Where to go

Rio de Janeiro

Brazil's most iconic city, Rio de Janeiro is also one of the most eye-catching cities in the world...

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

Set amidst forest-covered mountains hugging the coastline, Rio de Janeiro boasts one of the most beautiful settings on the planet for a major city and is the first stopping point on any holiday to Brazil. From the much photographed vistas of Sugar Loaf and Corcovado, to the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and the bars and samba clubs of Lapa, Rio is an iconic city which should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. And with the World Cup behind them and the Olympic Games to look forward to, Rio is more focussed on tourism than ever, with newly pedestrianised streets, improved transport links and spruced up hotels, meaning there is no better time to visit.

Despite the seat of the government having moved to Brasilia and Sao Paulo being the economic centre of the country, Rio continues to be one of Brazil’s most influential and attractive cities. This has been the case ever since the bay Rio sits in, Guaranaba Bay, was ‘discovered’ in January 1502 by Portuguese explorers searching for the New World. The influx of the slave trade helped to turn Rio into Brazil’s third-most important settlement and, during the Napoleonic Wars, when the Portuguese King Dom João VI was forced to relocate to Rio, he became so enamoured with the city that he moved his court to Brazil and governed the empire from there for 12 years.

Rio’s rich history has certainly left its mark on the city and its people, with its blend of racial and cultural ancestry, mixture of old and new architecture and rich and poor neighbourhoods, making it a lively and captivating place to visit.

Beaches of the Southern Zone

The most popular areas to stay are the beachside areas of Copacabana and Ipanema in the southern ‘zone’ of the city. These areas provide a great base for exploring Rio’s main sites, like Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf, and give you the added advantage of being able to come back and relax on the beach afterwards. These parts of town are made up of modern tower blocks and cool tree-lined streets, lined with cafes, restaurants and boutiques, which provide a welcome respite from the fierce heat of the sun. Rio’s best bars and restaurants are mostly found between Ipanema, Leblon and the Botanical Gardens, however, this is only a short taxi ride from Copacabana.

Santa Teresa

The picturesque neighbourhood of Santa Teresa is Rio’s bohemian district, and is characterised by steep cobbled streets, pastel-coloured colonial mansions and arty cafés and bars. Nestled on a hill above Lapa, Santa Teresa attracts artists, writers, musicians and craftsmen and has more of a quiet, community feel than the glamorous Zona Sul. Activity centres around the artesian shops and cafés of the Largo dos Guimarães which comes alive at night with live music and locals spilling out of bars onto the streets. It is also here in the Parque das Ruinas, where you can get some of the best views over Rio and the Guanabara Bay.

The Colonial Centre and Lapa

Although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend staying here, we would recommend visiting the area north of Santa Teresa which is Rio’s old colonial centre. Walking through the historical centre with its 18th century portuguese architecture provides an insight into Brazil’s colonial past, while the area around the Lapa Arches, traditionally the area which housed Rio’s bohemians and outcasts, provides a glimpse into the city’s more recent history. Lapa comes alive at night when tables line the streets outside bars and clubs are taken over by the sounds of samba beats.

Also well worth exploring is the picturesque Urca peninsula, for its sheltered beach and colourful fishing boats which line the surrounding waters.

When to go to Rio de Janeiro:

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    At a glance... Rio de Janeiro

  • Size > 6 million people
  • Location Central coastal Brazil
  • Recommended time 3 to 5 nights
  • Time to visit Year round
  • Go here for: Culture, sight-seeing and beaches
  • Further reading...

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    Our top five hotel recommendations for Rio de Janeiro in 2017/18:

    1. Casa Mosquito - Lounge

      Casa Mosquito

      The Casa Mosquito is an open and airy boutique hotel on a hillside overlooking Copacabana and Ipanema, with views up to the pacified favela of Canto de Galho. For those looking for an alternative to the large beachfront hotels of Copacabana and Ipanema, this French-owned hotel with its arty design... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      4
    2. Fasano Rio de Janeiro - Rooftop swimming pool

      Fasano Rio de Janeiro

      The modern and luxurious Hotel Fasano has one of the best locations in Rio, right in Ipanema. Designed by the architect Philippe Starck, everything in the hotel speaks comfort and luxury, making it one of the most sought-after places to stay in the city. The pièce de résistance, however, is... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      5
    3. Hotel Santa Teresa MGallery by Sofitel  - Swimming pool

      Hotel Santa Teresa MGallery by Sofitel

      The Hotel Santa Teresa, now owned by Sofitel, is a luxurious boutique hotel in the hilltop district of Santa Teresa. Set within a restored colonial mansion, this hotel has character and style in abundance, with beautifully decorated rooms, an intimate bar and restaurant and a peaceful pool area... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      5
    4. Mama Ruisa, Rio de Janeiro

      Mama Ruisa

      Set within a restored mansion, Mama Ruisa is a stylish French-owned boutique hotel in the heart of Rio’s bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. All rooms are individually designed and look out towards Guanabara Bay and Sugar-Loaf Mountain. Small and intimate, Mama Ruisa has plenty of charm but... More...

      Our rating:
      4
      User rating:
      4
      Price:
      3
    5. Porto Bay Rio International - Restaurant

      Porto Bay Rio International

      Located right on Copacabana beach, the Porto Bay Rio International hotel offers great facilities and value for money. With a great breakfast, a large rooftop pool and terrace with stunning panoramic views and comfortable, modern rooms, this is a great hotel for those spending a night or two... More...

      Our rating:
      4
      User rating:
      4
      Price:
      3

    Our recommended top travel itineraries for Rio de Janeiro in 2017/18: