Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro - page 2
Unassuming from the outside, the simple facade of downtown Rio de Janeiro’s Sao Bento Monastery (Mosteiro de Sao Bento) belies its richly decorated and gold leaf-gilded baroque interiors. Built in 1671, it is one of Brazil’s most important monuments of colonial art. Among its treasures are a filigreed altar and rococo wooden carvings.
Located in Rio’s central financial district, Cinelandia is the common name for an attractive Parisian-style square officially named Praça Floriano Peixoto. During the early years of the twentieth century, Rio’s city center was remodeled to make the city more trendy and livable. An eighteenth century convent was torn down to make way for the public plaza, and by the mid twentieth century, Cinelandia was home to a municipal theater, national library and school of fine arts.
In the location of the former convent, several buildings went up that housed some of Rio’s best cinemas, lending the area its modern nickname of Cinelandia, or Cinema Land. While most of the theaters have since closed, the area remains a vibrant district thanks to its cultural attractions and diverse dining options.
Tucked away near the base of the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain and overlooking the Guanabara Bay lies the intimate neighborhood of Urca. Known for its Brazilian celebrity sightings, restaurant scene, art deco and Spanish colonial-style homes, and affluent beach vibes, this tiny region is hidden in plain sight, and a great spot for a quiet beach day.
Set in a striking modern structure with the Guanabara Bay as its backdrop, Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanha) is a science museum that focuses on ecology, sustainability and our planet’s future. This brand new, ultra-modern museum uses state-of-the-art visuals, simulators and carefully curated exhibitions to reflect on the past, present and future of life and the world. Visitors should note that despite the name, there isn’t any technology on display — the Museum of Tomorrow tots itself as “a museum of questions.”
A highlight is the entrance, where visitors enter a 360-degree, oval-shaped theater that projects a film that goes through billions of years of evolution and the creation of life. In the main exhibit, striking images and video of modern day environmental disasters and visual displays of ozone damages, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy consumption aim to make visitors reflect on mankind’s effects on the environment.
The Museum of Tomorrow and its commanding, recognizable structure is the flagship landmark of a massive revitalization effort in the city’s Port Zone. What used to be a decaying industrial zone is now a newly renovated cultural area of museums, restaurants, plazas and stunning views of the bay and the Rio-Niteroi Bridge.
Flanked by the looming peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain and Papagaio Peak and dotted with over 100 islands, Guanabara Bay provides a dramatic backdrop to the city of Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s second-largest bay, Guanabara is home to the cities of Niteroi and São Gonçalo, the Port of Rio de Janeiro, and Rio’s two airports.
Far less crowded than Rio hot spots such as Copacabana or Ipanema, the art deco Flamengo neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Sul offers a comfortable downtown alternative to the more trendy beaches and resorts. While there, visit Flamengo Park, a grassy section of reclaimed shoreline that faces Guanabara Bay.
This architectural highlight was built in 1820 and once served as a customs house for the region. Today, Casa Franca-Brasil is home to rotating exhibitions that showcase the nation’s political and cultural history.
Travelers say the building is worth a visit because it’s an impressive example of neo-colonial architecture that’s anything but typical of Rio de Janeiro. And while the on-site restaurant offers some pretty delicious local eats, the gallery shows can be hit or miss. For this reason visitors suggest checking out the calendar before planning to venture inside.
Many of the colorful hang gliders soaring over the city of Rio de Janeiro launch from the top of Pedra Bonita, a granite peak located within Tijuca National Park. From an elevation of 2,283 feet (696 meters), the views are stellar even for visitors who choose to forgo the hang gliding. Unlike some of Rio’s other peaks, Pedra Bonita has an easy trail to the top.
A mile-long (1.5-kilometer) trail climbs steadily toward the peak, and while there’s a significant elevation change along the way, there are steps on the steeper parts, so it’s no more difficult than climbing a staircase. Barra da Tijuca, Sugarloaf Mountain, Rocinha favela and Christ the Redeemer are all visible from the top.
Standing guard over the southern shores of Copacabana Beach and affording views of both Copacabana and Ipanema, Copacabana Fort is a former military base. Built in the 20th century, the fortress now houses a military museum and historic artifacts, but the main draw is the fort’s two cafés with sweeping beach views.
