An Insider’s Guide to Navigating Rio like a Native

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With the Olympics going on now in Brazil, travelers from all over the world come to Rio to admire the splendid atmosphere of this city. Gorgeous nature and beaches still frame the postcards, but the cultural life goes way beyond the Sugarloaf and the famous Christ the Redeemer. For first-time visitors, a view from the top of Corcovado‘s Mountain is a must see but this guide is for those who want to go above the basics and experience activities and places like a true carioca. Yes, it involves a lot of fun!

Transportation

Rio Corcovado
Photo: Donatas Dabravolskas / Shutterstock.com

The subway is not the most convenient option, since it only reaches a few areas of the city. There are only 2 lines, that almost overlap in the majority of their ways. Line 1 goes from Tijuca to Ipanema, and line 2 from Pavuna to Botafogo. Both go through the downtown. It’s always a good idea to find a place to stay near a station, anyway. It runs along most of the South Zone, where a lot of the points of interest are. Some stations, like Tijuca, connect with bus lines, and you can get a discount fare. There are also 2 trains, both leaving from Gávea, one going to Ipanema and the other to Botafogo.

Bus is a good choice and many of the lines work 24h. This website shows the schedule.

Taxis are a relatively cheap option, comparing to other Brazilian cities like São Paulo. There are a few catches though: for example, drivers charge extra for the baggage when leaving from Santos Dumont Airport. Also, some not-so-nice drivers might go around off-route to increase fair, so it’s good to keep an eye on your phone map. Uber has been growing in everyday use, especially for longer distances, like when going to Barra.

Cycling routes are the second biggest in the country, behind Brasília. However, some stretches don’t connect with others, forcing bikers to ride the streets with the cars. That can be an adventure in Rio. Bike Rio‘s orange rides work as Paris’ Velib. You take it at a random station and deliver it at another. You have to register and buy credits to do so, and payment can be for the day or the whole month.

If you plan to visit Santa Teresa, the traditional streetcar is the way to go. It leaves from Rua Lélio Gama (close to Carioca Station) and runs til Largo do Curvelo, way up the hill. It works from 11am to 4 pm, but there have been promises to have it working at nighttime.

Where to Stay

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If you’re looking for a hotel in Rio, you’d better find out if the neighborhood fits your profile. South Zone is the most appreciated among tourists, but there are some points to take in consideration.

Copacabana and Ipanema are the most appreciated by tourists because their  famous beaches. Botafogo and Flamengo (and the cheaper Catete and Glória), despite being by the sea, are not proper for a swim – they are around the beautiful but terribly poluted Baía de Guanabara. The same applies to Urca, historically charming neighborhood, that has the beautiful Praia Vermelha close by to compensate.

Leblon and Gávea are the most expensive areas in town, where a lot of nice restaurants and boutiques are. Ipanema is often crowded with tourists, but it’s more democratic, going from high-end to more accessible options. It’s also where the average carioca goes to the beach (weekends are packed!).

Copacabana is larger e more chaotic. It mixes the sophistication of Copacabana Palace and the Red Light zone at Av. Prado Júnior. It used to be a glamorous area in the 50’s, and now it’s a summary of Rio’s contrasts, from the beach to the slums, to five-star hotels and street markets, everything at once. The restaurants by the beach there are often tourist-oriented (high prices and questionable quality). Don Camillo and a few spots in Leme are exceptions.

Botafogo, nicknamed BotaSoho by a local newspaper, is the hip area along with the neighbor Humaitá. There’s no beach, but there are bars, restaurants of all kinds, three alternative movie theaters and subway stations.

Lapa has always been the go-to place for bohemians, but recently it has attracted people looking for low cost lodging. It’s not very interesting during the day, many streets are actually degraded, but it can work for those traveling on a no-frills budget. Be prepared for a non-stop partying mood, and like anywhere in Rio, it’s recommended to keep vigilant for electronic devices, wallets and bags.

