I had a great time in Rio de Janeiro. So much so, that I wanted to share more of my journey with you. There is a lot more delicious food to be discussed, as well as shopping, landmarks, sports/recreation, nightlife, and natural beauty. Rio truly has it all.
Of course, I have to mention Brazil’s most famous landmark: Christ the Redeemer. Located on Rio de Janeiro’s Corcovado Mountain, this massive sandstone statue stands at nearly a hundred feet. Completed in 1931, this breathtaking statue is the work of several sculptors and engineers, including Paul Landowski, Heitor da Silva Costa, Albert Caquot, and Gheorghe Leonida. If you are anywhere near Rio de Janeiro, this is a must-see. And the view from the mountain – of the city, coast, and surrounding islands – is spectacular.
Rio’s Escadaria Selarón (the “Selarón Steps”) is another must-see landmark in Rio. I know, “Really, Jade? A staircase?” But hear me out. This outdoor staircase is covered in colorful mosaic tiles—over 2,000, in fact. Chilean-born artist Jose Selarón describes his colorful work as his “tribute to the Brazilian people.” And what a tribute it is! Instagrammers, take note: this is one of the most photographed spots in Rio. I, for one, couldn’t snap enough photos of these beautiful steps.
I’m sure the top question on everyone’s minds is, “What did Jade eat while in Rio?” Well, I’m here to oblige! I’ll start with the most luxurious restaurant first. Oteque stands out as Rio’s most acclaimed restaurant. Last year, 50best.com named it as one of the best restaurants in the world. Located in a historic former house in the Bontafogo neighborhood, Oteque is best known for its fresh fish, pulled right from the massive tank near the open kitchen. I went for the restaurant’s award-winning natural wines.
Oteque is certainly a splurge, but Rio is filled with plenty of sophisticated-yet-accessible restaurants as well. Lilia is a funky spot on the top floor of an old townhouse in the Lapa neighborhood (more on that later). Lilia’s chef, Lucio Vieira, has a knack for cooking vegetables. The flavors here are fresh and bold, just the way I like them. For a veritable smorgasbord of bold flavors, check out Junta Local: an open-air market (known as a feira) where Rio’s culinary rising stars show off their skills. The lineup varies depending on the host location, but you are bound to have a memorable meal no matter who is cooking.
If you know me, you know I love my coffee. Downtown’s Curto Café has some of the best coffee in Rio, sourced from Brazilian growers. This bustling café also has some good snacks and pastries for anyone looking for a bite. In addition to coffee, I also love my sweets, and Rio’s Confeitaria Colombo is a confection-lover’s paradise. Located in a beautiful 123-year-old Art Nouveau building (complete with gilded mirrors and vaulted ceilings) this mega-popular shop serves some of Brazil’s best sweets. The pastel de nata – a creamy custard tart – is the specialty. While the original location is in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, there is a newer (though less visually stunning) location near Copacabana.
Speaking of spectacular views, you could do worse than Tijuca National Park for incredible views of Rio and its surrounding countryside. Tijuca is an “urban national park”: a rainforest located within the city limits of Rio. Lush, green mountains make you feel like you are miles away from the bustling city below. I really enjoyed my hikes through Tujica, as they gave me some much-needed tranquility.
If you want to enjoy nature while people watching on two of the world’s most famous beaches, Rio’s got you covered. Ipanema Beach (made famous by the song, “The Girl From Ipanema”) is the gem of the Brazilian coast. Located on Rio’s southern coast, Ipanema is known for miles of sandy shores, gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains, and a vibrant scene (this is not the type of beach where you go to “get away from it all”).
The nearby Copacabana beach/neighborhood has an even livelier social scene. Copacabana’s oceanfront restaurants, nightclubs and high-rise buildings make this urban beach one of Rio’s (and the world’s) most iconic playgrounds. While Copacabana is generally safe, it is no stranger to crimes like robbery and pickpocketing. As with most super-crowded places where tourists gather by the thousands, there are people who are out to take advantage. That’s why I recommend going in a group and leaving your valuables behind. Chances are, you won’t need them on the beach anyway.
