Comprehensive Guide for Visiting Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Where is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?

The state of Rio de Janeiro (which translates to ‘River of January’) is one of the 27 federative units of Brazil. It shares borders with Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, and Sao Paulo.

Credits: Wikipedia

The state’s capital and its largest city is also called Rio de Janeiro. Although Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s smallest state in the Southeast region, it is currently the third most populous state in Brazil with about 16 million people. Rio de Janeiro also has the third-longest coastline in the country, right after Bahia and Maranhao.

Time in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro follows the UTC-3 (BRT) time zone, just like Sao Paulo. The time in Brazil is calculated using standard time. The whole country, including its offshore islands, is divided into four standard time zones: UTC-2, UTC-3, UTC-4, and UTC-5.

Weather in Rio de Janeiro

The weather in Rio de Janeiro is dominantly tropical since the entire state lies in the tropics, which is the region of the earth that surrounds the equator. In the higher areas of the state, though, temperatures can drop to freezing because of high altitudes. In some mountainous cities such as Petropolis and Nova Friburgo, frost is common.

There are also occasional snowfalls in the Itatiatia National Park during colder months. The average temperature in the lower parts of Rio de Janeiro during summertime is 23 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius in winter. In the mountain areas, the average temperature is 18 degrees, which usually features a warm summer and a chilly winter at around 9 degrees Celsius.

Language in Rio de Janeiro

The official language in Brazil is Portuguese, commonly referred to as Brazilian Portuguese. This is widely spoken throughout the country, including Rio de Janeiro. If you are planning a trip to Brazil and are wondering if they speak English in Rio de Janeiro, the answer is yes. English is also spoken in Rio de Janeiro in varying degrees of fluency. Major cities have more English speakers than rural ones. Spanish is also spoken in Rio de Janeiro.

How to get to Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is the most visited state in Brazil, especially for first-time visitors to the country. That is not a surprise since the popular beaches, such as Copacabana and Ipanema, as well as other tourist sites, like Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain, are in Rio de Janeiro. The best way to get to Rio de Janeiro is by flying to Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (popularly known as Galeao International Airport), which is the main airport serving Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Major airlines have direct flights in a lot of countries from Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport. Air France (Paris Charles de Gaulle), American Airlines (Miami), British Airways (London-Heathrow), Emirates (Dubai-International), and Lufthansa (Frankfurt) are some of the top airlines that operate and have direct flights to Rio.

If you are from a nearby country, you can also get to Brazil via train. This is not the optimal form of traveling, especially if you have limited time.

How to get around Rio de Janeiro

Once in Rio, it is easy to go out and about since there are multiple ways to get around Rio de Janeiro. First is via metro, which is the most convenient way to get around. The trains run from 5AM to midnight on weekdays and Saturdays and run from 7AM to 11pm on Sundays and holidays.

You can also get around Rio de Janeiro by bus. Buses are frequent and are a bit cheaper than the metro. You can also hail a cab. Tourists are advised to take cabs, especially at night. If you already have the Uber app on your phone, you can use that in Rio. Lyft is currently not available. If you are up for it, you can also get around Rio de Janeiro via bike. There are bike-share services all over Rio de Janeiro. You need to have a local cellphone number so you can rent one of these bikes.

If you are planning on staying for more than a few days, getting a local cellphone number might be a good idea. Check out Bike Rio for more information about the bike-share service. A lot of tourists love to bike along the coasts of Rio using this service. If you would like to visit some of the islands in the state, taking a public ferry is the best option.

When is the best time to visit Rio de Janeiro?

The best time to visit Rio de Janeiro is from December to March. During these months, the weather is warm and sunny. If you are planning to spend some time at the beach, these are the best months for doing so. February brings huge crowds to Rio de Janeiro because of the carnival. During this month, hotel prices and airfares go up, so if you are planning on joining the celebrations, make sure to book your accommodations ahead of time. If you want to avoid the crowd and prefer colder weather, April and May are autumn months while October and November are spring.

Is Rio de Janeiro generally safe for tourists?

In general, Rio de Janeiro is safe for tourists, although, there is no denying that some areas require taking extra precautions. In some states like Rio de Janeiro, some areas are safer than others. The popular beach areas are safe, especially during daytime, but as you move north, Zona Norte as locals call it, safety becomes a concern.

