- 21 Nov 18
The home of bossa nova, exhilarating football matches, exotic beaches, dramatic mountains and colourful festivals such as Carnaval, Rio is the ultimate bucket-list destination.
Where is it exactly?
The bustling city of Rio de Janeiro is located on the Atlantic coast in the south-east of Brazil. It’s the second largest city in Brazil behind São Paulo, and with around five million tourists heading there annually, it’s the most visited city in the southern hemisphere. During the 2016 Olympics alone, over one million tourists arrived in the city.
Why should I go?
Truth be told, Rio has everything, but the hospitality of the locals (cariocas) will stay with you long after you depart.
Where should I stay?
First, you have to ask yourself what exactly it is you want to do in Rio. If you’re looking for a more conventional tourist experience, with fancy restaurants and bars, the place for you is Ipanema or Leblon. This former is especially hallowed ground; ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ was conceived there. Rumour has it the two songwriters were at a bar next to Ipanema beach when they saw the most beautiful woman walk by before jotting the lyrics on a napkin. João Gilbert cut an English language version, which was later recorded by Amy Winehouse. Indeed, it’s now the second most re-recorded song in history behind The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’. Elsewhere, Lapa is Rio’s playground – if you’re a party goer seeking nonstop revelry, it’s the place for you. You’re also just a stone’s throw from Escadaria Selarón (R. Joaquim Silva, S/N – Centro), a mosaic stairway featured in the videos for Snoop Dogg’s ‘Beautiful’ and U2’s ‘Walk On.’ Do note, though, that while it has improved recently, Lapa is not the safest and is a long distance from the metro. For something less chaotic, without being swamped by tourists or the filthy rich you might find elsewhere, you might consider Flamengo or Largo do Machado. They’re not too far from the main tourist hotspots, and while the areas are well-off, you still get an authentic Rio experience.
What are the most touristy things to do?
Carnaval is truly one of the world’s best parties. Officially five days in length, the celebrations realistically begin weeks in advance. Every February, over two million people celebrate across 500 street parties, marking the beginning of Lent. The highlight is the multi-coloured parade through the Sambródromo (R. Marquês de Sapucaí – Santo Cristo). Christ the Redeemer, the art-deco statue of Jesus Christ, is perched atop Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio since 1931. The train meanders up a rack railway through the rainforest, and it’s a thrilling way to reach the summit. If you’ve time on your hands, hiking to the top takes two to three hours. The Maracanã Stadium (Av. Pres. Castelo Branco, Portão 3 – Maracanã), fresh from its €190 million makeover, is sacred ground among Brazilians. Its witnessed both highs (Pele’s 1000th goal and the Olympic Brazilian soccer team winning gold) and lows (losing the 1950 World Cup final to Uruguay in front of 200,000 fans). Elsewhere, many believe the best time to visit the Sugarloaf Mountain is around sunset, but truthfully any time is suitable to visit. The ride up is fantastic – an all-glass aerial tram whips you up to the top. Ipanema Beach, meanwhile, provides enchanting beachfronts attracting a wide mix of cariocas. You’ll find a different crowd – surfers, volleyballers, bohemians, celebrities – in each Posto (section).
Where can I eat and drink?
Rio has a large immigrant population, meaning it has lots of variety when it comes to eating out. Plage Café (R. Jardim Botânico, 414 – Parque Lage) boasts an excellent brunch menu and an unbeatable location – from the patio, there’s a crystal clear view of Corcovado mountain. Elsewhere, Irish bar Shenanigans (R. Visc. de Pirajá, 112 A – Ipanema) is great fun. On Friday and Saturday, it opens until 3am, offering cheap beers and large portions of food. Plus, it’s nice to find a pint of Guinness 9,200 kilometres from home. For a healthy eating experience, try Org Bistro (Av. Olegário Maciel, 175 – Loja G – Barra da Tijuca), one of the busiest restaurants in the city, serving mostly vegetarian options. Stopping by a Rio Sucos (juice bar) is also a must – you’ll find one on almost every street corner and a cold juice is one of the best ways to beat the heat.
How do I get there?
Galeão is the main airport, and return journeys range anywhere from €600 to €1,100, depending on the time of year – though unfortunately there are no direct flights from Dublin. There are two types of taxi services to take you from the airport to the city centre; a radio taxi or regular yellow taxi, with the former being the more expensive option.
What’s the transport like?
With extensive bus and metro services, and a public bike hire scheme, Rio is a stress-free place to navigate. What’s more, its eight districts are easy to get around on foot. You can rent from any of the numerous bike shops between Copacabana and Ipanema for around €2.50 per hour, while Dubliners will be envious of the city’s quick and frequent bus service. It’s easy to locate the right route, and if you do step on the wrong bus, the majority travelling south from the city centre head to Copacabana, with fares of around €1. Both of Rio’s metro lines, meanwhile, are well air-conditioned, fast, and safe. A single ride ticket costs about 80c.
Where can I find good coffee?
Surprisingly, Rio is not particularly renowned for its coffee. However, things are slowly changing. Three of the best coffee shops in the city are Sofa Café (Av. Nossa Sra. de Copacabana, 300 – Loja A – Copacabana); Bastarda (R. Von Martius, 325 – Loja F/G – Jardim Botânico); and Café Secreto (Casa 8, R. Gago Coutinho, 6 – Catete).
When should I go?
The best time to visit is Rio’s peak season, from December to March; it will be warm enough to hit the beaches, and Carnaval is just around the corner. However, be warned – with the warm weather and big festivals, prices are inflated. If flamboyant celebrations aren’t quite your cup of tea, you might want to visit during the cooler months.
Is Rio safe?
When it comes to safety, don’t believe everything you hear. Most areas in Rio de Janeiro are safe for tourists during the day. As with many other cities, night time is a little different – so if you want to head out at night, travel in a group.
Where Dublin has the Phoenix Park, Rio has Tijuca National Park (Estr. da Cascatinha, 850 – Alto da Boa Vista), a breathtaking urban rainforest offering waterfalls, hiking, and stunning views of the city. It’s well worth a visit.