15 Unmissable Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro is a vibrant city known for its samba dancing, cheerful vibe, and stunning beaches. It’s also where thousands of visitors flock to for the most colorful and energetic parade on Earth; Carnival.

But this Brazilian city is more than just Carnival and street parties, it’s also home to one of the seven wonders of the world, numerous historical landmarks, and is surrounded by incredible hiking trails.

Needless to say, you’ll never be short of things to do in Rio de Janeiro.

Aerial view of buildings on the beach front with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background, Botafogo, Guanabara Bay, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Botafogo, Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf Mountain

If you’re wondering what Rio de Janeiro attractions to include on your itinerary, you’ve come to the right place. This guide to the best things to do in Rio will make sure you make the most out of your time in this incredible city.

1. Play Footvolley on Ipanema Beach

people playing Futevolei on the beach in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Futevolei on Ipanema Beach

There are two beaches in Rio that make the city so famous; Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach. Ipanema is considered a wealthy district in Rio and is one of the best areas for families.

The beach is gorgeous, with clean golden sand and refreshing ocean waves to swim in.

But while swimming and sunbathing are popular activities here, it’s also known for being a great place to play footvolley. If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s like regular volleyball but you use your feet instead.

Brazilians take football very seriously so it’s no wonder that they invented footvolley. This is a popular sport to play on this iconic beach and you’ll find plenty of pitches set up near the promenade.

  • Hours: The beach is open 24 hours but it’s not recommended to visit at night
  • Address: Ipanema

2. Bike along the Boulevard of Copacabana Beach

Young Brazilian woman rides her bicycle along the boardwalk at Copacabana Beach. Rio de Janeiro , Brazia.
Biking the boardwalk at Copacabana Beach. Rio de Janeiro

The second most iconic beach in Rio is Copacabana beach. Known for its long, golden sand with views of the Sugarloaf mountain, it’s one landmark in Rio that you cannot miss.

As well as sunbathing or swimming, the beach is also known for its boulevard, which is a popular area for skaters, roller skaters, and cyclists.

Every Sunday, the beach is closed to street traffic and is entirely pedestrianized, so is the perfect time to rent a bicycle and explore the length of this beach. This is definitely up there as one of the most fun things to do in Rio de Janeiro with kids.

You can hire a bike from many bike rental stores along the beach, but Aluguel de Bicicletas Copacabana comes highly rated.

  • Hours: The beach is open 24 hours but it’s notoriously dangerous at night.
  • Address: Copacabana

3. Visit the Christ the Redeemer

Aerial view of Christ Redeemer statue and Corcovado Mountain
Aerial view of Christ Redeemer and Corcovado Mountain

Christ the Redeemer, or Cristo Redentor in Portuguese, is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. It stands on top of the Corcovado mountain where it overlooks most of the city.

The 30-meter statue of Jesus Christ was designed by the French sculptor, Paul Landowski with the help of Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, and constructed between 1922-1931.

The statue was paid for by funding from the Catholic community in Brazil and the design of Jesus with his arms spread open was chosen to be a symbol of peace.

There are many ways to get to Christ the Redeemer, but we recommend taking the bus from Lido Square in Copacabana or taking the cog train from Cosme Velho.

Do not hike to the statue as robbers occupy the trail and muggings are frequent there.

  • Hours: 8.00am – 7.00pm
  • Address: Parque Nacional da Tijuca – Alto da Boa Vista

Christ the Redeemer Tickets and tours

4. Take the Cable Car to Sugarloaf Mountain

cable car going to the top of Sugarloaf moountain with ariel beach views
The cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain

Rio is not short of beautiful nature, which you can see from pretty much any point in the city. One such nature site is Sugarloaf mountain, which is a 396m-tall mountain located on a peninsula between Copacabana and Botafogo.

While you can hike to the top of Sugarloaf mountain, why exert yourself when you can take a cable car? The cable car offers sweeping views of the ocean and forest that occupies the mountain.

From the top, you have breathtaking views of the city and the ocean. It is particularly beautiful at sunset when the ocean is washed in orange. You won’t be able to hang around long though as the cable car stops running at 7.00pm.

  • Hours: 9.00am – 7.00pm
  • Address: Av. Pasteur, 520 – Urca, 22290-240

5. Wander Around the Parque Lage Visual Art School

courtyard of Parque Lage Visual Art School with mountain in background

The Parque Lage Visual Art School is a school for artists, curators and researchers and is most famous for its stunning architecture.

The mansion that houses the school was built in 1920 by a Brazilian shipbuilder, Henrique Lage, and his wife, the Italian opera singer Gabriela Besanzoni. This explains the Romanesque style that the architecture resembles.

In 1975, it was turned into an art school by Rubens Gerchman. His vision was to create a non-traditional educational school where students are encouraged to make experimental pieces.

It is free for visitors to enter and explore the grounds and the galleries. The school lies at the bottom of Corcovado Mountain and has stunning views of the Redeemer from below.