The safe neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro are Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon, and Botafogo. You should probably stick to these spots when looking for accommodations for your trip. As a general rule, locals have advised tourists not to visit the favelas (slums) even if you are on a guided tour. When out and about in Rio De Janeiro, do not wear flashy jewelry and try not to use your cellphone or expensive camera in public. If you are taking a cab and get stuck in traffic, make sure your windows are rolled up and your doors are locked. Also, try not to wander around at night in less crowded places.

What is Rio de Janeiro Carnival?

One of the most anticipated events in Brazil is the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, often referred as the Rio Carnival. The Rio de Janeiro Carnival is a festival held annually before Lent. With over two million daily in attendance all throughout the festival, the Rio Carnival is considered the biggest carnival in the world. This tradition started in 1723 with parades filled with floats, revelers, and adornments. Samba music is played all day long during the festival week.

20 best things to do with family in Rio de Janeiro

1. Visit the Christ the Redeemer Statue

Every time you see a travel brochure or magazine about Rio De Janeiro, it is very likely that the statue of Christ the Redeemer is the first thing you will see. A trip to Rio de Janeiro will not be complete without visiting this iconic monument, even if you are not Catholic. You can take a taxi or hire an Uber to the train station in Cosme Velho where you can purchase a combined ticket for the train and entry ticket for the Christ the Redeemer viewing area.

Christ the Redeemer Statue
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Since this is one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro and is popular among tourists, the train ride is made joyful and lively with live samba bands playing in the carriage. The winding route to the top is picturesque, and seeing the city of Rio de Janeiro from the top is a breathtaking experience the whole family can enjoy. Don’t forget to take your family picture with this magnificent icon in the background.

The Christ the Redeemer statue, which was built from 1922 until 1931, is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It sits on top of Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca National Park and attracts about 2 million visitors every year.

2. Climb up Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain)

Do not worry, this is an easy and kid-friendly climb. All you need to do is hop on a cable car to reach the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, or Pao de Acucar in the local language. This mountain stands at 1,299 feet above Rio de Janeiro’s busy metropolis. The mountain has a park that showcases a history exhibit. The best time to climb up Sugar Loaf Mountain is an hour or two before sunset. At the top, you will get a panoramic view of the city below. Climbing Sugar Loaf Mountain and catching the sunset is one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro.

3. Laze around Ipanema Beach

One of the most popular Rio de Janeiro points of interest is Ipanema Beach. You may have heard the song, “Girl from Ipanema,” or you may own Ipanema flipflops as well, both of which were inspired by the Ipanema beach. On warm months between December to March, which is the best time to visit Rio de Janeiro, you can easily spend a day lazing along the 2-mile stretch of sand which boasts beautiful mountain views and crystal blue Brazilian waters.

Ipanema Beach - Visiting Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This is one of the best things to do with kids in Rio de Janeiro. You can go swimming, sunbathing, or simply lay down on your beach mat while taking the atmosphere in. Ipanema Beach is a popular place for futevolei, which is the Brazilian version of volleyball, as well as frescobol, which is a tennis-like game but played without a net. There are also a lot of food options that line the shores. If you want shrimp skewers, you are in luck because there are plenty of restaurants that serve them in Ipanema Beach.

4. Swim in the waters of Copacabana Beach

You don’t have to be a character in a Barry Manilow song in order to enjoy Copacabana. Copacabana is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most popular shores. It is located in the heart of the Zona Sul neighborhood. This is a public beach, but amenities such as showers, rest rooms, and changing rooms are available. Lifeguards are also visible and close by on this beach.

The powdery sand of Copacabana attracts visitors all year long, so expect it to be crowded, especially during summertime and more so in February during the Rio Carnival. If you want to enjoy the waters and go swimming, you need to come early and secure a spot near the water. You can also visit before sunset.

People-watching during sunset in Copacabana is one of the most interesting things to do in Rio de Janeiro. You can grab a delicious dinner nearby and have some drinks in the beach bars around the area. If you feel like it, dance the night away to samba music in one of the best dance clubs in the Copacabana area.

