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!
The first morning of your stay in Rio de Janeiro, resist the temptation to head directly to the city’s largest beaches. Take a moment to breathe in the atmosphere of the city and its Latin beat. To do this, start your sunny morning by heading to the Praia Vermelha, the “red beach”. It’s a quintessentially Brazilian setting, where lush green hills, golden sand and clear blue waves beckon to you. What a beautiful way to start your stay in Rio de Janeiro. This beach, which is a moderate size by the Brazilian megalopolis’ standards, is located between two of Rio de Janeiro’s most famous destinations: Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana Beach.
For now, head for Copacabana to immerse yourself in the Brazilian lifestyle, which is made up largely of sea air, hot sandy beaches and baile funk, the music of the favelas. It’s hard to believe that until the end of the 19th century, Copacabana was nothing more than a field of sand dunes. Today, this 4 kilometre beach is covered in futebol players, surfers and street vendors selling bracelets. After an intense game of beach volleyball, settle down at one of the numerous kiosks where you can treat yourself to a snack of fresh papaya.
Once you’ve gotten enough sunshine for the day, head to Sugarloaf Mountain. One of the country’s most important natural monuments, you can visit this impressive spot by cable car. From your vantage point amongst the clouds, you can contemplate the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and watch the lights illuminating the city of Rio.
On the second morning of your stay in Rio de Janeiro, it’s time to visit the city’s most iconic sight: O Cristo Redentor, “Christ the Redeemer”. On top of Corcovado, one of Rio’s famous mountains, walk through a lush green forest to get up close and personal with one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. In addition to the stunning view from the base of the statue and the fact that it is the symbol of an entire country, Christ the Redeemer is also an amazing display of the architectural prowess of its French sculptor, Paul Landowsky.
Once you’ve returned to Rio’s city centre, aptly named Centro, take a walk through one of the Brazilian megalopolis’ most emblematic neighbourhoods, Santa Teresa. Here, in the car-free roads where old, opulent houses are intermingled with small parks and businesses, the hippy soul of Rio lives on. In this neighbourhood nicknamed “the Montmartre of Rio”, rub shoulders with both local bohemian types and aging regulars sipping coffee on the restaurant terraces. It’s the perfect place to sample feijoada, a Brazilian speciality made with black beans - a dish that will give you just the energy you need to enjoy your stay in Rio de Janeiro until the wee hours of the night.
Once you’ve eaten, leave Santa Teresa behind and head for the festive Lapa neighbourhood, found nearby. If Santa Teresa is known for its romantic atmosphere, Lapa is famous for its many nightclubs. Decorated with street art frescos, Lapa is the face of nocturnal Rio. Head to one of the temples of the “marvellous city”: the Rio Scenarium, which pays homage to the numerous antique shops in the neighbourhood and transports you into an ambiance of esoteric bric-a-brac. The colourful, picturesque atmosphere of this place and its samba and bossa nova rhythms are intoxicating.
With the sun rising on the beaches of Rio, your footsteps will echo in the calm, still-sleeping neighbourhood of Botafogo. Behind beautiful, pricey Ipanema, Botafogo and its beach are a more family-friendly location. Enjoy the spectacle of the morning light on Sugarloaf Mountain in this tranquil setting. After breakfasting on fresh fruits, ham and pão francês, the quintessentially Brazilian buttered “French breads”, head back towards the centre, and more precisely, towards the city’s two historical monuments: the Monastery of St. Benedict and the Candelária Church. Pay no mind to the monastery’s rather austere Baroque facade. Once you step inside, you will discover an ostentatious interior rich in marble and golden wood. Recently restored, this is one of Brazil’s oldest monasteries, dating back to the 16th century. Candelária Church is just as important for the locals. They are great admirers of this neoclassical building, which was built in the 18th and 19th centuries over the foundations of a small chapel. Majestic both inside and out, the church has a particularly spectacular nave, where bronze and the Art Nouveau style are on full display.
With the day coming to an end and dusk lighting up the sky, return to Ipanema, the posh, legendary Rio beach where you can watch the sun set on the mountains surrounding the city. Order an icy caïpirinha from one of the nearby cocktail bars to make the magical moment even more perfect. If you still have the energy, follow the locals towards the posh Leblon neighbourhood to enjoy the warm, original ambiance of Jobi, a charmingly old-fashioned restaurant offering numerous Brazilian specialities such as empadas, small meat-stuffed pastries that are similar to Spanish empanadas. Bom apetite!
No one can deny that the gorgeous beaches are one of the main attractions of Rio de Janeiro, but there’s more to the city than its beaches. Your visit to Rio takes you to legendary hills and low-lying roads, and to neighbourhoods like Lapa where night seems to stretch on forever and you move to the rhythm of the bossa nova.