No, I’m not going to tell you to visit “Christ the Redeemer” or “Sugar Loaf”, cause let’s face it, you probably figured that out yourself. Instead, I prefer telling you about the ordinary daily-life things, these little moments that let me pretend I belonged in this beautiful city for a while.
Do you like to immerse yourself too while travelling? Then read on and experience the best local things to do in Rio de Janeiro!
1. Start your day in a juice bar
What will it be today? Watermelon juice? Papaya? Or maybe guava or tangerine? The options are endless! There seems to be a juice bar on every corner in the “Zona Sul” (Leblon-Ipanema-Copacabana) and they are easy to spot: towers of fresh fruit behind the counter are luring you in for a healthy breakfast. Not that they are limited to breakfast-time; any time of the day is a good excuse to drop in! Make sure you taste the “acai na tigela”, a refreshing sorbet made of Amazonian berries, topped with banana and granola.
2. Visit a botequim
Botequims or botecos can mean anything from “street corner bar” to “restaurant”. I’m talking about the informal street corner version. Very basic, they usually have a few seats at the bar and the “menu” is limited to pão de queijo (delicious!) , bolinhos, juices and a few beers or cachaça. It’s a good way to have a quick bite, watching Carioca street life pass by.
3. Jog, cycle or walk
The Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a lagoon in the Zona Sul, is encircled by a 7.5 km walking/cycling path. During the weekend, join the joggers as the path winds along the neighbourhoods of Ipanema, Leblon, Botánico and Lagoa. On warm evenings the lakeside kiosks make for a great place for a drink or bite.
4. Walk the Claudio Cautinho path
The start of the path is right next to the beautiful Praia Vermelha, near the cable car station for Sugar Loaf. The well-paved path winds along the Morro do Urca for about 2km and takes you along lush trees and crashing waves below.
5. Feast on feijoda
Feijoda is a stew of beans, pork bits, sausage and spices. It is accompanied by kale, farofa, (some kind of flour mix) oranges and rice. Feijoada is traditionally eaten on a Saturday afternoon. Because of the heavy ingredients, you’ll need the rest of the afternoon to digest it. I had the “bright” idea to have it for dinner, right before a night out. An example not to be followed!
6. Take the bus
A lot of guide books warn you against taking buses in Rio, but I never encountered any problem and took them almost every day! They are great to get your bearings of the city, cheap, but not the quickest. (especially the stretch between Ipanema and Copacabana can be slow) It is not advised to take them at night. I did, coming back from Lapa. Nothing happened, maybe I was just lucky?
7. Watch the sunset on the Arpoador rock
At the end of Ipanema beach, towards Copacabana you’ll find the Arpoador rock. People gather there to watch the gorgeous sunset over Ipanema and the Dois Irmãos. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t really on my side during my two attempts, but you still get nice views over Ipanema and Copacabana on the other side.
8. Dance the night away in Lapa
Rio’s nightlife is legendary and rightly so! During the weekend the Lapa neighbourhood becomes one big open street party. The crowds spill out onto the pavement near the famous “Arcos de Lapa”, the atmosphere in the clubs is “muito quente” (very hot) and the beer is flowing abundantly in the bars. Needless to say, you’re better off leaving your valuables at home.
9. Take part in an “ensaio” or “bloco” before Carnival
At first I was a bit disappointed of missing out on Carnival in Rio, but locals soon told me that the best time to come to Rio was actually a few weeks before the event. You can take part in one of the numerous “blocos” or street parties every weekend or, even better, go to an “ensaio”, a rehearsal from one of the famous Samba schools. I did both and would highly recommend them! Some blocos start as early as late afternoon, others don’t get going until midnight. I went to an ensaio of the “Salgueiro” samba school, one of the most popular ones. There are other travellers about, so you won’t feel too much out of your depth. Prepare yourself for a lot of noise, music, dancing and caipirinhas!
10. Go to a “por kilo” restaurant or try a “churrascaria”
A very popular option with locals for lunch, the “por kilo” restaurants are buffets where you pay per weight. If you like to taste a bit of everything, then those buffet restaurants will be your thing! It’s a good option for vegetarians as well, since there are always plenty of veggies and fruit around. Try whatever takes your fancy, weigh it and pay it. Simple, usually of good quality and relatively cheap. (there are some expensive ones about though)
Churrascarias roughly translate as “barbecue or grill restaurants”. More popular for dinner, expect numerous options of flame-grilled meat, sliced straight from the skewers. It’s a carnivore’s paradise!
Check out these other travel tips on visiting Rio and it’ll feel like home in no time!
Have you been to the “Cidade maravilhosa”? What other local experiences did you have?