There is more to see and do in Rio de Janeiro than going up Corcovado and Sugar Loaf and waiting on the beach for carnival. What follows is a list of some suggestions you might like to visit and consider while in Rio, followed by a list of the city’s main museums and galleries.
- Botanical Gardens
- Helicopter tour
- Hippie Fair
- Historic Rio
- Jewelry tour
- Jockey Club
- Maracaña Stadium
- Northeast Fair
- Olympic Village
- Paqueta Island
- Santa Teresa
- Tijuca Forest
- Tropical Islands
THE BOTANICAL GARDEN & BURLE MARX
Rio de Janeiro is blessed with one of the world’s most important Botanical Gardens, a paradise of plants and trees from the four corners of the earth tucked away off Rua Jardim Botânico, across the road from the Jockey Club close to Ipanema.
Founded by Dom João on June 13, 1808, Rio’s Botanical Garden spreads over an area of about 340 acres (149 hectares), half of which is natural forest. Over 7,000 species of plants live in the garden as well as innumerable types of birds and animals. The most impressive plants, from a layman’s point of view, remain the avenue of palms planted in 1842.
The time you spend in the garden, which is open from 8am to 5pm (from noon on Monday), will depend on your mood. You can take a quick stroll, sit and read a book, or take all day exploring the hidden secrets of the garden.
The Botanical Garden is a must for any visitor or resident of Rio with an interest in nature or things green. Over one million people visit the garden each year.
Look out for the orchidarium and orchid exhibitions, the area dedicated to bromeliads and cacti, and for events, the Espaço Tom Jobim.
Another “must” stop for those with green fingers is the house and gardens of Brazil’s most famous landscape gardener, Roberto Burle Marx, who died in 1994. Marx’s house (Estrada da Barra de Guaratiba, 2019) is located at the most westerly end of Barra. Tours of the 100-acre (40 hectares) garden and its 3,500 tropical and semi-tropical plants, including 250 species of palms, take place daily (except Monday), but should be reserved in advance. Tel: 2410-1412.
Burle Marx was, of course, responsible for the landscaping of Flamengo Park and Copacabana’s iconic sidewalks, and also the gardens of the Gran Melia Nacional Hotel in São Conrado.
A visit to the summit of Corcovado to see the city’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer is a must for any visitor to Rio de Janeiro.
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Rio’s favelas (shanty towns) are as much a part of the city’s scenery as Corcovado and Sugar Loaf and have become known internationally thanks to the film City of God. A visit to one of the favelas can be a fascinating and illuminating experience, but an experience that should only be undertaken as part of an organized tour. You should not attempt to enter a favela by yourself, despite what some travel writers will tell you or boast.
The best favela tour, and the pioneer of favela tourism, is organized by Marcelo Armstrong. Marcelo takes either individuals or groups to visit the favelas of Vila Canoas, close to São Conrado, and Rocinha, the largest favela in Latin America. The tour gives a very clear idea how a favela is structured and you will visit a school, craft center, medical center, as well as various houses. Marcelo can be contacted in Rio on 3322-2727 or through the web site.
You might also consider combining a visit to a favela with a visit to the Vidançar Project in the Complexo do Alemão that is supported by the LATA Foundation and Las Iguanas restaurants, among others. But do contact the Project first and they will organise how to visit them.
One of the most impressive and spectacular tours you can undertake in Rio is a helicopter ride over the city.
Helisight, which is based at various locations around Rio, including Sugar Loaf and the Lagoa, operates the main helicopter tours, which start at less than $50 per person. As well as a full city tour, Helisight’s specialty is a five-minute flight around Corcovado and the main beaches. Reservations with Helisight should be made in advance (tel: 2511-2141 or email@example.com).
The last thing you will see in the Hippie Fair is a hippie. Whoever named the fair, which first opened for business in 1968, obviously couldn’t spell artisan.
Rio’s Hippie Fair or Feirarte Ipanema, as it is also known in Portuguese, is located in Praça General Osório in Ipanema, at the Copacabana end of Rua Visconde de Pirajá, and runs every Sunday from 7am to 7pm or later. The metro stop is right by the fair, making it easy to visit from almost any point in Rio..
Hundreds of booths sell every imaginable type of arts and crafts, mostly of a very reasonable price and quality. If you can’t find a souvenir at the Hippie Fair you never will. You can buy beautiful paintings of Rio and Brazil, key rings, jewelry, musical instruments, kites, hammocks, toys and even food. A particularly popular item are well priced the leather goods. And please don’t think the fair is just for tourists, as most of the people buying, will be from Rio.
HISTORIC RIO: A WALKING TOUR
Rio is not only a city of the present and future but also a city with a past, an honorable past that has left reminders of its former glories in the narrow streets of downtown Rio, Centro, where Rio was born and from where it has since grown and developed, and is now being redeveloped following the Olympic Games in 2016.
Because of traffic congestion, the best way to discover the historic legacy of Rio is to walk. To follow our tour of downtown Rio Click Here
A traditional attraction in Rio for many years has been the tour of H. Stern’s workshops and museum that is located in Ipanema at Rua Visconde de Pirajá, 490 (corner of Garcia d’Avila). The building, H. Stern’s world headquarters, is one of the largest spaces ever built exclusively for the production and sale of jewelry. The tour of the workshop is located on the third floor of the building, is free, and can be taken anytime during normal store hours.
