I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is so much to do in Rio de Janeiro and therefore it can be hard to decide what to prioritise. I’ve written my ultimate list of things to do in the city but what if you don’t have time for all of those things? What if you only have a few days in the city? Well there are certainly some things that you cannot leave the city without doing so I’ve rounded them up in this post to help you prioritise and plan your trip. Rio is a huge city and one what can de difficult to get around quickly (the traffic is crazy) so remember to factor in travelling time when planning your itinerary.
8 Things You Must Do In Rio de Janeiro
Visit Christ the Redeemer
I love Cristo, as he is affectionately names by the Brazilians, however, so does everyone else. This means that he tends to get busy from opening time to closing time and you will have to share this experience with 100 or so other people. I actually found this didn’t bother me, I went expecting it to be packed everywhere you walked, but it was only really those iconic photo spots that got hectic. We visited at 11am and 3pm and neither time was busier than the other, however, the later in the day you go the more amazing the light will be. Unfortunately you will never get up here for sunrise because the first train doesn’t start until 8am. If you really want to beat as much of the crowd as possible then book that train.
Talking of booking, you will need to book your train in advance and take the booking confirmation and passport to collect your tickets on the day. You can also get there by bus or hiking but the train feels like the most authentic way in my option.
To get to the train the easiest way is to take an Uber as it is cheaper than taxi. There is also a bus there from Ipanema/Copacabana.
Visit Lapa Steps (Escadaria Selarón)
You’ll know these steps even if you don’t know the name. You know ones that are super colourful and everyone you know who’s been to Rio has a photo with them? Yep, well they are called the Lapa steps, because they are located in Lapa. These are super popular with tourists, but for very good reason, they look incredible. Due to this I recommend getting there around 8/9am to have any chance of getting a photo without a dozen people in the background. Each part of these steps is make up of a mosaic tile and many have different quotes on in many different languages. Make sure you take the time to walk all the way up as the view looking back down is pretty cool.
To get there you can take the metro to Glória and then it is a short 10 minute walk.
Sunbathe on Copacabana Beach
There is something amazing about this beach. You’ve seen photos of it a thousand times and it is always busy but there is nothing like being there is real life. Taking those views in, lying your towel on the sand and soaking up a few rays. Yes there can be pickpockets (although I never encounter any theft when I was there), yes there are people coming around trying to sell you things but that is all part of the experience. Nothing prepares you for how long this beach is, for the overwhelming number of umbrellas dug in the sand or just how strong those waves are. I know you’ve seen this beach a thousand times in photos but it is so worth going. Be sure to get some food and drink from the sellers trudging around in that stinking heat. Their food is actually worth eating.
If you are worried about security then go with someone else, never leave you belongings unattended, only take money you need think R$50 and leave your phone behind.
Hike Pedra Bonita for sunrise
The mountains are such a key part of why I love this city and I cannot recommend scaling one of them during your few days here. The most well known mountain is Irmãos but this has become such a tourist hot spot that I’d suggest something a little different. We hiked up Pedra Bonita in the pitch black at 5am for sunrise and what a special occasion that was. I would highly recommend it, the climb is an easy 20 minute stroll and doesn’t require any experience or a guide. What’s more you don’t have to trek through a favela to get to it.
Another reason to climb Pedra Bonita over Dois Irmãos is because it offers views not only across the city but also out to Barra. You may recognise the name as it is where the Rio 2016 Olympic Park was situated. The coast line is ever more gorgeous from here and chances are this will be your only exposure to this side of Rio de Janeiro.
Take the cable car up Sugarloaf for sunset
I know, I keep suggesting things to do at sunset, but it honestly is the best. If there is only one thing you do at sunset out of the whole list, make it this one.
Head up around an hour or so before sunset so that you can enjoy the view before it gets dark. The initial cable car will take you to the first mountain Urca from here you can then catch the second cable car for Pão de Açúcar. Make sure you take in all of the views out to sea as well as across the city. Then choose your favourite or least busy spot and position yourself for sunset. Maybe you’ll just enjoy watching it with a cold beer in hand or like me you’ll photograph it. Whatever you decide to do, the views across Rio will be pretty magical. Be sure to stay there until darkness sets in.
To get here: Take the metro to Botafogo and then its around a 10 minute walk, alternatively you could take an Uber/Taxi here.
Eat at Fogo de Chão
If you are happy to splash a little money on dinner then this is the place to go. Argentina is famous for its steak but Brazil is famous for the all round meat experience. Fogo de Chão is the ultimate churrasco experience and probably the best foodie experience in Rio de Janeiro. The waiters will bring around freshly cooked meat and slice it straight on to your plate. They will then continue to do this until you turn your card red. No sure what I’m talking about? Let me explain. Each person is given a card with a green and a red side, green meaning you want meat and red meaning you don’t. Simple. You can turn the card as many times as you like and this way take breaks during your dinner to make sure you make the most of it.
Dinner is a set price (R$119) for as much salad and meat as you can eat, just be sure you don’t fill up on salad first! Find out more here.
The easiest way to get here is via Uber or Taxi but you can also walk from the Botafogo Metro station. You will need to reserve ahead of time to get a table at dinner.
Watch a football match at Maracanã
Now this might not be possible because Maracanã is one of those stadiums where on ‘special’ matches get played. You know like international games or cup finals but if you do get lucky then this is a must. Especially if you are a football fan. You will never have experienced a football match like it. From the moment the ball gets kicked until the whistle is blown the noise will be incredible. They will chant and cheer and scream and whistle and then do it all over again for the entire 90 minutes. Team this with copious amounts of beer and you have go the perfect Brazilian experience.
Maracanã is a pretty special stadium and one I would make every effort to get to.
To get here you can take the Metro to Maracanã or the train from Centro to Maracanã.
Stroll along Ipanema Beach and watch sunset
I know, I know. Another sunset suggestion. But it is another good one I promise. You remember me telling you about the famous Dois Irmãos well the views of this mountain from Ipanema beach are perfect at sunset. The sun, depending on the time of year, will set somewhere near to this mountain casting a perfect silhouette for photos. The perfect way to enjoy it would be with a coconut water in hand and toes dipped into the ocean.
A stroll along Ipanema Beach is always worthwhile at any time of day/any day of the week. However, it is worth noting that on Sundays they close the road along the beach to traffic and you are free to roam as you like.
And of course if you have a lot of money to spend then jump in a helicopter and see this amazing city from the sky.
Is there anything else you would add to this ‘must see’ list in Rio de Janeiro?