Ravishingly raunchy with a perennially carnivalesque vibe, Brazil’s Cicade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) dazzles with its sensational seascape and samba-fueled nightscape.
Emblematic not only of this famous port city of Brazil but also of the whole nation, the gigantic statue of Christ the Redeemer towers 98 feet tall (30 metres) at the summit of Mount Corcovado, its horizontally outstretched arms spanning 92 feet (28 metres). Take the funicular and then take an escalator ride to reach at the feet of one of the world’s tallest art deco statue and enjoy the fabulous views of the expanse of the port city with layers of mist hovering low on the bays.
The curiously shaped granitic batholith of Sugarloaf Mountain is another iconic Rio attraction at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. A historic landmark that has featured in a number of Hollywood blockbusters including ‘Moonraker’ in 1979, the iconic site can be reached by a cable car. It is a perfect base to test your rock climbing skills, and if you are feeling not-so-adventurous, engross yourself in the stunning scenery hemmed by mountains and the marina.
The glorious curve of Copacabana is Rio’s best-known beach where pristine-white sands are chock full of fishermen with their catch of the day, local families having a day out at the beach and hordes of tourists sampling grilled seafood and caipirinhas. Venture out into the blue waters with a paddleboard and enjoy the fun-filled action on one of the world’s most glamorous beach with the crashing waves and the forest-clad hills completing the spectacle.
Running along the southern coast for a couple of kilometres, the adjoining beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, lined with lifeguard posts, and the ethereal hills of Morro Dois Irmaos in the backdrop, are ideal for lounging on the cotton-white sands, dipping in the crystal clear waters and some cool family-forward beach sports. The tree-lined beachfront promenade brims with a vibrant local flavour and boasts of some of the best cafes, juice bars and fine dining establishments of Rio de Janeiro.
Santa Teresa is where you feel the bohemian vibe right in your bones, with its mindboggling array of avant-garde street art, quirky boutiques and colonial-era townhouses converted into stunning studios of Rio creatives, who call this hillside neighbourhood their home. Wander through the labyrinthine warren of streets or explore the district on the famous tramway and take multiple stops with a neat glass of caipirinha or a steaming cup of Brazilian coffee at the charming cafes of this arty enclave.
Right next to the city centre, Lapa neighbourhood epitomizes Rio in more ways than one. The quintessential samba capital, party never seems to stop at the city’s preeminent hedonistic hub. Raunchy, garish and intensely swingy, Lapa is an overwhelming experience even for the party animals ready to shed inhibitions and let it flow with the heady beats and tunes of samba emanating from every nook and corner of this fiesta-friendly district. Amid all this fun and frolic, do not miss the early 18th century aqueduct and Escadaria Selaron, a steep flight of tile-made steps, an intensely kaleidoscopic artwork par excellence by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaron.
If the exuberance of the Rio rhythm feels a bit overwhelming, get a brief refuge at Parque Nacional da Tijuca – the 39 square kilometres urban national park is home to exotic flora and fauna including iguanas, replete with woodlands, waterfalls and creeks. Wander through the well-marked woody trails, climb up the summit of Pico de Tijuca and immerse yourself in the magnificent remnants of the tropical Atlantic rainforest that once encircled the Marvellous City.
A unique concept, impeccable services and unprecedented operations define Village Mall, Rio’s cream of the crop when it comes to top-of-the-line luxury labels in fashion, culture and gastronomy. Located in Barra da Tijuca, the upscale shopping destination oozes a refreshingly relaxed vibe in a tranquil setting. Head to the upper floor balcony for some scintillating views of Barra’s nature reserve and enjoy a movie at the sophisticated in-house theatre, in lockstep with the mall’s intrinsic concept of refined, understated luxury.
Sprawled across an entire city block just north of Ipanema Beach, more than 700 stalls liven up one of the world’s largest open-air markets every Sunday at the Hippie Fair on the Praca General Osorio. Cram your suitcase with vibrant Brazilian clothing and handcrafted souvenirs that include leather items, glassware and jewellery before indulging your palate into the lip-smacking savouries the food vendors whip up at the eastern section of this weekly market. The Hippie Fair is simply a delightful sensory overload and a cultural experience that you cannot miss. Do not forget your bargaining skills though!
