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Stunning beaches, samba music, and one of the most colorful Carnival celebrations in the world have placed beautiful Rio de Janeiro on the must-visit lists of savvy travelers for decades. The 2016 Olympics brought this already-renowned city to a whole new level of fame, offering glimpses of everything the city has to offer on televisions around the world.
The majority of the city’s hundreds of hotels are on or near the beach on the South end of town (the Zona Sul), though there are also plenty in the historic downtown (the Centro) and tucked away in other neighborhoods. The shape of the huge city, which curls around a bay and large mountains, means that no matter where you stay, you’ll likely need to make use of the city’s quite efficient mass transit options or a taxi to hit every spot on your to-do list.
Best Overall: Gran Melia Nacional Rio de Janeiro
This iconic cylindrical skyscraper hotel was designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, known for his influence on the development of modern architecture in Brazil and internationally. First opened in 1972, the hotel was closed and vacant for more than two decades, and massively renovated and reopened for the 2016 Olympics.
The redesigned rooms — and with 34 floors, there are a lot of them — are designed with a nod to mid-century modernism: accent walls featuring wood paneling, well-placed pieces of colorful, quirky furniture, and gleaming tile floors and chrome fixtures. Beds are made with 400-thread-count Trussardi linen and bathrooms are stocked with Clarins amenities. Each room has a full wall of windows with a view of either the ocean, the swanky Sao Conrado neighborhood, or the mountains (keep an eye out in this direction and you’ll surely see hang gliders, who land on the Sao Conrado beach below).
Gran Melia Nacional Rio also offers free Wi-Fi, an all-day in-house restaurant, an indoor bar as well as a poolside bar at the terrace pool, a large fitness center, a Spa by Clarins, extensive meeting and event spaces, landscaped gardens by modernist landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, art exhibits and a world-class permanent collection, and Rio’s only hotel helipad.
Best Budget: Ipanema Inn
Affordable quality lodging in Rio is something of an oxymoron, but the chic Ipanema Inn is a rare property that fits the bill. Located about a half-block from the Ipanema beach, it’s a fabulous location for visitors who love sun, sand, and nightlife.
Decor in the rooms is airy and minimalist, with a nod to 1950s-style modernism. Suites include furnished terraces with an ocean view. Breakfast is included for all guests, the hotel has concierges on staff, and flat-screen TVs and free WiFi give you a chance to connect to the real world, though in the heart of marvelous Ipanema, who wants to?
Best Boutique: Hotel Santa Teresa Rio MGallery by Sofitel
Santa Teresa is an artistic, bohemian neighborhood in the historic Centro, and the MGallery fits right in. The 44 guestrooms are individually designed in a contemporary style that fuses sleek modern design with subtle tropical elements and quirky art pieces. All rooms have King-sized beds and offer L’Occitane products in the bathroom. The hotel is surrounded by gardens which include a luxurious outdoor pool and bar on a terrace with a spectacular view of the city.
Visitors can enjoy deep tissue massages or brightening facials in the in-house Le Spa by L’Occitane and French-Brazilian cuisine at Térèze restaurant. Have drinks in-house at the Moroccan souk-style Bar Dos Descados to start or end your evening of dancing in the nearby Lapa neighborhood, Rio’s most exciting nightlife district.
Best for Families: Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Families can enjoy long and luxurious days of building sand castles and splashing in the waves at the private beach fronting this massive resort property, just to the West of Leblon Beach and about a mile from Ipanema. Parents can also take a day off and send the kiddos to the Kids Club, where they can build, play, climb, dance, and even swim in the care of a team of childcare professionals. While the kids enjoy themselves, visit the on-site Shine Spa for massage or salon treatments, sip drinks next to one of the two on-site pools, work out with a private trainer in the hotel’s extensive gym, or even spend the day getting work done in the business center.
The guestrooms themselves are relatively generic, décor-wise, but frequent guests of the company will recognize the comfy Sheraton Signature Sleep Experience beds. Choose one of the family rooms, which include a large pull-out couch where a family can snuggle in front of a movie before bedtime or adjoining standard rooms.
