The top 10 things to do in Rio de Janeiro not everybody knows about
There are an unlimited amount of things to do in Rio de Janeiro. You can easily spend 10 days or more exploring the city and its surroundings and still not have done everything. Here are my top 10 things to do in Rio de Janeiro that not everybody knows about.
10 Things to do in Rio de Janeiro
1. Free walking tour
One of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro is to join the Rio Free Walking Tour. Every Monday to Friday you can join this tour and discover Downtown and Lapa, two of my favourite areas of Rio. They meet each morning at 9:30am in front of the Municipal Theatre (Cinelândia metro station – exit A). Look out for the yellow umbrellas. You can subscribe prior to the tour online or arrive a little earlier to do so. The guides rely on tips at the end of the tour as they receive no wage for this.
On the walking tour you visit Cinelândia, Escadaria Selaron, Lapa, Catedral Metropolitana, Confeitaria Colombo, Praça XV and Paço Imperial. It’s a great way to start your stay in Rio and to get a feel for the city. It lets you decide if there is somewhere you want to go back to and explore more freely.
2. Christ the Redeemer at sunset
One of the most impressive things to do in Rio de Janeiro is the iconic Christ the Redeemer. It was inaugurated in 1936 and in July 2007 it was made one of the seven wonders of the world. At 30 metres in height, it is the fourth largest statue of Jesus in the world. It is placed on top of the Corcovado mountains in Tijuca National Park, the world’s largest urban forest. The statue is made up of thousands of soapstone triangular mosaics and is definitely worth coming to see.
You can visit the magnificent Christ the Redeemer between 8am and 7pm, as this is when the tram operates to take you up to the top. The tram ride in itself is incredible and the best views are seen on the right hand side. The ticket entrance can be found on Rua Cosme Verde, a little down the road from the main entrance. You come here first to purchase your ticket and then join the queue for the tram. The entrance fee is around R$68 (February 2017).
I didn’t come here for sunset as during Carnival we went out in the evenings, however after seeing some photos, it looks an amazing time of day to come.
You can also walk through the Corcovado mountains to reach this statue, however I was warned of some robberies against tourists while I was here. If you do this just take some precautions and don’t take anything too valuable with you.
3. Find the best sunsets in Rio at Urca
I was so happy to be told about Urca. Especially at sunset, it was a spot buzzing with young locals. I was aiming to find Bar Urca but before we even reached there, we’d found a perfect spot on a wall overlooking the Guanabara Bay. We grabbed some cheap beers and watched the sun set over the iconic Corcovado mountain.
You can easily reach Urca by public bus. From Copacabana you can get the #581 and from Botafogo Centro you catch the #513. You get the same buses on your return.
4. Sugar Loaf Mountain
Pao de Açucar (Sugar Loaf mountain) is another spectacular thing to do in Rio de Janeiro. You must take a cable car to reach the peak of the curved mountain, where you get beautiful panoramic views of the city. The cable car runs from 7:30am to 7:50pm from Urca Hill station. You need to take 2 cable cars to reach the top and it’s an entrance fee of R$62 (February 2017).
If you get a little hungry, don’t worry there are plenty of restaurants up the top with probably one of the best views of Rio. A little pricey, but it could be a great treat yo’self moment.
To get to Urca station, you need to get the buses number: #511, #512 or #513 from either Botafogo, Lapa or Copacabana.
5. The best beaches of Rio de Janeiro
This beach is extremely popular with locals and offers a completely different view of Sugar Loaf Mountain. It is south west of the mountain and very close to the Urca cable car station. Its’ calm waters allow boiling hot tourists to take a relaxing dip and is perfect for keen paddle boarders.
Ipanema beach over Copacabana
I much preferred Ipanema beach to the overrated Copacabana. It’s perfect for sunset and hosted the best parties throughout Carnival. Don’t stay too much later after sunset as robberies are known to occur at night here. Sitting on the other side of Sugar Loaf Mountain and Copacabana, you instead have an incredible view of Dois Irmãos.
Praia Pepe and Barra da Tijuca
If you climb Pedra da Gavea you will be able to get an out of this world view of Rio de Janeiro. To the south, you will see a line of beautiful beaches, these are Praia Pepe and Barra da Tijuca. They are more commonly used by locals and are very peaceful during the week. You can easily get here from Lapa or Botafogo on the L1 or L4 bus line to Jardim Oceânico Station.
Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande
This is one of the most stunning beaches I have ever come across. It could be the 20km return hike through the dense rainforest or just the fact that it’s a virgin beach with pristine white sand. Whatever it is there is something incredibly special about this beach.
