the beach breezes while tourists and locals alike paddle board on the seafront in the waves crashing below.
10. Thursday Night in Baixo Gávea (BG)
When in Rio, do as the locals do: you must spend at least one night drinking, eating and flirting on the street. Baixo Gávea is a great place to be amongst good looking young people enjoying the open air. Get there by 6 pm ish so that you can go to one of the local restaurants and get a table without a massive wait. A local’s favorite for typical carioca fare such as rotisserie chicken, barbecued sausage, and egg farofa is Braseiro da Gávea. Then plan on spending the evening drinking and making friends in the streets. There will be LOTS of people out if is warm.
11. Monday night at Pedra do Sal
Again, similar to Lapa, this is something that upper-class Rio folks would probably skip, but it is totally safe and VERY fun. You can Samba in old city center, full of working class folks. This is exclusively on Monday nights.
Address: Praça Mauá (near Largo de São Francisco da Prainha)
Hours: 7:30pm - onwards