Red Beach (Praia Vermelha) is one of Rio’s smallest beaches but also one of the most scenic. Tucked inside a protective cove that keeps the waves at bay, the beach is covered in coarse sand with a slightly reddish hue. Flanked by the spires of Morro da Urca and Morro da Babilonia, Vermelha Beach offers ground level views looking up at Sugarloaf Mountain. To reach the top of the iconic peak, ride the cable car from Vermelha Beach to the top of Morro da Urca, before transferring over to a second car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Or, to combine a hike with the ride to the top, a steep trail ascends Morro da Urca from the sands of Praia Vermelha, which is accessed by walking the paved walking trail that leads away from the beach. Known as the Pista Cláudio Coutinho, the trail offers stunning vistas and photo ops looking back at the reddish-hued beach, and for a Rio moment you’ll never forget, visit the beach in the hour before sunset to watch as the fading sun illuminates the cliffs and the shoreline in red.
More Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Modern Art (Museu de Arte Moderna) offers one of Brazil's foremost collections of modern and contemporary art, with roughly 12,000 works housed within its concrete and glass-fronted facade. Highlights of the permanent collection include works by Di Cavalcanti, Maria Martins, and Bruno Giorgi.
Named for its double peaks, Rio de Janeiro’s Morro Dois Irmaos translates to the “Hill of Two Brothers.” The city is famous for its views, especially from above, and from the top of the two peaks it is possible to see Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Arpoador, São Conrado and the Tijuca Forest. Sweeping vistas provide a near 360-degree view of the scenic surroundings. With the Vidigal favela located just below, it is also a fascinating place to view the expansive communities of the city from above.
The hills have become a symbol of Rio and are great at any time of day, but most recommended in the golden light of sunset.
With its towering spires, grand dome, and baroque details, La Candelaria Church (Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria) stands out among more modern surroundings in central Rio de Janeiro. It was originally established by a group of Spanish settlers in 1609, and today, the Catholic church still holds mass and community gatherings.
Those who have already been enchanted by the Jardim Bôtanico, but are looking for a less popular venue, will find a tranquil paradise at Lage Park (Parque Lage). The small park at the foot of Corcovado Mountain was once the residence of the rich industrialist Enrique Large and his wife, the singer Gabriella Besanzoni. Surrounded by monkeys and birds hopping from branch to branch in the Atlantic rain forest, the park resembles an oasis and it is easy to see why the couple decided to settle down here. The mansion was built in the colonial style, but was later remodeled by Italian architect Mario Vodrelan and enclosed by a perfectly landscaped English-style garden. Today, the building hosts the Escola de Artes Visuais – the visual arts school – as well as a café, both of which are open to the public.
Behind the turquoise pool in the courtyard, the wooden benches of the café and the embellished facade, Christ the Redeemer rises into the sky and creates the perfect backdrop for a day away from busy Rio. Apart from the nice view of the Christ, the delightful pastries at the café and the occasional exhibition or event, the Parque Lage also offers nice walks through the lush landscape with lots of things to discover. Visitors can enjoy fish tanks holding a variety of Brazilian species, admire fountains, ponds, caves and a tower and find plenty of benches to sit and take in the scenery.
Holding more than 9 million volumes, Brazil’s National Library (Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil) is the largest of its kind in Latin America. Founded in 1810 and relocated to its current Greek Revival-style building in 1910, the library maintains an archive of the country’s most important publications, periodicals, photographs, films, and music.
Glória Marina (Marina da Glória), with its coastal views and epic mountain scenery, is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most popular waterfront destinations. Nestled between the Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountains, the marina offer visitors a picturesque place to take in live music performances, public and private boat parties and ship tours of the city. Visitors say the cuisine at nearby Barracuda Restaurant is some of the best in town (and so are the views!) but travelers agree it’s the reasonably priced diving certification classes and personalized sailing lessons that make Glória Marina truly worth the trip.
Don’t let the name fool you—Ruins Park (Parque das Ruínas)—isn’t just some abandoned relic of a bygone era. Well, the venue had been the mansion of a well-known Rio socialite, Laurinda Santos Lobo, whose early 20th-century balls were legendary. After her death in 1946, the house fell into disrepair, only to be salvaged by the city government in the 1990s and turned into this increasingly popular exhibition space and live music venue, complete with an al fresco café and one of the best views in the city.
Perched high atop one of the quieter hillsides of Santa Teresa, the restored complex features a beguiling mash-up of 19th- and 20th-century architecture, with an exposed brick façade and colonnaded veranda standing warmly next to Modernist metal and glass accents. During the summer, the outdoor concert series includes local jazz and samba bands, as well as children’s performances that add a decidedly familial air to an otherwise romantic ambiance. Be sure not to miss the marvelous weekend brunch served up with a stunning panorama of the marvelous city.
