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2 Days in Rio de Janeiro - Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City)
20 Things To Do to Make the Most of your Visit
2 days in Rio de Janeiro? Wondering how to spend your time? Read on to discover 20 exciting things to do to help you make the most of your visit to “The Marvellous City” …
Rio de Janeiro – Cidade Maravilhosa (The Marvellous City ) – is sculpted by natural landmarks – the surf, the long, curving beaches and the towering mountains of Corcovado and Sugar Loaf. You really can’t come to Rio and not explore them – so my To Do list (don’t you just love them?!) starts with the Must Dos:
1. Christ the Redeemer
Take a trip up to the top of Corcovado Hill to stand at the feet of Rio de Janeiro’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. Created in 1931 by public subscription, the 30 metre high statue stands an impressive 709 meters above sea level. “Cristo Redentor” spreads his 28 metre arms out wide as if to embrace the people of Rio who together funded his construction. Chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 2007, you can see the statue – the largest Art Deco-style sculpture in the world – from all around the city – but nothing beats being right up close – right?
Spot the tiny heart molded into Cristo Redentor’s chest representing a stylised image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
2. Sugarloaf Mountain
Take a cable car up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. As your cable car travels from the Urca base station up to the peak of the mountain – a whopping 1,299 feet above sea level – take in the superb panorama all around you and begin to understand why they call Rio de Janeiro The Marvellous City.
We used “Get Your Guide” to book our tours of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain. Seeing both sites in one day is very doable and taking a guided tour means you can jump to the front of any queues. A local guide is a great way of finding out about the city too – you can find answers to all the questions a curious traveller has as you are driven expertly through the busy city streets. Being picked up and dropped off at your hotel takes any hassle out of your visit too – Rio is not the easiest of cities to navigate for the unfamiliar tourist not conversant with its seamier side.
3. Selaron Steps
The colourful Selaron Steps – one of Rio de Janeiro‘s most visited tourist sites – were built by Jorge Selarón – a Chilean born in 1947. A painter and world traveller, he arrived in Rio de Janeiro, in 1983, fell in love with the city and decided to stay. His chosen home at the top of a staircase connecting the two bohemian neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa was in a very bad condition, so he slowly started to renovate some of the steps in front of his house. What started as a pass time grew into an obsession and he soon started to receive ceramic tiles from all over the world as gifts from travellers to Rio de Janeiro.
4. Tijuca National Park
Take a hike in Tijuca National Park. Easy to access, the world’s largest urban forest offers you a tranquil antidote to the bustle of Rio’s beaches. Checkout the tallest waterfall in the forest Cascatinha Taunay and enjoy the spectacular view from Vista Chinesa (Chinese View) – at least as good as the view from the top of Sugarloaf which you can easily spot – along with Christ the Redeemer – from this lofty vantage point.
At the Visitor Centre, have some fun identifying your Indian horoscope from your birth year and month. I take after a sloth apparently. Tim takes after a Jararaca snake?
Listen for birdsong, marvel at the waterfalls and keep your eyes peeled for beautiful blue morpho butterflies.
5. Rio de Janeiro's Botanical Garden
Get your Guide came up trumps again with a private day tour to Tijuca Forest and Rio de Janeiro’s lovely Botanical Gardens (see link below). See the Brazilwood tree (after which the country is named), the Turtle Lake and floating giant water lilies. The Orchidarium and Bromeliad house are also very beautiful.
Be aware that you will need to pay your entrance fee in local currency – they accept cash only, no cards.
6. Maracana Stadium
Visit the world famous Maracana Stadium. Opened in 1950 to host the World Cup, it seated 200,000 people who watched as Brazil were beaten 2 to 1 by Uruguay – something this football crazy country still hasn’t quite got over. Seating is reduced to just over 78,000 people these days.
7. Clap the Famous Rio Sunset
Watch the sunset fire up the sky at Rio’s famous evening light show. From the Copacabana Fort, walk through the Garota de Ipanema Park to Arpoador Beach. Locals flock to sit on the rocky outcrop to watch the sunset across Diabo beach. The tradition is to clap – so the sun will shine again tomorrow.