Let’s Get Physical
Rio is one of the world’s great sports towns. After all, there is a reason this city hosted the summer Olympics as recently as 2016. As you might have guessed, soccer (futebol) is king here, and there is nothing like seeing a game at the legendary Estádio Maracanã. This massive 78,000-seat stadium was both an Olympic venue and the site of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final. Local clubs Flamengo and Flumanese play here during the season (from January to November), and the Brazilian National Team has been known to host some games here. Tours are available in the offseason.
Anyone into horse racing should check out Jóquei Clube (“Jockey Club”): a beautiful, historic track located on Rio’s gorgeous coast. Races are Monday, Friday, and Sunday, and admission is usually free. People tend to dress to the nines here, so it can be a fun spot to catch the latest Brazilian fashions, as well as some good races.
If you’d rather stay active than be a spectator, Rio has a ton of great options. Rio’s many beaches are popular for surfers and kite sailors, with lessons available for both (I recommend Surf’s Up Rio for surfing lessons and Kitepoint Rio for kite sailing). With beautiful weather and nearby mountains, Rio is also a great town for hiking, climbing, and hang gliding. And yes, I did try all three! It was a great way to burn off all those sweets and street snacks.
As you might expect from such a large and bustling city, Rio has some great shopping. The shopping here is all about the neighborhoods: each has its own vibe and niche. If art is your thing, head to the Santa Teresa neighborhood, which is known for its galleries. Located atop Santa Teresa hill, this colorful neighborhood boasts narrow, winding streets and beautiful architecture. This is where the aforementioned Escadaria Selarón is located, as well as an art museum containing the works of Matisse, Eliseu Visconti, and others. My advice? Look at some great art, then go buy some.
Located near the city center, Rio’s Lapa neighborhood is known for its nightlife, restaurants and culture. It’s also known for its vintage shopping. When I was in Lapa, I was lucky enough to check out the Feira do Rio Antigo. This bustling street fair is held on the first Saturday of every month. Antiques and folk art are the main draws here, though there is also plenty of live music and entertainment. Even when the fair is not going on, Lapa is dotted with dozens of antique stores for you to check out.
Finally, there is Shopping Riosul, a massive, modern mall located on the city’s east coast. A quick 10-minute cab ride from the city center, this expansive shopping center boasts upscale boutiques, international brands, two food courts, and a cinema. This is a great place to shop in Rio, especially on a rainy day.
Rio’s music and nightlife scenes are, of course, legendary. Bossa Nova (literally “New Thing”), the popular hybrid of jazz and samba, was born here. In fact, Rio’s main airport was named after one of the genre’s most popular composers: Antonio Carlos Jobim. If you’re looking to dance the night away, this is one of the best places to do it.
And if you love bossa nova as much as I do, you simply have to visit Copacabana’s Beco das Garrafas. The intimate stage at this iconic club helped cultivate the genre back in the 1960s. Ipanema’s Restaurante Vinicius e Bossa Nova Bar is another great place to hear the smooth, mellow sounds that captivated the world. Fun Fact: this bohemian bar is named for beloved poet, playwright, and diplomat Vinicius de Moraes. I loved chilling here with a good glass of wine.
For a higher energy club I recommend, Rio Scenarium. Located in the Centro neighborhood, this multi-level bar is one of the most famous in Rio. Here, you can sip some great cocktails while listening to a diverse array of live music. And don’t forget to take in the funky, eclectic décor: the walls are covered with offbeat antiques and curios. That’s what I love about Rio Scenarium: it’s both lively and unique.
Till We Meet Again
I don’t know how many other places my travels will take me to, but I hope they take me back to Brazil, and Rio in particular. As someone who loves great food, cultural diversity, and nature, Brazil has quickly emerged as one of my favorite travel destinations. I can’t wait to return, and dig into a warm bowl of vegan feijoada as soon as I get off the plane!
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