The third in our new City Guide series, this travel guide to Rio de Janeiro features the most pertinent information about the area. Use the menu below to jump among sections for suggestions on where to stay, insider tips, restaurant recommendations and more.
On a sunny day, there are times when Rio de Janeiro really does become the Cidade Maravilhosa, the “Marvelous City,” a place where nature is resplendent, the climate is benign, and the people are startlingly beautiful. From the 2,316-foot summit of the Corcovado, the panorama is truly astonishing. No other city in the world has a setting of equivalent splendor. Rio de Janeiro lies just within the tropics and offers all the pleasures of luxurious urban living in a startlingly beautiful setting.
With the culmination of the World Cup and the Olympics, the city is ramping up with a litany of new and renewed landmarks. In 2013, the “City of the Arts” was freshly inaugurated to house the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. The art museum Casa Daros has opened its doors in a grand 19th-century neo-classical building to house the Swiss Daros Latinamerica Collection. And perhaps most tellingly, Rio is now the proud locale of South America’s first ever Apple store. The city’s on fire.
For its partisans, Rio is the joie de vivre capital of Brazil, the greatest city in Latin America. Whether or not you agree, Rio certainly does flaunt a distinctive and exotic personality based largely around a cult of the sun. The true Carioca is said to be someone who goes to the beach “before, after or instead of work,” and even the slightest hint of sunshine provides sufficient reason for thousands of residents to flock to the sands in the middle of a weekday morning. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, half a million enthusiastic souls descend on Copacabana and its adjacent cafés, bars and restaurants along the Avenida Atlântica.
When to visit, tastemaker tips and what to do in Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro is warm and relies on trade winds to moderate the seasonal heat. The city in the rain is not a particularly pleasant sight, and there is much to be said for avoiding the wetter months of December through March, though this is the time of Rio Carnival. The cool, dry season extends from May to November, with the year-round average daytime temperature typically ranging from a low of 75 F in July to a high of 85 F in February.
Want to experience Rio like an insider? Follow these tips from notable individuals in the travel, design, food, fashion and hospitality industry.
Andrew Harper, Editor in Chief of The Hideaway Report, Andrew Harper Travel
Rio's culture is a unique way of life; its chief glory is the natural splendor of its setting. From the 2,316-foot summit of the Corcovado, the panorama is truly amazing. I like to stroll around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas—a lake five miles in circumference—and to make excursions into the adjacent 8,000-acre Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world. There, Rio’s Botanical Garden is incomparable. Founded in 1808, it comprises 134 cultivated acres, plus 205 acres of tropical rain forest. Upon seeing it in 1832, a young Charles Darwin was moved to raptures. From the entrance, a pathway extends down a 765-yard avenue of 134 imperial palms. Numerous glasshouses are dedicated to bromeliads, orchids, succulents and carnivorous plants.
Karina Kattan, The Fasano Group
I have to mention the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car, a Rio landmark. Riding the classic cable car reveals blissful views of the city and the Guanabara Bay. And outdoor enthusiasts can hike the trails of the Floresta da Tijuca, the world’s largest urban rainforest. Also, located in the best hot spot of Ipanema Beach, Baretto-Londra is Rio’s number one bar and still the trendiest meeting point in the city. Make sure to see the city from the water, whether it be from a ship, tourist boat or a speedboat. Rio has great beaches and people really appreciate them more when seeing their length and grandeur from across the water.
Mariana Vilhena, Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro has welcomed every edition of Rock in Rio Festival – now international – since 1989. Carnival remains the main musical and cultural scene. In the streets, you can see costumed people playing instruments and dancing in the bloco parades.
Those on a first visit will probably wish to stay on the beach, but the Hotel Santa Teresa, set on a steep hillside in one of Rio's oldest neighborhoods, offers an entirely different experience.
Until recently, the culinary scene in Rio was not highly regarded, the oft-repeated joke being that the only way to eat well was to catch a plane to São Paulo. Fortunately, things have improved. Here are some establishments that we enjoyed.
Owned by Rogerio Fasano, a fourth-generation member of the renowned hotelier/restaurateur family, this stylish and fashionable establishment serves classic Italian cuisine.
Claude Troisgros, a scion of the famous gastronomic dynasty, employs Brazilian ingredients in recipes informed by classical French technique. Expect dishes such as fillet of grouper with bananas, lime and an herb and raisin sauce; or duck breast with passion fruit, caramelized endive and foie gras.
This fashionable outdoor bar, set on the shore of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, is where affluent Cariocas (citizens of Rio) come for a caipirinha and a light meal (bruschetta, fondue) in leafy “Amazonian” surroundings. The prices are outrageous, but the views are memorable.
A Rio institution for more than 25 years, this lively restaurant serves a full menu of Japanese cuisine, as well as exemplary sushi and sashimi. Reservations can be hard to come by.
This sleek, wood-paneled restaurant, centered on a large coal-fired grill, serves contemporary cuisine with Brazilian inflections. Look for the celebrated charred tuna with tagliatelle and horseradish, and the delicious bife de chorizo with rustic potatoes and truffled cream.
Rio is not a destination for historical and cultural sightseeing in the conventional sense, but still has exceptional points of interest for novice and veteran visitors alike.
Want to learn more about travel to Rio? Read our in-depth articles from The Harper Way, The Hideaway Report and Traveler Magazine on topics such as shopping, food, wine, art, culture and more.
Notoriously, there are the favelas, the slums that are home to around 1.4 million of the city’s inhabitants; street crime affects even the central business district; and Copacabana has its share of pickpockets and petty thieves. But strolling through upscale areas like Ipanema and Leblon, you never feel at risk. You just have to take sensible precautions, as you would in many major cities, including some in the United States. The authorities are very sensitive about Rio’s image in advance of the 2016 Summer Olympics, so policing the principal tourist areas is a priority.
Stay tuned for more from our City Guide series, detailing what to do, eat, see and where to stay in Andrew Harper's favorite cities around the world.
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