To get to Ilha Grande you first need to get a bus from Rio de Janeiro, Terminal Rodoviario Rio to either Mangaratiba, Conceição de Jacareí or Angra dos Reis. The Costa Verde company will take you to where you need to then get a ferry. You can find their timetable here.
The best thing to do when boarding the bus is to ask the driver to drop you to the nearest ferry dock to Ilha Grande. We were dropped right outside a tour operator who helped organise our ferry transfer. To get all the way to Angra dos Reis (3 hours) it is about R$41 per person (February 2017). Depending on what kind of ferry you get, it should cost around R$7-15 per person.
Once at Ilha Grande you have an array of hostels to chose from. We stayed at Sitio Green Hostel a little further away from the beach, but right in the heart of the rainforest. Howler monkeys were our alarm call for our early morning hike to Lopes Mendes beach.
You can walk there and get a boat back from the next beach down but you can’t get a boat directly there/from as it is a virgin beach, and that is what gives it its’ charm. Try and get there earlier as depending on the season you are travelling, heavy rain is more likely in the afternoon.
6. Fogo de Chão vs. pay per kilo restaurants
If you are in a treat yo’self mood, one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro is to splash out at Fogo de Chão. This might set you back about £40 with an all you can eat meat and salad station and a couple of glasses of wine, but my days it reins as one of my favourite meals yet.
However, if you are more on a budget like I should have been, there are much cheaper ways to eat out in Rio. For you meat lovers you will be in heaven as you can go to any of the Kilo restaurants and get a plate full of meat and salad for R$4. My veggie friend found it more expensive in these restaurants as she would load up of carbs and beans, which weighed more than meat and salad. So it doesn’t always work out the cheapest way but for me it was perfect. You can find some super cheap places, like Nova Lapa in Lapa and more expensive ones that also do an all you can eat pizza night on a Tuesday like, Verano in Botafogo.
7. Praça Mauá – Saúde
Only a 30 minute walk from Lapa and through some really cute side streets, you can come to Rio de Janeiro’s port. There are lots of things to explore around here, such as the Boulevard Olimpico and the Museum of Tomorrow. There is also Pedra do sal, which is supposed to be a fantastic night out for salsa dancing.
What caught my eye the most around the ferry terminal was the huge Etnias mural by famous Brazilian graffiti artist, Eduardo Kobra. In 2016 for the Brazil Olympics, Kobra was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to create the largest mural graffiti in the world, spray painted by one artist. It portrays different ethnic groups from around the world, connecting us to our common ancestors to show ‘we are one‘.
You can also spot some of Kobra’s work in other cities in Brazil, such as Sao Paolo.
8. Parque Lage
At the foot of Corcovado, you can find Rio’s most beautiful park. This former residence of Industrialist, Enrique Lage is the perfect place to come on a sunny day to chill out and explore the grounds. There are some caves here, a huge lake and playful monkeys swinging from the trees. There is also a fantastic view of Christ the Redeemer that not everybody knows about.
We walked from Botafogo to get to the park. However, it is very accessible to reach by public transport, especially as it is near to Copacabana. You can also walk across the main road to see the very large and impressive Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Around here you also have the botanical gardens and the municipal park.
9. Pedra da Gavea
If you are an adrenaline junkie and in search for the ultimate view of Rio then give Pedra da Gavea a go. This is probably one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro, if you aren’t scared of heights that is.
Give my blog post on how to climb Pedra da Gavea for all my top tips.
There are some other hikes you can do around Rio, such as Dois Irmaos, which takes around 40 minutes. You get an amazing view of the Rochina favela, Leblon and Ipanema beaches.
Morro da Urca is also an excellent hike to do, it is the peak before Sugar Loaf mountain and only takes 25 minutes.
If you’ve seen the famous Instagram shot of people hanging off a cliff edge and want to re-enact it, then go to Pedra Telegrafo. This 40 minute hike offers some incredible Insta-action shots. And don’t worry, once you see the actual rock people hang off, it doesn’t matter if you have a fear of heights.
10. Rio Carnival
Last but not least and probably one everyone knows Rio for, is Carnival! If you are planning on visiting Brazil, I would hugely recommend coinciding your trip with Carnival. It is truly a magical experience and some of the best street parties I have ever been to. The atmosphere in the city is electric and there is something going on on every corner.
If you are there a few weeks prior to the celebrations, one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro around Carnival is to go to the Sambadrome. There are free shows on at the weekends as the samba schools compete with each other to see who will reach the finals.
You can read all about my Rio Carnival experiences here.