Most holidays to Brazil include a stay in Rio de Janeiro – its an unmissable stop on any first-time tour of this enormous country. However when combining Rio with multiple other destinations, travellers can find they only have a limited time to enjoy all the city has to offer. Bespoke Brazil’s resident carioca, Marline, gives her pointers on how to make the most of a three-day stay in her hometown – Brazil’s Marvellous City!
As a true Rio de Janeiro native, even if you only have a very short stay in this fabulous city, I can suggest an exciting itinerary for you to make the most of your time there. Rio is truly a magical city and well-known throughout the world for the beautiful beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, the breath-taking sights of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain; and its vibrant New Year’s celebrations with its spectacular firework show. Of course, there is also the small matter of the greatest Carnival on earth…
I must say, as far as I am concerned, that only three days in Rio is definitely not enough (although perhaps I am biased!) Rio de Janeiro has so many attractions and activities to offer to its visitors that ideally you need a bit more time to immerse yourself in the laid-back culture and see everything there is to see. Nevertheless, here are some things to experience over the course of a few days, a taste of where to go, and what to look out for if you want to savour the real Rio de Janeiro during only a couple of nights in the city.
Where to stay?
There are various excellent hotel options in Rio, but I highly recommend a stay in Ipanema or Leblon. Leblon is the quieter, but equally beautiful, sister beach of Ipanema. Both are cosy and sophisticated residential neighbourhoods where you will find an endless supply of cafés, restaurants, bars and high-end shops. You will also be close to some of the main attractions that the city offers. The Hotel Fasano Ipanema, for example, is one of the most exclusive 5-star hotels in Rio, designed by Philippe Starck (a famous French designer) and one of my favourites. The hotel itself benefits from a fabulous location opposite the stunning Ipanema beach and offers sophisticated, modern accommodation, designed with a touch of nostalgia for the Bossa Nova era of the 1950s. Now close your eyes and just imagine yourself at the rooftop bar with a fabulous infinity pool appreciating an amazing view of Ipanema while sipping a delicious ‘caipirinha’. In summer when the Rio days are longer, the views are simply stunning at sunset. The Fasano al Mare Restaurant is an impeccable on-site dining option and specialises in seafood, drawing its inspiration for its fresh and innovative dishes from Italian cuisine and to complement its excellent wine list. After relaxing on the beach or returning from a tour you can have a refreshing drink at the chic Marea Kioski which is just in front of the Fasano and is an extension of this luxury hotel. It is open to the general public as well. Aside from a comprehensive drinks menu that varies from a selection of local beers to the most exclusive bottles of wine and champagne, it also offers an innovative food menu inspired by Mediterranean flavours. Offering vibrant social settings, total exclusivity and a great location, Fasano is my top choice for making the most of your short time in Rio away from the crowded hubbub of nearby Copacabana.
First day in Rio
Start your day by visiting Christ the Redeemer, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Built in 1931 on Mt. Corcovado’s peak, it has become the standout cultural icon for both Rio and the whole of Brazil and is rightly at the top of everyone’s list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro. From Corcovado’s peak, there are spectacular 360-degree views of the city. If you are lucky and it is a clear day (unfortunately clouds and misty afternoons are common), you can clearly distinguish the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the Botanical Gardens, the Jockey Club and the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon to the south. Looking north, you can see the beaches of Copacabana, Botafogo and Flamengo, Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay. To the east you can see the city centre, Niteroi and part of the bay, and finally to the west you can make out the legendary Maracanã Stadium, the Sambadrome that hosts the world’s most famous carnival every year, part of Tijuca National Park and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. The views of Rio are incomparable – with Sugarloaf Mountain rising from Guanabara Bay, the buildings of old Rio, the beaches and the rainforest, all coming together in a unique harmony. There is a nice cafe at the top too, which offers snacks and refreshing drinks!
Next, visit the Lage Park, a public park located in the neighbourhood of the Botanical Gardens. I would recommend a short visit here to take some pictures and admire this enchanting park before stopping for lunch. For the adventurous, it is possible to find a trail behind the Lage Park which takes in waterfalls and secret vantage points of Rio along the way. You might recognise the park from Snoop Dogg’s music video for ‘Beautiful’ featuring Pharrell Williams. Rubaiyat is a fabulous restaurant to experience the best of Brazilian gastronomy in one of the best steakhouses in the city for lunch or dinner. Located near to the Botanical Gardens and the Brazilian Jockey Club, it is excellent for those who appreciate good meat, fish and wine, as well as guests keen to enjoy impressive views of Christ the Redeemer. On Saturdays, enjoy a perfect traditional ‘feijoada’ stew overlooking the jockey track accompanied by ‘batida’ cocktails, appetizers and a dessert buffet. Built adjacent to the horse-racing track, races usually start at 1.15pm on most Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Do not miss the picanha (the best meat cut in Brazil) or the classic quindim (a yolk and coconut dessert), here served with a cachaça cream.
