Rio de Janeiro Sights Sugar Loaf Pao de Acucar

The 10 Best Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro

Aktualisiert am: 12/03/2024

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most impressive cities in the country and should not be missed on any trip to Brazil, even as a half-Brazilian, the beauty of Rio knocks me off my feet every time. And I’m not alone in this. Everyone knows the famous sights in Rio de Janeiro, such as Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue! In this article, I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t miss in Rio. So off to the best Rio sights! By the way: At the end of the article you will find some very helpful tips for your stay in Rio, read them carefully!

#1 Cristo Redentor – the statue of Christ in Rio

From here you have the perfect view of the Cidade Maravilhosa, the great city, as Rio de Janeiro is often called. You can get to the Corcovado by car (or coach), the Corcovado train or even on foot via a hiking trail. An excursion to the Cristo Redentor is only worthwhile in good weather, in Rio the weather can change quickly and on cloudy days you really can’t see anything. But when the sun shines, you have the complete Rio panorama: breathtaking! It’s worth coming early as it’s a little emptier then.

Tip: Buy your ticket for the Corcovado cable car and the Christ Statue in advance here (less queuing!)*.

Welcome to my travel blog!

Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!

Rio de Janeiro sights Cristo Redentor
It’s worth arriving early to avoid the crowds on the Cristo Redentor viewing platform.
Rio de Janeiro sights Cristo Redentor Jesus Christ statue
The world-famous Rio landmark: Jesus with outstretched arms.

#2 Tijuca National Park / Floresta da Tijuca

Rio de Janeiro is surrounded by dense nature, large forests and green mountains. The Tijuca National Park, the Floresta da Tijuca, is also located in the middle of the city, so to speak. The Corcovado with the Cristo Redentor is also part of the national park. In the past, almost the entire area was cleared by coffee farmers, but in the middle of the 18th century the clearing was stopped and reforested. Today there is dense forest with many waterfalls and beautiful hiking trails. It’s hard to believe that you’re in the middle of a big city!

Rio de Janeiro sights Tijuca Waterfall National Park
In the middle of Rio: pure nature in the Tijuca National Park.

Are you planning a trip to Brazil?
Check out my Brazil blog for even more helpful tips and inspiration!

#3 Pao de Acucar / Sugarloaf Mountain

Unfortunately, I was a bit unlucky with the weather this time: it’s not worth taking the cable car up the Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) in the pouring rain. However, I have been up there twice on previous visits: Beautiful! The best time to go up is at sunset! Below, at the foot of the Pao de Acucar, in the Urca district, is the Praia Vermelha, a beautiful, small city beach.

Tip: Buy your ticket for the cable car in advance here (faster entry!)*

Rio de Janeiro Sights Sugar Loaf Pao de Acucar
Easy to see from Cristo Redentor: The Sugar Loaf Mountain with cable car.

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#4 Escadaria Selarón

Jorge Seláron, a Chilean artist, began renovating the dilapidated staircase in front of his house in the 1990s. Not just like that, he covered them with thousands of pieces of tile, mainly in the colors yellow, green, red, white and blue, the national colors of Brazil and Chile. His small work of art grew in size and popularity, and many tourists brought back tiles with motifs from their hometowns, which Selarón then also used. Selarón died a few years ago, but his staircase is now one of Rio de Janeiro’s visitor magnets. Incidentally, the Escadaria Selarón can also be seen in a fairly well-known music video: “Beautiful” by Pharell Williams feat. Snoop Dogg.

Rio de Janeiro sights Escadaria Selaron

#5 Arcos da Lapa

Near the Escadaria Selarón are the Arcos da Lapa, an imposing white aqueduct. At the top of the narrow Arcos da Lapa, after a long period of restoration (there was a serious accident years ago), the old streetcar, “o bonde”, is running again, and you shouldn’t miss a ride on it! It’s best to take it straight up to Santa Teresa!

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#6 Santa Teresa artists’ quarter

Santa Teresa is the neighborhood of creatives and bohemians in Rio de Janeiro! The historic streetcar (called bonde or bondinho) also runs along this route. In Santa Teresa, you can stroll through the streets around Largo do Guimarães, discover small stores and studios and enjoy a pleasant meal in the surrounding restaurants and bars.

Rio de Janeiro landmark Santa Teresa bonde
The old streetcar is the landmark of Santa Teresa.

#7 Rocinha, Vidigal, Complexo do Alemao & Co.

Rocinha, Vidigal, Complexo do Alemao – you will come across these names of favelas from time to time. But never, ever go to a favela on your own! If you are interested in what life is like there, join a favela tour*. You are on the safe side there. Some people will see this as poverty tourism, but the favelas are part of Rio’s cityscape and a tour like this can also help you to understand the lives of the local people a little better. Many favelas also show the ingenuity and talent for improvisation of the Brazilians! As these are illegal settlements, the entire infrastructure is maintained by the residents themselves. Electricity, water, cable TV, internet connection, refuse collection, roads and paths: everything is organized by the residents themselves. And that on the worst slopes!

Book the favela tour here!

