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Rio de Janeiro see + do

Arrayed around the glittering waters of Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro sprawls luxuriously up the steep slopes of a dozen morros, or ancient mounds of gneiss. Some of the peaks, such as the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain and Mount Corcovado, are accessible by cable car or funicular railway, their lookout platforms always crammed with tourists gazing down on the city's splendid skyline. For all its physical beauty, however, Rio is a turbulent city, embracing both the luxury and the grit of Brazil's highly divided society. Stay on the glinting white sand at Ipanema and Copacabana, and you'll mix with the sophisticated and well-heeled, who dedicate their lives to sensual pleasure and the search for surgically enhanced physical beauty. Wander just a short distance away, however, and you'll glimpse Rio's flip side, its darker alter ego: the grim and desperate slums, menacing by day but curiously picturesque at night, when lanterns and gas lamps flicker in the wind-stirred boughs of the ever-encroaching jungle.

Yet despite Rio's reputation for violent crime, the simple act of walking around Rio is no longer the adrenaline-pumping gamble it once was. Urban regeneration programs have turned several once-derelict areas into buzzing nightspots or up-and-coming tourism enclaves. Lapa, for instance, has now been reclaimed as the city's hottest spot for samba, while Santa Teresa, which once sent chills down the spine of all but the toughest Carioca, has seen its elegant mansions restored, many converted into stylish bed-and-breakfasts and boutique hotels. Investment in security, lighting, and urban infrastructure has also improved life in the part of Rio that draws the most visitors: the Atlantic waterfront between Copacabana and Leblon, where rich and poor alike flock to the beaches by the thousands to play.

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Museum of Naïve Art, Cosme Velho

Brazil's "naïve" artists, a radical, self-taught group, shimmy free of tiresome artistic rules and restraints, relying instead on earthy sentiment and...more

Editors' Pick
Niterói, Rio de Janeiro

The empty beaches and picturesque fishing villages of Niterói, on the eastern shore of Guanabara Bay, provide a pleasant step-down from Rio's pace. Three...more

Editors' Pick
Parks of Rio, Rio de Janeiro

The Mata Atlântica humid forest that once carpeted Brazil's coastline has been cleared from much of Rio itself, but the remaining fragments in the city's...more

Editors' Pick
Rainy-Day Rio, Rio de Janeiro

Rio's lushness is no accident. Low-pressure weather troughs can linger for days, particularly in the southern winter, which lasts (roughly) from July through...more

Editors' Pick
Salgueiro Samba School, Andaraí

The most authentic samba schools in Rio are based in the favela slums. Dance students act as informal guides as they accompany tourists to the school building...more

Editors' Pick
Hotel Photo
Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro's up-and-coming artists' quarter, is a quaint and charming—if slightly oddball—kind of paradise. It's a world away from...more

Editors' Pick
Hotel Photo
Sugarloaf (Pão de Açucar), Rio de Janeiro

If you only have the time (or the inclination) for one scenic overview of the city, do Corcovado's Cristo instead. But on sunny, clear days, the cable car ride...more

Editors' Pick
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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.



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