Rio de Janeiro: Top 10 Things to See and Do

The Olympics are almost upon us, and if you are lucky enough to be travelling to the Marvelous City this summer, this is a top-10 list of things to see and do in Rio de Janeiro – from a native!

  1. Rooftop Drinks with a View

Enjoy a caipirinha whilst overlooking the city’s beautiful beaches. In fact, most hotels along the neighbourhoods of Leme, Copacabana, Arpoador, Leblon, and Ipanema allow guests who haven’t booked a room to enjoy a drink or four at one of their coveted rooftops. Hotels which don’t allow outside guests are probably too busy to verify anyways – just apply the carioca philosophy of the “jeitinho,” which literally means “find a way.”


View from the Sol Ipanema – A caipirinha, the Brazilian national drink


Pestana, Copacabana

  1. Museu do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow)

Inaugurated in 2015, the main exhibition takes visitors through five main areas: the Cosmos, Earth, Anthropocene, Tomorrow, and the Present, mixing science with an innovative design focusing on sustainable cities. More information is available in the Guardian.


The futuristic, spaceship shape of the Museu do Amanha overlooking a pond.


  1. Vista Chinesa (Chinese View)

Most tourists opt for the more popular panoramas taken from the Christ the Redeemer Statue and Sugarloaf Mountains. While both are spectacular in their own rights, the view from the Vista Chinesa is, in my opinion, quite special as it’s in the middle of the Tijuca National Forest, one of the world’s largest urban forests.


The Chinese monument at 380 metres above sea level dates back to 1903, when Chinese immigrants came to Rio to work on tea plantations.


Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay


Rio’s South Zone and the Atlantic Ocean

  1. Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden)

The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden opened in 1808, during the Portuguese rule of Brazil. The garden features 137 hectares of more than 8000 plant species. Highlights include the Japanese gardens, Royal Palms (pictured below), Orchid House with over 2000 species of orchids, and the Amazon Garden.


Royal Palms dating to colonial times


Prime location for wedding pictures, luckily it was quiet on the day I visited

  1. Lagoa Rodrigo Freitas

One of the prime postcard locations of this picturesque city, the lagoon is a favourite spot for cariocas to chill out & exercise on its paved track that encircles the lake (7.5km). During the Olympic Games, the lake will host the canoe sprint & rowing events, as well as numerous country pavilions on its shores.

Although the quality of the water has improved drastically ahead of the Olympics, swimming is still forbidden.


Best times to visit are at sunrise and sunset

  1. Hang-gliding at Pedra Bonita, Sao Conrado

Hang-gliding is a year-round option for thrill seekers who want to know what it feels like to fly above the beautiful beaches and mountains of Rio.


  1. Arpoador Rock at Ipanema Beach

Situated at the far end of Ipanema Beach towards Copacabana, Arpoador is a popular destination for surfers. Dirt trails at the base of the giant rock lead to a plateau offering outstanding views of Ipanema and Leblon beaches. The best times to visit are just before sunset, as sun-worshipping cariocas applaud the passing of the day.



  1. Sunrise at Copacabana Beach

One of the benefits of jet-lag is the chance to wake up early to watch the sunrise at Copacabana Beach.


Fishermen at dusk


“Early bird gets the worm”

  1. Visit a Pacified Favela

Favela tours are a controversial topic for some, arguing that it treats the poor residents of these communities as a tourist attraction and/or just another form of exotic scenery.

Aside from ethical concerns, if you are so inclined to experience what life is like in a favela, tours are operated by experienced tour guides with links to the local population. More information is available from the Guardian.

The most popular favela tours include:

Santa Marta

Known for its colourful houses, Santa Marta is where Michael Jackson shot his music video for “They Don’t Care About Us.” In his honour, locals have erected a statue of him with his arms outstretched, as in the video.



At the foothills of the Morro Dois Irmaos, the most foreigner-friendly favela, Vidigal, has been transformed into a bohemian hub with small cozy hotels (also known as pousadas), offering some striking views of Leblon and Ipanema beaches.



Located between Ipanema and Copacabana, the Cantagalo favela also offers amazing views.



Located in Leme, Babilonia offers stunning views of Copacabana.

  1. Lapa

Close to the financial centre, Lapa is the bohemian heart of Rio. The area was made famous by its historical monuments, including its aqueduct (pictured below) & its wild nightlife, which includes live music venues. The most famous of the venues is Circo Voador.



Arcos da Lapa

About the author:

Alexandre is a semi-professional photographer and keen long-distance cyclist. He can be reached at, and his website is

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