Both international and local luxury labels jostle for space at Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva in Leblon district. Uber-glam is the buzzword here. Hunt down the exclusive, one-of-a-kind piece meant just for you at one of the flagship stores of the iconic Brazilian or international superbrands. And a post-shopping binge coffee is a must at one of the arthouse cafes that are tucked between the shopping arcades and independent stores.
Restaurants & Bars
Soaked in epicurean influences from across the globe, the culinary culture of Rio de Janeiro is truly international, but remains rooted in delicious indigenous flavours. And Olympe by Chef Claude Troisgros bears brilliant testament to this unique legacy where French haute cuisine is interwoven with Brazilian twists with locally-sourced seasonings and veggies. The splendidly splashy degustation menu of this Michelin-star outfit is fit for royalty.
Another byword for fine dining in Rio, the two Michelin-starred Oro is a syncretic chemistry between chef Felipe Bronze and sommelier Cecilia Aldaz, curating gastronomic delights steeped in authentic Brazilian recipes paired with the country’s finest regional wines. The brick-and-wood interiors exude a warmth that is in perfect sync with super-friendly service that courteously guides you through an avant-garde menu till you finish off the sumptuous evening with a decadent dessert served with liquid nitrogen!
Perched high on a jungled hilltop in bohemian Santa Teresa, Aprazivel’s menu offers traditional delicacies from all corners of Brazil in a verdant tropical garden setting that looks out to stupendous vistas of downtown Rio and Guantanama Bay. Chef- restaurateur Ana Castilho maintains a perfect culinary balance between rustic recipes and refined cuisine, where the operative word is sustainability with organic produce and rainwater harvesting. The fruit-forward caipirinhas make an amazing start to your sumptuous meal at Aprazivel.
The first luxury pan-Asian restaurant to open in Rio de Janeiro, celebrity chef Ken Hom’s enclave Mee has earned the coveted Michelin-star in its very first year. The Asian-inspired décor features Chinese teahouse-style booths, and portraits and porcelain create an intimate oriental vibe where you can enjoy inventive Asian specialities paired with an impeccable sake range imported from Japan to complete the spectacle.
Head over to Clube Dos Democraticos, if an authentic samba institution is your choice of the night. Soaked with a carnival mood, it is Rio’s oldest live music venues that regularly hosts scintillating samba sessions and weekly forro bands that will enliven your evening. Sit back with a caipirinha and watch the graceful and supple samba movements of the cariocas on the dance floor. And feel free to join in, they will happily teach you a couple of moves.
Museums & the Arts
A wide array of exhibition spaces can be a delightful surprise for the culturally curious in a destination where sun and sand rules the roost, but Rio’s diverse museum scene indeed showcases the rich cultural legacy of Brazil. Head over to Museum of Tomorrow, a neo-futuristic structure built next to the waterfront at Pier Maua. The postmodern and organic architecture was built with a mission: to alert and apprise on the imminent hazards of climate change with its consequential environmental threats and collapse of the social dynamics. The interactive displays and collections of the museum that has global collaborations with scientific institutions and collects real-time data on the climate, can be a hugely educative experience, especially you are travelling with members of the next generation.
For those keen on the history of Brazil as a Republic, the former presidential house that was converted into Republic Museum in 1960 is a treasure trove with its wonderful collection of art and artifacts from the Republican period. Located in the historic Catete district, the beautifully-restored 19th century mansion is distinguished by five bronze condors on its eaves and the lavishly designed halls. Do not miss the well-preserved 3rd floor room of a former Brazilian President (Getulio Vargas), who committed suicide in this palace in 1954.
