BIG5 things to do in Rio de Janeiro – One day

Cidade Maravilhosa is lovingly called the city by its inhabitants, the “Cariocas” – and rightly so. Rio de Janeiro ‘s sights are world famous, but there is also much to see off the beaten tourist track. Immerse yourself in this impressively diverse city and let yourself be enchanted by the Brazilian zest for life. Let’s go, find out the things to do, taste, see, … in Rio de Janeiro!

What do you learn in this article?

BIG5 Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

You don’t want to miss any must-see? Find your checklists, travel guide & tips for the Rio de Janeiro city trip here:

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Speed Date

Outstanding:

Rio has so much to offer, hiking, art, beaches, sightseeing, you are here for everything!

Sucks:

Have to find out beforehand whether it is safe in the district of your current exploration – or where not

DO:

Spend a lot of time relaxing on the beach like the locals do

DO NOT:

Walk through the wrong neighborhoods in the dark (or sometimes during the day) and unnecessarily display valuables

Don’t tell your mother:

Security in Rio is an issue in itself, it can be very dangerous in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some favelas are still under the rule of gangs or cartels. However, they are mostly in the Zona Norte, where you do not have to go as a tourist to experience the BIG5.

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Rapid Fire Q&A

  • How many days to plan for a city trip to Rio? – Best would be at least 2 full days available for Rio, but the BIG5 sights one day is ok
  • Ok, Sugarloaf Mountain, this statue and beaches. Is there anything else? – You don’t believe how versatile Rio is. In addition to the world-famous attractions, there is a lot to discover and activities vary widely, including hiking, art and history
  • What about security? Seems to be one of THE topics … – As long as you follow the usual safety and behavior rules when traveling, a visit to Rio is a great experience!
  • Glitz and glamor at Copacabana sounds expensive !? – You can also live very cheaply in Rio, especially when it comes to eating and drinking.
  • Aren’t just tourists on the beach? Boring. – Not even close! The Cariocas themselves spend a lot of time on their beaches, especially in Ipanema.

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Orga

Best travel time

In the Brazilian winter months from May to September, the temperatures are pleasant and not too hot

Arrival & Departure

Visa: Check here, whether you need a visa for Brazil with your passport

  • Flight: Rio’s international airport “Galeão – Antonio Carlos Jobim” (IATA: GIG) is the second largest airport in Brazil after São Paulo and is served by many airlines
  • Flight: The center-oriented airport “Santos Dumont” (SDU) is more geared towards domestic flights.
  • Bus: Bus: As in all countries in South America, the bus is the main form of transportation. The central bus station in Rio with connections to all corners of Brazil and many neighboring countries is the Rodoviária Novo Rio.

Next up is … São Paulo or the Iguazu Falls, both in Brazil. A flight is recommended.

Accommodation

Recommended location: An accommodation within walking distance of the beach and well connected to the metro – my favorite is the Ipanema district

  • Budget: Che Lagarto Hostel Ipanema (Rua Paul Redfern, 48, Ipanema; ~ 6-10 €), great hostel in a prime location
  • Medium: Leblon The best of Brazil (Rua Almirante Guilhem, 401 Bairro do Leblon; ~ 40-50 €), apartment in a great location
  • Medium: Américas Copacabana Hotel (Rua Barata Ribeiro, 550, Copacabana; 50-70 € with good offers), 4 * on the Copacabana
  • Noble: Hotel Arpoador (Rua Francisco Otaviano, 177 – Copacabana; ~ 100-150 €), extremely good location and great view from the roof pool

Price level

Withdraw money: easily possible at the airport and at ATMs in the city

Beer indicator: ~ 1.00 – 1.50 euros depending on the district and location

Taxi costs: Average ~ 2.30 R $ (real) per kilometer, ~ 0.50 euros

Restaurants

  • Churrascaria Palace (R. Rodolfo Dantas, 16 – Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, medium prices), very good selection of meat and seafood
  • Bar e Galeto 183 (R. de Santana, 183 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, reasonably priced), simple restaurant in the Centro
    Aprazível (R. Aprazível, 62 – Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, upscale price category), great location in a tropical garden with a magnificent view
  • Zazá Bistrô Tropical (R. Joana Angélica, 40 – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, medium price segment), Asian influences in Galeto 183 Ipanema
  • Confeitaria Colombo (R. Gonçalves Dias, 32 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro, medium price segment), huge café with a great atmosphere and conveniently located near the Largo da Carioca

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Activities

  • Stroll through the artistic district of Santa Teresa with the steps Escadaria do Selarón as a conclusion
  • Visit the statue of Cristo Redentor on the Corcovado and enjoy the panoramic view of the city
  • Take the cable car up to the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain)
  • Play fuitebol on the beach (beach volleyball with soccer rules) – or at least watch it
  • Enjoy the world famous beaches Copacabana and Ipanema with a cheap Caipi or Açai

