Best 14 Attractions in Rio de Janeiro

Corcovado and the Christ the Redeemer Statue

This is definitely one of the first visual images that come to mind when saying “Rio de Janeiro”: the massive Corcovado Mountain and the huge statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) with his arms wide open at the top. The Portuguese name of the 2,329 foot mountain means “Hunchback” in English, just in case you were wondering.

Corcovado Mountain Panorama

You can find it in the Tijuca Forest National Park, right in the middle of the vast Rio de Janeiro city, Brazil. The mountain can sometimes be confused with the Sugarloaf Mountain that is also close by, but only one of them holds what until recently used to be the world’s largest Art Deco statue. The statue itself is 98 feet tall, and there is also a 26 foot pedestal at the base.

The area around it is an often crowded viewing platform from where visitors can enjoy breathtaking views, when the clouds don’t block it, that is. The amazing panoramic view includes a number of Rio favelas, the city center, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, the Maracana Stadium and the aforementioned Sugarloaf Mountain.

Corcovado

Christ Redeemer Statue Brazil

Tijuca Forest National Park

Tijuca Forest National Park

It is not yet clear whether or not this is the largest urban forest in the world. The title is also claimed by an amazing forest in Johannesburg, South Africa. However, at 12.4 square miles of hand-planted land, the Tijuca Forest is definitely a very impressive place.

The rainforest encompasses the Tijuca Massif and in 1961 it was declared National Park. There was an original natural forest in this area many years back, but it was destroyed by intense deforestation in order to create room for coffee farms. During the second half of the 19th century, however, Major Manuel Gomes Archer initiated the replanting project that eventually saved the city’s water supply.

Today there are hundreds of animal and plant species in the forest, many of which are found only in the Atlantic Rainforest and are threatened with extinction. The national park itself is an important tourist attraction, but it also holds a number of other smaller centers of interest, such as a large granite picnic table known as Mesa do Imperador, the Mayrink Chapel, the Cascatinha Waterfall, and of course the Corcovado mountain with the Christ the Redeemer statue.

Tijuca Forest National Park Entrance

Tijuca Forest National Park Lake

Tijuca Forest National Park Sculpture

Copacabana and Fort Copacabana

Copacabana Day

Mostly known for its amazing balneario beach, Copacabana is a famous neighborhood in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The original name of the district was Sacopenapa, but in the mid-18th century a chapel dedicated to the patron of Bolivia, Virgen de Copacabana, was built. The rest of the story is easy to figure out.

The 2.5 mile beach attracts countless tourists every year, and its promenade is filled with residential buildings, hotels, restaurants, bars and night clubs. Among the many fun and interesting things to do in the city, there is one special destination called Forte de Copacabana, or Fort Copacabana in English. It is one of the two historic forts that flank the beach, and it is pretty awesome.

Actually a military base, it has a coastal defense fort as well as a Museum of the History of the Army. It’s actually fun to imagine huge military ships menacingly coming towards the serene beach and the military base protecting the land. If that kind of things excites you, then you will be glad to know that the base is open to the public. Oh, and you will be met at the entrance by a guard wearing the uniform that was worn in 1914, when the fort was open for the first time.

Copacabana Night

Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden

Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden

A true haven of serenity and wonder, the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden invites people to marvel at the 6,500 different species of Brazilian flora. Some of the plants that you will see here are actually endangered, making the facility that more precious and interesting.

There are 54 hectares of carefully taken care of plants, as well as a large number of greenhouses throughout the garden. A place of such grandeur is always an excellent venue for scientific research, so a research center is naturally part of the ensemble. Here people can find the vastest library dedicated to plants in the whole country, boasting more than 32,000 volumes.

The garden is situated at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain and it has been an official biosphere reserve (named so by UNESCO) since 1992. It also flaunts monuments of archaeological, artistic and historical importance, as well as numerous animals that are accustomed to humans and are easy to spot: tufted-eared marmosets, howler monkeys, and many, many birds.

Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden Alley

Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden Flowers

Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden Lake

Ipanema

Ipanema Beach

While the meaning of its name is not that appealing (“stinky lake” in the Tupi language), Ipanema is definitely a delightful place. It is a famous beach and neighborhood in the South Zone of Rio, adjacent to Copacabana. The area is dotted with luxury shops, cafes, restaurants, art galleries and theaters, making it one of the most expensive places to live in the city.

Described as “the sexiest beach in the world” by the Travel Channel, Ipanema is famous for its elegance and upscale lifestyle. Surfers can be seen here often, with the most passionate ones tackling the 9-foot winter waves with ease.

On Sundays, the street that’s closest to the beach is closed to cars and motorcycles, leaving the entire area to the busy feet of locals and tourists and inviting them to walk, ride bikes, roller skate and skateboard. During the Rio Carnival festivities, Ipanema has its own parade called Banda de Ipanema which always attracts tens of thousands of people.

Ipanema Beach Sunset

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain

A world-famous natural landmark, Sugarloaf Mountain is approximately 1,300 feet tall, and it is a rare monolithic quartz and granite mountain that rises straight from the edge of the water. Its name was coined in the 16th century, when Brazil was an important country in the sugar cane trade. Back then blocks of sugar were transported by ship in conical clay vessels, which looked very much like Rio’s pointy mountain.

While visitors can often see dare-devil rock climbers trying to (re)conquer the Sugarloaf, ordinary people can reach the top in a more comfortable and less dangerous way, via cable cars. You will have to take two such “hovering” cars in a trip that will only take 3 minutes. But those few minutes will be really amazing, as you will travel in transparent bubble-shaped vehicles that afford sweeping 360-degree views.

