Top 10 things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is one of the biggest city in the Americas and is a crazy, exciting city bursting with culture, beauty, passion and adventure. Rio truly is an amazing city and here’s our top 10 things to do when visiting Rio.

Girl sitting on Escadaria Selaron Rio de JaneiroSPEND YOUR DAYS ON IPANEMA BEACH 
Ipanema is a beautiful, long sandy beach with stunning views over Dois Irmãos mountains. We spent a great deal of our time in Rio lazing on Ipanema, cooling off with swims in the sea and returning at sunset to sit on the beach with a few drinks whilst watching the sun set over Doi Irmaos.

Ipanema Beach is known for its beauty (not just natural beauty, but also that of the people who frequent it). We joked that it wasn’t hard to play “pick the tourist” amongst the bronzed, toned bodies, it helped too that the tourists (including us) are generally a little more modest in our swimwear attire too…

Copacabana Beach is certainly worth a visit too… but Ipanema was by far our favourite!

(Just a tip: whilst this didn’t happen to us, we’d heard countless stories of theft on Rio’s beaches… so only take what you absolutely need & always keep an eye on your things!)

Ipanema Beach Rio de JaneiroGirl at Ipanema Beach Rio de JaneiroView of Rio de Janeiro

Acai is the Amazon’s famous superfood, and everywhere you turn in Rio you’ll find it! From Acai smoothies to Acai bowls with fruit, granola and many other toppings, they are sold in shops, cafes, restaurants and you’ll even be offered it whilst relaxing on the beach.

You may not be sold from the first bite, but keep going & I assure you, you’ll fall in love with this magical food! Strong, sweet and berry-like it is absolutely delicious, a health nut’s dream food and is a must when travelling in Rio, plus it is an epic hangover cure!

(Tip: Eat as much as you can in Rio… we struggled to find it anywhere else in Brazil & South America)

Acai in Rio

Being on a backpacker budget at the time we decided to hike halfway up the mountain and catch the second cable car to the top rather than paying for both. It was an amazing hike & workout and the scenery was amazing but I would only do this option if you are in a group (there were a few dodgy looking characters around), so strength in numbers & you’ll be fine!

The cable car is an experience in itself, there’s loads of information at the top about how it was built and its history etc, it really is an amazing engineering feat! The views from the top are amazing! It really is a MUST for anyone visiting Rio!

(Tip: Stay for sunset, it was by far one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve witnessed in all my travels!)

Cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain Rio de JaneiroGondola to Sugarloaf Mountain Rio de JaneiroSunset from Sugarloaf Mountain Rio de Janeiro

This is pretty much at the top of every to-do list when visiting Rio. The Christ statue is located in the heart of Tijuca Forest National Park and offers you stunning almost 360 degree views over Rio.

(Tip: Look as close as you can because we didn’t & only found out later on – the statue is actually covered in tiny mosaic tiles, which is pretty cool!)

Guy looking at Christ the Redeemer Rio de JaneiroChrist the Redeemer Rio de JaneiroGirls at Christ the Redeemer Rio de Janeiro

Rio is a huge, crazy and beautiful city. Hang gliding is certainly one of the best ways to take it in! I’m pretty scared of heights but absolutely loved it – so anyone really could do it. I think the pictures show more than I could ever say in words!

(Tip: Buy the photos the instructor takes, but unless you really want it the video isn’t worth it. I haven’t even watched it once & got over 30 great photos from my instructor, or even better if you have a GoPro BRING IT!)

Girl hang gliding over Rio de JaneiroGirl hang gliding over Rio de Janeiro

Chilean Jorge Selaron’s “tribute to the Brazilian people” are a landmark in Rio and famous all over the world. A lover of art, this is one of my favourite ‘artworks’ worldwide. Unique, creative and brilliant – this was without doubt one of my favourite places in South America.

(Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to properly take in all the tiles & aspects of the steps… we were super lucky when we went that they were basically empty!)

Girls laying on Escadaria Selaron in Rio de JaneiroGirl at Escadaria Selaron in Rio de JaneiroEscadaria Selaron Sign in Rio de JaneiroGirls at Escadaria Selaron in Rio de JaneiroGirl at Escadaria Selaron Rio de Janeiro

Maracana Stadium is one of the most famous soccer stadiums in the world and was built for the World Cup in 1950 and completely renovated in time for the 2014 World Cup.

The best way to experience Maracana and the Brazillian passion and love for soccer is to actually attend a game! We were so lucky to be able to see a game whilst we were in Rio and it was absolutely insane! I’ve always thought that North Americans were the most passionate about their sports and having attended a American Football game and baseball game – I still think the Brazillians win!

The atmosphere is impossible to explain… flags the size of buses, constant singing, chanting and screaming, shirts off, hugging and no one even sitting down the whole game! Maracana is a dry stadium too – the beer they sell is non-alcoholic, so people are literally going crazy just off adrenaline and passion! We loved it!

I highly recommend getting to a game if you go to Rio, it’s such an amazing way to experience South American culture and their love of soccer!

(Tip: we booked a ‘tour’ through our hostel, and it included tickets, transport there and a ‘guide’ – we really were just dropped off out the front of Maracana. It was such an easy, safe and hassle free way to experience the evening).

Maracana Stadium in Rio de JaneiroGirls at Maracana Stadium in Rio de JaneiroFootball game in Maracana Stadium

Lush, green, dense rainforest is not what you’d expect to find in the middle of the busting city of Rio, yet that’s exactly what you’ll find all 32km² worth. The Emperor in power in 1861 ordered it be replanted and protected to ensure the people of Rio always have a secure water supply.

We took a day tour through Tijuca where we hiked, had a picnic, saw some incredible waterfalls and the Christ statue. There’s an incredible amount of wildlife that live in the National Park and it is absolutely beautiful. Well worth adding a day to your itinerary to visit!

(Tip: Keep your eye out for monkeys! They’re everywhere if you look!)

View of Rio de Janeiro from Tijuca National ParkGirls in front of Waterfall in Rio

Caipirinha’s are made with cachaca a distilled spirit made from sugarcane, served over ice with crushed lime and sugar.

(Tip: Be careful –  they are strong but if you drink a few too many, an acai or two the next day will help!) 

Friends drinking Caiprihinas in Brazil

This is not something I did personally, but Dan did. We couldn’t seem to find the right tour company & ended up running out of time but Dan stayed in a hostel in a favela (much braver than us in our nice & almost beach front Ipanema hostel).

For those that don’t know, a favela is a slum and a tour is an eye opening way to see how the majority of people in Rio de Janeiro live. The tours show you the daily life and challenges of life in a favela.

(Tip: Do your research and find a legitimate, grass-roots company that supports the people in the favela & may even use local guides. This is one reason we didn’t do a tour as we hadn’t done our research prior and didn’t want to go on a big, commercialised tour).  

Slum in Rio de JaneiroSlum in Rio de JaneiroSlum in Rio de Janeiro

Have you been to Brazil, what were your top experiences in Rio de Janeiro?