Normally I try to avoid big cities on my travels, if I have the choice. But sometimes, you just cannot choose. Big cities usually serve as hub for airplanes, buses or trains, and even if you hitchhike, it´s always easier from/to the bigger cities.
So, if your next airplane, bus, train or car brings you to Rio de Janeiro, give it a chance. Don´t hesitate to spend some days here and explore the city. You´ll see, in the case of Rio de Janeiro, it´s really worth it.
Rio de Janeiro is one of those crazy, interesting, cultural, open-minded and liberal cities with a huge contrast. There are so many things to do and to explore, that you can spend months here, and still don´t know and experienced everything. In the same moment, you can be amazed and shocked by something that you see, and going out exploring the city is always an adventure.
There are breathtaking landscapes and the numerous beaches, where people are showing proudly there bodies, making sports, eating, playing music, going for a walk with their dogs, there are huge luxurious shopping malls, beautiful colourful colonial buildings, and poor favelas just some streets further away, the modern metro and trains in the city center, and crazy old buses that serve the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, street vendors that offer cheap fast food, in front of luxurious restaurants, crazy parties with half-naked partying people in Lapa is as normal as a lot of homeless drug addicted people sleeping on the streets and the list can go on.
So, let me tell you a bit about my adventures, and give you some tips for making the best out of your travels to Rio de Janeiro!
Before I tell you, what you can do, I´ll give you some general tips about Rio de Janeiro.
The official language in Brazil is Brazilian Portuguese. English or other foreign languages are barely spoken, (some people speak Spanish though) but it´s good if you speak at least some basic Portuguese. I could not imagine traveling Brazil without speaking Portuguese, it´s so much easier and funnier, if you speak the language! Spanish can also help sometimes, or some kind of Portugñol 😉
The currency is Real and one Euro is 3,33 Reais (11.04.2017). You can find plenty of banks with ATMs in the city (among others Santander, Caixa, Banco do Brasil, ..) Usually Banco do Brasil doesn´t let you pay fees for the transaction with your international debit/credit card.
In Rio de Janeiro, you can find everything for every price, from the cheap and delicious street food, like Tapioca (manioc pancakes filled with different things, e.g. cheese, eggs, ham, cocos, condensed milk,..), which costs you around 6 Reais, maniok fries, sandwhiches, etc. for not more than 10 Reais, to expensive and exquisite high-end restaurants.
There are plenty of different buses which serve every corner of Rio de Janeiro. But sometimes it´s a bit tricky to use them; to know where they start, where they go to, etc. My tip is, use the app Maps.Me. You can download maps and use them offline, it´s very useful, also for tracking the bus while you are in. The thing is, that Rio de Janeiro consists basically of one way streets. So if you take the bus on a certain street in one direction, does not mean, that coming back, the bus stops at the same bus stop, on the other side of the road. It´s often a completely different route getting there and back. Take this into mind. You can ask bus divers, if they can drop you off at a certain street or area, but they forget about it very often. And then you´ll end up somewhere, where you maybe don´t want to be.
Metro and train:
The Metro is very modern and serves the most important places in the city center, e.g. Flamengo, Botafogo, Carioca, Cinelandia, Copacabana and Ipanema.
You can rent bicycles at certain bicycle stations (orange bicycles), that are allocated all over the city. To rent them, you need to download the app of Bike Rio. Get one at one station and bring it back to another one. It´s very common and easy to use. There are also many cycle routes in the city center.
Rio is quite big for walking every single distance, but in some areas (Center, Copacabana, Ipanema,..) you can easily explore everything by walking. There are even recommended routes with maps (Rio a pé – Walk Rio).
If you cannot miss your daily dose of sports while traveling, you are very right in Rio de Janeiro. Doing sport is very common and everybody does it. There are plenty of outside gyms, roads for running, cycling, long- or skateboarding, inline skating, football and basketball places etc. You will find what you are looking for. Especially running along the long beaches (e.g. Ipanema, Botafogo, Flamengo, Copacabana,…) with a view at the skyline, the sugar loaf and the surrounding rocks, the ocean, island and landscapes is a nice experience!
