Rio de Janeiro Sightseeing
Excursions & Outdoor Activities!
There are seemingly endless Rio de Janeiro sightseeing choices. Below we list, first, the most popular and famous sights, and we direct you to our web page that provides all the information you will need to make the most of the excursions.
Several of the major sights require tour booking and transportation, but the costs are not prohibitive. These tours are easily booked at your hotel, hostel, or by your vacation rental apartment management company. There is no need to book tours for Rio de Janeiro sightseeing prior to arriving in Brazil.
We also list many Rio de Janeiro sightseeing activities that are "Slightly Off the Beaten Path", and which you won't read about in most tourist guides or websites. Many of these local excursions are in or very close to the tourist areas of Copacabana and Ipanema, are inexpensive or free, and can be completed in half a day or less.
Best of all, you will be able to see them without the assistance or cost of a tour operator!
Insider's Tip- Whether you book tours to see the sights or trek about on your own, you should buy a travel guide for your trip. We highly recommend the Lonely Planet Rio de Janeiro City Guide. Just the information you will learn about restaurants and entertainment is worth the small cost of this guide book.
Popular Rio de Janeiro Sightseeing
Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar)
Unique Sugarloaf Mountain stands in the bay 1300 feet (395 meters) above the sea and guards the entrance to the City. Every first time visitor to Rio should take the trip up to Sugarloaf, and also to its equally famous counterpart Cristo Redentor (Christ Redeemer Statue).
Tourists reach this famous Rio de Janeiro sightseeing location by a 2 stage cable car. The traveler will enjoy sweeping views of Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches to the west, and greater Rio to the east.
Link to photos and more information about visiting Sugar Loaf
Christ the Redeemer Statue (Cristo Redentor)
The magnificent 125 foot high Christ the Redeemer Statue that stands atop Corcovado Mountain, has been watching over the city with outstretched arms since 1931. It, along with Sugar Loaf, are the most visited of the Rio de Janeiro sights.
In 2007 Cristo Redentor was named one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World". Almost as impressive as the statue itself, are the views of Rio and the surrounding areas from the platform at its base.
Link to photos & information about visiting Christ the Redeemer
Tijuca Forest National Park
A short distance by taxi or tour van you will find the "Floresta da Tijuca" which is part of a larger national park. This park is all than remains in the Rio area of the "Mata Atlantica" (Atlantic coastal rain forest).
Any visit to Brazil should include a guided Rio de Janeiro sightseeing trip to the Tijuca Forest. Whether you stop at the main sights by tour van, or take an all day hiking tour, you will have a very memorable outdoor experience.
Go to our Tijuca Forest page
Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico)
The Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden) was created by the Prince Regent Dom Joao in 1808, after the Portuguese royal family fled Europe from the advance of Napoleon's troops.
These extensive tropical gardens cover more than 1/2 square mile and include thousands of varieties of tropical plants and trees.
This Rio de Janeiro sight is also famous for the majestic Royal Palms that line the main avenue, the Orchid house, Japanese gardens, and the Amazon section.
Jardim Botanico is a short taxi or bus ride from Ipanema or Copacabana, so don't miss out on this wonderful half day excursion!
Link to photos & information on our Jardim Botanico page
Santa Teresa & Lapa Neighborhoods
The historic Bohemian neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa are experiencing renewal and revitalization after many years of decay.
Lapa is located directly behind the city center and is associated with its famous aqueduct (Arcos da Lapa) on which the Tram (Bonde) runs up and back from the hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Lapa is the location of many Samba and other music nightclubs and dance halls, and should be visited at night.
Santa Teresa is a lovely old neighborhood that can be reached by taxi, or by the famous Bonde (Tram) which is a great means of doing some Rio de Janeiro sightseeing. Santa Teresa is somewhat of an artist's colony and is full of old mansions that are converted to hotels and restaurants. This neighborhood should be visited during the day or early evening, and avoided later in the evening due to crime.
Historic Centro & Cinelandia (downtown)
Rio de Janeiro's historic city center is full of ethnic restaurants Baroque churches, museums, and colonial era buildings. It's a busy business center during the day, with a lot of foot traffic and activity.
Visit the ornate churches Nossa Senhora da Candelaria, San Francisco & Convent Saint Anthony, and the Monastery of Sao Bento.