The tour, which takes about 15 minutes, takes you through every aspect of the jeweler’s work, from discovery to preparation and design, on to the final finished product. Besides the actual tour, you will be able to visit the Stern museum, which houses the world’s largest uncut gemstone, an aquamarine, and the world’s largest range of tourmalines. On the floor below you can see and hold fabulous examples of the finished product (Stern has 150,000 individual pieces of jewelry in stock in Rio) and ask the multi-lingual staff any questions the tour did not answer.
The H. Stern complex also houses a number of other jewelry showrooms, as well as a gift shop and an excellent handicraft and souvenir store. Information on 2274 9947.
You may find that H.Stern will pay for a taxi to take you from your hotel to the showroom. If you are staying in a hotel you will probably get a voucher under the door.
Next to the Stern complex, at Garcia d’Avila 105 is the Amsterdam Sauer Museum of Gemstones and Rare Minerals (tel: 2512-1132) which is well worth combining with a visit to H. Stern, especially to see the mock ups of a number of traditional mines. This gem of a museum gives visitors’ the opportunity to view the private collection of Jules Roger Sauer, a collection which, with over 3,000 specimens of priceless gemstones and rare minerals, is one of the largest and most valuable in the world; a number of the exhibits being featured in the Guinness Book of Records.
The Rio Jockey Club (Jockey Club Brasileiro) operates one of the most beautiful courses in the world that is easy and cheap for any visitor to Rio to take advantage of. Race days are Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 2pm and Monday and Friday evenings from around 6pm. You can even have lunch or dinner in the main stand overlooking the track.
Racing in Rio dates back to June 12, 1825, when the course was in Botafogo, the present track being inaugurated on July 11, 1926. The most important race of the year is the Brazilian Grand Prix that takes place in August and attracts horses from all over South America and sometimes from the US and Europe. The first Grand Prix was raced in 1933 and attracted a crowd of 60,000, which is more than twice the capacity of the stands. Today, the crowd is restricted on the big race day to an elegant 35,000, and in one afternoon Rio manages to combine its Derby and Royal Ascot in one.
For the record, the Jockey Club boasts five separate stands, a paddock, a turf track of 2.15 km (1.34 miles), and two sand tracks of 1.7 km (1 mile) and 2 km (1.26 miles), as well as an Equestrian Village with more than 1600 stalls. The Jockey Club also hosts other events such as the ATP Rio Open that since starting in 2014 has been won by Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and dominic Thiem.
Rio de Janeiro is home to the Maracanã Stadium, one of the most famous in the world and at one time the largest of its kind. The stadium hosted the finals of the 1950 and 2014 World Cups, and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics as well as the football, where Brazil won its first Olypic soccer gold.
No visit to Rio would be complete without a visit to the stadium on a match day, or to simply look around the stadium. For more details Click Here
It is not very kind, but it is often said that the best things about Niterói are the views across the bay to Rio.
A visit to Niterói can be worthwhile, and if you are British you may find yourself heading across the bay to catch a game of rugby or cricket at the Rio Cricket and Athletic Club founded in 1897, although games are now rare.
To visit and appreciate Niterói properly you need a car, although you can take the ferry from Praça XV if you are simply going to stick to visiting central Niterói. If you go by car, you cross the Rio Niterói Bridge, which at nearly 14 km (9 miles) long is an experience in itself. Once through the toll gate follow signs to Centro/Icaraí.
One of Niterói’s main attractions – and one that is even being used to market Rio and Brazil – is the contemporary art museum (tel: 2620-2481), which was purpose built in 1996 following the plans of Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer. As would be expected of a Niemeyer design, the building, which resembles a flying saucer, is as much an attraction as the art on display. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm and is located at Mirante de Boa Viagem, a short cab ride from where the ferries from Rio dock.
The museum does have its own bistro restaurant with views across the bay to Rio!
In contrast to the middle class ambiance of Ipanema’s Hippie Fair is the Fair of the Northeast (Feira de São Cristóvão) which takes place Tuesday to Thursday from 10am to 6pm, and Friday to Sunday from 10am to 9 pm at the Campo de São Cristóvão, not far from the National Museum. The Fair is a fair of the people, offering hundreds of booths of every size selling everything from a hammock and the beautiful lace wear of the Northeast, to a pig’s head or a box of nails. You name it and the fair seems to have it.
Paquetá is a small, unassuming island tucked away at the top end of Guanabara Bay some 15 km from Praça XV. Its charm in the 21st century is that no motorized transportation is allowed on the island, the only method of getting about being horse-drawn carriages or the good old fashioned bicycle.
Paquetá can be a pleasant experience, if just for the boat ride up the bay. Boats leave regularly throughout the week from Praça XV and take about an hour to cruise their way up the bay.
Once on Paquetá your time is your own – the choices: a horse-drawn carriage or a bicycle made for one, two, three and even four. All are available close to where the boats dock. Other than a peaceful way to spend a day, Paquetá’s main attraction is the Solar d’El Rey, a holiday home of Dom João VI.
