14 Places to Visit in Rio de Janeiro (Local Recs)

ViaHero
Updated March 3, 2020

Places to visit in beautiful Rio range from the monumental (like the famous Christ the Redeemer statue) to the sun-soaked (like Rio's many gorgeous beaches). So where to start? With some help from Rio locals, we created this guide to 14 incredible places to visit in Rio de Janeiro.

Go beyond the guidebook when you have a local plan your trip. Our trip planners are Rio locals who can introduce you to their hometown's popular sights—and its hidden gems. Learn more.

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Kate, Recent Traveler

#1: Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer is an immense statue of Jesus Christ that overlooks Rio de Janeiro from the top of Mount Corcovado.

With arms stretching nearly as wide as the statue is tall, this welcoming sight is the most recognizable in the city and one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.”

As you might predict, this popular activity draws crowds. Purchase your train ticket ahead of time. 

Local Tip:

A train can get you to the summit, and the ride through Tijuca National Park is as picturesque as the stunning view from the top! If you have time, you should definitely explore Tijuca. 

#2: Copacabana

Copacabana | ASSY/Pixabay

Thanks to Barry Manilow's catchy tune, people have been singing about Copacabana for ages. 

This 2.5-mile sandy crescent is not only beautiful, but it is also a lively hotspot where locals (and visitors from around the world) come to see and be seen, especially on the beach’s iconic black-and-white patterned promenade. 

From spirited soccer games to spontaneous samba dance parties, entertainment is free! Locals note that this iconic beach is best enjoyed with a refreshing caipirinha—Brazil’s most famous cocktail. You can grab one from one of the many beachside kiosks. 

Local Tip:

Praia Vermelha (Vermelha Beach) is generally less crowded than Copacabana. Plus, it has a beautiful view of Sugarloaf Mountain. 

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#3: Tijuca National Park

Tijuca National Park gives new meaning to the phrase “urban jungle.” Nearly ten times the size of New York City’s Central Park, locals enthuse over the park's vast forest, waterfalls, monkeys, and birds. And it’s less than 10 miles from downtown Rio!

See a new side of Rio. Our trip planners note that although many zip through the forest en route to Christ the Redeemer, they recommend setting aside extra time to explore its trails.

If hiking isn’t appealing, open-top jeeps are a popular way to experience the forest and its other famous peaks. Locals suggest checking out like Vista Chinese, where a 19th-century pagoda frames a dazzling view of the city below. 

Local Tip:

In addition to being one of the largest urban forests in the world, Tijuca National Park is an astounding conservation success story. Its trees were replanted in the 19th century after massive deforestation threatened Rio’s water supply. 

#4: Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain | Graham-H/Pixabay

For a spectacular panorama of Rio, Guanabara Bay, and the Atlantic coastline, take a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

This steep-sided crest is rumored to have gotten its name from a resemblance to the packaging used to export refined sugar in the 16th century.

As you ride the funicular to the top, tip your hat to any lionhearted rock climbers you see clinging to Sugarloaf’s sheer rockface. Or—climb it yourself!

Local Tip:

Be sure to stop at the Wish Tree to make a wish!

#5: Jardim Botânico

Need a break from Rio's intense energy? Then locals recommend taking a stroll through the beautiful Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro.

Here, they tell us you'll find lush gardens, 9,000 different species of plants, and—if you have sharp eyes—monkeys swinging in the trees. 

Locals note that the history of the Jardim is really fascinating as well! Portuguese colonists wanted to grow profitable crops that had flourished in their other colonies—like vanilla and cinnamon—and used the gardens as a lab to see how to do this. 

Today, it is a world-leading research institution in biodiversity and conservation—and an excellent place to recharge. 

Local Tip:

From here, you can get a beautiful view of Christ the Redeemer. 

#6: Maracanã Stadium

Maracanã Stadium | Heibe/Pixabay

Officially, Brazil has not had a king since the 1800s when Portugal’s colonial rule ended. Unofficially, King Pelé has ruled since the 1950s. Futebol (or soccer) is HUGE in Brazil. The country birthed the sport’s most famous player, and Pelé led Brazil’s national team to victory in three of the nation’s five FIFA World Cups (the most any country has won). 

If you love soccer—or simply want to cheer on the home-team—find tickets to a game at Maracanã Stadium. Currently, you can see Flamengo, one of Rio’s professional soccer teams, battle it out on this turf. Locals tell us you can either buy tickets online or at Gate 1 at the stadium. (However, locals note that purchasing tickets day of means you may not have choice seats.)

If you're a student traveling on a budget, use local advice to save money. Our trip planners tell us that if you buy your ticket at the stadium and present a student ID, you may get half-priced tickets.

#7: Museum of Tomorrow

The Museu do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow) rises from Rio’s harbor like an other-worldly spaceship, starkly white against the city’s blue sky and sea. Locals say this downtown museum’s futuristic architecture isn’t the only thing that makes it unlike any other in the world. 

