When I first selected Rio as my next travel destination, I was a bit worried that I might run out of things to do on a two week trip. I was so wrong!!! Rio is an amazing city with so many things to do. It is impossible to get bored in this city. Check out my Top 10 List of exciting things to do and see in Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico)
This is an absolute oasis in the middle of this busy city. Once inside you immediately relax among the tall trees that provide shade and comfort from the warm Rio days. The gardens are quite large with many different paths to adventure off to. Look up and you get a glimpse of Christ the Redeemer looking down at you. Everywhere I turned, there was one interesting display after another. The gardens are rather large (350-acres) so give yourself at least 2-3 hours to see it all. I could have easily spent the entire day there. Oh yes, don’t forget to stop by the Café right outside the gates.
Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanha)
I don’t wait in line for much, but I did for this incredible museum. I went here in the first few weeks of it being opened and waited 4 hours in line, but it was worth it. The building is stunning from the outside, but the inside was very powerful. The entire museum from each exhibit communicates one major theme and that is that we are all one. We are interdependent on one another and what one person does to the world can impact the rest of us. It was a powerful message. Each exhibit is highly interactive teaching young and old about science and the impact of humans on this earth. It is hard to walk away from this museum without it changing the way you think.
Rent a Bike all Around Rio
Rio is a very bike friendly city and with the weather almost always warm and sunny, you can’t help but jump on a bike and start exploring. Bikes are very inexpensive to rent and there are bike lanes throughout the entire city. I suggest biking from one side of Copacabana Beach all the way to the end of Ipanema Beach. It is one long bike path with many cyclists enjoying the beautiful weather. Also fun, is taking a spin around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (a spectacular lake just blocks away from Ipanema Beach). Do be careful however because theft is a big deal in Rio, so I would not leave your bike locked up for too long in one spot.
Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor)
Standing 125 feet tall, this amazing statue sits high atop Mount Corcovado overlooking all of Rio. The views from here are amazing. You can see the entire city. Very touristy but a must see. I went on my first day in Rio because it helps you get oriented to the city and after that you can admire for the rest of your trip. I always thought that Christ the Redeemer dominated the city landscape but surprisingly, it is pretty hard to see from most spots in the city. It is really quite high up on the mountaintop, but up close it is overwhelming – in a good way. I suggest stopping in the little chapel at the base of the statue.
National Historical Museum (Museu Historico Nacional)
When you think of Rio you don’t think of royalty, or a rich and elegant history but in fact they had it all. There is no better place to experience it, than via the National Historical Museum. At first, I debated whether or not it was worth the trip inside. The building from the outside was not all that nice and in a strange part of town (not unsafe just strange). I ventured in and was pleasantly surprised. The history of Brazil is actually fascinating from the early settlers, the huge slave industry and of course the Portuguese royal family. Tip: Make sure you go to visit the stage coach exhibit. It was pretty cool.
Visit a Favela
This has become the cool touristy thing to do in Rio. There are about 825 Favelas in Rio. I visited the largest and safest one called Rocinha with a population over 200,000. Now, you must go on a professional guided tour if you are going to visit the Favelas. While I understand certain Favelas to be very safe, there are areas inside that are considered off limits (some even the police do not dare go into). It’s best not to take a chance. With that said, the one I went to welcomed us with open arms. Tourism is part of the economy (at the one I went to). Being able to see firsthand how these communities work will give you a new respect for life in Rio.
Walk along Copacabana Beach
If there is a beach (any beach) there is a high probability that you will find me walking on it at some point during my vacation. In fact, I took a stroll almost every evening (before sunset) on Copacabana beach. It is a beautiful beach with tons of beautiful people everywhere. If you think you are wearing too much clothing while walking along the beach, you are. Brazilians definitely don’t like wearing lots of clothing so the tourists stick out a bit. No matter what fitness level you are, get ready for a workout because if you hike the entire stretch of the beach, it is 2.2 miles. One word of warning: Be careful because petty theft is a big time business on the beach and cell phones are particularly popular items.
Lunch at Confeitaria Colombo
Yes, yet another touristy thing to do (sorry). But it is lots of fun and the food is quite good. Colombo is an institution in downtown Rio. Built in the late 1800’s, It was the fancy place to have high powered business lunches during Rio’s boom time. Make sure you order dessert because the pastries are to die for.
Guided Tour of the Municipal Theatre (Theatro Municipal)
This opera house (modeled after the Paris Opera House) is by far most beautiful building in all of Rio. Recently restored, it is an absolute gem inside. The guided tour lasts about an hour and is worth every minute of it (and less than 5 US Dollars). Tours in English are only once a day (mine was at 2pm).
Go to Iguazu Falls, Brail / Argentina
While not exactly in Rio (Ok, it’s a 2 hour plane ride from Rio), it is well worth the trip. Iguazu Falls are absolutely breathtaking and worth a two to three day detour while you are on your holiday in Rio. This is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Rio. There are two National Parks to choose from. One, on the Brazilian side and the other on the Argentinian side. I highly recommend doing both. Each give you a very different perspective of the 275 different waterfalls all colliding into the river below. What I loved most about the falls was how up close and personal you get with the falls. Both National Parks were designed to allow you to literally walk right on top of the falls. Warning, you will get wet! I also suggest staying at one of the two hotels inside the park if you can afford the extra dollars. Tip: Make sure you purchase an Argentinian visa online before you go. It is easy to obtain, but you must have it to cross the border.