Top 5 things to do in Rio

When in Rio you will, of course, want to visit the famous attractions such as Sugarloaf, Christ the Redeemer and the Copacabana beach. Once you’ve done all of that, here are my top 5 tips of things you really should do before you leave.

  1. Açai and Pão de queijo in Santa Teresa.

If you’re feeling energetic take the metro to Gloria and then walk up the steep hill into the charming, bohemian area of Santa Teresa: otherwise take a cab. Either way, when you arrive in the small, central square you will find a selection of artist shops, cafes and bars but ignore them all and make a beeline for a tiny place on Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno called Cultivar Brasil (opposite Cafecito). This tiny, unassuming place is usually full of locals devouring the warm pão de queijo – small, fresh bread rolls baked with a slice of melted cheese inside – along with bowls of ice cold açai – a granita-like dessert made from the açai berry, a highly nutritious superfood from the Amazon, which locals eat morning, noon and night. These are pretty much the only things available here but they are a match made in heaven and probably my number 1 favourite thing that I have eaten during my stay in Rio. Just watch out for serious brain freeze.


2. Walk the Claudio Trail and climb up Morro da Urca

A fabulous early morning walk, you’ll find the entrance to this paved 2km trail at the north of Praia Vermelha, opposite the entrance to the Sugarloaf cable car. About 300m along the path, there’s a small trail on the right leading off to Morro da Urca. This is a bit of an uphill climb and should not be attempted in wet weather as it can be very slippery, but the path winds up through beautiful lush forest, with plenty of stunning vantage points along the way, until you finally reach the top and the amazing views that greet you.  Here you are actually at the top of the first leg of the cable car trip up Sugarloaf so you can jump on the second lift and go all the way to the summit. Personally, I think the views from here are better but I guess if you’re only in Rio once then you really should go all the way to the top.

3. Samba

I think you’ll have difficulty avoiding this one! Samba is everywhere, in all its many forms, every day of the week. Having tried a few places, one of my favourites for a bit of a big night out is Rio Scenarium. This is a huge place with unusual, quirky decorations in each room. During any particular evening, a number of different performers take to the stage culminating in the grand samba finale at the end of the night. The place is packed, the locals are loud and friendly, the caipirinhas are strong and the food is actually quite good. Everyone dances and sings along and a great night is had by all.

4. Sunset at Bar Urca

Not to be missed, drinks and snacks at Bar Urca, watching the sunset behind Christ the Redeemer, is a very special experience in Rio. Grab yourself a cold drink and either a selection of pasties or a plate of fresh, succulent fried fish, find a place to sit on the wall and enjoy. On a clear evening, this is a very popular spot so make sure that you leave plenty of time to get there, get served and get comfortable before the main event.

5. Favela Tour

A favela tour is a really interesting experience for any visitor to Rio but it’s very important to choose carefully who you have as your guide. Some tours pack people into the back of jeeps and drive around the favelas as though on some sort of sick safari. As you can imagine, the locals find this both insulting and disrespectful and this is not the best way to experience the unique culture, history and people of these areas. Take a tour with Sheila Souza, creator of Brazilidade, which was born from a dream of helping people to feel proud of the favela Santa Marta. Sheila is a resident and local guide and will share with you her passion, knowledge and experiences. Not one to gloss over the realities of life there, she’ll tell it like it is, and her stories will enlighten, fascinate and often move you to tears.

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