If the Rio Olympic Games makes you want to jump on a plane to Brazil, you may want to read on, as local resident Lucia França shares her favourite parts of the city.
If you are in the city centre (cidade) you should visit Confeitaria Colombo, a very traditional and antique building that serves you a good coffee and lots of traditional Brazilian savouries and sweets. If you’re travelling by Metro, the nearest station is Carioca and is just a three-minute walk to the street, Rua Gonçalves Dias. Everybody knows where Colombo is!
A real carioca loves to go to the Beach Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon at 6pm to watch the sunset and drink a refreshing água de coco (coconut water), a chopp (mild beer) or a caipirinha (traditional Brazilian drink with lemon and cachaça or vodka). But be aware, any more than two caipirinhas and you will see several sunsets! They are delicious and very easy to drink so you will not notice the effect!
I would go to the Confeitaria Colombo at the end of Copacabana Beach (in Posto 6 – where the Forte de Copacabana is located). You will have a wonderful view to enjoy your breakfast – Colonial or American, as you choose.
A sophisticated but expensive option for brunch (R$210,00 or US$80 each) on Sundays is the Copacabana Palace Hotel, my favourite hotel in Brazil on Copacabana Beach.
If you go to the hotel for lunch on a Saturday, you will taste the best feijoada carioca (a traditional dish of Rio de Janeiro) at the Pergula, in front of the swimming pool where famous celebrities, such as Robert de Niro or Julia Roberts, are often seen stretching out in the sun.
If you decide to stay for dinner, you’ll have two options. For an excellent Italian restaurant, go to Cipriani; if you like Asian cuisine, head to MEE, which opened in 2014 and has already received a Michelin star.
Another cheaper but excellent Italian restaurant, where locals go, is Luigi´s in Rua Senador Correa, in Praça São Salvador.
Best local views
You’ll find lots of beautiful views in Rio. One of my favourites is Corcovado, in Cosme Velho – close to Laranjeiras, where I live. In Corcovado, you have a 360-degree view of the city, the bay and surroundings. But only go up the Corcovado if it is a cloudless day so you can see the scenery.
Another great spot is Santa Tereza, a very interesting district close to the city centre, where you will find a different view of Rio. See a photo below (taken by my friend Cristina Leão).
If you stay for lunch or dinner, try Aprazivel. I strongly recommend you make a reservation from your hotel first and make sure in advance that the taxi driver knows how to get there, although this place is now famous. It is only about 20 minutes ride from Copacabana or Ipanema.
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- Go for a picnic at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, walking around the Lagoon (7 km) or rent a bike or ride in a paddle boat.
- Visit Candelaria church and Metropolitan Cathedral in the city centre. In rua do Lavradio, you can also go to Antique Fair (Feira Rio-Antigo), between 10am and 3pm on the first Saturday of the month.
- In the evenings, the Lapa district has become the best place to see people, enjoy pubs and nightclubs with live samba, dance all night or enjoy listening to talented artists. One of the many places I would recommend is Rio-Scenarium, an old building with four levels of different kinds of music (modern, samba, jazz) and a lot of antiques.
- If you like opera or ballet you can visit Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, an art nouveau building from 1909. If there is no event running, you can take a guided tour.
- Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil offers many art displays, performances, films and exhibitions.
- Be sure to visit the new museum in Rio, Museu do Amanhã.
- Finally, do not miss a chance to visit the botanical gardens, Jardim Botânico.
Best free activities
Head to any of the fruit and vegetable markets, known as feira. I would recommend my local one, which happens every Saturday morning in Rua General Glicério – Laranjeiras (three blocks from Corcovado). Look around the streets and try some tasty tropical fruit (the market vendors always offer you a little piece for free). There are also free jazz sessions, between 11am and 1pm, which you can enjoy while drinking some beers or caipirinhas and eat many kinds of pastel (pastries with a variety of fillings – the shrimp and cheese are my favourites) and bolinhos de bacalhau (tasty little cod fish cakes). This is the best way to feel the atmosphere as you are in a middle-class residential área full of teachers, doctors, journalists, artists and thoughtful, friendly people who go every Saturday to gather with friends, family, children and pets to enjoy some sunshine.
Tip: Walk along the beach promenades of Leblon, Ipanema or Copacabana on Sundays, where the main streets are closed for walking between 7am and 6pm.
Image: Ipanema beach in winter, by Cristina Leão
In the summer, (December-February) the fashion program is walking at the promenade in the evenings (see Cristina Leão photo below) or even take a night bath in Ipanema Beach, close to Praia do Diabo. It is a very refreshing option!
Or you can walk around the lagoon close to Ipanema and Copacabana – Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – any day especially in the mornings or in the sunset. I would not recommend going there at night, unless going to one of the restaurants on the Lagoon (see below a photo of the end of a day in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas) has taken by my friend Mendel who lives there.
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Rio essentials: from a carioca
Tourists should not show their camera or phone on the streets. Carry them in your bag and use them only when you feel safe to do so. Leave your hotel with just enough money to cover transport, food, tickets and souvenirs, and take a credit card and your ID (but not a passport).
It’s a good idea to carry a little extra cash (15 reais = US$ 5) just in case somebody aggressively asks for money. It’s important to be aware of the risk, but please, do not let it put you off because people are mostly very friendly.
Only take an official corporate taxi (they are yellow and the name of the taxi stand is written on the side of the car) or Uber (by online registration). The hotel staff can advise you further.
I would say that only a quarter of Brazilians will understand English, however, they will try to communicate with you in many ways, even with a smile. And this might be the beginning of a friendship!
Before you depart for Rio, it would be helpful to know a few words in Brazilian-Portuguese, such as:
- por favor (please)
- eu gostaria de (I would like to)
- obrigado (thanks)
- quanto custa? (how much does it cost?)
- não, obrigado! (no, thanks)
- maravilha! (it’s very good)
- pode me levar neste lugar? (could you please take me to this place?).
I recommend buying a Berlitz book of Portuguese phrases, which includes the basics for different situations, such as finding a hairdresser, restaurant, pub, shop etc. Sometimes locals may laugh when you try to speak Portuguese, but do not worry, they appreciate your attempt anyway and will make an effort to understand you.
Mosquitoes spread the virus, so you should use a good insect repellent, especially between 4pm and 7pm in accordance with the instructions on the product label. But please do not be paranoid – the majority of infected people do not develop symptoms at all.
- Rio is always sunny, so locals like to wear light clothes. Even in the winter, do not expect to use formal clothes. In restaurants, women wear a smart outfit or summer dress, sometimes with a pashmina, light jacket or jersey.
- If you are 60 and over, you can go to shows, theatre or movies and pay just half price. Just show your ID to the porter.
- Rio is a place where you can eat very well paying approximately R$60 per kilo (US$ 20) in many restaurant a kilo (you weigh you food and pay) and drink a wide variety of fresh juices in the juice shops around the city. Of course, we drink coffee but because it is always warm many young people prefer to drink coconut water, juices or beer instead.
Why do I love Rio?
People are very friendly around here and it is easy to start a conversation. I love to go to the promenade, sit in a chair at a beach watching the sea and people walking and playing around. Some people are very funny and this is a happy and vibrant atmosphere.
I also go twice a year to Feira Hippie de Ipanema, a square park at the beginning of Ipanema district where you can buy interesting art crafts and gifts for your friends.
If you know any people coming to Rio and would like to stay for a week, a month or more please let me know. I myself rent a two bedroom fully furnished apartment close to Corcovado. For photos and details, email [email protected].