Dennis has described what such a favela tour can look like on his blog Awesome Wild:
favela rocinha, a detour to the other rio de janeiro

Rio de Janeiro sights Favela
Part of everyday life in Rio de Janeiro: the many favelas on the hillsides.

#8 Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon: the beaches of Rio

Rio is also mega famous for its wonderful beaches in the middle of the city! Copacabana and Ipanema are the top addresses for swimming. The hip Cariocas meet at Posto 9 in Ipanema. Unfortunately, for once it wasn’t beach weather when I visited. Beach life in Rio is definitely something special: the whole city meets here, the beach belongs to everyone! Be careful with the strong currents: They are not without! Tip: It’s best to go to the beach with just a towel and a few reais for a guaraná (Brazilian soda), a coconut or a caipirinha and enjoy the hustle and bustle!

Rio de Janeiro sights Ipanema beach
No beach weather this time: Posto 9 in Ipanema is usually the meeting place for Rio de Janeiro’s It crowd.

#9 Catedral Metropolitana

Not particularly beautiful, but special: Rio’s cathedral, which was only built in 1979, can hold 20,000 people standing up. If you don’t have that much time and aren’t particularly religious, this is a location that you can skip if necessary. Nearby, however, is the Confeitaria Colombo!

Rio de Janeiro sights Catedral Metropolitana
Standing fit into the cathedral of Rio 20,000 people.

#10 Confeitaria Colombo

The Confeitaria Colombo is the oldest coffee house in Rio de Janeiro! Founded in 1894, it is reminiscent of European coffee houses – a total contrast to tropical Rio. Cariocas find the prices overpriced, but as Europeans they are okay – the ambience is worth it. It’s also a great opportunity to sample Brazilian specialties! In addition to sweet pastries and cakes, there is also typically a large selection of salgadinhos (small balls, croquettes or pastry pockets – salty, hence the name), which are also eaten in Brazil with coffee or as a snack between meals.

Rio de Janeiro Sights Confeitaria Colombo
The café institution in Rio de Janeiro: the Confeitaria Colombo in the city center.

You can explore the locations mentioned above on your own (except for the favelas, of course, which only require a tour! You can easily get around the city with Uber, buses and the metro. However, I wanted to take carefree photos with my flashy camera, so this time I decided to go on a day trip. The disadvantage, of course, is that you often arrive at a location at the same time as other groups of tourists, which can be a little stressful. However, everything is planned and you can completely relax in terms of safety and organization.
Sightseeing tour through Rio in one day*(complete program, the expensive tickets for Sugarloaf Mountain and Cristo Redentor are included!)

Safety in Rio de Janeiro

Unfortunately, crime is always an issue in Rio de Janeiro and one that does not go unnoticed by tourists. Increased caution is required! However, the Cariocas are always very nice and helpful, often giving you spontaneous tips on where you should pay a little more attention. Even if no danger is immediately visible, take all the advice from the locals to heart, it’s no coincidence. You can find out more about my personal assessment of the security situation and my experiences in this article:
Alone as a woman in Rio de Janeiro – Is it really that dangerous?

Arrival & onward journey

Rio de Janeiro has two airports: Galeao, which is further away, is mainly used for international flights, while Santos Dumont Airport, which is closer to the city, is reserved for domestic flights. Many European airlines fly directly to Rio de Janeiro. Tip: Take an Uber to the city (there is an extra Uber parking lot where you can meet your driver) or a regular cab. Although there is a bus service, I would not recommend traveling by public transport with luggage for safety reasons.

Best time to visit Rio de Janeiro

In the Brazilian summer from December to March/April, all hell breaks loose in Rio de Janeiro. In terms of weather, there may be summery downpours, but these will pass quickly. It can get very hot! But you can also experience Rio in a total summer vibe! However, the other months are just as suitable: it can be a little colder in winter, but that means 25 degrees in Rio – perfect for sightseeing and hiking. Unfortunately, I had a few rainy days in September.

Rio de Janeiro sights Tijuca National Park Monkey
Perfect for colder temperatures: hiking in the Tijuca National Park.

Accommodation in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro has some of the highest accommodation prices in Brazil! Especially in the Brazilian midsummer from December to March/April, prices rise incredibly. Not to mention events such as New Year’s Eve and Carnival: You have to book in advance for these dates! In addition, many accommodations require a minimum stay during these times. The Copacabana district is the most popular with tourists and is where most of the hotels are located. It’s very touristy here, but you also live very centrally. However, locations such as the artistic district of Santa Teresa and some accommodation in pacified favelas have also recently become trendy. In both cases, however, I would not necessarily recommend these places to every visitor to Rio. I wrote more about my experiences in Santa Teresa in my article on safety in Rio.

I stayed at the B+B Copacabana Hotel*, among others: Perfect location close to the beach and right between Copacabana and Ipanema!

Excursions from Rio de Janeiro

There are also a number of great excursions from Rio to the surrounding areas of Rio de Janeiro! Beaches, islands, nature, culture – you could actually spend two weeks in Rio and there would still be things to see. If you are planning a longer trip, you can of course continue directly to places like Paraty or Búzios instead of making day trips. Many intercity buses depart from the bus station in Rio to all possible parts of the country!

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