After lunch, visit the Botanical Gardens. This is one of the most beautiful and relaxing green spaces in Rio. The garden is huge and houses hundreds of plants from all over the world. Founded in 1808, the gardens now are home to around 6,500 species, including orchids, cacti, and carnivorous plants. You will spot animals too—squirrels, monkeys, hummingbirds, toucans, and marmosets, just to name a few. The gardens are open daily until 5pm.
Second day in Rio
After a sumptuous breakfast at Fasano Rio, visit the old centre of Rio and Santa Teresa to understand the rich history of the city and how it developed from a small colonial outpost to one of the busiest modern cities in the world. Rio de Janeiro is a fantastic city for urban exploration – the blend of historic Portuguese colonial architecture, modern city life and that famous Brazilian atmosphere make it one of the most interesting and captivating cities in South America. From conquering kings and crazy queens to gold, diamonds and its short-lived status as the capital city of Portugal, there’s plenty of stories to discover here. Make sure you check out the Confeitaria Colombo, one of the oldest and most prestigious coffee shops in the world on your way around – it is an experience all unto itself. Wandering the streets of the quaint bairro of Santa Teresa, you will be able to feel the area’s unique bohemian aura. I recommend a hike up the colourful Selaron Steps, a project by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron constructed as a gift for the people of Rio. Marvel at the intricate details of each step, decorated in brightly-hued mosaic tiles and various messages from communities all over the world. The Chacara do Ceu Museum is also in Santa Teresa and offers a collection of European & Brazilian art in the former residence of a Rio businessman, with beautiful gardens & city views. The Museum is open from 12 noon to 5pm daily (except on Tuesdays).
Keep your evening free for enjoying a night out exploring in Lapa! Rio Scenarium is one of the city’s most photogenic nightlife spots and is the temple of Brazilian music in Rio and offers one of the best parties in the city. The three-storey period building houses an astonishing mix of unusual vintage stuff: an old pharmacy dating back to the 30s, ancient Chinese ceramics, old-fashioned barber chairs and plenty of other freaky objects. The venue plays everything from old-school Bossa Nova and Samba to Brazilian pop music and it is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Bring ID.
Third day in Rio
This morning you should visit the other famous Rio landmark: Sugarloaf Mountain. This unique rock formation has cable cars that take you to the top of the second peak and the views from the top are breath-taking. In operation since 1912, the cable car offers an exciting ride with a wonderful view of Urca, Copacabana and Botafogo. Once at the top, you will be able to see the Guanabara Bay, downtown Rio and Niteroi, as well as the neighbourhoods of Botafogo, Flamengo, Copacabana and Ipanema. From the first peak, you can elect to take a helicopter ride around nearby Corcovado to get unrivalled views of Christ the Redeemer from a privileged perspective. Even if only for a few minutes, seeing all 38 metres of the famous statue at eye level is something that you will never forget!
Sadly this is your last day in the city and it is probably almost time to leave… Hopefully your return flight leaves at night, so you will have a free afternoon to enjoy the beaches, do some shopping around Ipanema, enjoy a last drink at a kiosk or just relax at the pool before transferring to the airport for your onward journey. I am sure that even after just three days you will leave your heart in Rio, miles away from your home. Three days is not enough, but if that’s all you have this time, remember that you will always be welcome back to the Marvellous City!
Some Last Top tips!
Dias Ferreira street is worth stopping by – it is a really trendy street in the neighbourhood of Leblon with some of the best chic restaurants in town like Zuka, Sushi Leblon and Nola.
A typical lunch on the beach for Rio natives is the açaí bowl. Açaí, a purple, iron- and antioxidant-rich berry is usually blended with honey, granola, bananas, and guaraná (a natural Amazonian relative of caffeine) to make a refreshing light lunch. There is no better version of this than what you’ll find at Poli Sucos. This little eatery’s Ipanema location makes it popular with locals and tourists alike. Arrive early to grab your fresh fruit juice, smoothie, or açaí blend.
If your trip to Rio includes a Sunday do not miss the Hippie Fair! Every Sunday on the General Osório square in Ipanema you can explore stalls selling art, jewellery, shirts, bags, furniture, hammocks, street food and lots more. It starts around 10am and goes on until the early evening. The perfect pastime before or after the beach!
Are you planning a luxury holiday to Brazil? Read more about the Hotel Fasano here and discover more about Rio de Janeiro. Contact us today to begin planning your bespoke trip with one of our travel specialists.