  • Hours:
    • The galleries: 9.00am to 7.00pm (Monday – Thursday) 9.00am to 5.00pm (Friday – Sunday),
    • The cafe: 9.00am – 11.00pm daily
  • Address: R. Jardim Botânico, 414 – Jardim Botânico, 22461-000

6. Stroll Around The Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro)

water surrounded by green jungle of the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Just around the corner from the Parque Lage Visual Art School is the Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, a quiet botanical garden near the iconic Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.

This is a great place to sit and enjoy a picnic or enjoy a gentle stroll around the diverse collection of plants and fauna.

The botanical garden was founded between 1808-1821 during the time the Portuguese occupied Brazil. It is now a research center showcasing a diverse collection of native and foreign plants. It is said there are around 6,500 species, including endangered species.

The park spans ​​54 hectares and has several greenhouses, historical monuments, and a library dedicated to botany.

  • Hours: 8.00am – 5.00pm
  • Address: R. Jardim Botânico, 1008 – Jardim Botânico, 22460-030

7. Enjoy the Serenity of Red Beach

The empty Red beach Praia Vermelha and Sugarloaf mountain on the background at sunny morning, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Red Beach or Praia Vermelha and Sugarloaf mountain on the background

If Ipanema and Copacabana Beach are too busy for your liking, then you’ll find Red Beach to be much quieter.

Located at the foothills of Sugarloaf mountain, this small beach is like a breath of fresh air compared to the chaos of the other beaches.

The beach gets its name from the slightly red-colored sand, and because it’s located in a bay, the waves are a lot calmer. This is a beautiful beach with stunning natural landscapes surrounding it.

It’s the perfect thing to do in Rio de Janeiro for families with young children as the waves are gentle and it’s also located in a military area so many visitors feel a lot safer here than on the larger beaches.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Praia Vermelha

8. Watch a Show at the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro

Front façade of the white Opera House (Teatro Municipal) with aqua domes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Opera House (Teatro Municipal) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Theatro Municipal, or the Municipal Theater, is an opera house that was built in the mid-20th century by Francisco de Oliveira Passos (Son of then mayor Francisco Pereira Passos) and Albert Guilbert. The design was inspired by the Paris Opera.

The most important Brazilian painters and sculptors were summoned to decorate its facade, and even European artists were asked to contribute stained glass windows and mosaic tiles. The building took four and a half years to complete, but the result was one of the most beautiful buildings in Rio.

Today, visitors can watch opera performances and ballet shows, as well as orchestras and foreign operas. Both the Petrobras and the Brazilian Symphonic Orchestras play here frequently.

If you’re looking for unique things to do at night in Rio de Janeiro, then watching a show in this stunning theater is definitely up there as one of the best nighttime activities.

  • Hours: dependent on show
  • Address: Praça Floriano, S/N – Centro, 20031-050, Brazil

9. Drink Coffee at the Confeitaria Colombo

interior view of the historic confectionery colombo cafe in rio de janeiro, brazil
Interior view of the historic Confeitaria Colombo cafe

The Confeitaria Colombo is one of the oldest and most beautiful coffee shops in Rio. It was founded in 1894, Confeitaria Colombo was founded in 1894 by Portuguese immigrants, Joaquim Borges de Meireles and Manuel José Lebrão.

The coffee shop is most famous for its European architecture, complete with Art Nouveau touches on the interior. The stained-glass ceiling and large crystal mirrors, framed in ornately detailed rosewood give the coffee shop its beauty.

The building has two floors, with an opening in the ceiling on the ground floor to give everyone a view of the gorgeous skylight. However, the second floor houses a restaurant separate from the cafe.

The cafe was once the meeting point for Brazilian writers, artists, and intellectuals in the 19th century, and has hosted famous faces and royal family members, such as King Albert I of Belgium and Queen Elizabeth II of England.

  • Hours: 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM Monday – Friday, 09:00 AM – 5:00 PM Saturday, Closed Sunday
  • Address: R. Primeiro de Março, 66 – Centro, 20010-000

10. See the City’s “Ugliest” Cathedral: Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião

pyramid shaped building with circular tower and cross ont op  of Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian sure is ugly!

From the outside, the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião looks like a scene from a dystopian movie. Many locals consider it ugly, but as with all artistic creations, all art is subjective.

Whatever your preference is on the architecture, the cathedral is definitely an unusual building worth checking out. It was inaugurated in 1979 and has a capacity of 20,000 worshipers.

The building was designed by architect Edgar de Oliveira da Fonseca. It’s not known what influenced the design, but some believe it was either influenced by the Apollo Project or the Mayan pyramids.

On the inside, the building looks more like a cathedral, with colored stained glass windows lining the walls up to the dome. The interiors were designed by Father Paulo Lachen Maier.

  • Hours: 7.00am – 5.00pm
  • Address: Av. Chile, 245 – Centro, 20031-170,

11. Climb the Selaron Steps

colorful yellow and blue steps with red tiled sides  of the Searon STeps
Escadaria Selaron famous public steps

The Selaron Steps, or the Escadaria Selarón in Portuguese, is the lifework of Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón.

In 1990, Selaron started renovating the steps outside his house. He chose bright green, yellow and blue tiles, the colors of the Brazilian flag, and began decorating.