Sugarloaf Mountain Cable

Maracanã stadium

Maracanã stadium Top View

Officially named EstádioJornalistaMárioFilho, the huge Maracanã Stadium was opened in 1950 to host that year’s FIFA World Cup. At that time it was the largest stadium in the world by capacity. Even though it is mainly used for football events, it has also held other types of sporting events, as well as concerts.

The monumental construction still is the largest stadium in South America, currently seating 78,838 people. It has undergone a series of renovations, with the latest one having taken place last year (2013). Future important events that you might want to take place in include the 2014 World Cup (which will start very soon, on June 12), and the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Maracanã stadium Inside View

Arpoador

Arpoador

As you go from Ipanema to Copacabana, you will pass through a region that belongs to both neighborhoods, yet is often referred to as a separate area of Rio. Because it is not officially considered a distinct neighborhood of the city, some people like to say that it is actually the border between the two famous districts.

The thing for which Arpoador (meaning “harpoon thrower”) is most famous for is surfing. It is one of the best and most popular surf destinations in the city, with waves that reach 7 to 10 feet. The challenge about this spot is that waves break against the rocks, which means that you kind of have to be a professional surfer to tackle them.

Sunsets here are amazing, especially because most of the Brazilian coast witnesses sunrises. People often cheer and applaud when the sun goes down, seemingly into the water. You can witness the sunsets from the beach, or even from one of the lovely cafes in the area. Arpoador is often filled with people who take long, relaxing walks. The rocky side of the small peninsula can also be explored by foot.

Arpoador Sunset

Escadaria Selarón

Escadaria Selarón

Escadaria Selarón is a set of steps that runs through two neighborhoods in Rio: Lapa and Santa Teresa. Obviously, this is not an ordinary set of steps, otherwise it wouldn’t be here on this list. It represents the work of a single artist, whose dedication evolved into an obsession. Chilean-born Jorge Selarón once said about the project that “This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death”.

He initially started with one section of the stairs, but found himself unable to stop. Even though people in the area used to mock him at first for his independent renovation project, his persistence eventually led to respect and fame. In the beginning, though, he struggled a lot with money, as he had no financial support from others.

He had to find blue, green and yellow (the colors of the Brazilian flag) on his own, and sell paintings to purchase more material. After a while, locals and tourists from all over the world started to make money and tile donations to help Selarón with his work. The stairs, he said, represented his tribute to the Brazilian People.

Escadaria Selarón Details

Imperial Museum of Brazil

Imperial Museum of Brazil

The Imperial Museum of Brazil, officially called Museu Imperial de Petrópoliscan be found in the former summer residence of Emperor Dom Pedro II. It was built in 1845 in the historic center of Petrópolis, Rio. The museum represents an important historical and cultural attraction of the city, holding many interesting items that speak of ages past.

The palace itself (which used to be the emperor’s favorite residence) is part of the museum, boasting beautiful pieces of royal furniture, as well as a number of precious treasures of the royal family. Since 1943, the custom made crown of Emperor Pedro II has been part of the museum’s remarkable collection.

Visitors can also watch an entertaining sound and light show which brings forth scenes from the past. The 45-minute event takes place in the palace every week, reenacting important moments of the past with a Portuguese narration by Brazilian actor Paulo Autran. Before leaving the palace, visitors can spend some time in the local Bistro Imperatriz which serves good wine and food.

Estádio Olímpico João Havelange

Estádio Olímpico João Havelange

Estádio Olímpico João Havelange, also known as Engenhão, is located in the Engenho de Dentro neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. It is a multi-purpose Olympic stadium that was first opened in 2007. Its construction lasted between 2003 and 2007, and it was built especially for the 2007 Pan American games.

With a seating capacity planned to be expanded to 60,000, the gigantic construction is scheduled to host the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The stadium is mostly used for football events, but concerts have also been successfully held here, attracting tens of thousands of music enthusiasts.

Estádio Olímpico João Havelange Inside

Leblon

Leblon

If you are all about luxury and high living, then Leblon may be the right Brazilian neighborhood for you. It is the richest neighborhood in Rio, located west of Ipanema. Homes here are ridiculously expensive, flaunting the highest price per square meter in the whole of Latin America.

Famous rich people live here, and the beach is less crowded and busy than that of Ipanema, because the whole area is more exclusive. This, however, doesn’t mean that one can’t have a really good time out. The restaurants, bars and nightclubs are exciting and they promise memorable experiences to all guests.

Leblon neighborhood

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

Officially named The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, but better known as The Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, this is a truly impressive religious edifice with a unique, modern architecture and stunning interior. It was designed by Edgar Fonceca and finished in 1979, replacing the Old Cathedral (Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Ancient See) as the seat of Archdiocese.

Also referred to as the New Cathedral, the building has a conical shape and is 246 feet tall. The base of the edifice measures about 347 feet in diameter on the outside, and 315 feet in diameter on the inside. This vast space can seat up to 20,000 people at a time, in a vast interior space. The most impressive feature for any visitor is represented by the four huge stained glass floor-to-ceiling windows that measure 210 feet and which filter light in a beautiful game of colors.

Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro Interior

Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

As its name suggests, this beautiful religious edifice was once the most important church in the city, but its place was taken by the modern Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro. Popularly referred to as the Old Cathedral, the church’s official name is The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Ancient See.

It served as a cathedral from 1808 until 1976, and it was also used as a royal chapel by both the Portuguese and the Brazilians. Today it is one of the most significantbuildings in the city, having obvious historical importance and also artistic value.

It has a truly impressive and harmonious interior in terms of decorations and works of art. Actually, even though the exterior has suffered a lot of altering over time, the interior has been kept almost the same through the years, even when restorations and renovations were made.

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