Santa Teresa, known for the alternative, laid-back vibe, is a quite charming place to stay. There are hotels and BnB’s of all range, which applies also to the restaurants. Some of the most stunning views of the city are up there. The only downside is getting around, since the streetcar has limited schedule and taxi drivers are sometimes grumpy about driving uphill.

For recommendations on hotels and BnB’s, click in here.

Bars & Restaurants

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Aprazível. Photo: Courtesy

Botequins (or botecos) are trademark dive bars in Rio. Although they’re getting rare in South Zone, you can still find them around, with the good old plastic furniture, greasy snacks and ice-cold beer bottles. In their place, more and more gourmet restaurants pop up, with famous chefs taking care of the kitchen. In 2015, 6 establishments received the prestigious star from the Michelin Guide, and other 8 got into the Bib Gourmand category, with excellent food for reasonable price.

Most places don’t require reservations, and people are not used to doing it. But going out to dinner during the weekends might be a patience exercise for the hungry ones.

Here are some of the best restaurants and bars in town. For a complete list, access Chicken or Pasta.

Aprazível: This place is almost a postcard of Rio. The old mansion overlooks Guanabara Bay, and it lives up to the name, that means ‘pleasant’. The menu focuses in tropical and organic ingredients from all over the country. Reservation is recommended. Rua Aprazível, 72 –Santa Teresa. Phone: (21) 2508 9174. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm – 11pm. Sunday, 12pm – 6pm.

Térèze: One of the most exclusive (and expensive) gastronomic experiences in town, inside Santa Teresa Hotel, famous for hosting Amy Winehouse. The menu mixes Brazilian and French cuisines, and the bar specializes in cachaça. Rua Felício dos Santos, 15 – Santa Teresa. Phone: (21) 3380-0220. Hours: Daily, from 7am to 10h30pm.

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Aconchego Carioca. Photo: Courtesy

Aconchego Carioca: This place was responsible for making rich people from Leblon and Ipanema cross the city uptown, just to indulge themselves with the best feijoada, pastel and caipirinhas. Even Nigella Lawson and Ferran Adrià ate there. The owners, mother and daughter, got so succesful that they opened another restaurant in Leblon, but the wait to get a table is long. Be prepared. Rua Barão de Iguatemi, 379 – Praça da Bandeira. Phone.: (21) 2273-1035. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm – 11pm. Sunday, 12pm – 5pm.

Prana Cozinha Vegetariana: One of the best vegetarian restaurants in Rio de Janeiro. There are two daily dishes for lunch and two other snack options in the afternoon. Good service, creative menu and fair prices explain the lines. It’s right next to the streetcar that goes all the way up to Corcovado. Praça Rua Ererê, 11, Loja D, Praça São Judas Tadeu – Cosme Velho. Phone: (21) 2245-7643. Hours: Daily lunch, 12pm – 3pm. Snack from Monday to Friday, 4pm – 7pm.

Naturalie Bistrô: 22 year-old chef Natalie Passos found the perfect balance of charming ambience and delicious veggie food. Ground floor has a big community table, good for meeting locals. Rua Visconde de Caravelas, 11 — Botafogo. Phone: (21) 2537-7443. Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11h30am – 4pm.

Lasai: Also in Conde de Irajá Street, is one of the Michelin-star restaurants in Rio. All vegetables are self-grown. There are no à la carte orders, just a 3-dish menu among 9 options, or a festival including 10 courses. Reservation required. Rua Conde de Irajá, 191 – Botafogo. Phone: (21) 3449-1834. Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 7h30pm – 22h30pm. Saturday, 1pm – 2h30pm / 7h30pm – 10h30pm.

Cota 200: To get to the Sugar Loaf, you have to stop at Morro da Urca. Up there, this restaurant specializes in Brazilian flavors. It’s also a great place for drinks, or a glass of wine – the menu has over 200 labels. If you have a reservation, you can ride the cableway for free. Av. Pasteur, 520 – Urca (Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar). Phone: (21) 2543-8200. Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 12pm – 7pm. Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm – 12am. 