5. Explore Tijuca National Park

If you love outdoorsy adventures, one of the best things to do with the family in Rio de Janeiro is to explore Tijuca National Park for a day. The park covers over 8 thousand acres and is considered one of the largest urban rainforests in the world. You will have the chance to explore waterfalls and varied terrains as well as see over 1,600 species of plants and around 400 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Tijuca National Park sees over 3 million visitors every year.

Tijuca National Park - Visiting Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

There are three sectors in the park: Forest, the Carioca Range and Pedra Bonita, and Gavea. If you want to go hiking, the Forest sector offers multiple hiking trails. Activities such as hang gliding and rock climbing are available in both Pedra Bonita and Gavea. Carioca Hill is the most popular since the gigantic Christ the Redeemer statue is perched here. The park is open daily from 8AM to 5PM and admission is free except for the Christ the Redeemer area, which is one of the Rio de Janeiro points of interests

6. Have a picnic at Prainha

If you would like to spend time at the beach but stay away from the crowds of Ipanema and Copacabana, head over to Prainha. This is known as Brazil’s little beach. Local surfers can be found playing with their boards on the waves of Prainha. It is a little remote, sitting 20 miles west of Ipanema beach. You will certainly find a spot on the shore to comfortably lay your beach mat and have a picnic.

The beach might be almost empty, especially during weekdays in colder months. If you love a quieter Brazilian beach, Prainha is one of the best places to see in Rio de Janeiro. Keep in mind, though, that the currents here are strong and there are no lifeguards available. You might also want to pack your own picnic basket since there are only a few food options nearby.

7. Watch the exhibits at Museu do Amaha (Museum of Tomorrow)

One of the best things to do with the family in Rio de Janeiro is visiting the Museum of Tomorrow. The exhibits and displays here will surely excite the kids. There are five main themes in the museum: Cosmos, Earth, Anthropocene, Tomorrow, and Us. There are over 50 experiments that you can take part in.

Museu do Amaha - Visiting Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The displays are interactive, complete with touchscreens and colorful images and models. The Cosmic Portal is a feature in Museum of Tomorrow you should not miss. It has a panoramic dome that showcases 8-minute-long films about the galaxy and the formation of Earth. The architecture of the museum is also something worth checking out. If you visit on Tuesdays, you can enter the museum for free.

8. Shop ‘til you drop at Barra da Tijuca

Visitors love the fact that you can hit the beach and the shopping centers both on the same day in Barra da Tijuca. The area has an 11-mile stretch of coastline and an adjacent shopping center. Water sports such as windsurfing and bodyboarding are popular here.

If you are in the mood for shopping, Barra Shopping is Brazil’s largest commerce complex. Here you can find retail, entertainment, dining, and business centers. You can shop ‘til you drop. There are also inexpensive shops along the shoreline, as well as bars, clubs, and restaurants. This neighborhood has staged 23 Olympic sports during the 2016 Olympic Games, also known as the Rio Olympics.

9. Stroll around Jardim Botanico

If you just want a quiet afternoon and would like to take it slow, strolling around Jardim Botanico is the perfect activity for you. The garden covers 340 acres and houses over 6 thousand indigenous and exotic species of plants. Created in 1808 to acclimatize species from other regions, the garden has been a treat to both locals and tourists. It has been said that Albert Einstein also visited this garden.

Jardim Botanico- Visiting Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

It’s no wonder Jardim Botanico is now known as a premier botany and ecology research center and is one of Rio de Janeiro’s points of interests. You can explore the park on your own and take your time. There is also a playground which is perfect for the kids as well as souvenir shops and a restaurant. This is located north of Ipanema, so you can drop by before or after spending time at Ipanema Beach.

10. Go on a forest hike in Petropolis

Petropolis is one of the high-altitude cities in Rio de Janeiro. It is also a colonial city an hour away from the center. It is near Serra Mountain; thus, it offers picturesque hiking trails within the forest. You can hire a local guide and strap on your hiking boots and enjoy a day outdoors. The hikes are easy enough that even the kids can manage. Make sure to stay hydrated and apply insect repellant every now and then.

To make the most of your trip, drop by the Imperial Palace and the House and Museum of Santos Dumont. There is also a Bohemia factory nearby that offers an interactive guide on how beer is crafted. Adults can have a refreshing mug or two. The legal drinking age in Brazil is 18, which Americans, whose legal drinking age is 21, usually envy.

