The essential Rio travel guide

Has the Olympics put Rio on your personal map? Check out these essential sites on your next Brazilian vacation.

Aerial view of the 'Christ The Redeemer' statue, with Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo Beach in the background. Jeremy Walker | Getty Images

While the spectacle of the Olympics may be the lure to Rio this summer, the city itself offers a stunning backdrop and boasts countless sites worthy of center-stage. From awe-inspiring artistic national treasures to the natural beauty of its scenic mountains, parks and world-famous sandy beaches, Rio serves up something for even the most jaded traveler.

Rio is an enormous city, divided into four districts, so we’ve grouped the list by region to make the most of your time.


Lapa is a vibrant neighborhood in the Centro district, known for being the center of business and commerce in the city as well as home to monuments, history and nightlife.

Escadaria Selarón

Escadaria Selaron Steps <br>Escadaria Selaron Steps Pintai Suchachaisri | Getty Images

Occasionally an art installation becomes synonymous with its locale, and such is the case of the Selarón Staircase. Designed by famed Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, the stairs are fashioned from bits of yellow, green and blue tile (mirroring the Brazilian flag). Selarón considered the steps, which were featured in Brazil’s Olympics-bid video, as an homage to his country, and he actively worked on this evolving landmark until his death in 2013.

Selaron Staircase

Joaquim Silva, S/N
Centro, Rio de Janeiro
Web site (Portuguese only)

Aqueduto da Carioca

Carioca Aqueduct<br>

Carioca Aqueduct Artie Ng | Getty Images

Walking north in Lapa, you will find the Lapa Arches. This aqueduct was built in the middle of the 18th century to bring fresh water from the Carioca river to the people of Rio. Selfie alert: the view makes for fantastic photographs.

Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião

<span style="font-size: 12pt;" data-mce-style="font-size: 12pt;">Catedral Metropolitana de S</span>ã<span style="font-size: 12pt;" data-mce-style="font-size: 12pt;">o Sebastião</span><br><br>

Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião Luiz Ab | Getty Images

Continuing north, the Cathedral of Rio, the architecture of which was inspired by Mayan pyramids, is an unusual dot on the city landscape. The modern, conical shaped interior features four brilliantly colored floor-to-ceiling stained glass panels and can fit up to 20,000 people.

A fifteen-minute walk north from the cathedral will bring you to the famed Confeitaria Colombo. A bustling and vibrant café with a strong Portuguese influence, this spot is popular with locals and makes for a perfect lunch or snack stop.

Rio Cathedral

Av. Chile, 245
Centro, Rio de Janeiro
+55 (21) 2240-2669
Web site (Portuguese only)
The cathedral is open every day to visitors from 7 a.m.–5 p.m.

Confeitaria Colombo

Gonçalves Dias 34
+55 2505 1500
Open from 9 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily, closing at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and holidays

Cristo Redentor & Pão de Açúcar

Christ the Redeemer<br>

Christ the Redeemer Cristian Adams | Getty Images

Christ the Redeemer is a massive art deco statue of Jesus Christ that graces Rio from atop Mount Corcovado and figures prominently in imagery of the city. Named as one of the new “seven wonders of the world,” viewing is easiest by taking a tram to the top of Mount Corcovado. If you have the time and the energy, you can also take a two and a half hour hike to the top.

Another opportunity for stunning vistas of Rio is a visit to nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. The cable car to the top makes the trip in two stages: the first stop takes you to the top of Urca Mountain and the second to the top of Pão de Açúcar. Have your camera ready and consider visiting at sunset for incredible aerial views over Rio.

Note: Cable-car service to Sugarloaf runs every 20 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. from the station located at Praia Vermelha (Red Beach).

Christ the Redeemer

Trams leave from the station on Rua Cosme Velho every half hour, between 8 a.m. and 7p.m., every day of the week


Cable car service to Sugarloaf runs every 20 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. from the station located at Praia Vermelha (Red Beach)
Avenida Pasteur, 520 – Urca
+55 (21) 2546-8433

Jardim Botanico & Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas


The avenue of palms is seen at the Jardim Botanico in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2015. John Gress | Corbis via Getty Images

The Botanical Gardens in the Zona Sul (South Zone) district were created by King John VI of Portugal and were first opened to the public in 1822. Highlights of this lavish garden are the impressive row of palms, the Amazonas section, the lake filled with huge water lilies, and the greenhouse with its hundreds of orchid varieties.

City and suburbs of Rio with lights at dusk looking over Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon towards Ipanema<br>

City and suburbs of Rio with lights at dusk looking over Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon towards Ipanema Mark Meredith | Getty Images

For more scenic beauty, head to the nearby saltwater lagoon of Rodrigo de Freitas. Enjoy a spin on the charming swan-shaped paddles boats or savor a snack at one of the many waterside stands.

Jardim Botanico

Rua Jardim Botânico, 1008
+55 (21) 3874-1808
Tuesdays through Sundays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, 12–5 p.m. (Portuguese only)

Rio Beaches

Ipanema Beach&nbsp;<br>.

Ipanema Beach WIN-Initiative | Getty Images

Cariocas, the people of Brazil, flock to Rio’s plentiful white, sandy beaches. Perhaps the most famous beach in Rio, Copacabana is a haven for sun seekers and beach-football fanatics. Toast with a caipirinha cocktail from one of the many beach vendors and soak up the sun.

Copacabana Beach<br>

Copacabana Beach Danny Lehman | Getty Images

Slightly smaller than Copacabana, nearby Ipanema is a great place to take in the coastal chic of Rio. Revel in the atmosphere at the beach itself, and then stroll down the Rua Vincius de Morais to enjoy its trendy shops, bars and restaurants.

Note: The Botanical Garden and lagoon are located very near to the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. If you visit Ipanema and walk along the Rua Vincius de Morais, you will find yourself at the lagoon.

Copacabana Beach

Bairro de Copacabana,
Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema Beach

Bairro de Ipanema,
Rio de Janeiro


The Gothic Cathedral of Petropolis, the Imperial City<br>

The Gothic Cathedral of Petropolis, the Imperial City Leonardo Martins | Getty Images

If time allows, consider a day trip to Petropolis, a mountainside oasis that once served as a summer retreat for Brazil’s royalty. Located 35 miles outside Rio, Petropolis was created by Emperor Pedro II (son of Emperor Pedro I who declared Brazil independent of Portugal). Highlights of this cozy town are the Summer Palace, the Imperial Museum and the picturesque São Pedro de Alcântara Cathedral. The cathedral is built in the Gothic style—less common in South America—and contains the tombs of the last Emperor Dom Pedro II and his family.


São Pedro de Alcântara Cathedral

São Pedro Alcântara,
60 Centro,
Petrópolis – RJ, 25685-300, Brazil
Open from 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

Amy Cojac Andrews
Amy Andrews

Amy Cojac Andrews is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and New York City. She writes about luxury and family travel for Ciao Bambino and other publications.

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