Things to do in Rio de Janeiro: Attractions and places to visit

Rio de Janeiro (Denise Mayumi)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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With more than 13 million inhabitants, Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s largest cities. A mixture of vibrant city life and beautiful natural scenery with sandy beaches, bays and granite hills makes the city a dream destination for many holidaymakers.

The Sugar Loaf and the Corcovado with its statue of Christ are the most famous granite hills of the Brazilian metropolis. The magnificent carnival is an exciting spectacle every year and football fans have experienced historic battles on the green lawn.

James Bond 007 – Moonraker” (1979) belongs to these blockbusters as well as “Fast & Furious 5” or the first part of the vampire saga “Breaking Dawn”.

Below we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights in Rio de Janeiro.

Luftansicht des Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro (marchello74 / stock.adobe.com)  lizenziertes Stockfoto 
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Rio de Janeiro - Brazil - Sunset (Sam valadi)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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Copacabana Beach - Rio de Janeiro (Christian Haugen)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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1. Sugar loaf – the landmark of Rio

The 396 metre high Glockenberg was created by shell-like desquamations on the Urca peninsula. Its shape is reminiscent of a sugar loaf and gave it its name. The rock of gneiss granite was climbed for the first time in 1817. Today, a fully glazed cable car leads in two sections up to one of the most important sights in Rio de Janeiro. The first section ends after 226 metres.

There is a theatre for more than 1000 people, various restaurants and even a disco. A few steps lead to the second mountain station, from where the journey continues on to the Sugar Loaf. Once at the top, viewing platforms invite visitors to enjoy a sensational view over the Atlantic Ocean, bays and beaches. Walks lead through a small bamboo forest and souvenir kiosks offer souvenirs and souvenirs.

2. Corcovado – home of the famous statue of Christ

Cristo Redentor (Christ, the Redeemer) rises up on Mount Corcovado with his arms spread out. Built in the Art-Dèco style, the statue houses a chapel in its eight-metre-high pedestal. Your eyes are on the sugar loaf. The summit is easily reached by rack railway.

The viewing platform offers views of Rio de Janeiro, the Corcovado National Park, the Copacabana and the historic Maracanã football stadium. It is one of the greatest statues of Christ in the world. Many other statues were built according to their model. Among them also Cristo Rei from Almada south of Lisbon.

3. Legend and dream beach Copacabana

In the Zona Sul lies the most famous district of Rio: Copacabana. The part of the city between the favelas and the Atlantic is famous for its four kilometres of sandy beach, which in itself is the most visited attraction in Rio de Janeiro. Around Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana and Rua Santa Clara there are numerous possibilities for strolling and shopping.

But whoever comes here wants to enjoy the beach life. Here the holidaymaker feels the Brazilian attitude to life with a Mojito or Caipirinha. Sports lovers have numerous water sports opportunities and by making contact with friendly Brazilians or taking a stroll through the surrounding streets, tourists get to know the diversity of the country’s different cultures.

4. Estádio do Maracanã – a must for football fans

Once the Maracanã Stadium was the largest football stadium in the world. When it was completed for the 1950 Football World Cup in Brazil, it provided space for 200,000 football enthusiasts. Due to various modernisation measures over the years, the capacity shrank to 74,738 spectators today. But the venue, which is also used for concerts, has lost none of its fascination. At major sporting events such as the Copa America 1989 or the 2016 Summer Olympics, the stadium was the scene of major battles.

Since 13 July 2014 at the latest, Maracanã has been a must for every fan of the German national football team on a visit to Rio de Janeiro. Mario Götze shot Captain Philipp Lahm’s team to the World Cup title in a thrilling final against superstar Lionel Messi and his Argentinians. On various sightseeing tours, visitors can take a look behind the scenes, see where their heroes have changed their clothes and even enter the sacred lawn.

5. Cinel̢ndia Рwonderful square with theatre houses

Praça Floriano Peixoto is the official name of this large public square located in the centre of the city. However, it is popular under the name Cinelândia. The Avenida Rio Branco leads through the old city centre. A number of important public buildings were erected opposite the square.

Among them is the Theatro Municipal, which is one of the most important and magnificent theatres in Brazil. In front of the municipal theatre there is a bronze statue of the composer Carlos Gomes. The centre of the square is decorated with a monument by Floriano Peixoto, once President of the Republic. Bars, beautiful cafes and cinemas provide entertainment around Cinelândia

6. Catedral de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro

If you see the cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, you will rather feel reminded of the pyramids in Egypt. Optically it has nothing in common with a typical church. By the way, this also applies to their interior. And indeed, it was designed in the Mayan pyramid style by Edgar de Oliveira da Fonseca. 20,000 people can be accommodated in the 75 metre high building. Scenes from the Bible are shown on 48 bronze plates at the entrance portal. Pompous jewelry is not to be found.

A simple granite altar and four impressive coloured glass windows, on the other hand, still provide highlights. Another eye-catcher is the huge glass cross. The basement of the cathedral also houses a museum of sacred art. Completed in 1979, the cathedral is today the seat of the Archbishop of Rio.

7. Botanical Garden Rio de Janeiro

Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens are among the most important in the world. About 6500 species can be found on an area of about 140 hectares. These include some plant species that are threatened with extinction.

The main avenue, Barbosa Rodrigues, is lined with 128 royal palms, some of which date back to the garden’s period of origin. The main attraction of the garden is a lake where you can admire the biggest water lily of the Amazon. Visitors can also expect rose gardens, orchidaria and greenhouses.

8. Waterfalls in Tijuca National Park

The lush green and tropical Tijuca forests are also a national park and represent the world’s largest city forest. In the natural pools you can enjoy a refreshing swim in one of the beautiful waterfalls. The Corcovado also belongs to this national park, which is located outside the city centre and can be reached by bus.

On many hiking trails you can explore the plants and animals of the biosphere reserve. The flora includes, for example, coffee, breadfruit trees and mango. Among the animal inhabitants are snakes, insects, spiders, coatis or lizards.

9. Special flair at the Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach is next to Copacabana the most important beach of the city. The neighboring district is one of the more upscale parts of the city. Ipanema is situated on a wide bay. On deckchairs under colourful parasols you can soak up a unique atmosphere.

When a beach vendor offers ice-cold Acai, a connoisseur should not say no. The mush from the Acai berries of South America is refined with sweet condensed milk, peanuts and granola. On the rock Arpoador Rock, which lies between Copacabana and Ipanema, Sunset fans experience a breathtaking sunset.

10. Escadaria Selarón – Tile artwork

The artist Jorge Selaròn created the colourful work on the more than 200 steps that lead up to the artists’ quarter of Santa Theresa in the Lapa district below the stairs. In loving detail work tiles from more than 60 countries were used. Everyone had the opportunity to donate their tiles to the artist. With a little luck he could later find it as part of a colorful work of art.

Today the project has become one of the most photographed sights in Rio de Janeiro. Among other things, walkers will discover tile motifs by Speedy Gonzales or the Simpsons. The total number is more than 2000 tiles. Selaròn hand-painted 300 of them with the motif of a pregnant African woman.

More things to do and activities for your Rio de Janeiro holiday

Best time to visit Rio de Janeiro

We recommend the following months as best time to travel for exploring the attractions and acivities of Rio de Janeiro:

May, June, July, August, September, and October

You can find more information about the weather, including all climate data, on our climate page for Rio de Janeiro.

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