Now - It’s time to explore all those beautiful beaches
8. Buy a pair of havaianas
First, treat yourself to a brightly coloured pair of havaianas (flip flops) from one of the many ambulante (walking sellers) on the beach. Now – you are properly equipped to do the beach walk.
9. Walk the Beaches
The coastline is all divided into “Postos” or Ps. The first landmark P is at the less crowded beginning of the beach in Leme. From P2 to P6, you are walking the length of beautiful Copacabana Beach. Ipanema Beach stretches from P7 to P10. Finally P11 and P12 form Leblon Beach. With an early start, you could spend a lovely day just walking Rio’s famous beaches whistling “The Girl from Ipanema” to yourself as you stroll along the sand, sporting your havaianas.
The beaches here are one big playground. Join a volleyball game, rent a bike or just sit cross legged and meditate, waiting for the big surf to roll right on over you,
Luxury sits – rather uncomfortably – alongside poverty here. Spot the favela in the photo below, sprawling up the hillside behind beachfront luxury hotels.
10. Belmont Copacabana Palace
As you walk the beaches, don’t miss the most famous hotel in Rio – the Belmond Copacabana Palace. It is located just at the beginning of the beach, near P2, on the other side of the beach sidewalk. Built in 1923, “The Palace” overlooks the famous beach from which it takes its name. Imagine yourself as Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers making their first movie together – Flying Down to Rio – in 1933. During Carnaval each year, the Magic Ball still takes place in the Palace’s Golden Room – complete with it’s glass dance floor, enticingly lit from below.
11. Craft Fair - Atlantic Avenue
Visit the craft fair located near P5, in Atlantic Avenue. There are 150 stands open from Monday to Saturday, between 6 pm and 1am. You can find all sorts of things there cheaper than in Rio’s shops, but you will probably need to pay in Brazilian currency – reals.
12. The Fortress of Copacapbana
Located at the end of Copacabana’s beach, on P6 visit the fortress, created in 1914. It opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 6pm. Although the fortress closes its door at 6 pm, the Colombo Confectionery situated within it doesn’t close until 8pm, so, that means that, if you visit after 6 pm the entrance is free. Be sure to sample one of the delicious cakes and candies from the Confectionary Store. If you do need to pay for your visit, you will need to use local currency.
13. Live the High Life - Play "Spot the Famous Hotel"
Some of Rio’s best hotels are located along the waterfront. Look out for the Fasano, in Ipanema with a stunning view of the beach from the rooftop infinity pool. At the Caesar Park Rio, even the fitness center has floor-to-ceiling ocean views! A few blocks away, in Leblon, let the oceanfront Marina All Suites Hotel tempt you with its delicious Italian restaurant.
Sampling local specialties is always a highlight of travelling for me. Rio de Janeiro doesn’t disappoint on this either. Even with just 2 days, you can find a tempting selection of Foodie Firsts.
14. Sample the Brazilian National drink - Caipirinha.
Caipirinha (kai-pee-reen-ya) – a refreshing cocktail of fresh lime juice, sugar and – last but definitely not least – cachaça. Nothing sums up the spirit of Brazil quite like Cachaçaa. A few sips will transport you straight to the tropics and get you in the mood for samba, soccer and carnival. I bet your toes are tapping already?
Cachaça is distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane rather than the molasses used for most other rums. This gives it a distinctive grassy flavour which is all its own – refreshingly different from other sweet and sour cocktails you may have tried such as a Daiquiri. It has to be done right though. In expert hands, you should be able to witness your cocktail waiter muddling fresh lime wedges with abrasive finely granulated sugar. The sugar helps to release not only the lime juice, but also the aromatic oils from the skin.
15. Sip an Agua de Coco (Coconut Water) Straight from the Coconut!
Sip an agua de coco (coconut water) straight from the fresh, green coconut. You can forget your boxes and plastic bottles here. Look for the stacks of coconuts at the beachfront. Sink your straw in and enjoy the coolest and most refreshing of nutrient rich coconut milk straight from the shell. Best enjoyed wearing shades?!
16. Eat in a Traditional Brazilian"All You Can Eat" Churrascaria
Eat in a traditional Churrascaria – Barbecue Restaurant. You can find self-service and “all you can eat” barbecue restaurants all over Rio. Churrascaria Palace – next to the Belmond Palace Hotel is often recommended. You can eat as much as you want – just turn your card from green to red to stop the meat flowing to your table. The Churrascaria Palace is very small, very popular and has no windows though. Good alternatives are either Assador Rio or Carretåo.