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Bar do David. Photo: Courtesy

Bar do David: The service alone is worth the walk up Ladeira Ary Barroso. The place is very simple, and the traditional Brazilian food is delicious. To drink, you can choose between a selection of craft beers and cachaças. Ladeira Ary Barroso, 66 – loja 3. Morro Chapéu Mangueira, Leme. Phone: (21) 7808-2200. Hours: Daily, 8am – 5pm. 

Shirley: This Spanish restaurant is probably one of the best in the city if you’re into seafood. The quality is the same since the opening, in 1954. Rua Gustavo Sampaio, 610 – Leme. Phone: (21) 2275-1398. Hours: Daily, 12pm – 12am.

Jojô Café Bistrô: Right next to the Botanical Garden, it has a good wine menu. On Thursdays the happy hour is accompanied by fresh oysters that arrive from the south of Brazil. Rua Pacheco Leão, 812 – Jardim Botânico. Phone: (21) 3565-9007. Hours: Daily, 12pm – 12am.

Roberta Sudbrack: The chef that gives the name to this place was elected the best female chef in Latin America, and the restaurant is the only in Rio to be listed among the best of the world by The Restaurant Magazine. Brazilian ingredients are beautifully executed for complex tasting menus that change everyday. Av. Lineu de Paula Machado, 916 – Jardim Botânico. Phone: (21) 3874-0139. Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 7h30pm – 11pm. Friday, 12pm – 3pm / 8h30pm – 12am. Saturday, 8h30pm – 12am.

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Bar dos Descasados

Bar dos Descasados: despite the name (bar of the unmarried), it’s a very romantic bar that pays homage to the hotel that was there before, where newly divorced people used to stay. Apart from the great view of Santa Teresa, decor also counts with candle lit sofas and lounge beds for couples to enjoy alone. Rua Felício dos Santos, s/nº – Santa Teresa. Phone: (21) 3380-0240. Hours: Daily, 12pm – 12am.

Comuna: mix of bar, nightclub and cultural hub, Comuna is famous also for good drinks and a juicy burger. You’ll find there exhibitions, a bookstore, a vinyl store, craft beer, and various events filled with cool people. It gets so packed that the dive bars around are also getting quite busy. R. Sorocaba, 585 – Botafogo. Phone: (21) 3029-0789. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 6pm – 2am. Sunday, 6pm – 12am.

Bar do Alto: the adventure starts in Leme, where you get a mototaxi uphill to Morro da Babilônia, in the middle of a favela. There, you still have to climb up the stairs following the loud beats that come from the back. Finally you reach Bar do Alto, where you find good drinking and eating, warm service and a breathtaking view. Rua São Jorge, Casa 4 – Final da Ladeira Ary Barroso – Leme. Phone: (21) 2530-2506. Hours: Monday to Friday, 12pm – 12am. Saturday and Sunday, 1pm – 12am.

Academia da Cachaça: no English needed to get this one. The academy of cachaça offers a professional approach in dealing with the typical Brazilian liquor. Don’t forget to try the snacks, all harmonized with each drink. Rua Conde de Bernadotte, 26 – Leblon. Phone: (21) 2239-1542. Hours: Daily, 12pm – 2am.

Bar da Frente: mother and daughter took over the house where Aconchego Carioca used to be, when it moved across the street. Now they are famous for some of the best snacks in Rio, winning awards for them. R. Barão de Iguatemi, 388 – Praça da Bandeira. Phone: (21) 2502-0176. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm – 10pm. Sunday, 12pm – 4pm.

