Do Rio de Janeiro Like a Local

Five things beyond Carnival every visitor to Rio must do

Credit: Flickr /

The views from Rio’s Vista Chinese Outlook are out of this world

Rio De Janeiro offers so much more than just beautiful beaches and a world-famous carnival. The Brazilians don’t call it the Cidade Maravihosa (marvelous city) for nothing

Whether you’re an adventure fiend, into art and culture, or just want to soak up the sun on a beautiful beach, Rio has something for everyone.

Before you rush off to book your fabulous Brazlilan holiday, read on for activities and hotspots that even the cariocas (locals) would approve of.

Walk: Rio’s Scenic Neighbourhoods

Start in Botafogo, a mainly middle-class neighbourhood with a beautiful bay, around which you can take a leisurely stroll and take in the sights.

Downtown Rio, or Centro, is a bustling centre like any big city in the world, but worth exploring. Visit the Paco Imperial (Royal Palace), the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), where various exhibitions take place, and the National Historical Museum.

And of course, don’t forget the beaches – Ipanema has a sporty vibe and you can either partake in a game of volleyball or sit with a coconut water in hand and watch the action, while Copacabana is gorgeous at night when the lights are lit along the beach.

Kick the evening’s festivities into high gear in Leblon, an affluent neighbourhood with lively nightclubs and bars, and then head over to Flamengo, with its charming old buildings and bars.

Insider tip: The subway is the quickest and safest way to get around the city. At night, it’s best to use a ‘radio taxi’, where you phone in to book one and pay a fixed rate, even if these are more expensive than the regular ones, especially if you are a single woman travelling alone.

Visit: Sugar Loaf Mountain

Most tourists agree that the views from Sugar Loaf Mountain, or Pão de Açúcar, rival those from the famous Christ the Redeemer. So if you’re pressed for time, schedule a trip to Sugar Loaf – the lines will definitely be shorter.

Two huge cable cars take you to the summit; the first one to the top of Urca hill, where you can grab a snack and a cool drink, and maybe buy a pair of world-famous Havaianas (Brazil’s most popular flip-flops).

The next car takes you to Sugar Loaf’s summit, where you will be astounded by the superb views of Guanabara Bay, Botafogo beach to the north and Copacabana to the south, with the city spread in between. Do not forget your camera.

Insider tip: Don’t follow the tourists back onto the bus after you come down from the cable car. Instead, make like a native and walk the picturesque path around the base of the Urca hill where you will spot marmosets (tiny monkeys) eating pieces of fresh fruit, as well as exotic birds and lizards.

A cable car takes tourists to the 1,300-foot summit of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Image: Diane Pereira)

Explore: Tijuca National Park

Tijuca National Park is the largest forested urban national park in the world – reforested meticulously over 10 years after coffee plantations destroyed the area.

Just 12 miles from the city centre, it’s easily reached by car and has many stunning trails for hiking enthusiasts. The park houses 30 waterfalls and hundreds of plants, trees and animals. It’s also home to Gavea Rock, which is the second highest peak in Rio at 3,350 feet. Views from the peak include the Rio-Niteroi Bridge, which is the sixth longest bridge in the world, the Maracana Stadium, where the 2016 Olympics will take place, the Rochinha favela (shanty town) and Sugar Loaf Mountain. More adventurous types can take in the views by hang gliding from the peak of the mountain.

Insider tip: The views from the Vista Chinese Outlook, a pagoda-style gazebo, are out of this world. Next to it you’ll find a giant granite picnic table known as the Mesa do Imperador, which you can use as your own impromptu picnic spot. Don’t forget the bug spray.

Tour: Santa Teresa

Take the vintage tram or bondinho to this picturesque little town perched on the edge of the Serra da Carioca mountain. The tram is one of the oldest street railways in the world and, as the locals jump on and hang precariously to the ledges, you’ll find the journey is half the fun.

Once there, browse the charming little stores for paintings, soapstone carvings and cardboard models of the favelas (shanty towns) all created by local artists who have moved there to pursue a bohemian lifestyle. Make sure to look out from the top of the Escadaria Selaron – 250 stunning mosaic steps made up of over 2,000 tiles.

Insider tip: Plan to spend an entire day at Santa Teresa. Arrive at noon, pick up some arty knick-knacks and grab some grub at a small café. At night, join in the fun as the hip bars, cafes and pubs come alive with the sounds of laughter, music and clinking glasses.

The Escadaria Selaron at Santa Teresa (Image: Flickr/ Travellingred)

Eat: Pastels

There’s lots to sample and gorge on in Rio, but make sure you try a delicious little stuffed pastry called pastel. Found at most local cafes, this fried pastry comes with a variety of fillings like beef and tomato or shrimp and cheese. Roadside cafes called botecos sometimes have whole menus dedicated to delicious pastels. To wash them down, ask for a glass of the local draft beer called choppe and you’ll be amazed at how a simple meal can be so fulfilling and delectable. 

Insider tip: Make sure you try the Feijoada, a famous Brazilian stew made of beans and huge chunks of meat. It comes with some colourful side dishes such as rice, cassava (roasted manioc), collard greens, fried pork rinds, deep-fried bananas and orange slices to sweeten things up a bit. This is a bonafide, authentic carioca culinary experience, so if you aren’t an adventurous eater, you’ll be missing out.