And if you still have time: …
17. Catedral Metropolitana
We visited the Catedral Metropolitana as part of our city tour to Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf (see above). Built in the 1970’s, it is pretty uninspiring from the outside, but the concrete pyramid is rather beautiful from within and as the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Rio, it merits a visit, if you have time.
18. Sao Francisco da Penitencia Church
Amidst the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city, sometimes, the quiet beauty of a church provides a moment of real sanctuary. Sao Francisco da Penitencia Church is one of the grandest and making time to explore it’s many treasures is definitely worth it if you can fit it into your Rio schedule.
19. Take a Favela Tour
I didn’t do this – it didn’t seem like the right thing to do to me somehow, but many people do. I saw enough of the favelas from travelling through the city – they are all around you all the time. Poverty and luxury sit uncomfortably hand in hand in this city. One of the biggest favelas is right next door to the celebrity hotel of choice – The Sheraton. I understand that the PC term for a favela these days is “a community”.
20. Last - But not Least - Have a Kiss on Copocabana
Where We Stayed - Accommodation Review
Our base for the trip to Rio was the well located Fairmont Copacabana Hotel
- A prime location right on Copacabana beach – you can easily walk from your room straight out onto the beach.
- Great breakfast buffet – lovely fresh fruit and omelettes made to order.
- Attentive baggage handling service – very slick indeed.
- Good concierge service.
- Staff are universally friendly and smiling.
- Our room had a lovely walk in shower.
- Live music from 8am.
- When we visited (April 2023), building work demolishing a neighbouring hotel iwas n progress from early morning to early evening
- City View Rooms are a bit of a let down. You don’t get a view of the city – more like the back of the opposite hotel – and in our case – a noisy building site.
- A milk jug is provided – but no milk to put in it? For that all important early morning cuppa, you have to order milk via room service – and pay for it (£2.50).
- Lack of attention to detail – the time and temperature is displayed in the lifts, but in at least one of them, it was always wrong.
- Watch out for over attentive room service. “More water – or maybe some chocolate “ – asks the smiley attendant as they attempt to ply their wares. Nice – but it comes at a price.
- Hotel taxis are a rip off too. Opt for the yellow cab sitting next door and pay half the price.
A sea view room costs circa 17% more, but – if views matter at all to you – then it is probably worth it?
When to Go
If you want to enjoy a calmer beach and better prices, it is better to visit the city outside the top months. From April to June and September to November you can find emptier beaches, cheaper prices and also a better temperature. Don’t expect it to be cold though, even during winter.
Is Rio de Janeiro Safe to Visit?
We had no problems at all during our visit, but we did take organised sightseeing tours, when we visited the main sites, which probably helped. Even when we were exploring the city independently though, we had no issues.
As with any major city, pickpockets are a common problem, so you do have to keep your eyes open. Arrastãos – a large group of people (usually young & shirtless) running through the beach and stealing things – do exist – but fortunately, we didn’t come across one. The best advice is not to walk along the beaches after sunset. iPhones are much coveted here too, so be careful to keep them safe and out of view as much as you can.
Learning the Lingo
The citizens of Rio call themselves Cariocans, from the Tupi-Guarani Indian words cari, meaning ‘white man’, and oca, meaning ‘home’. And yet half the population of Rio is black.
Brazilians love foreigners and also love to practice their English, but mastering a few basics of Portuguese will always help you to make friends. You could maybe start with:
Hallo – Olá
Good Morning – Bom Dia
Thank You – Obrigado
Tips for Future Travellers
There are plenty of tips for future travellers in this post, but there is one extra goody I can pass onto you. We found Get you Guide really useful – and would definitely use them to organise tours again. If you don’t know anything about the new place you are visiting, you have to start somewhere and Get Your Guide is a great place to start your journey.
Once you get to know a place a bit though, you can definitely save money booking tours direct. Our tours were operated by Carioca Tropical Tour Operator, so my last tip – if you are interested in replicating our itinerary – is to book your tours directly with them.
Obrigado Rio - thanks for a great couple of days.
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