Best Romance: Hotel Fasano
The Fasano Rio de Janeiro is architect and designer Philippe Starck’s first project in Brazil, making it a destination unto itself for design enthusiasts and providing a gorgeous backdrop for a romantic vacation. Rooms feature hardwood floors, mid-century styled furniture in muted colors, marble bathrooms with high-pressure shower heads, and gorgeous views. Couples have myriad activities to choose from: a stroll across the street to Ipanema Beach, a dip in the rooftop infinity pool overlooking the ocean, get a couples’ massage at the in-house Spa Fasano, or dinner under the Murano glass chandelier in the Fasano al Mare, which specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and local seafood. Or spend the day between the high-thread count sheets in your room — who could blame you?
For that little extra-special touch, book the hotel’s Romantic Package. Your room will be decorated with roses and candles and stocked with a bottle of prosecco. Strawberries and a welcome pastry will greet you upon your arrival and a breakfast-in-bed tray will start your morning. A piece of romantic jewelry designed by Brazilian jeweler Antonio Bernardo completes the package.
Best Luxury: Belmond Copacabana Palace
Follow in the footsteps of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana and book a stay at this iconic hotel. A gleaming white Art Deco masterpiece that sits grandly on the Copacabana Beach, the Belmond Copacabana Palace first opened in 1923 and has remained a mainstay for luxury travelers ever since. Rooms are delicately outfitted with pale fabrics and rich wooden antiques for a classically breezy, beachy feel. Bathrooms are spacious and stocked with luxury toiletries and a complimentary pair of flip-flops, and all rooms offer either a sweeping view of the city or the ocean itself.
All guests can enjoy the massive swimming pool, beach service, one of three gourmet restaurants, a piano bar, and an in-house spa. Guests who book one of the glamorous penthouse suites have the additional option of a private rooftop pool and wet bar, as well as butler service.
Best Nightlife: YOO2 Rio
Younger travelers looking for a trendy place to stay and close proximity to Rio’s best dance parties need look no further than YOO2 Rio. A rooftop cocktail bar and pool means you don’t even have to leave the hotel for a party. If you choose to, though, the hotel’s location in bustling Botafogo puts you within walking distance of plenty of nightlife, and in an easy central location between the beach districts of Copacabana and Ipanema to the South and Flamengo and Lapa to the North.
The hotel’s decor and general vibe are just right for the hip traveler, as well. Rooms are decorated with clean, modern lines, bright and colorful pieces of furniture, and quirky artwork and accent items. Each brightly-tiled bathroom has a walk-in glass shower stocked with amenities. The on-site Cariocally restaurant serves trendy gourmet food under the auspices of Chef Marcelo Schambeck, who has also designed a room service menu of contemporary comfort food, perfect for filling a hung-over belly.
Best Business: Hilton Barra Rio de Janeiro
Barra de Tijuca, or simply “Barra,” is the youngest neighborhood in Rio. Much of it, including this enormous Hilton, was built in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics, as most of the Olympic venues were located here. Business travelers will enjoy the plentiful high-end shopping and dining here, including a shopping mall right next door. The hotel also provides shuttles to the gorgeous Reserva beach, should you have a day off.
Guestrooms are simple, sleek, and classic, and feature Suite Dreams mattresses and Hilton’s own luxe line of toiletries. All rooms have a view of either the Jacarepagua Lagoon or the ocean. Extensive business services provide everything a business traveler could need, from A/V rentals to multiple meeting and banquet rooms, photocopying services to a fully-wired business center. Family packages, cribs, and babysitting services are available for those traveling with kids in tow. An in-house restaurant, fitness center, rooftop infinity pool, and bars in both the lobby and on the roof mean that should you choose, you never need to leave.
Best View: Gavea Tropical Boutique Hotel
In a picturesque city like Rio, it’s hard to find a bad view. The view from Gavea Tropical, though, is extraordinary. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood just a half-mile or so inland from Leblon Beach, this tiny seven-room hotel offers a postcard-perfect view from every single room: the 100-foot-tall Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, Sugarloaf Mountain jutting into the sky, and the glowing city below. All rooms have a furnished balcony which includes a hammock, from which you can enjoy the view at your leisure.
Rooms and common areas in this quirky hidden gem are decorated in a tropical style with Thai influences. A small on-site spa offers massage and other therapies, as well as a sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi. A swimming pool and reading lounge offer places to relax. A complimentary breakfast buffet is served on a terrace where, every morning, small grey tamarin monkeys swing down out of the surrounding forest to beg a banana or two from delighted guests. It’s quite a different experience from the large hotels on the beach, but the charm of Rio is that it offers something for everyone in every capacity!