What to do in Rio de Janeiro
- Get to know the city center walking (Carioca, Cinelândia, Central)
You can get off the metro station Cinelândia, Carioca, Central or Uruguaiana and just start walking. There are many beautiful houses that will remind you pretty much of Portugal, old churches in-between huge modern buildings, theaters, bars and cafés with snacks, coffee, beer and cakes, like you find them also in Portugal, interesting squares, many shops that offer new and used books, music instruments and art products.
2. Walk along the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches
It´s interesting to just walk along the beach, take a rest, eat or/and drink something and observe the people here. There are beach vendors who offer coconuts, ice cream, beer, popcorn, etc. People are playing footvolley or football, going for running, swimming, playing loud music or just relax and/or show off their bodies. You can see basically everything here, it´s very interesting. There are rather cheap small restaurants between the street and the beach, in case you are hungry. While Copacabana is quite commercial and full of people who want to show off, Ipanema is more relaxed and full of surfers – surfer vibe 😉 People are smoking their joints there, hippies sell handmade jewellery, bags, dreamcatcher, etc. It´s just another flair than at Copacabana.
- Visit the stunning Botanical Garden
If you are interested in the nature that surrounds you, and want to get to know more about it, or if you just like the beauty of exotic plants, then the botanical garden is the right choice for you. It´s a very big and extraordinary designed beautiful one. 7 Reais for students and 14 for adults – it´s worth it! You have to get off at metro station Botafogo, and then just take a bus to Jardin Botânico.
- Visit Urca and Praia Vermelha
Urca is a beautiful little neighbourhood, between Botafogo and Copacabana. There is the university of Brazil and a museum for soil science, which is located in very beautiful big ancient buildings. Also a military base is located here and the beautiful little beach Praia Vermelha. From the station Botafogo you can walk like 30 minutes, or take a bus to Urca.
- Partying in Lapa
One of the craziest experiences in Rio de Janeiro – without a doubt.
People here are making the night to day. It´s just crazy, full of people that party on the streets, vendors who sell Caipirinhas and beer, music (Funky, Reggaeton, Forró, Samba,..) from all sides, gays and lesbians, transvestites, almost naked girls, and so on. And all this until the morning, every night.
- Go for running at one of the beaches (Ipanema, Flamengo, Copacabana)
Running barefoot along kilometre long beaches, watching the skyline, the beautiful surroundings, other people doing sports, it´s a very special experience that you can have in Rio de Janeiro.
- Visit the Escadaria Selarón (Selarón’s Steps)
Made by a Chilean, this steps are very special. Mosaiks and tails from all over the world are covering the whole steps. It´s very beautiful and now one of the number one tourist attractions in Rio. Also the whole area around the steps is quite creative with street art, etc.
- Get to know the Uruguaiana Arabian Market
A crazy lively marked where you can find basically everything close to the metro station Uruguaiana and Carioca. It´s worth a visit. Ancient buildings and narrow alleys remind of Portugal.
- Walk up the Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf)
The entrance to the trail that leads up to the Sugar Loaf is located on the left side of the Praia Vermelha in Urca. It´s a nice walk up, with stunning views to the surroundings. The extraordinary landscapes, beaches, the huge city itself including wealthy areas and favelas, harbours, the airport, etc. Walking up you feel like in a jungle, even though you are still in the middle of a megacity. There are monkeys, lizards, plenty of colourful butterflies, even snakes. Reaching the top, the panorama views are really beautiful. But it´s quite full of tourists, the majority of them arrive by cable car. There are restaurants, cafés, shops,.. too much for me. But interesting to see, and leave again
I hope I could give you a good impression of my adventures in Rio, and maybe also some helpful tips for your own visit of this stunning and special city!
Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing!