All the Tips You Need for a Great Time in Rio de Janeiro (for Returners and First Timers Alike)

Before I continue with the story about our adventures in the farm that I started almost two weeks ago, I have to drop here a few lines inspired by my recent visit to Rio de Janeiro. I managed to combine both, work and pleasure, by dedicating four very long days to the conference where the company I work for had a stand and a couple of lectures, and then meeting my husband to discover the best places in Rio during the weekend. Overall, it was a great way to step out of the routine and combine responsibilities with my favorite thing of all – travelling. The trip was even so inspiring that you will probably hear about it form different angles in more than one post.

In this one, I wanted to share with you the best (and worst) places to visit, to stay, to eat etc. that we discovered in Rio just last week. This was actually my fourth trip to the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City). Although the first two were purely for fun and tourism, unlike this one, it was the last week’s visit that turned out to be my favorite one of them all for four main reasons:

  • I had already done the most typical or famous tourist traps (Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açucar, Lapa, Esacadria de Selarón, Rio Scenario, Copacabana etc.) before. All of these are great, of course. They are on many must visit lists for a reason, yet I find them a little less enjoyable due to the amount of people (I am not a crowd lover), high prices and long queues, than the sites we when last week.
  • I felt more secure this time, as I can already find my way around the City, speak fluent Portuguese and know a few tricks how to blend in with the locals whenever necessary. In addition, we felt free and inspired the whole time, so we made plans and explored the City spontaneously. It worked out great!
  • We got many invaluable tips from locals, which is always the best option!
  • The fourth, but probably the most important reason of them all – it was the first time that it was just Don Ferdinand and me enjoying the charms of Rio exactly the way we wanted to. Company is most definitely everything.

So here goes my list with recommendations in five categories. You can click on the category that interests you the most or just scroll down to read the whole thing:

  • WHERE TO GO?

This section will be divided into two, as during the couple of days we had in Rio, we actually could not visit all the places that were recommended and we would have wanted to. There are so many (hidden) gems there! Therefore, firstly, here is a list of all the highly-recommended places we actually went to this time, followed by those that we have heard great things of but could not make it this time. Who knows, maybe you will go there first and let me know if they are truly worth it 😉

Tested and recommended:

Jardim Botánico

Jardim Botánico was our first stop. This was the only place we had planned to go to since the very beginning and I am so glad we did. For only 10 reais you have the whole day to discover this amazing and huge garden. It is easy to get around by following the signs, but to make sure you see everything that interests you, it is better to ask for a map at the entrance. We did not ask for once, since we did not get it, but we managed to find our way around nicely nevertheless.

Opened already in 1808 as part of a Portuguese research project, it is now a place with lush vegetation, great for taking gorgeous photos and gasping at the view of Christ Redeemer towering over the whole place in the distance. You might spot in-numerous different species of birds as well as some monkeys frequently minding their business around the garden.

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From avenues lined with spectacular imperial palms (my absolute favorites) to some of the biggest trees, I have seen in my life so far and others that looked too magical to be of this world, the botanical garden of Rio de Janeiro offers hours’ worth of exploring and wondering at its charms.

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There is the an area dedicated just for cactuses, a Japanese Garden and also Sensory Garden where you can see, touch and smell different plants and find out what they are typically used for (remedies, food, tea etc.). The Amazon area shows the typical vegetation of this region. You can find majestic old fountains – like the Fountain of the Muses – and ponds filled with gigantic fish, as well as a cave and sitting spots under a shelter perfectly knitted by plants that are great for reading, as well as hiding from the burning sun or curious looks of other visitors.

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There might be some school visits going on from time to time, but it is definitely big enough for everyone to be able to explore freely in their own rhythm or find a private spot just to relax with all the green and great smells around you.

And if you get hungry, you can have a meal in one of the Cafes inside the Botanical Garden, but there are plenty of nice places close by yet outside the garden as well.  Oh, and if you feel that you cannot but take a souvenir from this place with you, there is a gift shop right at the exit of the garden.

Parque Lage

Parque Lage is located in the Jardim Botancio neighbourhood, right at the foot of the Corcovado. Due to the proximity with the Botanical Garden you can do both the same day, should you wish to. However, we decided to visit only one at a time, allowing for more time and energy to explore well the both of them.

The entrance to Parque Lage is completely free of charge and open for everyone. Even on a Saturday afternoon it does not get nearly as full as the Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, for example, which means that anyone looking for peace and quiet can find it in one of the more secluded corners of the park. Parque Lage combines the perks of a park with subtropical forest, wildlife and amazing views of the city. If you are willing to have an adventure you can easily head toward the more “wild” side of the park and find your way through the thick vegetation finding the hidden passages, caves and towers in the middle of it.

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There is also a hiking trail from Parque Lage up to Christ the Redeemer. It is an uphill track with high degree of difficulty and takes about 2.5 hours to complete according to the information of the park’s guide. This time we got there too late to be able to hike up to Corcovado without it getting dark before we actually go there nor were we wearing the right kind of shoes, but it will definitely go the list of the things to do next time in Rio.

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For a less extreme visit, you should definitely check out the amazing old buildings inside the park and the breathtaking view from the inner courtyard of the Mansion.There is also a school of visual arts in the old buildings of the park, so you can always find some exhibitions happening.

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From behind the mansion, you can also take the stairs up to a dark little lake and then a very short trail that looks like it was off the beaten track to get to a place (it would be too much to call it a viewing platform) with an amazing view of the city as you can see on the photo below. There is not much room to sit there, though, so most people just go there to take a couple of photos and come back.

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The park is full of naughty monkeys that shake trees to throw huge jackfruits on the floor (look out – you definitely do not want to get hit with one!). The falling jackfruits  is also the reason why I would not recommend anyone to park their car inside the park under the trees. The monkeys also mess around in the garbage, run on the roofs and cables and get really close to humans in the hope of gaining some food. If you do not have fruit especially for that purpose, please do not feed them with chips or any other kind of nonsense as we saw a local family with small kids do. It cannot be good for them by any means.

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Boulevard Olímpico

Visiting the Olympic Boulevard of Rio de Janeiro was a recommendation by cariocas some of whom were very impressed with how neat the centric area of the city looked after the Olympic Games. Indeed, they were right, this area is a delight. However, once you get there it suddenly does not look like you are in Brazil anymore but rather like in a European port district.

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Everything in close distance from the modern Museum of Tomorrow at Praça Maua, Art Museum of Rio and unrecognizably friendly and professional information desk to the actual boulevard is very modern and in impeccable order. There was a film festival going on at the square with neatly arranged seats for watching the films in fresh air and a number of food trucks lined up next to it offering snacks and beverages. I felt the whole setting very familiar and European indeed.file_002-3

My favorite part, however, was the incredible mural by Brazilian Street Artist Kobra that was added to the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest graffiti (15 meters high & 170 meters long)  in the world. The impressive piece is called “Etnias” (ethnicities) and it represents peace and union between nations. Here are a few photos for you to see how big and beautiful it really is.

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Probably the Most Famous Beach in the World – Ipanema

This one is a complete cliché – I agree. Nevertheless, I must admit, staying in the neighborhood of Ipanema is worth it. Although, the beach gets crowded during the day and you can find quieter and nicer beaches farther away from the best-known areas of the city, Ipanema has its benefits. I would say that in comparison with some other areas it is relatively safe (in Rio you always have to be careful, though), it is a beautiful neighborhood with so many dogs (I love dogs!), there are various nice restaurants, bars, cafés and great places for shopping.

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In the ranking of the famous beaches, I guess I like Leblon a bit more than Ipanema or Copacabana, yet as a neighborhood, I find Ipanema more interesting. In both cases, there is always a lot of people exercising, sunbathing and swimming or doing any of the many beach activities available from surfing to volleyball and so on. Early in the morning, there are yoga classes and at night, you can see several work out groups (boxing, running, cross-fit etc.) training in the sand of Ipanema.

The recommended place to watch the sunset from is Pedra do Arpoador, located between Ipanema and Copacabana. During some time around midsummer it is possible to see the sun setting over the sea. Around this time of the year (early spring) the sun sets right behind the “Morro Dois Irmãos” (Two Brothers Hills) so that at one point you can even see the Pedra da Gávea.

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Will try out next time:

There is still on number of places that we did not have time to visit but that are definitely on our to do list for future trips to Rio.

Tijuca Forest

Tijuca Forest is a tropical rainforest that actually is in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Some even say that it is the world’s largest urban forest. There are many trails in the park with different levels of difficulty. Definitely an attraction to all hiking fans.

Hang Gliding in Rio

Hang Gliding over Rio must be an incredible experience as it offers a one of a kind view of Rio’s unique landscape. The starting point is on top of one of the mountains in São Conrado. It is quite pricey, but then again it is once in a lifetime experience to fly over Rio de Janeiro like a bird. You can find more information from here.

Pedra de Telégrafo

Have you seen the thousands of photos in social media of people in Rio de Janeiro pretending they are hanging on to a cliff while there is a breathtaking view on the background? Well, all those photos are taken at Pedra de Telégrafo. You have to take a 40-minute uphill trail to get up to the cliff and on peak times you might have to stand in a line to take a photo. The views look amazing, though. Locals tell me that there is also a lovely Inn close by where you can have lunch and four beautiful beaches just a short hike away. Whenever hiking in Brazil, always remember to allow time to come back before it gets dark.

WHERE TO EAT?

In this list, I have included only and only the places where I actually ate during this last visit to Rio. Almost all of them we discovered by accident and whether we got very lucky or Rios gastronomic culture is on a definite rise. Unfortunately, I did not take a photo in any of the places, I guess I was just too hungry each time, so you will have to do with the photos on the restaurants’ websites.

Marius Degustare 

Marius Degustare is a bit pricey, yet a spectacular restaurant located in Leme right in front of the beach of Copacabana. Their website even claims that it is world renowned as a must visit dining establishment. You will see that the place is definitely unique as you step into the heavily decorated and extravagant interior. All of the walls and the whole ceiling of the place are covered with various objects, which look as if they once belong to a ship or were washed on the shore by the sea. It is an infinity of different finds and relics from seashells, fishing nets, plates, chandeliers to all kinds of nautical elements. In addition, part of it looks as it was a mysterious underwater cave due to the rocks in the ceiling and overall blue lighting. My imagination always connects this place with pirate movies.

The service in Marius is definitely impressively considerate, quick and pleasant. The main attraction for me was definitely the wide range of freshly prepared seafood. The waiters kept carrying trays out from the kitchen full of all kinds of delicacies and offering them one by one to every guest.

Different kinds of meat is also served the same way and there is a big buffet for salads, oysters etc. that I hear being praised. However, I must admit that I did not even consider the latter two, as I was determined to make the most of the exquisite seafood experience. There was not any room left for the desert either way.

Puro 

Puro is a charming little restaurant right in front of one of the entrances to the Botanical Gardens. They have a cozy terrace right on the corner of the street that is architecturally skillfully secluded from all the bustling and noises of city life, making it an extremely nice place to relax and have dinner or enjoy some of their famous drinks. Puro represents contemporary Brazilian cuisine in its finest. We decided to go for the offer of the day and thus, had a lovely three-course meal consisting of cauliflower purée, fettuccine with rib ragu and watercress and creamy beijinho (a Brazilian dessert of condensed milk cooked with butter and coconut flakes) with lemon zest.

The portions were a bit too big for me to handle as it was a three-course meal, but all the tastes were great so it was a bit too easy to overdo it. I especially loved their cocktail menu, however, which included some really innovative and tasty options. I tasted one called Pacheco that consisted pf Gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and homemade yerba mate foam served out of a tin mug.

Venga 

Venga Tapas Bar was the first typical Spanish tapas bar that was opened in Rio de Janeiro in 2009. It was very conveniently situated close to our hostel in Garcia D’Avila street and we fell in love with the place right away. Apart from cozy, it offers a great selection of typical Spanish tapas that I accompanied with white wine sangria. It is a good idea to ask several different tapas and then taste them little by little as the night advances. It is definitely the perfect place to go after work to have pleasant conversations with friends, husbands/wives, boyfriends/girlfriends etc. The ambience, good food that you can casually eat in the form of snacks and sangria definitely help the conversation flow. I wish there was a Venga in São Paulo!

La Carioca

This is something for the fans of Peruvian cuisine. La carioca, also located in Garcia D’Avila, offers a selection of traditional Peruvian dishes, everything from ceviche to quinoa risotto or lomo saltado. This place was included in Rio Restaurant week, which is why we found it in the first place. Interesting tastes and many healthy choices. Good location, great service and reasonable prices.

For Breakfast or a Traditional Snack

If you are just visiting Brazil you definitely cannot miss the two following iconic local culinary experience:  having breakfast at a local padaria (bakery) and having a bowl or cup of acai to restore your energy and postpone the afternoon hunger surges. There are plenty of places for both around the town. You will recognize the better ones by how busy they are. The longer the line, the more sure you can be you will get a good deal for your money.

LOCAL RIO DE JANEIRO BRANDS FOR SHOPPING & GIFT IDEAS

Granado 

Granado was born as the first very own drugstore in Brazil that was founded on 1870 in Rio de Janeiro.  Nowadays Granado has 47 stores all over Brazil and it produces and sells cosmetic and pharmaceutical products that are honestly quite impossible to resist. In addition to the absolutely gorgeous packages and lovely mild Brazilian fragrances, their products are of excellent quality. The company maintains traditions in their brand image product design, which actually makes them unique and valued in the local and maybe even international market (just read that the Spanish company Puig, that also owns brand like Carolina Herrera, Jean Paul Gaultier and many others, bought a 35 percent stake in Granado).

Be sure to check out one of their lovely stores while you are in Rio de Janeiro, it is a whole experience in itself. I for one could not make up my mind when choosing presents to take to my loved ones in Estonia at Christmas. Granado has an infinite number of options that are designed as presents that I myself would love to get anytime! I visited the store that is located on Garcia D’Avila street, but the store personnel told me that the very first and the biggest Granado store is actually located in the city center of Rio de Janeiro.

Farm Rio 

The other brand that represents Rio de Janeiro and that I am a big fan of is Farm Rio. Farm Rio sells gorgeous clothing for women usually made from beautifully patterned fabrics that represent authentic Brazilian beauty in its diversity and romanticism. It is quite expensive but different from everything else there is, plus it is really feminine and lovely. Just check out their website and you will see what I am talking about.

Osklen 

Osklen is a luxury fashion brand created in 1989 by probably the most famous descendant of Estonians in Brazil – Oskar Metsavaht. This fact is actually the main reason I had to include the brand here. Osklen was born in Rio de Janeiro as sportswear brand. Nowadays it claims to connect urban and nature, organic and technological in fashion.

Havaianas 

The Havaianas flip-flops are always a good idea, both as a souvenir and as something practical to take back with you from your trip. It is very Brazilian, very practical, easy to pack, light to carry and not expensive. Moreover, the choices are endless! You can even customize your very own havaianas and decorate them with stones. If you still cannot find the model or just prefer to find another brand, try Ipanema for different models and styles.

WHERE DEFINITELY NOT TO STAY?

The only blunder of the trip was the hostel where we stayed – El Misti Ipanema. We chose this place because of the excellent location and the young, yet cozy and cool atmosphere that the hostel chain El Misti advertises to have. We booked a double room with bathroom for a price that we would have paid in a quality hotel, hoping for a matching experience. This was the only and the biggest mistake of our trip, however. I definitely do not recommend anyone to stay in this hostel, as they are not prepared to receive any guests at all. You can read the whole story here.

OTHER TIPS & OBSERVATIONS

  • Rio will definitely give you great motivation to take up running again. Everyone does it and running by the beach really is as pleasant as it looks.
  • Whenever you buy something at the beach or on the street, do not forget to haggle the price. The “discount” is already included in the initial price, so if you do not negotiate, you will probably end up paying a double or triple price.
  • Always be mindful of your surroundings, dress simply and carry as little valuables with you as possible. It is better to be safe than sorry. Take safe routes and know where you are going at all times.
  • Uber works great in Rio de Janeiro, just try to avoid the rush hours.
  • Do not swim in the Rodrigo de Freitas lake! It might be beautiful, but it is very polluted.
  • People from São Paulo tend to complain that service in Rio de Janeiro is horrible. However, this time, we found it mostly to be a myth. Maybe it is because all employees were are freshly trained (to prepare for the Olympics), maybe we just got lucky, maybe things have evolved and bad service everywhere in Rio really is a myth or maybe it is just because the famous São Paulo vs Rio de Janeiro juxtaposition.
  • Oh, and I have to admit it was pretty hard to go back to São Paulo after a week in Rio de Janeiro. Just to illustrate this fact, please see the last photo that I took with my phone in Rio and the first one that I took when landing in São Paulo a couple of hours later. Let the images speak for themselves 😉

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Eha says:

    Well, I DO wish I had had all this information and all these tips ere people I knew left for the Olympics! Actually perchance life has settled for something one can call more ‘normal’ since . . . am certain your wonderfully handy ‘tips’ will help more than one on my mailing lists . . .living in Australia one is naturally a wee bit ‘taking a’back’ to think of security . . . . naturally ‘things’ happen here in the early morning hours in known destinations . . . rarely, rarely otherwise . . . thank you for a send I’ll certainly pass on . . . and cannot wait for your next post . . .

    Liked by 1 person

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