Whereas most museums try to make sense of the past, the Museu do Amanha tries to predict the future. Here, you can get (scientifically backed) answers to your questions about how the world will look in 50 years. So, this museum is basically the time machine you’ve always dreamed about. 

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#8: The Selaron Steps

Selaron Steps | Elizeu Dias/Unsplash

The eye-catching Escadaria Selarón (Selarón Steps) are a fantastic place to visit in Rio. At first glance, you see color. Look again, and you'll notice the intense details of each tile. 

The steps were created by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. He wanted to create a "tribute to the Brazilian people." And his steps certainly do the trick—they embrace the color and personality that make Brazil such a fantastic destination. 

His mosaic staircase is made up of 2,000 vibrant tiles from 60 countries around the world. Swing by and take a photo—but locals note you shouldn't don't rush off after snapping a pic. There's so many incredible details to see here if you take your time to look. 

Local Tip:

There's a lot to do in this neighborhood (Santa Teresa) aside from the steps. It's a beautiful hilltop known for its arts scene and restored colonial mansions. 

#9: Candelária Church

One look at Candelária Church’s ornate facade and you won’t be surprised to learn that this Catholic cathedral is hundreds of years in the making. Construction started in 1775 and this popular landmark wasn’t completed until the 1870s.

Leave the hustle-and-bustle of Centro, Rio’s downtown business district, behind, by entering this architectural beauty to admire its frescoed dome and stunning stained glass windows.

Local Tip:

Candelária Church sits on the original site of a much smaller chapel. Legend has it that a Portuguese couple vowed to build the chapel during a stormy night at sea. Be on the lookout for frescoes within the church that tell this origin story. 

#10: Parque Lage

Parque Lage | George Kedenburg III/Unsplash

At the base of Mount Corcovado, the location of Christ the Redeemer, locals say you’ll find an opulent mansion nestled among the lush treetops of Rio’s rainforest. Situated in a public park filled with trails and gardens, this picturesque palace was once home Gabriella Besanzoni, an Italian opera singer, and her industrious husband. Today, this romantic spot is home to the Visual Arts School of Parque Lage.

Featuring workshops and gallery spaces for young artists, locals tell us you can explore the school’s grounds while admiring works of local art and the building’s spectacular views. They say a favorite photo spot is the courtyard’s pool, where you can see the forested mountain dramatically rising above the grand estate’s rooftop.

Local Tip:

Don’t be surprised if you see fellow visitors showing off their dance moves as they wander the grounds. The mansion has been the site of several music videos, including the one for Pharell Williams and Snoop Dogg’s song “Beautiful.” 

#11: Arcos de Lapa

Arcos de Lapas | danielserrani/Pixabay

At one time the Carioca Aqueduct brought fresh water to Rio de Janeiro. Today, the leftover arches (called Arcos de Lapa by locals) brings samba! 

Built in the 18th century, this aqueduct is located in the trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood of Lapa. It crosses a busy boulevard lined with Lapa’s vibrant nightlife scene, and locals tell us that often the boisterous bars and nightclubs cannot contain their party-goers. The result? A dance party takes over the plaza under the aqueduct’s impressive arches. The party happens nightly but is always one for the ages. 

Local Tip:

You can also find a lot of great, cheap eats in this neighborhood.

#12: Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach is located in one of Rio’s most elite neighborhoods, earning it a reputation as Copacabana’s ritzier sister. Locals note that since it’s just a little further from downtown, Ipanema is also slightly less crowded than Rio’s other most famous beach. 

Here you’ll find upscale beachside boutiques and restaurants, making Ipanema a prime destination for celebrity spotting—and for watching tall tanned beauties (both women and men) strut down the patterned promenade. (Just like the famous tune “Girl from Ipanema” promises.) 

Local Tip:

Ipanema Beach is demarcated by postos, or numbered lifeguard stations, and each draws a different crowd—from LGBTQ folks to an action-packed volleyball game.

#13: The Royal Portuguese Reading Room

Royal Portuguese Reading Room | NakNakNak/Pixabay

Avid readers, even those without a lick of Portuguese, will swoon when they see the Royal Portuguese Reading Room, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Established in the 1800s, this public library houses one of the largest collections of Portuguese texts in the world and continues to steadily grow. 

Relax with a book (in your language of choice) and admire the reading room’s three-stories-tall bookshelves and intricate architecture, complete with a dramatic stained-glass dome and sparkling chandelier. 

Local Tip:

The Reading Room is closed on the weekends.

#14: Metropolitan Cathedral

Locals say that everyone who explores the busy streets of Rio’s downtown neighborhood, Centro, is sure to spot the 24-story building that resembles a futuristic honeycomb. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone unfamiliar with the Metropolitan Cathedral would guess its purpose. 

Serving as the seat of Catholicism in Rio, this cathedral is unlike any other in the world. Completed in 1979 and designed to resemble a Mayan pyramid, the conical church’s interior is as dramatic as its exterior. Inside, you’ll find vivid stained glass windows rising 200 feet tall. 

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