Bar do Sobe: the trendy terrace faces the Christ and the bar serves inventive drinks, like a capirinha made with gin. On Sundays, a party called Yaya takes place there. Rua Pacheco Leão, 724 – Jardim Botânico. Phone: (21) 3114-7691. Hours: Tue. and Wed., 6pm – 1am. Thu. and Fri., 6pm – 2am. Sat., 1pm – 2am. Sun., 6pm – 1am.

Parties & Nightlife

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Circo Voador

Rio de Janeiro has always been a day city, but nightlife is also very lively. For the last couple of years, besides the nightclubs, open air parties have attracted people and are getting more and more crowded.

Circo Voador: for over 30 years, this has been Rio’s most emblematic concert hall. Fitting more than 2 thousand people at once, concerts here are sure to be fun. Rua dos Arcos, s/nº- Lapa. Phone: (21) 2533-0354.

Audio Rebel: it’s a store, a studio, and a place where great independent concerts take place. It’s small, but big enough to launch some of the best musicians in the scene right now. R. Visconde de Silva, 55 – Botafogo. Phone: (21) 3435-2692. Hours: Monday to Sunday, 10am – 2am.

Casa Nuvem: here you can find music, art, food, cool people and lots of fun. One of the best alternative parties in the city, but check the website to see what’s on. Rua Morais e Vale, 18 – Lapa

Casa da Matriz: this longlasting rock club has an eclectic agenda. Wednesdays are packed for the indie karaoke night. From Thursday to Saturday, it’s good to know which party is on, because it can turn out to be huge fun, or a massive trap. R. Henrique de Novais, 107 – Botafogo. Phone: (21) 2226-9691. Hours: Wed., 8pm – 5am. Tue., Thu., Fri. and Sat., 11pm – 6am.

Arts & Culture

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Museu do Amanhã. Photo Cesar Barreto

Museu do Amanhã: newly opened, and designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it invites people to examine the past, know the recent transformations and imagine possible scenarios for the next 50 years, all through science. Praça Mauá, 1 – Centro. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 12pm – 7pm.

Fábrica de chocolates Bhering: this old factory building has been taken by artists, photographers and artisans, who keep their studios open to the public. The old machinery left there make the whole visit yet more interesting. Sometimes big events happen there, but visitors are always welcome. R. Orestes, 28 – Santo Cristo. Phone: (21) 2213-0014. Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9am – 8pm.

MAR: a classical palace and a modernist bus terminal where connected in 2013 to convert into one big art museum. Apart from the art exhibitions, there are also multimedia and educational events. One Friday per month is dedicated to a free music event curated by Circo Voador. Museu de Arte do Rio. Praça Mauá, 5 – Centro. Phone: (21) 3031-2741. Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9am – 6pm. Tuesday, 9am – 8 pm. 

Instituto Moreira Salles: this used to be ambassador Walther Moreira Salles’ house. Now, the modernist mansion with gardens designed by Burle Marx hold art exhibitions, focusing in photography, music, literature and iconography. R. Marquês de São Vicente, 476 – Gávea. Phone: (21) 3284-7400. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 8pm.

Museu de Arte Moderna: surrounded by Flamengo Park, this museum is modernist architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy’s masterpiece. It holds a collection of more than 11 thousand art pieces. Lately, the gardens around it have been used for picnics and different events. Av. Infante Dom Henrique 85, Aterro do Flamengo. Phone: (21) 2240-4944. Hours: Tue. to Fri., 12pm – 6pm. Sat. and Sun., 11am – 6pm.

Tours

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Morro da Urca

How about climbing Sugar Loaf in a different way? If you don’t want to take the cableway, it’s possible to hike an easy trail up to Morro da Urca, and from there just follow Claudio Coutinho Way to the top. It’s steep, but it shouldn’t take more than a half hour. The way down has to be followed by a nice walk around the neighborhood, ending with a cold beer in Bar Urca. Can’t get more carioca than that.