Standing in the center of Praca Quinze de Novembro is a way to literally and symbolically stand at the center of Brazilian history. It was here that Brazil declared itself a republic in 1822, and here that Pedro and Pedro II were coronated as emperors. It’s where slavery was abolished in modern Brazil, and where Carmelite convents and churches were erected as far back as 1590. It’s the heart of the city’s historic district, and when the city was only accessible by boat, was the first place that travelers would see the moment they stepped foot in Rio. Today, while much of Rio’s more popular sights have moved to the southern beaches, the Praca Quinze continues to exude a classic, colonial charm. Stroll past the former city cathedral and famous Arco dos Teles, and admire the Corinthian columns rising in front of Tiradentes Palace. This site also houses the Paço Imperial that served as a Brazilian political center for 150 years, and is constantly abuzz with the comings and goings of passengers riding the ferry. When spending a day in downtown Rio, Praca Quinze is the place to start a historical tour on foot, and while the square no longer exudes the grandeur it did in the 1800s, it’s still in many ways the beating heart of Rio de Janeiro.
The stunning Theatro Municipal (Municipal Theater) is intricately designed, with golden rooftop statues and stately neoclassical columns that buttress the facade. Inside, grand spectator suites and elegant balconies offer superb views of the stage where Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas, and Igor Stravinsky once captivated audiences.
Located in the far west of Rio, Recreio dos Bandeirantes is a beach seldom visited by tourists. The waterfront area houses a quiet, upper-middle class neighborhood that bears the same name and is most commonly referred to as just ‘Recreio.’ Although the 12+-mile (20-km) stretch of sand from Barra da Tijuca to Reserva Beach to Recreio Beach is uninterrupted, the part that is officially considered Recreio Beach begins just southwest of Reserva and northeast of Pontal Rock (Pedra do Pontal), a recognizable granite rock that rises high out of the ocean at the shoreline.
Less busy and crowded than the South Zone beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, Recreio embodies Rio’s laidback, active, surfer lifestyle. Locals love the area for the wealth of outdoor and water activities, from waterfront running paths and beach volleyball to paddle-boarding and surfing. Recreio Beach is one of few places on Rio’s massive beachfront where the waves are consistently small and gentle, perfect for beginner surfers.
To get a great view of the long stretch of sand from Barra da Tijuca to Recreio das Bandeirantes, it is possible to climb Pontal Rock. At low tide, visitors can walk right up to the rock and reach the top in about 10 minutes. There’s a short but steep portion where a cord is installed to help hikers ascend.
The city of Petrópolis (also known as the Imperial City) was founded upon royal opulence and wealth, and this is reflected in the lavish design of the city’s Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal). The ornate iron-and-glass structure was originally used as a hothouse for growing orchids and is now a venue for various cultural events.
Popular in summer when the coast became hot and muggy, Petrópolis was the mountain getaway for Brazil’s imperial court. Nestled about 3,000 feet (914 meters) high in the Serra dos Órgãos range, the city still serves as a heat-beating retreat for the nearby residents of Rio de Janeiro.
Since 1986 Bank of Brasil Cultural Center has been showcasing an impressive collection of artwork that’s made it one of the top 100 most-visited art museums in the world. With more than two million visitors annually, the Rio de Janeiro branch of this national treasure is without a doubt the most popular. Its art deco building, which was designed by Francisco Joaquim Bethencourt da Silva, includes a theater and cinema in addition to multiple art galleries.
In addition to a stunning permanent collection that includes cultural and historical exhibitions, travelers will find unique temporary shows as well. Regardless of what’s on displace, visitors and locals agree that Brank of Brasil Cultural Center is a must-see destination on any trip to Rio.
The Cosme Velho neighborhood is best known as the jumping-off point to ascend Corcovado Mountain to Christ the Redeemer. Most visitors to Rio will set foot in this small, historic area on their way to the city’s most iconic attraction, but it’s worth it to explore beyond that. From shady plazas overgrown with jungle to colonial architecture, Cosme Velho offers a taste of Rio’s old-time charm. The neighborhood’s principal street, Rua Cosme Velho, snakes up into the hilly area and to ‘Estação de Ferro do Corcovado,’ where visitors catch the funicular to the Christ Statue. Beyond the station, the neighborhood becomes mostly residential and continues way up the hill into the rain forest.
While in Cosme Velho, before or after seeing the Christ, allot some time to roam the winding, leafy avenues with quaint shops, or grab something to eat in one of the many open-air cafes. Just across the street and a few yards up from the funicular station lies Boticário Square (Largo do Boticário). This plaza of early 19th-century Portuguese buildings has fallen into disrepair, but the brightly colored colonial structures set among the rain forest scenery retain the square’s original charm. Art-lovers can head to the International Museum of Naïf Art just down the road from the station, where they’ll find a small colonial-era building housing an impressive collection of 6,000 paintings from 120 different countries, which focus on struggle and marginalized populations.
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