Your guide to Rio de Janeiro
Written by Claire Bloomfield
An estimated half a million visitors will travel to Brazil for this year’s Olympic Games. Here are some of our favourite hotspots in Rio de Janeiro to help you plan your trip.
Fans from all over the world are planning to attend the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the first to be staged in South America. But what can you expect from this vibrant city?
With its pristine beaches, dramatic mountain backdrops, and famous samba rhythms, Rio de Janeiro is a destination bursting with colour, culture, and history.
Sitting on the southern shore of the magnificent Guanabara Bay, the best time to visit, at least as far as the climate goes, is between May and August – and luckily for you, the Games get underway on August 5.
The race for Olympic medals will take place in 32 venues across Rio de Janeiro, plus five football co-host cities including Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Manaus, Salvador, and São Paulo. The purpose-built Rio Olympic Velodrome, which is to be used as a training centre for high-performance athletes after the Games, is one of the most spectacular venues in the Barra Olympic Park.
The new 118-hectare park was constructed in the west of Rio on what was once a motor-racing track. This summer it will host 16 Olympic sports and nine Paralympic sports.
And, in between watching Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt roaring to the finish line and Qatari hero Mutaz Essa Barshim defying all odds to clear remarkable heights in the high jump, there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
Belmond Copacabana Palace, Copacabana
With a prime location directly overlooking Copacabana Beach, Belmond Copacabana Palace is one of the finest luxury hotels in Rio de Janeiro.
For over 90 years, this landmark hotel has been popular with the rich and famous, and naturally, the property is synonymous with old-time Rio glamour. Six of the seven stunning Penthouse Suites, each with a private terrace, also have sea views, and the penthouse floor offers a butler service so your every wish is their command during your stay.
Complete with a stunning pool, rooftop tennis courts, and the Copacabana Palace Spa, this is the perfect luxury retreat in Rio. The legendary brunch at the in-house Pérgula restaurant should be at the top of your to-do list.
Aprazível, Santa Teresa
This charming spot offers a more formal dining experience. You can enjoy al-fresco meals with breathtaking views of Guanabara Bay and the Rio–Niterói Bridge. The somewhat hidden Aprazível in Santa Teresa serves traditional Brazilian cuisine with outside influences from both Europe and Africa.
The district of Santa Teresa is named after a 17th-century monastery on top of the hill, and you can make the journey on the historic tram, which dates back to 1896.
Plataforma Show, Leblon
Why not revel in the colour and excitement of Rio’s Carnival all year round at a nightly Plataforma show? You’re in for an evening of spectacular music, capoeira, outrageous costumes, and of course samba.
Set in the Leblon neighbourhood, Plataforma is one of the most talked-about venues in the city. The show kicks off at 9pm and includes a barbecue buffet of marinated meats from its Brazilian steakhouse.
There’s even a chance to put your moves to the test on stage alongside the talented performers. A final Carnival-style parade closes the show, and the live music continues late into the night. We promise you’ll be tapping your feet in no time at all.
Taking a guided tour of the different samba schools around the city can give you a unique insight into the Carnival preparations, and they are well worth a visit if you enjoy the show.
Half-day tour: Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain stands proudly over Rio de Janeiro and is arguably one of the city’s most famous attractions. No trip to the destination is complete without an up-close-and-personal experience.
The mountain-top vantage point comes courtesy of the enormous granite monolith that towers 396m above the harbour. Sugarloaf Mountain boasts sweeping panoramic views from the cable car as you make your way to the top – although it’s not for those with a fear of heights.
They say one of the best times to visit the Sugarloaf is sunset. It’s not to be missed – particularly if you’re a keen photographer.
Daily guided tours usually include transfers from your hotel, plus lunch and an evening meal.
This four-kilometre-long beach is a hub of activity all year round, and no sun-lover’s holiday to Rio is complete without a stroll along one of the world’s most famous beaches. The southern end, Arpoador, a spot hugely popular with the city’s surfing community, is also one of the best spots in the city for watching the sunset according to the locals.
Beach soccer is by far the most popular sport here, and you are sure to find games being played every few hundred metres throughout the day, right into the early evening. Also popular with the likes of FC Barcelona star Neymar, it’s easy to see how the nation has four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup titles to its name.
Widely tipped as the city’s number-one European dining experience, Olympe is home to one of the top chefs in Rio, Claude Troisgros, and his son Thomas. Together they dazzle their guests with award-winning French cuisine made with Brazilian ingredients in their Jardim Botânico-based establishment.
The grouper fillet with caramelised bananas, lime, onions, herbs, and raisin sauce, and duck breast with passionfruit, caramelised endives, and foie gras both come highly recommended. But you would be wise to opt for the chef’s tasting menu to sample a wide selection of Troisgros’s unique flavours and aromas.
The restaurant was named in Latin America’s top 50, and this is a spot popular with locals and tourists alike. Make sure you secure your table in advance via the restaurant’s website to avoid disappointment.