Top Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro

According to Cariocas—the people of Rio de Janeiro—God made the world in six days and then spent the seventh lying on the beach in Ipanema. For in a city as beautiful as this, they say, only the philistine or the ungrateful would do anything else.

Photographs cannot prepare you for Rio. There is far more to the city than Corcovado capped with Christ or the Sugar Loaf; these are overtures to the grand symphony of the scene. Rainforest-covered boulder mountains rise sheer from the sea around the vast Guanabara Bay and stretch to the horizon. Their curves and jags are broken by long sweeping beaches of powder-fine sand pounded by the dazzling green ocean, or by perfect half-moon coves lapped by the gentle waters of the bay. The city clusters around them, climbing over hills and crowding behind beaches and lakes. Its neighborhoods are connected by tunnels bored through the ancient rock or across winding double-decker highways that cling vertiginously to the cliffs above the fierce Atlantic Ocean. And there's the city's religious and artistic culture, from the Myan-looking cathedral to galleries displaying the nation's art.

Against this magical backdrop, the famous Carioca day leisurely unwinds. When the sun is down they head for the botecos (street bars) for an ice-cold draught beer or chope. Then they go home, finally put some clothes on and prepare to go out until the early hours of the morning.

On the ground? You can follow this guide as an audio tour thanks to our partnership with Geotourist. This tour is available online and via their app (available for iOS and Android).

Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião

An oblate concrete cone fronted by a decorative ladder and replete with rich blue stained glass, which looks like a modernist Mayan temple. The design is by Brazilian Le Corbusier disciple, Edgar de Oliveira da Fonseca, with heavy modernist statues and panels by Humberto Cozzi.

Museu de Arte Moderna

This striking modernist building houses the best collection of modern art in Brazil, outside São Paulo. Works by many well-known Europeans sit alongside collections of Brazilian modern and contemporary art, including drawings by Cândido Portinari and etchings of everyday work scenes by Gregório Gruber.

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

This immense 38m-high statue Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), weighing 635 tonnes, has arms outstretched to embrace the urban world’s most breathtaking view. Created in 1931, it was for many years the world’s largest Art Deco statue.

Maracanã Stadium

The iconic stadium was the world's largest when it was first built, and remains impressive – not least because it is the hallowed temple to the most important religious practice in Brazil: the worship of football.

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana, called Leme at its northern end, epitomises picture-book Rio: a splendid broad sweeping crescent of fine sand stretching for almost 8km, washed by a bottle-green Atlantic and watched over by the forested hill Morro do Leme.

Santa Teresa

The neighbourhood of Santa Teresa is best explored on foot, to admire the colonial buildings or stop for a drink in a street-side café and marvel at the view.

Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR)

This was one of the first art galleries opened in early 2013, part of the port zone regeneration. The slick museum showcases artists who established the Brazilian style, including Burle Marx, Castagneto, Dall’Ara, Di Cavalcanti, Facchinetti, Goeldi and Iberê, plus those who are shaping Brazilian art today.

Convento de Santo Antônio

Rio’s second oldest convent sits on a small hill where you’ll often see single women here gathered to pray; there are many more women than men in Brazil and St Anthony is traditionally a provider of husbands.

Academia da Cachaca

Brazil’s national drink, the fiery white cane liquor cachaca, is celebrated here with endless choices – over 100. It’s not just the famous cocktail caipirinhas in which the liquor stars, you can also enjoy is in more unusual combinations. Bar snacks are available – and advisable, to avoid drinking on an empty stomach.

Mosteiro de São Bento

The most important Benedictine monument outside Europe sits nearby on a promontory overlooking the bay, founded by a group of monks who arrived in Rio from Salvador.

Sambadromo Marques de Sapucal

This multi-purpose venue was specifically designed to be a major venue for the Rio Carnival, especially the annual parade of the Samba Schools. Designed and built by Oscar Niemeyer in 1984, it's set for refurbishment for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Museu Imperial

The former summer palace of Emperor Perdro II, built in 1945, is an easy day trip away in the historic center of Petropolis.

Carioca da Gema

One of the longest established samba clubs and daytime cafés in Lapa, with the cream of the live bands and, if you arrive early, sit-down tables. Great little pre-show pizza restaurant upstairs.  

Geotourist Rio de Janeiro Audio Tours

WhereTraveler.com partners with app-based audio tour company Geotourist to deliver our travel guides as streamable audio guides that play from your smart phone. The free app is available for iOS and Android.