What started out as a side project, became an obsession, and he decided to continue past his house and up the stairs. To fund his project, he sold his artwork to pay for supplies.

As you go up the steps, you’ll see tiles dedicated to different countries, which were tiles he collected from his travels.

It took many years, but eventually, the entire 215-step staircase was covered in tiles and mirrors.

Jorge Selaron died in 2013, but he continued to work on the steps right up until his death.

  • Hours: 24 hours, though we don’t recommend visiting at night
  • Address: R. Manuel Carneiro – Santa Teresa, 20241-120

12. Drink Caipirinhas in the Lapa District

A crowd of people in the nightlife in Arcos Da Lava district
A crowd of people in the nightlife in Arcos Da Lava district

One of the most vibrant districts in Rio is Lapa, known as Rio’s nightlife district. In the daytime, the bohemian district is thriving with people looking to check out the Roman-style Arcos da Lapa aqueduct, hunt for hidden gems in the vintage stores, and shop for souvenirs in boutique shops.

Lapa is also full of traditional bars and restaurants, which are the perfect place to rest up after a day of exploring and sip some Caipirinhas in the afternoon sun.

At night, the district comes alive with live music, dance halls, and samba jams on the street. It’s the best (and safest) area to visit for nightlife.

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: Lapa

13. Try Brazilian Sweet Treats: Brigadeiro and Iced Açaí

Brigadeiro brazilian chocolate treat
Brigadeiro brazilian chocolate treat

Food in Rio de Janeiro is incredible, and you’ll never run out of Brazilian dishes to try on your visit. Some of the most unique foods to try in Rio are sweet desserts.

Brigadeiro is a chocolatey, truffle-like dessert that is often sold as street food. Its origin is unknown but many people believe it originates from a confectioner from Rio, Heloisa Nabuco de Oliveira, as a way to promote the presidential candidacy of Eduardo Gomes.

Another unique dessert to try is Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-yee). Acai is a purple superfood from the Amazon. The berries are a cross between a blueberry and a grape and are rich in vitamins and antioxidants.

The berries on their own are quite sour, so they are often mixed with bananas and served frozen in a smoothie format. It’s common to add condensed milk, chocolate flakes, and other toppings to your acai, but honestly, it tastes so good on its own.

  • Hours: NA
  • Address: All over Rio

14. Hike in Tijuca National Park

Beautiful view to small rainforest stream on green park, Tijuca National Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Small rainforest stream, Tijuca National Park,

If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in Rio de Janeiro then you should consider embarking on one of the many hikes outside the city.

Some of the most beautiful hikes are in the Tijuca Forest National Park, which features several trails of various levels of difficulty.

Some trails offer incredible views of Rio and the ocean beyond. The trails also take you past caves and waterfalls, as well as past historic sites such as ruins and old coffee farms. Bring your swimsuit so you can cool off in the waterfall after a hike.

The trails also pass through beautiful rainforests with squawking birds and the hum of jungle sounds. If you’re a nature lover, then you mustn’t miss this incredible outdoor attraction in Rio de Janeiro.

  • Hours: 8.00am – 5.00pm
  • Address: Estr. da Cascatinha, 850 – Alto da Boa Vista, 20531-590

Consider this guided hike

Get to know the Tijuca Forest National Park by a small group hike on this amazing and challenging circuit visiting peaks with great views of Rio, caves, waterfalls, and ruins from old coffee farms. Learn more here.

15. Learn about Carnival and Samba in Samba City

woman in elaborate pink feathered and sequenced Carnival costume
Samba School costume

Any trip to Rio would be incomplete without learning about the city’s most visited and buzzing annual event, Carnival. In fact, Rio’s carnival is the biggest carnival in the world.

Carnival is held every year on the Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent. While it originally has religious reasons for celebration, for many Brazilians it’s considered a celebration of love.

Carnival happens for one week in a year, so if you miss it, don’t worry, there are still some other crazy things to do in Rio de Janeiro with Carnival vibes.

The floats and costumes of the carnival, as well as the preparation of dancers, take years in the making. So if you’re not visiting in February, you can still see preparations for the next event at any time of year.

In the neighborhood of Gamboa, you’ll find Samba City, a complex full of samba schools that prepare for carnival. Visitors to Samba City can discover what goes into the preparations of the parade, try on authentic costumes, and take part in a Samba workshop.

  • Hours: Tours operate from 10.00am, 2.00pm, 4.00pm Monday – Saturday
  • Address: R. Rivadávia Corrêa, 60 – Gamboa, 20220-290

Fun Tour Idea

  • Carnival Backstage Tour at Samba City with Cocktail: Follow your guide on walking tour of the inner workings of Rio’s Carnival parade with this attraction ticket. Take your picture wearing wild costumes, dance in a Samba workshop, and have a cocktail. Reserve your spot.

Where to stay in Rio De Janeiro

We have hand-selected a few top rated hotels in Rio De Janeiro for you to save you time researching.

If you’re looking for other accommodation in Rio De Janeiro, you can use the map below to compare hotels and short-term rental options.

Popular Tours of Rio De Janeiro

Here are a few of the most popular and interesting tours in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

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