Planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro? Get some inspiration on what to do while you’re there with our idea of a perfect three-day itinerary. History, culture, entertainment, restaurants… Pack it all in at a comfortable pace and don’t miss a thing!
Capital of Brazil for many years, before that title was transferred to Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in the country, and is surely the most emblematic. World-famous for its festivals and carnivals, but also for its beaches and favelas, all year round Rio de Janeiro lives under the outstretched arms of Cristo Redentor who watches over and protects the city.
Arriving in Rio, you'll probably want to head straight to the city’s legendary beaches, but we suggest you start with an itinerary that will allow you to scope out the city and get an idea of its identity and its diversity.
Make a beeline for Corcovado, the “hunchbacked” mountain where the iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) stands. Over the years, this 38 metre high statue has become the main symbol of the city. Located on this small mountain, you can see the statue from all parts of the city, forming a stunning backdrop, and vice versa: from on top of the mountain you’ll see a magnificent view of Rio.
The Tijuca Forest extends from the base of the Corcovado. This is the largest urban forest in the world; it continues right into the heart of the city. The forest is actually the result of a reforestation effort, after the Brazilians realized the dangers of deforestation in the city. It is now protected as the Tijuca National Park, and it is an excellent location for a picnic. You will find many sites to visit, such as Cascatinha, the fairy lagoon and the solitude dam.
In the afternoon, you can enjoy an even better view of the city from the top of Sugar Loaf mountain, a rocky peak which is another well-known emblem of the city. The view is beautiful at any time of day. From here you can see the districts of Botafogo and Flamengo, as well as the beautiful beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
For your first night, head to one of the city's many bars to experience the sultry mood and swinging beat of samba. Try the popular samba club, Carioca da Gema, in the centre of Lapa, a buzzing district known for its nightlife.
The next morning, head to the Botanical Garden, one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. You will discover a number of tropical species that live here. Within the gardens, you can visit the Casa dos Pilões and Casa de los Cedros which house particularly interesting cacti, ferns and carnivorous plants.
From the garden, take the tram to the district of Santa Teresa. This area is built on a hill, which means you can enjoy a great view from here, among the typically winding streets connected with staircases. This colourful area is certainly a feast for the eyes, but you will also find many good restaurants here. Try the feijoada, a local dish made with black beans, beef and pork. From the top of Santa Teresa, you will also have an impressive view of the favelas, the famous slums of Rio, which must be seen, but are better viewed from a distance.
In the evening, it's finally time to head to one of the city’s two legendary beaches, Ipanema, to enjoy a caipirinha. This beach is located in a chic residential area, meaning it is less noisy and lively than Copacabana. Ipanema is a more romantic destination, as immortalised in the famous song by Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, The Girl from Ipanema. If you're lucky enough to be there at sunset, you will notice that bathers often applaud as the sun goes down, appreciative of this beautiful moment.
For the third day, return to the city centre, and explore the Quinta da Boa Park, home to the National Museum, where you can learn a little more about the history of Brazil. The museum houses one of the best archaeological collections on the continent which tells the story of South American populations. Upon leaving, you can stop for a picnic in the park before you make your way towards the famous Copacabana beach at last.
It's not for nothing that Copacabana is one of the most famous beaches in the world. On almost 5 kilometres of fine sand, all the diversity of the inhabitants of Rio can be found. By late afternoon, people of all backgrounds flock here, from the poorest favela kids to successful businessmen, all drawn to the waves with the same desire. Activities abound, particularly volleyball and football, the sport so beloved by all Brazilians. Among the bustle of vendors along the beach you must try the fresh coconut juice which is drunk straight out of the green coconut, or try a fruit juice made with açai, a rich-tasting berry which grows in Brazil.
In the evening, you'll probably want to enjoy a little more of Copacabana, and so you should. After sunset, leave the beach and discover one of the areas traditional little bars, like the Bip-Bip which hosts concerts almost every evening, or the Sindicato do Chopp, reputed for its selection of beers. For a more relaxed, trendy atmosphere, make your way to Botafogo, a district which attracts the city's artistic, bohemian types.
After tasting so many delights, you will definitely feel it is too soon to leave Rio de Janeiro after only three days, and indeed there is a lot more to see here. If you have a few more days to spend in Rio, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Guanaraba Bay and Ilha de Paqueta, whose natural landscapes are truly breath-taking.