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Photo spots

  • From the rocks “Pedra do Arpoador” with a great view over Ipanema & Leblon with the Morro Dois Irmãos in the background
  • Sit on the famous steps of the Escadaria do Selarón
  • From the statue of Christ on the Corcovado with a magnificent panoramic view of Rio
  • The view from Sugar Loaf Mountain onto the beaches and bays – especially at sunset
  • Get your photo taken in front of the sand art at Copacabana

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Things to do off the beaten track

  • Hike Morro Dois Irmãos – especially in the afternoon for the sunset
  • Immerse yourself in everyday life in a favela – but only with a guided tour!
  • Rio from above: paraglide over the famous beaches. The luxurious variant is the helicopter sightseeing flight
  • Marvel at Painel Etnias, the world’s largest grafitti wall with impressive motifs, created for the 2016 Olympic Games (Av Rodrigues Alves, 241in Gambôa, Rio de Janeiro)
  • Take an extensive tour of the Tijuca National Park – comfortably directly from Rio

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Culinary Journey

  • Caipirinha – THE cocktail with cachaça, lime juice & cane sugar
  • Typical Brazilian: grilled meat – preferably from a churrasceria
  • Acai mixed drink / with condensed milk
  • Feijoada – the typical bean stew
  • Queijo Coalho na Brasa (fried cheese on a stick)

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Communication

The language in Rio is Portuguese.

  • thank you – obrigado (as male) / obrigada (as female)
  • yes – sim
  • no – não
  • hello – Olá / Bom dia (sprich: djija)
  • good bye – Adeus

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Helpful Websites / Links

BIG5 Rio de Janeiro – Overview Map with best things to do

Rio de Janeiro attractions: Panoramic view of Rio de Janeiro and the Sugar Loaf Mountain

BIG5 Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Arrive well first!

The best thing to do is to book accommodation in one of the beach areas of Zona Sul. My personal favorite is the Ipanema beach district. But there is also a large selection in the neighboring districts of Copacabana and Leblon.

There are many convenient bus connections from the airports directly to Copacabana and Ipanema.
In addition to the cheap city buses, there are also air-conditioned buses with a small surcharge.

Your morning in Rio de Janeiro: Corcovado & Santa Teresa

Rio de Janeiro Sights: Panoramic view from Corcovado

The first goal for the morning: get an overview! From where would this be better possible in Rio than from the famous Christ statue on Corcovado.

You have two alternatives to get up: hiking or by cog railway.

For the active among you: The hiking trail is not very difficult, a guide is not required. It starts in the wonderful Parque location, to the right of the Plage Café. The trails wind through the evergreen Tijuca National Park over a distance of around 2.5 kilometers and 700 meters in altitude. Neither the distance nor the altitude is the challenge, but the tropical temperatures and conditions, especially when it comes to air humidity. For a partly steep path you should plan around 1 1/2 hours.

For those who are still enough kilometers on their feet today or who are not equipped with a particularly lavish time budget, we recommend taking the “Trem do Corcovado” rack railway. The valley station is in the Cosme Velho district.
You can easily book tickets in advance online on the official website.

The landmark of Rio is – what a surprise (!) – there is a very large crowd all day, which is why it is advisable to leave as early as possible.

Everyone knows the statue from pictures or from television, but really standing in front of the 38 meter high Cristo with his arms spread out is really deeply impressive. The view is also impressive: in all directions, over the Guanabara Bay, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the beaches Copacabana and Ipanema, the financial towers of the center, the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and much more.

 

For the way down, it is best to take the cog railway or a tourist van directly to the next destination. Walking on foot takes an unnecessarily long time and for areas that are less worth seeing.

Rio de Janeiro Sights: The artist district of Santa Teresa

Go on! Rio’s famous arts district of Santa Teresa nestles picturesquely on one of the city’s many hills.
It is known for its many bars and alternative restaurants, street art, the yellow tram affectionately known as “Bonde” and splendid colonial houses. These often belonged to large coffee barons and were often used as embassies when Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil.

One of the most popular photo spots in the district is therefore the mural with a unique panorama of the city and the icons of Santa Teresa – the tram. Embark on a journey of discovery through the district, which has retained a lot of charm. Artistic street art is conjured up on the walls in many corners.

On Largo dos Guimaraes you will often find junk markets and the surrounding cafés and bars invite you to linger.

Things to do in Rio: Your perfect afternoon

Rio de Janeiro attractions: The Escadaria do Selarón

Directly after Santa Teresa on the way to Lapa is a special work of art: The Escadaria do Selarón.
In this special place, actually tiled steps represent the sight.

Not just any steps, but artfully composed over 2,000 tiles from over 60 (!) Countries by the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón in 1989.
Go on a discovery tour and see what exciting places of origin and funny motifs you find.

As both the name of the place and Rio de Janeiro are mentioned here, the steps are wonderful for a nice souvenir photo. Further up there is also a corner with the flag of Brazil made of tiles, a really nice photo motif!