Either biking, jogging or just walking, going through Alto da Boa Vista and Floresta da Tijuca is a great way to exercise. It’s one of the few spots where you see more bikes than cars. With the proper bike (you can rent it at Galeria River), you can ride from Ipanema to Jardim de Alah, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, Horto, Vista Chinesa, until Mesa do Imperador. It takes around 12km to get to the biggest urban forest in the world.

Roberto Burle Marx‘s farm is a bit far away, but it’s worth the visit. Today it works as a Study Center of Lanscaping, Botanic, and Nature Preservation. The gardens look like they came out of a fairytale. Burle Marx lived there from 1973 to 1994, and cultivated more than 3,5 thousand species of tropical plants. It’s known as one of the biggest living plant collections in the world. Estrada Roberto Burle Marx, 2019 – Barra de Guaratiba. Phone: (21) 2410-1412

Newly renovated Praça Mauá houses both MAR and Museu do Amanhã, mentioned above. You can visit them both in the same day. Nearby, Morro da Conceição is a nice place to wander and maybe grab something to eat (we recommend Imaculada). Further away are the Jardins Suspensos do Valongo, the old gardens of Rio that recently got restored.

Beaches

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Ipanema Beach

In Rio, as in most of Brazil, beaches are 100% free. In almost all of them you can find chairs and parasols to rent, but it’s not mandatory. You can always bring your canga (kind of big scarf), lay it on the sand and enjoy. All beaches in Rio attract different crowds from one another, and even the same beach can be sectioned into postos – the numbered stations where the bodyguards are (in them you can pay to use the bathroom and take a shower). Posto 10, between Ipanema and Leblon, is more posh. Posto 12 is often filled with families with babies. Posto 8, in front of Farme de Amoedo St., is the LGBT hotspot. Posto 9 is more alternative and mixed. Arpoador is the place for surfers and night divers (ver common these days). Pepê, in Barra, gathers bodybuilders and preppies. No matter what your group is, always beware of the overwhelming heat and the gangs that run the beach robbing people (specially in Arpoador and Ipanema). These are our favorite beaches:

Praia Vermelha: Since it’s not very popular, it’s one of the quietest. At the foot of the Suger Loaf, its usually proper for bathing, even though it’s in Urca, and by Guanabara Bay. Sometimes you can get a music concert there, and at night people make luaus.

Leme: Frankly, it’s just the north stretch of Copacabana Beach, but it’s got its own charm. Could be the neighborhood around, that has this small town feel to it. At the promenade are some of the best bars and restaurants by the seaside, like La Fiorentina and Da Brambini.

Copacabana: Although it’s the most famous, it’s not really the prettiest. However, calm waters around Posto 6 attract sea swimmers and stand-up paddlers. Anyone can swim there, but if you’re looking for supervised training, Equipe Fox charges mere R$40 per day to help. Stand-up boards are also available to rent, but take care with the water flow.

Praia do Diabo: This small stretch of sand hides between Copacabana and Arpoador, that only shows up during low tides. Wind can be tricky here, so pay attention to the signs if you plan to swim here.

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Arpoador Rock

Arpoador: This small part of Ipanema Beach, close to Arpoador Rock, is one of cariocas’ favorites. People gather over the rock everyday to watch the sun set (and applaud it). Behind the rock there’s also a small park, where some events take place.

Ipanema: Worldwide famous because of the song, Ipanema is also one of the most crowded, and the one with the best infra-structure in Rio. Fancy hotels and good restaurants line up around the promenade, but if you want to have a real carioca experience, you should eat and drink from the tents set up on the sand. Even Anthony Bourdain came to taste sandwiches at Barraca do Uruguai. Twice!

Leblon: the richest half of Ipanema beach is Leblon, on the west corner. The feeling is almost the same, but there’s something a little less festive about it. Mirante do Leblon, over the rocks right at the end, is a nice place to see the beach from above.

*This article was originally published by Chicken or Pasta. Click here for the complete version.

1 Comment

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