Top Things to See in Rio de Janeiro

I've written extensively about each neighbourhood and sight we visited in Rio de Janeiro but I wanted to put together a quick reference guide of the top things to experience in the Marvelous City, in case you don't want to read through it all but are still asking yourself "What should I see in Rio?"

If you're interested in more details, definitely feel free to check out the lengthy photo-filled blog posts here. But for a short and sweet overview, keep reading below!

Where to Stay

Discovery Hostel is one of the best hostels I've ever stayed at. The staff is extremely friendly and kind, willing to show you around and party with you too! The location is superb - a 5 minute walk to the metro, a 10 minute walk to Santa Theresa, and a 15 minute walk to the Lapa entertainment district. After a long night partying in Lapa (which is where everyone parties!) you'll be grateful that your bed is only a short walk away. 

Although we didn't stay near Rio's beaches, I definitely recommend that you do. The sights and the location are superb, and there are many stunning AirBnBs you can rent out. There's nothing better than being a 5 minute walk from the beach, which is where you might want to spend most of your time. 

Where to Eat

When in Rio, you should definitely eat "churrasco", the Brazilian twist on an all you can eat restaurant. In this case, servers come around with huge skewers of meat and carve off pieces for yoo. M and I liked the experience at Carretao, but we wouldn't recommend the food. The Brazilian steakhouse we have here in Canada is better! So, if in Rio, dish out more money for a place like Oasis or Fogo de Chau. I haven't personally been to either, but I've heard good things about both. 

My favourite meal in Rio was at Espirito Santa. It was our first meal in Rio, and I thought the prices were a little high. But after a few days in the city, I realized it as just an expensive city, haha. Espirito Santa has everything going for it - the location, the taste, the drinks, the service. I highly recommend getting the Guerreiro, which is their filet mignon dish. 

Odds are you'll end up near the Largo do Machado subway station at some point - it's where buses leave for Christo Redentor as well as the "subway bus" to the Botanical Gardens. Tucked into the mall on the south side of the plaza is Rotisseria Sirio Libanesa, a small but incredibly busy Middle Eastern snack place. We had delicious cheese-filled pies, and loved them so much that we visited here twice!

The Portuguese are famous for their chicken, and that stereotype has been passed down to the Brazilians as well. I heard of Galeto Sat's while watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Rio de Janeiro episode. As a huge Bourdain fan, I had to go, and it did not disappoint. M and I ordered a heaping plate of chicken each, the juiciest, tenderest, and most delicious chicken I've ever eaten. It looks a bit sketchy on the outside what with the fluorescent lights, but the servers dressed to the nines, a swanky interior, and mouth watering food all make up for it. 

Another food place made famous by Mr. Bourdain - Barraca do Uruguay. M and I hiked quite aways along the beach for these sandwiches, and we loved them so much we had to order another so we could try all three flavours. It's the perfect lunch on the beach, with a flavourful sauce that I would gladly pay good money for just to find out the recipe. 

What to See

When in Rio, there's one sight that you really cannot miss - Christo Redentor, one of the seven wonders of the world. Apparently, the real wonder isn't the statue itself, but the view from mountain Jesus sits on. M and I had some really bad luck with weather, so we weren't able to fully appreciate the view, but it was still cool knocking this off our bucket list. 

If you want a break from the crowds, the Botanical Gardens are the perfect place to spend an afternoon. They were even featured in Kygo's music video! The  orchid gazebo and a pathway lined with giant palms were my favourites. 

There's been a lot of talk about Lagoa de Freitas in regards to the Olympics. I don't recommend that you swim in the water, or go anywhere near it, but strolling along the lake is a fun (and safe!) time. I didn't realize Rio had so many hills and mountains in the city until I came here and saw the surroundings for myself. The houses built into almost every hillside are a unique Rio sight.

M and I can't speak for the views from Christo Redentor, but the views from Sugarloaf were a jaw-dropping out of body experience. Seriously! I don't think I've ever gazed upon a natural wonder so stunning. It reminded me of a blend between Machu Picchu and Ha Long Bay, with the hills and mountains of the first, and the water surroundings of the second. But it was better, because we were so high up, and the sun was setting, and the light was doing all these crazy gorgeous things. Don't miss this experience!

What to Do

Even if you're not close to the neighbourhood (like we were), it's still worth taking a stroll around Santa Theresa. M and I didn't take the cable car from the bottom since we were just a short walk away, but if you get the opportunity to step on the fun yellow tram, do it! This neighbourhood is a picturesque look into the history of the city - you might encounters favela shanty towns as well as giant hillside mansions. 

Do what every Carioca (resident of Rio) does - go to the beach! Both Ipanema and Copacabana are great choices, but apparently most residents prefer Ipanema. So if you want to avoid the tourists, go there! Our friends from the hostel (and us) were the only tourists there, and it was a cool experience to spend the day watching the women in their skimpy bikinis, staring jealously at the men showing off their athletic moves, and sipping on cold beers and caipirinha's. 

This one is a bit controversial, but after some talking, M and I decided to go on a Favela Tour. Many people decide not to go because they feel like it's intruding into the residents lives/making a show out of poverty. But the residents of the favela are very welcoming, and the tours bring in a lot of money for them. I didn't once feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, and I'd definitely recommend you go on a tour. 

Another case of bad weather cursed M and I as we hiked up Dois Irmãos, but apparently this is one of the best views of the city. It's almost directly opposite Sugar Loaf, so you get a 180 degree different view. Here are some photos courtesy of Google, since by the time we got to the top, the whole mountain was covered in a cloud (typical Rio). To get to the hike, M and I took a taxi to the bottom of Vidigal favela and then took a motorbike taxi to the top of the favela where the path starts. The motorbike up was one of my favourite moments in Rio! Vidigal is a very tourist friendly favela, and the locals know you're looking for the hike, so there's no need to worry about safety or getting lost. 

Another one of my favourite moments, and something that many locals do, is watching the sunset from Pedra do Arpoador. Located at the junction between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, this rocky outcropping takes a while to walk to, so make sure you give yourself enough time before it gets dark (M and I were running at one point!). Pick up a drink on the way there, and sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. 

After the sun sets, there's really only one place to go out in the city - Lapa entertainment district. The nightlife stars at the infamous Lapa Arches, which are great to see in the daytime too. At night, they act as a portal into an insane street party, with thousands of people congregating to drink, dance, and have a good time. 

That's all for my recap of Rio de Janeiro. If you want to read about each adventure more in depth, go here. If you're reading this, I hope you make it to the beautiful city of Rio one day. 

With the Olympics happening there now, there's been a lot of talk in the media about many negative aspects of the city - you'll get Zika, you'll get kidnapped, you'll get sick. In reality, M and I experienced the total opposite of negativity! Of course we were cautious and smart, but both of us felt it was the safest city we've been to in South America - safer than anywhere in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, at least. 

Do your research, talk to people who have been, and don't let fear or exaggerated facts / made up fiction stop you from travelling anywhere in the world.