A must-visit for art aficionados, the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA) is the epicentre of art and culture in the Marvellous City. Located on Rio Branco Avenue, the eclectic, Louvre-inspired building is home to a fine collection of more than 18,000 pieces of painting, sculpture and engravings. The huge gallery on the top floor is dedicated to 19th-century Brazilian art and other galleries showcase Brazilian folk art, African art and contemporary exhibits.
Rio’s luxury vacation market is ever brimming with super-indulgent options for peripatetic jetsetters. Set sail on a chartered yacht to explore the gorgeous locales on the Brazilian coast and experience some of Rio’s treasures from an exclusive, watery perspective. From swimming on the calm waters at the foot of the Sugarloaf Mountain, to diving deep into the cobalt blue at the cheery Leblon Beach or remaining ensconced into me-time at a tranquil strip of sand of a high-tide-only beach, you cannot really go wrong with a private catamaran or sailboat in Rio, with or without a skipper.
Rio is hot, both literally and figuratively! So, if you want a brief refuge from the brazen, unbridled hedonism and the blistering mercury down at the coast, head over to Petropolis. Nestled in the forested slopes of Serra dos Orgaos, 68 kilometres from Rio, this cool hill resort was a 19th-century summer retreat for Brazilian emperors, noblemen and aristocrats. The piece de resistance is the Crystal Palace, an architecture made entirely of glass and the charming Imperial Museum that houses important artefacts and memorabilia from Brazil’s royal past. Check out the Bohemia Beer factory and take a small hike in one of the woody trails that make this quaint town a perfect getaway.
The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, founded by a group of Portuguese immigrants in the early decades of the 19th century, houses the largest collection of Portuguese texts out of Portugal. Revered across the world as a torchbearer of Portuguese literary tradition, this is also one of the world’s most beautiful libraries with lavish interiors and period settings. The treasures include rarest editions of ancient texts from the 16thcentury.
A spontaneously outdoor city, Rio dazzles with a thriving sports culture, where the shining star is, of course, football. The South American nation is revered the world over for its supreme soccer skills and while you are there, do not pass up a chance to witness a game at the gargantuan stadium complex of Maracana, especially if any of Rio’s four best teams – Flamengo, Botofogo, Fluminense or Vasco de Gama are playing. For an immersive experience of this shrine for football fanatics across the world, get a guided tour.
Look out also for spontaneous and casual kickabouts on the beaches, where Brazilian superstars through the ages have honed their superior skills right from their childhood.
Rio has designated areas for beach volleyball, another high-performance game that has intense weekend sessions right from daybreak. Head out to Copacabana beach to catch some high-flying action on the powder-white sands against the backdrop of azure waters. The pulsating game is also played out in other areas such as Flamengo Park and Barra da Tijuca.
Surf the morning waves breaking evenly in the limpid waters of Arpoador, one of the best surfing hotspots in Rio. If you are a more experienced surfer, feel the exhilaration of catching the rolling, curling waves cascading in a long sweep at the breathtaking Barra de Tijuca or Itacoatiara.
Must Buy Souvenir
There are so many unique things that define the Rio’s exoticism and exuberance that picking a single souvenir can be a hard choice. A mineral-rich nation, Brazil produces a wide array of precious and semi-precious gemstones that inspire artisans to shape up fascinating objet d’art. Scavenge for handcrafted gemstone art at Feira Hippie de Ipanema, the art market perched in the middle of Ipanema or head over to the glamorous Amsterdam Sauer for exclusive (and pricey) gem-based jewellery and accessories. Make sufficient room in the suitcase, you will be tantalizingly tempted!
Rebooted with immaculate service, stylish design and understated refinement, Rio’s luxury hotel scene is simply gorgeous, spanning from its iconic beachfront locations to the trendy, artistic neighbourhoods.
The 16 kilometre distance from Rio de Janeiro Galeao International (GIG) airport takes about 20 minutes to cover in a taxi or a private transfer. A bus-metro combination should take about 1 hour 20 minutes. The popular tourist attractions and the beaches can be easily reached by taxi that can be flagged down anywhere on the city’s main streets. Explore the popular sites on foot, too.
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