Rio is blessed with a multitude of pleasant parks to discover and explore during your stay.
Rio’s most famous park (if you don’t count the Tijuca National Park – see below – and the Botanical Garden – see above) is Flamengo which is crossed every week day by a large percentage of the population on their way to and from work in the city and the zona sul. Flamengo is the result of Brazil’s largest landscaping project that reclaimed the whole park area from the bay. Flamengo is considered to be the largest urban park in the world. That is, as long as the Tijuca National Park is considered to be a forest and not a park.
Today, Flamengo is a sportsman’s paradise with tennis courts, football pitches, basketball and volleyball courts, as well as the beach. On Sunday and holidays one of expressways that cuts through the park is closed to give even more space for recreation. Flamengo is quite safe to walk in during the day as long, as you stick to the beaten track. We would not, however, recommend it at night when you are likely to be the only normal person walking in the area.
Rio’s other parks include: Quinta da Boa Vista, home to the National Museum and Zoo; Campo de Santana, where the Republic was proclaimed in 1889; Parque da Catacumba/Parque Marcos Tamoio, a small park on the side of the Lagoa which has a permanent outdoor exposition of sculptures; Parque da Cidade (City Park) in Gávea which offers ten acres of sloping lawns and romantic ponds; Parque do Catete, or rather the grounds of the Museum of the Republic; and Passeio Público in downtown Rio which lays claim to being Rio’s first park.
In the parks remember to be sensible, and don’t go wandering off into the bushes. In tropical Rio you never know what you might find!
SANTA TERESA AND THE BONDE (STREETCAR)
Santa Teresa is one of Rio’s most attractive and historic residential areas, an area close to the city centre where time stood still. Houses dominate, rather than the tall apartment blocks that have sprouted elsewhere, and even the old streetcars (bondes) continue to operate in parts.
There are a number of good and interesting restaurants and an increasing number of hotels including the upmarket Santa Teresa Hotel.
Like Corcovado, Sugar Loaf is a “must see” place to visit while in Rio de Janeiro.
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Rio’s largest park is the Tijuca National Park of which the Tijuca Forest is one small part. The park is considered to be the largest urban forest in the world.
As you look up at Corcovado from the Lagoa, the mass of greenery you see clinging to the edge of the mountain is the Tijuca National Park and notwithstanding its dense jungle-like appearance, it is quite accessible. Roads run through the entire length of the park allowing visitors to enjoy its many natural wonders, at least during the week, as at the weekend you may have to walk as some of the routes become pedestrian only.
At Alto da Boa Vista, which is fairly well posted, you will find the entrance to the Tijuca Forest off Praça Affonso Vizeu. A short distance into the forest you come to the Cascatinha Taunay, an attractive waterfall that falls over 30 meters (100 feet). In the car park opposite you will see a plan of the forest, including the park’s two restaurants, Os Esquilos and A Floresta. Both restaurants are open for lunch and an early dinner. What they lack in gourmet cooking they more than make up for in atmosphere and moderate prices.
The forest is currently open from 8 am to 5 pm and can be reached in about 40 minutes from anywhere in the city. If you do go for a walk or a trek in the park, try to keep to the main paths otherwise you may get disorientated and lose the way back to your car.
One of the more popular day trips from Rio is a cruise around the tropical islands of Sepetiba Bay, known in the organized sightseeing world as the “Paradise Island Tour” or “Tropical Island Tour”. Leaving from the fishing village of Itacuruçá, a saveiro, a traditional type of Brazilian schooner, takes you on an unforgettable voyage around the region’s many unspoiled tropical islands. Forget Disney, folks, this is the real thing!
The organized trip includes a lunch stop at one of the islands and other tourist activities. It is also possible to hire the schooners, with crew, for your own trip. This can be done by contacting the tour or boat rental companies direct.
Itacuruçá is reached by car following the Rio-Santos highway (BR-101) through Santa Cruz and then following signs to Angra. The turning to Itacuruçá, 68 km (42 miles) from Rio, is clearly marked and the driving time from Rio is around one and a half hours.
While still not one of the world’s great zoos, Rio’s zoo is still a pleasant place to spend a sunny afternoon and see a variety of animals and an excellent bird collection. A visit to the zoo can be combined with a look at the National Museum that is located nearby. Rio’s zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm. Tel: 3878 4200.
A number of conventional tour companies operate in Rio and their tours can be booked at most hotel receptions or through the better travel agents. Tours normally cover:
- Corcovado/Tijuca Forest (Duration: 4-5 hours)
- Sugar Loaf/Botanical Garden (4 hours)
- Rio By Night (6 hours)
- Petrópolis (8 hours)
- City Tour (4 hours)
- Favela (4 hours)
- Tropical Islands (8-10 hours)
- Soccer Game (4 hours)
- Macumba (5 hours)
- Carnival Show with dinner (5 hours)
- Helicopter (15 minutes)
- Búzios (12 hours)
- Angra dos Reis (12 hours)
There are also a number of walking, trekking and jeep tours that take you into the heart of the Tijuca Forest.