If you’re planning a trip to Brazil, you’ve come to the right place! First things first, check my post where I provide a checklist of documents you need before you visit (HOW TO PLAN A TRIP TO BRAZIL). I explain everything on how to get a visa, vaccinations required, and more.
It’s understandable why Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in Brazil (and one of the most visited cities in the world) - Rio is incredibly beautiful with amazing beaches and breathtaking mountain views. Check out this picture I took from the Sugar Loaf Mountain (I’ll post about it soon).
In you’re looking for a hotel or AirBnb, and wondering where to stay, I’ll give some tips and talk about each borough a little bit and you can decide which fits best for your trip. Since Rio de Janeiro is a big city, figure out what interests you the most before booking a room so you know generally where to stay. As I mentioned in my last post (HOW TO PLAN A TRIP TO BRAZIL), Rio de Janeiro can be very dangerous, so the following areas are relativity secure and considered as “central”, close to all touristy hotspots.
The most famous beach in Brazil, Copacabana offers tourists a ton of bars, restaurants and nightlife right at their fingertips. Although beaches are typically always crowded, this is still one of my favorite places in Rio. Lodging can be expensive, but its prime location to everything is worth it. Copacabana Palace, Rio’s most famous (and probably most expensive) hotel, caters to many A-list celebrities and important politicians when they visit Rio.
So what’s around Copacabana?
- Copacabana Fort: A historic museum which is also home to one of Rio’s most famous bakeries, Colombo Bakery
- State Park
- 15 min drive to Sugar Loaf Mountain
- 15 min drive to Christ the Redeemer and Park Lage
- Plenty of restaurants / clubs / bars
- Easy access to other beaches by walking or riding a bike along the boardwalk
BARRA DA TIJUCA
Considered a high class area, Barra da Tijuca’s many restaurants and huge mall with lots of high-end famous stores make it a popular tourist destination. Public transportation is very poor in the area, so you’ll have to drive (which I DO NOT recommend and I’ll explain at the end of this post), take a cab / Uber, or walk.
- Ecological Park (Pedra da Gavea)
- Athletic Park
- Four large malls
- Jacarepagua Regional airport
- Olympic golf course
I bet everyone has heard the famous song “Garota de Ipanema” (The girl from Ipanema, translated in English) originally by Vinicius de Morais, a Brazilian poet, and recorded by Tom Jobim, a Brazilian musician, but also made famous by Frank Sinatra.
Ipanema is also a very famous beach in the city with an awesome location, not far from Copacabana. Don’t forget to watch the sunset at the “Pedra do Arpoador”, an area on the beach with “tall rocks” you can climb to catch a mesmerizing sunset.
- Copacabana Beach
- Pedra do Arpoador
- Copacabana Fort
- Leblon Beach
- Plenty of restaurants / clubs / bars
Right next to Ipanema, Leblon is another high class area in Rio de Janeiro. It’s one of the most expensive areas to live in the city. Even though the area is super rich, they’re neighbors with a big “needy community” (aka a favela) called Vidigal, which was pacified by the Pacifying Police Unit in 2011, so it doesn’t bring too many risks to the population nowadays. Many celebrities go to a very famous bar in Vidigal called “Bar da Lage”, where Rihanna visited during her trip to Brazil. The area has one of the BEST views of the city.
- Vidigal community
- “Morro dois irmaos” (Two brothers mountain) amazing hike to city view
- Ipanema beach
This area is not close to the beach like Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, but is perfect for those interested in outdoor exercises or are looking for cultural entertainment. The Botanical Garden, Rodrigo de Freitas Lake (an amazing area to exercise outdoors) and the Planetarium are located close by. You’ll also have easy access to the beaches at Ipanema and Leblon.
Downtown Rio is a colonial area, with many old churches and cute vintage buildings. I personally don’t like the area because it’s very busy (most business and offices are there), so there will be people working the entire day. It’s also dangerous, particularly during the night.
- Municipal theater
- National library
- Plaza XV (historic part of downtown)
- Government office
- Modern Art Museum
- Santos Dumont Airport
- Lapa (next topic)
The most bohemian and “live” area in Rio de Janeiro, Lapa offers a ton of live music clubs and bars, for all ages and musical tastes. During the day it’s calm, but during the night, it becomes alive - I don’t believe it’s possible to sleep there with all the noise! The streets are packed with people going around from bar to bar. It’s a terrific area to go out, have fun with locals and drink cheap Brazilian beer, but I wouldn’t recommend staying there due to the noise and crowds.
- “Escadaria Selaron”: Famous colorful steps made of a mosaic of hand-painted tiles
- Many museums
- Roman-style Arcos da Lapa aqueduct
Of course there are many more “boroughs” in Rio de Janeiro, but some are way too far from the beach, and some can be very sketchy. These areas offer great locations, close by the major attractions, with many hotel / AirBnb options. During our last visit, we stayed in Copacabana Beach and we loved it. It’s definitely a great place to stay if it’s your first time since it’s so close by all the attractions. We stayed at Pestana Rio Hotel. The hotel is beautiful and it’s right in front of the beach, but I do NOT recommend since we had many problems with the AC and WiFi. I would try another hotel next time.
Oh, I mentioned about driving in Rio - this is not something you should do unless you have a local with you. The streets in Rio are very tricky (even using GPS/Google Maps/Waze…), one wrong corner, and you can ended up a dangerous area. Take an Uber, it’s safer and cheaper.
Comment below if you’ve ever been to Rio de Janeiro, and tell me your favorite things about the city. Also, follow me on Instagram @eat_travel_andlove for daily posts on travel and food.