From the panoramic hilltop views to sunsets on the beach, Rio de Janeiro's beauty does not disappoint. Brazil's second largest city is called Cidade Maravilhosa, or, in English, the marvelous city. Fortunately, this bustling city is packed into a relatively small space, making it easy to see a lot in a short amount of time.
These top ten attractions in Rio de Janeiro will appeal to most any traveler, whether they are looking for adventure, natural beauty, or art and culture. The most popular of the attractions, Christ the Redeemer statue, the beaches, and the fascinating neighborhoods are all worth exploring.
Climb to See Christ the Redeemer
Rio's best-known landmark, O Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) sits atop Corcovado in the Tijuca National Park overlooking the city. This Art Deco statue was completed in 1931 and is now one of the seven wonders of the new world. It stands almost 100 feet tall and its outstretched arms span 92 feet. Get there early for the best views (without many other tourists to compete with), or arrive at dusk for a view of the sea and city at sunset.
There are three options to get to the statue. The first is by taking a taxi to the Paineiras car park that is halfway up the Corcovado mountain, where the Christ the Redeemer statue is, and then take the van up to the entrance. The second way to get there is to go on the scenic train ride from the base of Corcovado to the car park and then take the van to the top. And, thirdly, you can hike up. Behind the mansion at the botanical garden is a path that takes you through the rainforest to the top of the mountain. This will take time but will give you amazing views of the foliage and waterfalls. You may even see some monkeys.
Ride Up Sugarloaf Mountain
One must-do in Rio de Janeiro is to go to Sugarloaf Mountain (called Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese), a solitary peak at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that reaches out into the Atlantic Ocean. To get there, you take a cable car. The ride is divided into two stages: first, visitors ride more than 200 meters from Praia Vermelha to the first hill, Morro da Urca, and then visitors continue to the top of Sugarloaf on the second car. Consider arriving at sunset for an unforgettable view.
Stroll the Botanical Garden
The best known botanical garden in the country, Rio de Janeiro's Jardim Botanico spans about 350 acres and includes thousands of plant species. Located right in the center of the city near the former Olympic venue Maracanã Stadium, the garden is easy to access and makes a perfect activity for a relaxing morning or afternoon.
The garden was founded in 1808 and today the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden Research Institute is a federal agency linked to Brazil's Ministry of Environment and is one of the world's leading research centers in the areas of botany and biodiversity conservation.
The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden incorporates rare works of art into the landscape and there is a Historical Trail where you can read about the history of the area and botany.
Perhaps nothing defines a Rio de Janeiro vacation better than a day at the beach. Ipanema is located in the Ipanema neighborhood, one of the city's most affluent areas. The beach stretches for 2 kilometers between Jardim de Alah and Arpoador, known for a big stone separating it from the Copacabana Beach.
The beach made famous by the Bossa Nova tune "Girl from Ipanema" is the place where you can observe Brazilian beach life. Some Cariocas (local citizens) enjoy sunbathing with cold Brazilian beer and beach snacks, while others play soccer and futvolei (foot volleyball), a locally-invented sport in which participants play beach volleyball with their feet.
See the Contemporary Art Museum in Niteroi
This impressive structure was designed by Brazil's most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer and sits in the area of Niteroi across from Rio de Janeiro. The museum houses a collection of national and international contemporary art, but the views and unusual architecture are the main attraction here.
Visit the Museum of Tomorrow
This contemporary museum challenges visitors to consider both the impact of modern life on the environment and the choices that lie ahead for humanity's future. The Museum of Tomorrow was designed by prominent Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and is located in the revitalized port area of Rio de Janeiro.
Learn About the Maracanã Stadium
Brazil's most famous stadium, Maracanã, hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games. Visitors have flocked to see this huge stadium because of its former position as the largest stadium in the world and its history as the site of the first World Cup in Brazil. Currently, the stadium is closed as it fell into disrepair. In 2017, the French group Lagardère signed an agreement to administer the Maracanã and invest millions of dollars to refurbish it, once again.
Visitors can get an aerial view of the stadium from Corcovado while visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Visit Tijuca National Park
Tijuca National Park is located in the Tijuca Forest, which is considered the world's largest urban forest at more than twelve square miles. It protects the first replanted forest in the world. The reforestation started in 1861.
This section of the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) offers hikes, panoramic views of the city from the Vista Chinesa (Chinese View), and waterfalls. Check with your hotel or a local tour agency for options for visiting, including guided Jeep tours.
Check Out the Santa Teresa Neighborhood
This funky hilltop neighborhood provides a nice contrast to the glitzy scene in some of Rio's neighborhoods such as Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon. The Bohemian flavor here can be enjoyed while strolling the cobblestone streets, trying traditional Brazilian dishes at the many small restaurants, and taking a ride up the hills in a bonde (old fashioned cable car).
The Santa Teresa neighborhood is home to Museu da Chácara do Céu, exhibiting European and Brazilian art, and the interesting Ruins Park, with an art gallery built around the ruins of a mansion.
Go Hang Gliding from Pedra Bonita
Pedra Bonita, or the "beautiful rock," towers above the city and sea from above Tijuca National Forest. It is known as the place to go hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro. Rio Hang Gliding offers tandem hang gliding experiences. For something a little less adventurous, you can enjoy the panoramic views with a hike in the surrounding area.