Rio de Janeiro Sights: The Lapa & Centro neighborhoods

In the neighboring district of Lapa, like its neighbor Santa Teresa, is a cultural, vibrant center with many bars, cafes and galleries.

A touch of Roman architecture in the middle of South America? The Aqueduto da Carioca, the arches of Lapa have been an important element of the city’s water supply since the 1720s.

Nearby is the city’s cathedral, the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, as it is officially called. The special architecture immediately catches the eye and makes it one of the most striking buildings of the Centros.

The legendary football stadium Estádio do Maracanã is a special place from a German perspective: Here the team became world champion in 2014. If your time budget is tight, I advise against a guided tour – which must also be booked in advance.
Nevertheless, there is still time for a short photo session in front of the stadium and if you are lucky you will also win the World Cup there.

 

If you still have some time: get into a taxi and drive to the Painel Etnias! It is the world’s largest grafitti wall with impressive motifs, created for the 2016 Olympic Games (Av Rodrigues Alves, 241in Gambôa, Rio de Janeiro)

Rio de Janeiro attractions: Painel Etnias, the world's largest graffiti wall

Rio Things to do: The world famous beaches

But now is definitely time for the beach and sunbathing – off to the Praias de Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon.

Use the afternoon to visit the world famous beaches. If you are good on foot, you can start at Copacabana and walk over Ipanema to Leblon or vice versa if you want to go to Sugar Loaf Mountain next. There is so much to discover here.

From the Copacabana you have a good view of the Sugar Loaf. How about a souvenir photo in front of one of the many sand castles that street artists have conjured up on the edge of the promenade. On the way to Ipanema, pictures on the wall remind us of an event that – at least from a German point of view – we will fondly remember: the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

If you have brought a little more time, you can visit the Forte de Copacabana here for little money (approx. 6 reals). Once an important defensive structure of the city and surrounding bays, it now offers a particularly good view of the Copacabana. This location is also great for the sunset!

My personal favorite place in Rio is Ipanema Beach. From the rocks of Pedra do Arpoador you have a great view of the entire beach with the striking 2 peaks of Morro Dois Irmãos in the background. Take an inexpensive caipirinha from one of the bars or shops on the beach, sit in the warm sand and let your surroundings soothe you.

 

There is hardly a place where the Brazilian way of life can be felt as clearly as here. The locals play the typical fuitebol (volleyball with soccer rules), look for a cooling in the water or sit under their umbrella with drinks just like you and enjoy the day.

Typical Rio: At the weekend a lane on the main road is closed and appropriately conquered by pedestrians, inline skaters and scooters!

Must-see in Rio: View from the world famous Sugar Loaf Mountain

Now it’s time: take the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain.

One day in Rio, one highlight really chases the next. Schedule the cable car ride to Sugarloaf Mountain in the late afternoon. There is no footpath to the 396-meter Rio landmark, so you have no choice but to pay the +100 real, which is relatively expensive for Rio.
You can also buy tickets conveniently online on the official website.

The journey runs in two stages. On the slightly lower mountain Morro da Urca you do and run to the next station. From here you can take the famous photos with the gondola and the sugar loaf in the background. You can also take a wonderful footpath to the middle station. For this you need about an hour.

The view of Rio is second to none, you see the bustle on the Copacabana, the boats in Botafogo, the favelas in the hills and the Christ enthroned above all on the Corcovado.

 

My tip: Definitely stay up until the sun goes down. The play of colors at sunset is awesome. Little by little the city lights up in the glow of countless lights. The lookout platforms on Sugar Loaf Mountain are open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., so you have some time to enjoy the spectacle.

Watch out bargain hunters: Of course in the bars you pay for the view and the location on the most famous rock in Rio with every beer. But you can also take something up yourself.

Things to do in the evening: Brazilian food & Lapa

After such a long day with lots of impressions, you are definitely hungry. In Brazil, the place to be is now a “churrasceria“. Meat from the grill, usually paid “per kilo” or “all you can eat” at a flat rate.
Tired of meat or hunger almost overwhelming you? Then the small restaurants and bars near the Sugar Loaf are a suitable alternative, for example the Bar Urca with a great selection of seafood.

 

Do you want to go out? Then Lapa is just the thing for you. On Fridays and Saturdays, the city even blocks some roads for traffic.

During the day, I had perceived the quarter as somewhat dodgy, so caution is advised. As long as you are on the very busy party mile, everything should fit. But avoid the side streets, which are more shady than shady at night.

But be careful: on your way home quickly get your feet into the water at Copacabana again? Bad idea! Under no circumstances should you go to the beaches in the dark, even in a group. Dodgy characters …

 

You brought more time with you?

Perfect, there a so much for things to do in Rio de Janeiro!

Check out my suggestions in Rio de Janeiro Itinerary for 2 perfect days!

 

So when are you going to sip caipirinha on Rio’s beaches?

What are your BIG5 for the Cidade Maravilhosa? 🇧🇷

 

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