Updated: Jan 31, 2019
Being born and raised in Rio, I think I started to take my trips there for granted. I've said multiple times: "It's not a vacation, it's just home". But as I started to see more of the world, I started to realize my home town isn't one of the most famous cities in the world for no reason. Rio is beautiful and lively, full of friendly people and delicious food (and drinks - Hellooo caipirinhas!)
If you're planning a vacation in Rio, here's my list of 6 things you absolutely must do while there.
1. Go to the touristy spots.
I hate being around crowds of people. I hate lines. I hate paying for overpriced attractions. However, I still do all of these things at least once in every city I travel to. These spots are so popular for a reason. So it's worth fighting the crowds for a day and enjoying the sights. And in Rio, there are many.
The Cristo Redentor is probably the most famous of these sights. I was lucky enough to grow up with it right outside my grandma's window (it lights up at night and it's magical). You can see it from many spots across the city, but I recommend actually going all the way to the top for a close up view of the statue, as well as breathtaking 360° views of the city and beaches.
Another sight I recommend is Bondinho. The last time I went, which was a few years ago, the cable cars were old and rusty. But it seems that they updated everything before the last World Cup, so it's a good time to go while everything is still new! Now, if you're afraid of heights or small spaces, maybe just skip this one.
2. Eat Picanha
My FAVORITE thing to eat while in Brazil is Picanha, which is a cut of beef that is pretty unique. According to Google:
Picanha is a cut of beef called sirloin cap in the United States that is popular in Brazil. In the United States, it is little known, but referred to as the rump cover, rump cap, or culotte. North American butchers generally divide it into other cuts like the rump, the round, and the loin.
In Rio, you can get Picanha plates in pretty much any restaurant, but I would recommend going to Carretão in Copacabana. It's one of those rodizio all-you-can-eat places, and it has top quality meats. I may be a little biased here, since this is the restaurant I'd always go to with my family when I was younger, but I still go every time I visit and it never disappoints. The best part is that it is close to the beach, so you can spend the morning at the beach and then head over for lunch.
3. Go Shopping
As a girl, shopping in Rio is pretty amazing. Depending on where you look, you can find great pieces at different price ranges. At the malls, for example, you will find the more expensive items - but even then, they are pretty comparable to US prices or cheaper. But if you want real deals, you definitely have to check out the street markets.
My favorite one is called Feira Hippie, and it's on every Sunday in Ipanema. Again, this is one of those nostalgic things that I love because I used to do it growing up. However, it is still just as exciting every time I go. At this market you can find anything from jewelry and clothing, to art and home goods. It's a pretty big outdoor market with lots of options for every taste and, because it's Brazil we are talking about here, there is also plenty of snacks!
See below for a quick list for my favorite shopping spots.
- OUTDOOR MARKET: Feira Hippie
- OUTDOOR MARKET: Feira do Largo do Machado (I'm not sure what the actual name of this market is, but you can take the subway to the Largo do Machado stop and you'll come out at the main plaza where all the shops are)
- MALL: Botafogo Praia Shopping
- MALL: Barra Shopping (This one is in a fancier area of Rio. It's a bigger mall with higher end stores)
4. Spend a Whole Day at the Beach
One of the things I miss most about my beach days in Rio is that you can literally spend the entire day on the beach. In the US, you always end up getting too hot or too hungry to stay any more than a few hours. In Rio, you can get literally anything you need at the beach.
Between the endless kiosks providing chairs, umbrellas, and bringing you drinks TO YOUR SEAT, and the almost overwhelming amount of vendors walking around selling everything you need: cangas, sunglasses, sun block/tanning lotion, hats, selfie sticks, waterproof phone bags, bikinis (in case you forgot?), and of course - snacks, you will almost never need to leave.
You can easily spend the day on Copacabana or Ipanema beach with chairs and an umbrella, some drinks and snacks, and not spend any more than $25 for two people. It's an amazing and affordable way to spend your time in Rio.
As I was writing this I realized there is a lot more I want to share about beaches in Rio, so I decided to dedicate a post to it. You can find it here.
5. Get on a Boat
If just being on the beach isn't enough for you, Rio offers a variety of boat trips that you can take, ranging from a couple of hours to a whole day ordeal. There are also quite a few islands and beach cities nearby to which you can take boats to.
The prices will vary depending on duration and location, but the usual range for a 6-8 hours small boat "cruise" is $40-$80 USD. If you have some extra time in Rio, definitely take a day "off" and sail around the beautiful beaches.
Did I mention a lot of these excursions include free food and drinks?!
6. Visit Other Cities in Rio De Janeiro State
When they hear "Rio de Janeiro", most people think of the city. But Rio de Janeiro is also the name of the State, just like New York vs. NYC.
Although the city is absolutely beautiful, it is always nice to take a break from the rush and retreat to somewhere where you can really relax. Rio State offers quite a few spots like that, with options ranging from chilly mountains to white sandy beaches. All of these are easy to get to by bus, tour groups, or by renting a car.
See below for a list of my favorite getaway spots:
- Arraial do Cabo: Beautiful crystal clear waters and sandy beaches.
- Buzios: Similar to Arraial do Cabo, amazing seafood.
- Petropolis: A little town in the mountains with some interesting museums including the Santos Dumont House and the Crystal Palace.