11. Take a photo walk around Santa Teresa

One of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro is to stroll along the cobblestone streets of Santa Teresa and frequent the quaint shops. Santa Teresa is a bohemian district perched on a hilly part of Rio de Janeiro. It is popular for having an eclectic array or art and architecture. You will want to take snaps of mosaic sidewalks and palatial mansions.

Santa Teresa- Visiting Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Credits: Rogerio Zgiet, Flickr CC BY 2.0

Exploring the neighborhood on foot while taking photos is a popular activity among tourists in Santa Teresa. There are a lot of traditional craft stores, bars, and restaurants. This is one of the best places in Rio de Janeiro to shop for souvenirs to take home. Santa Teresa is also one of the safest neighborhoods to explore in Rio de Janeiro, even at night. You will feel confident roaming here with your children.

12. Take a guided tour in Ilha Fiscal

Ilha Fiscal is a neo-Gothic castle tucked in the remote island in Guanabara Bay. The guided tours of Ilha Fiscal are available from Thursday through Sunday starting at 12:30 PM. The castle was completed in 1889 and used to be the prime location for Brazilian Custom Service. The castle is a treat to architecture enthusiasts with its hardwood mosaic floors, elaborate stained glass, and a grand Ceremonial Room (now being used for Navy formal events).

13. Spend an afternoon at Grumari Beach

You will not run out of things to do and places to see in Rio de Janeiro. If you have an afternoon to spare, head over to Grumari Beach. The white and red sand of this beach stretches for 2 miles. You will have an unobstructed view of the ocean since there are no beachfront restaurants nor luxurious hotels nearby. You can simply take your time and enjoy the ocean breeze without fighting through the crowds.

Grumari Beach- Visiting Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Your kids will have the time of their lives running around the almost empty beach and swimming to their hearts’ content. Grumari Beach is clean and quiet and one of the best places to see in Rio de Janeiro. Public transportation does not reach this beach, though, but you can take a taxi, which can be quite pricey, but it is totally worth it.

14. Go dancing in Lapa

Lapa is a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro which is popular for samba music and dances. If you are planning on having an authentic Brazilian night life experience, Lapa will not disappoint you. The area is brimming with tapas bars, clubs, and live music venues. You can dance the night away or just chill with a cocktail and have a relaxing evening.

Rio Scenarium is a popular bar you will want to check out. It features three stories, great cocktails, and lively vibes. This is near Santa Teresa and a few minutes’ cab ride away from Copacabana and Ipanema. Experiencing a Brazilian night scene in Lapa is one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro during your visit. Make sure to be cautious, though, and do not get too drunk. Taking a cab back to your hotel is also advisable.

15. Bike around the lake Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

One of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro with family is to drop by Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and rent a bike. Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is a beautiful lake in the southern part of the city. You can find a 7.3-kilometer cycle path that surrounds the lake. During afternoons, you can find cyclists, runners, and skateboarders enjoying their activities here.

Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of bike hire points around the lake where you can rent a bicycle on an hourly rate. There are even cute tandem bikes, which is perfect if you have small kids that cannot ride yet. There are also swan paddleboats available, which is a hit for families. If you want to stay longer, there are also picnic areas around the lake which are perfect locations for relaxing.

16. Spot fishes at AquaRio

AquaRio is the largest marine aquarium in South America and is one of the best places to see in Rio de Janeiro if you are traveling with the whole family. One of the highlights in the aquarium that the kids love is the tank touching activity where visitors have the chance to touch various species of marine life. This is only available during weekdays, though, but weekdays are also the best times to visit AquaRio since it can get a bit crowded on weekends.

While you are here, make sure to not miss the shark tank, which is a tunnel that runs through a huge aquarium. You can see the sharks swimming above you as they navigate through the tunnel. There are a lot of other marine species here, including colorful jellyfish.

17. Watch a live performance at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil

One of the best things to do with family in Rio de Janeiro is watching a live performance in Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil. This was the former headquarters of the Bank of Brazil and is now a cultural arts center that hosts exhibitions for international artists. There are also regular classical music and live theater performances here.

Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

For kids, the center hosts a children’s program every Saturday which includes free film screenings and art workshops. If you want to get out of the sun for a bit and learn more about the arts and culture scene in Rio, this is a great option for you.

Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, or CCBB, also has an impressive dome-type of architecture that is fascinating on its own. If you have kids who love to read, there is a children’s library on the second floor. The café in the building also offers the best coffee and sandwiches in the area.

18. Learn Samba in Magueira’s Palacio de Samba

Whether you want to have a cultural experience or just bust some moves during the carnival, the best place to learn samba is in Magueira’s Palacio de Samba. Magueira’s Palacio de Samba is one of Rio de Janeiro’s oldest and best samba schools. In fact, the school has 19 parade prizes. If you just want to watch a performance, the school opens at night for regular evening performances. They also run behind-the-scenes tours. If you are not visiting during carnival season, this is one of the best places to see samba performances.

19. Visit Museu da Republica (Museum of the Republic)

One of your options for what to do in Rio de Janeiro is to take a culture and history trip by visiting one of Rio de Janeiro’s points of interest, which is the Museum of the Republic. This building used to be a Royal residence until the late 19th century.

Museu da Republica
Credits: Jonas de Carvalho, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The displays will interest the adults while the playground at the museum will be a hit with the kids. It is one of the best children’s playgrounds in the country. There is no fee to enter the museum on Wednesdays. The playground is always free though.

20. .Buy fresh produce in Feira Livre da Gloria

Feira Livre da Gloria is the best and oldest food fair in Rio de Janeiro. If you want to prepare your own meals, you can buy fresh produce here. The market is open on Sundays, and you can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, as well as flowers, clothes, bags, and almost everything else – this is your one stop shop. You can also find exotic fruits here, such as jabuticaba. The market is also popular for its breakfast pastels, which is a hot pastry stuffed with meat, cheese, or heart of palm. Do not miss trying pure sugarcane juice which is popular here. Going on an inexpensive food trip in Feira Livre da Gloria is one of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro.

Night life in Rio de Janeiro

The night life in Rio de Janeiro is one of the best in Brazil. The best party district is said to be Lapa. Lapa is the famous nightlife hub in Rio de Janeiro and hosts a huge street party every weekend. There are also a lot of bars and pubs to party the night away in Lapa, depending on your preference.

The party places are also very casual in Rio. You can just go in your shorts and flipflops, so there is no need to dress up much. If you are unsure which bar to spend most of your time in, join a pub crawl in Lapa. The pub crawl is available every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Aside from Lapa, Botafogo is also a good neighborhood to party in at night.

Expert tips for traveling to Rio de Janeiro

1. Be cautious always

This is applicable all over Brazil, but more so in Rio de Janeiro at night. As much as possible, avoid the slums and wander around only in the safe neighborhoods. This is also not a place where you can wear a backpack and be carefree about it. There are a lot of pick-pockets who have mastered the art of stealing something from your bag without you knowing it. Make sure to keep your valuables in front of you where you can see them. A cross body bag is the best bag to have when you are touring Rio de Janeiro; better yet, leave your expensive items and extra cards locked in the hotel safe.

2. Do not wander alone at night

If you party at night, do not get too wasted and take the taxi when going back to your hotel or Airbnb. It is better to explore in groups as well if you want to do so during nighttime. Wandering out and about on your own makes you an easy target for thieves.


3. Don’t drink tap water

The tap water in Rio de Janeiro is not the best. Stick to purified bottled water throughout your stay. If you are in a fancier restaurant, though, the tap water is fine since most of them have water filters. If you are planning to go hiking, make sure to take bottled water with you and carry it around in your bag.

4. Don’t wear flashy jewelry

Petty theft is still rampant all over Rio de Janeiro, and the best way to attract thieves is to wear flashy jewelry and show off your expensive gadgets. When exploring, only take the basic essentials with you.

5. Withdraw money from the airport

Cash is still the number one preferred mode of payment in most places in Rio de Janeiro. While you can withdraw from the ATMs in the city, the most secure place to withdraw money from is in the airport. There are also money exchangers in the airport as well if you have brought enough cash with you before boarding the plane to Rio de Janeiro.


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