Guide to Rio de Janeiro: The city that has it all is written by Emma Thiesen Nielsen
A 'gringa's guide to Rio de Janeiro
When I was very young, I saw Brazil's national team play great football. Since then, I have always dreamed of visiting the country with the amazing beaches filled with happy and lively Brazilians. My expectations for Brazil have always been towering.
I was so lucky to get the opportunity to work at Mango Tree Hostel in Rio de Janeiro. I was not a second in doubt: I was just leaving! I was ready to experience the country that stood at the top of my 'bucket list'.
During the half year I lived there, I got to visit a lot of amazing places in the city. Although I am 'gringa', as they in Brazil call foreigners, I got to know the city really well. I have therefore written this guide to Rio de Janeiro with everything I think you should experience in my favorite city.
No guide to Rio de Janeiro without carnival
I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the day before the carnival started. The street parties were already underway. I did not know much about the carnival before I even experienced it. What does it cost? Should one dress up? Where are the parties? I had a million questions that I did not get answered before I was even there.
Is the carnival expensive?
Carnival does not have to be a particularly expensive pleasure. The prices for accommodation are of course much higher than usual, but if you are not delicate, then you can easily find a bed at a reasonable price. I even slept in a bunk bed in a 12-person room at the Aurora Rio Hostel in the Botafogo area. As a solo traveler, it was great to be surrounded by other travelers who were ready to party loose for the carnival.
The parades in the streets, called 'blocos', are free and you can bring your own alcohol or buy at the many small carts where locals sell beer, caipirinhas and other cold refreshments. The prices are very cheap compared to what we are used to in Denmark.
If you want to go in and see the famous samba parade at Rio's 'Sambódromo' you have to pay. I chose it from when I traveled on a very low budget, but it is possible to get a ticket for the parade from most hotels and hostels. Many of the locals have actually never been inside and see it because the prices are very high. So if you can not afford to experience the parade, do not be afraid that you will not feel the right carnival atmosphere. It is everywhere in the streets.
Many of the other tourists I stayed at the hostel with took in and saw the parade. They said it was very amazing and overwhelming at first, but that it quickly became monotonous and boring when you just sat still and watched it. There is not the same opportunity to dance loose as one can do anywhere in the city streets.
What clothes and where are the parties?
If you are going to a carnival, bring your most colorful clothes. There is nothing that is too much. I bought glitter and a costume when I was there, and otherwise I used my own colorful clothes. The wilder you look, the better you fit.
It's not hard to find a party when you're there. There are a lot of small street parties around the streets. There is an app where you can see where and when the different blocks starts. But leave well in advance; I got around Uber in the city, but when there is a carnival, the traffic is heavy and many places are closed to cars. Every night during the carnival there is a big street party in the Lapa area, where there are also a lot of nightclubs.
Guide to nightlife in Rio
In Rio you can always find a party, no matter what day you come. There are plenty of street parties, nightclubs and bars just waiting for you to come and visit them. If you like to dance, you have come to the right place.
Samba music in the street and late boat parties
Every Monday there are fantastic street parties with live samba music in Pedra do Sal in the Saúde district. If you come early in the evening, there are fewer people and a more relaxed atmosphere. Later it gets completely crammed, and the party is in many ways reminiscent of the street parties during the carnival.
Every Monday there is also a great party on a big boat. You can take the boat from the marina Marina da Glória around midnight and is back again at four in the morning. Remember to buy your ticket well in advance, as it is often sold out.
In the Ipanema neighborhood, there is a street party outside the Canastra bar every Tuesday. At Canastra you can buy wine and oysters, but there are also plenty of opportunities to buy cheap beers and drinks in the street. In Botafogo, which is a slightly 'hip' neighborhood, you will find cozy beer bars serving IPA, which is otherwise not something you often find on the menu around the city's bars. I really like the bar Hocus Pocus DNA.
Pub crawl and karaoke paradise
All days of the week you can go to the Lapa area where there are a lot of clubs. Lapa is especially good on the weekends. In many places you have to pay to enter. You can save money on admission by taking the Pirate Pub Crawl Rio on a festive tour of the city. They have tours most days of the week. At this pub crawl you will learn how to make delicious caiprinhas, and various games are planned along the way. It's a perfect way to get to know other travelers.
If you love good food and karaoke, you should definitely stop by the Feira de São Cristóvão market. Here is full of stalls selling delicious 'Bahia' food from the northeast of Brazil. There is often live music and the atmosphere is just really great and it is filled with local Brazilians.
In the evening, many of the small bars turn into karaoke venues, and you can see and hear a lot of happy people chanting in Portuguese.
Food guide to Rio de Janeiro
The food you will find at the stalls at Feira de São Cristóvão is really delicious, but there is plenty of opportunity for delicious food throughout Rio. Some signature dishes you should definitely taste are feijoada, stew og picanha churrasco.
In Brazil, they make the best churrasco, which really just means barbecue. If you go to churrasco at a local, be prepared that nothing but meat and - if you are lucky - garlic flute will be served. But rejoice, for it tastes great.
Something else they absolutely love in Rio is açaí, which is a kind of thick smoothie made on the berries of the acai palm or cabbage palm. You can find it in most places and it is often eaten with toppings from all over the world. It tastes really good, but unfortunately I found out that I am allergic to acai. But then it's good that there are so many other delicious dishes to indulge in!
Food prices are generally lower than in Denmark, but you can find food in all price ranges. There are a lot of buffets where you only pay for the amount of food you take. Many of my vegetarian friends preferred to eat at that type of restaurant as there were usually not many vegetarian dishes on the menus.
I lived in Ipanema and have therefore eaten most in this area. If you are in Ipanema and would like a little finer restaurants, I can recommend the restaurants that are on and around the street Rua Garcia d'Avila. On Rua Jangadeiros Street, you will find both the Canastra Bar and several delicious restaurants such as Le pulê and Cantina da Praça. They are definitely worth a visit.
If you are on a low budget, I would recommend the Beach Sucos chain, which has hearty dishes with rice, meat, beans, french fries and salad for around $ 40 including a glass of juice.
Big Dude Tour: Guided tour of Rio
There are many different guided tours in Rio and I was on the one called 'Big Dude Tour'. Here you can get around in seven hours to many of the places that you just have to see when you are in Rio. You will of course pass the large statue of Christ, Cristo Redentor, where you will be driven up in a minibus most of the way.
Several 'cariocas', which is the nickname of the locals from Rio de Janeiro, have told me that it is not safe to hike up to Cristo Redentor. Unfortunately, there are some sinister types who exploit the tourists and steal their stuff when they go here. There are really many other places you can hike in Rio without the same risks of being robbed.
In addition to the Christ the Redeemer statue, you will also pass the famous Escadaria Selarón, which is a very colorful staircase filled with tiles from many countries around the world. There are also tiles from Denmark. The staircase became extra famous after rapper Snoop Dogg together with Pharrell Williams recorded the music video for the song 'Beautiful' sitting on the colorful steps.
On the trip you will also pass the viewpoint Vista Chinese, the tropical rainforest Tijuca, the old town Santa Teresa, and finally you have the opportunity to be set off for sunset at the cable car up to the Sugar Loaf. I have never been there for sunset, but I went up the cliff with some friends and had a picnic. There is an absolutely fantastic view from there, so you can easily spend several hours relaxing while looking out over the city.
Crazy about hiking
One of the things I love most about Rio is that there are so many high mountains and great beaches. I hiked on the mountain Dois Irmãos, 'The Two Brothers' in Danish, where you have to ride the first piece with some locals either in a van or on a motorcycle from favelaen Vidigal. It costs no more than five real to be run up and they run very often.
I was hiking with a large group when my language school, Caminhos in Ipanema, arranged a trip up there. I felt safe all the way. The view was supposed to be absolutely stunning from the top of the mountain, but unfortunately it was completely cloudy the day I was there. But then I experienced being inside a cloud.
If you are in Rio for a little longer, I can also recommend going for a walk at Pedra do Telégrafo in the Barra de Guaratiba area. At the top you can take a picture where it looks like you are hanging over a cliff - and with an absolutely fantastic background behind. It looks wild in pictures, but in reality it is not trace dangerous. There is in fact no more than one and a half meters down to the ground.
However, Pedra do Telégrafo is a good distance away from the center of Rio. I spent a whole day taking the subway, bus and Uber to get there. There is also a queue to get the picture taken, so remember water, sunscreen and some food. When you are in the area anyway, stop by some of the small beaches with relaxed atmosphere that you will find nearby.
More nature: Ipanema, Copacabana and Jardim Botânico
You can not go to Rio without sunbathing on the beach in Ipanema or Copacabana. Do not take your valuables with you to the beach. Unfortunately, there are many thieves on the beach, but luckily everything you need for the ultimate beach day is swimwear, towel, sunscreen, water and a little cash.
On the beach you can buy ice cold beers, freshly made drinks, lemonade, grilled cheese skewers, pies and everything you can think of. Many Brazilians make a living by selling things on the beach, so it is possible to buy everything you might need on a beach trip. Take a dip in the water, which is also perfect for surfers because of the many waves. On the beach in Ipanema there is a cliff where you should definitely sit down and enjoy the sunset. Fantastic.
If you need to be a little active after a day at the beach, you can walk, run or cycle around the beautiful lagoon that is close to both Ipanema and Copacabana. On the opposite side of the lagoon you will find the Jardim Botânico area, where the Rio Botanic Gardens are located. Visit the beautiful park Parque Lage, where there is also the opportunity for a break at a small café.
Football is something very special in Brazil
In Brazil, they go wild in football. You can not avoid watching people in football jerseys in the streets, football on the screens in the cafes, and you should not miss watching a football match at the huge stadium Maracanã. I managed to watch two matches while I was in Rio. A match with the local team Flamengo and a national team match in the final round of the Copa America.
Unfortunately, it was not Brazil who played, but instead Argentina against Venezuela. The many Argentines in the city made it a great experience to see Argentina play. It is easy to get to Maracanã as the metro goes all the way to the stadium. The mood was already completely wild in the metro, where the many Argentines knocked on everything while loudly screaming loose.
The atmosphere at the stadium was both times something completely different than what I have experienced before here in Denmark. Their passion for football is so great and the energy one can experience for a match at Maracanã is so unique that I do not even know how to describe it. I can only say that you have to experience it for yourself. It is something completely different than the Super League.
My guide to Rio ends in Petrópolis
I ended my stay in Brazil in the city of Petrópolis, which is under a two hour bus ride from Rio. In fact, Petrópolis is also located in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The city is located up in the mountains, and it is therefore a little cooler than inside Rio. In the summer, which in Brazil is in the months around December, takes a lot Rio to Petrópolis to cool down a bit.
Petropolis is in perfect distance for a day trip and offers both the historical museum and the large beer brewery Bohemia. Here you can take a tour of the brewery and hear more about the history behind Bohemia while tasting their delicious beer. There is also a restaurant that sells - in my opinion - the world's best 'onion rings'. Once you have cooled down, you can head back to the beaches of Rio and get the last one so, before the trip goes home again.
Having lived six months in Ipanema just a few hundred meters from the beach, I can safely conclude that the city has everything I can dream of. I think everyone deserves to experience this energetic city. I hope this guide to Rio de Janeiro will inspire even more to leave.
That was my guide to Rio. I hope you can use my tips - have a great trip!
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