In honor of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic opening ceremony, here’s the top ten reasons to visit Rio, even if you’re not there for the Olympics. (‘Cause really, if you’re there for the Olympics, do you really need another reason?)
#10: Carnival – only gets the 10th spot because it only happens once a year. But what an event! Sort of like Mardi Gras on steroids, this 5 day celebration starts on Friday and finishes on Fat Tuesday. Dating back to 1723, it’s the biggest carnival in the world with two million people each day taking to the streets. Revel in excess, before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and all carnal pleasures are forbidden.
#9: Maracana Stadium – one of Rio’s most important landmarks and a must see for sports fans. Football (soccer) is THE most important sport in Brazil and this is one of the worlds most famous soccer stadiums. When it originally opened in 1950 it held a whopping 200,000 fans! It was partially rebuilt for the 2014 World Cup and to safely seat all attendees, now holds 80,000 making it the largest stadium in South America.
#8: Tijuca National Park – These 8300 acres of remarkable natural beauty contain the largest urban rainforest on the planet. Featuring a variety of terrain, waterfalls, over 1600 plant species and 250 animal species, best seen with a guide.
#7: Santa Teresa Neighborhood – this lovely neighborhood offers a glimpse into Rio’s colonial past, with mansions, galleries, traditional restaurants, bars, and craft stores. It offers a safe, vibrant evening street experience, and is the artistic center of the city.
#6: Lapa Neighborhood – for an evening of samba at one of the tapas bars, nightclubs, or live music venues. Be sure to see the Escadaria Selaron (Lapa Steps), the public artwork covered in brightly colored, patterned tiles, interspersed with artworks from Selaron. Start your evening party at the Arcos da Lapa, but stay aware of your surroundings and avoid unpopulated areas after dark; it’s a brief taxi ride from Copacabana and Ipanema.
#5: Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden) – Created in 1808, open to the public since 1822, this national park is a premier botany and ecology research center. The 340 acre botanical paradise is best accessed by public transportation, as there is no public parking. Come for tranquility, serenity, and the 6000 species of indigenous and exotic plants.
#4: Copacabana Beach – this popular, active, crowded beach with soft sand and outstanding people watching, offers a recommended sunset stroll at the water’s edge, and numerous nearby authentic restaurants.
#3: Ipanema Beach – You can almost hear the song and see the girl! Whether you come for the mountain views, soft sand or people-watching, this beach is known for it’s vibrant atmosphere, beach games and nearby restaurants, shops and galleries. Even though it’s 2 miles long, it’s one of the most popular beaches in Rio, so it can become crowded.
#2: Sugar Loaf Mountain – ride the cable car to the top for a dazzling view of the city, especialy at Sunset. Stop at the Morro da Urca platform. There’s also a history exhibit amphitheater, restaurants and shops.
#1: Christ the Redeemer – This iconic monument located within Tijuca is perhaps the best known landmark in Rio. Perched on top of Corcovado Mountain at 2330 feet, the 125 foot tall statue is a religious and cultural symbol of Brazil. It was built from 1922 to 1931 of concrete, covered in soapstone tiles. It’s best visited on a clear day to see the view of the city, and can be reached by van, public transportation, or a strenuous 8 mile hike.
Other notable sights and places:
Prainha Beach – the quieter “little” beach is about 15 miles west of downtown Rio, but worth the drive for it’s surfing and beautiful sunsets, and lack of crowds. Take care of the strong currents with no lifeguards or services.
Centro Neighborhood – the downtown, where the best museums and galleries and oldest buildings are located. Notable spots include the Theatro Municipal and the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil. The CCBB is a beautiful historical building that was the headquarters of Banco do Brasil, which now houses an auditorium, cinema, temporary art expositions, and a permanent display on the history of Brazilian Money
Lagoa Neighborhood – this exclusive, affluent neighborhood is the third most expensive place to live in South America.