On a rainy day, tour the museums of National History, Fine Arts, and the Imperial Palace. Then enjoy a light meal or dessert at the famous and beautiful Confeiteria Columbo.
Centro is easily reached by bus, taxi, or by metro from Copacabana. It's best to visit here during the day and into the early evening. If you are staying past dark, stick close to restaurants and nightclubs, as it can be a bit dangerous in the later evening.
...and the Rio de Janeiro Sightseeing
"Slightly Off the Beaten Path"...
The Urca neighborhood is a gem, can be visited in half a day, and can be combined with seeing Sugarloaf and/or Praia Vermelha. Don't miss the opportunity to get away from the often crowded and hectic beach areas, and to spend time with the locals in this very safe, quaint, and upscale area.
Link to Photos & Information page for the Urca neighborhood
Beaches Southwest of Rio
Several gorgeous and pristine beaches are located within an hour drive down the coast from Rio. They are mostly deserted during the week and provide a peaceful break from the hectic city life.
Barra da Tijuca, Recreio de Bandeirantes, Prainha, and Grumari are the most accessible beaches. If you don't want to rent a car to make the day trip, then ride the inexpensive Surf Bus, which makes several stops at hotels along both Ipanema and Copacabana Beach.
For more information link to our Best Beaches Page
Morro do Leme (Leme Mountain & Fort)
Morro do Leme (Leme Mountain) is a Rio de Janeiro sightseeing urban forest that stands several hundred feet tall and is located at the end of Leme and Copacabana Beach. You can walk out around the bottom of it on the paved sidewalk, to watch the fishermen and to look back at Copacabana Beach.
The real treat is to enter the military and protected ecological area, and walk up the winding cobble stone road through the Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Coastal rain forest) up to the old Forte do Leme. From the top you are afforded unobstructed views of a Sugar Loaf and all of Copacabana Beach.
Along the way and at the top, you will find families of small monkeys in the trees. The old fort has some Krupp Howitzer cannons similar to those found at Forte de Copacabana.
This is a very safe, military area and is open to the public only on Saturdays and Sundays. If you are staying in Copacabana, spend a couple hours in this wonderful mountain forest.
Link to Photos & Information page for Morro do Leme Page
Forte de Copacabana makes for an easy Rio de Janeiro sightseeing afternoon, if you want to take in a little military history while on vacation, and if you like seeing cannons and a hardened bunker.
It's a short walk from anywhere in Copacabana, and inside the Fort you will have some nice photo opportunities. The views up and down the coast are fantastic.
Link to Photos & Information page for Forte de Copacabana Page
Parque Lage (Lage Park)
Parque Lage was formerly a privately owned mansion that included an extensive tropical forest with small ponds connected by water ways and foot bridges. It's now a film and arts school and hosts numerous cultural activities in the old mansion.
This Rio de Janeiro sightseeing activity, is in a park located behind the Lagoa and sits at the foot of Corcovado mountain. It also acts as a starting point for strenuous guided hikes up Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer Statute.
The tropical forest and gardens at Parque Lage have unfortunately been neglected, and have fallen into a state of disrepair. The ponds are filled with leaf litter and the grounds are unkempt.
There are a wonderful series of water falls near the back of the park. Take a short hike up into the forest and you'll find a vista that provides nice views of the Lagoa.
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (Salt Water Lagoon)
The Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is more commonly known as the "Lagoa". It's one of the more popular Rio de Janeiro sightseeing outdoor activity areas, but is often overlooked by the international tourist.
It's a large salt water lagoon that's located directly behind the Ipanema neighborhood. It is surrounded by the upscale neighborhoods of Lagoa, Leblon, and Gavea.
The Lagoa is fed by ocean salt water coming in an out of the Allah Canal with the rise and fall of the tides. It was once polluted, but has been cleaned up, and is now a very popular recreational area.
A 4 mile walking and biking path circles Lagoa, and is used heavily by sports and fitness enthusiast during the day. There are also Kiosks and outdoor restaurants located on each side of the Lagoa, which are popular both day and night. Rent a bicycle for the day and go sightseeing around the Lagoa!
Each December the famous Lagoa Christmas Tree lights up the sky from the center of the lagoon. This multi stage tower is filled with thousands of lights that illuminate in many different patterns throughout the night.
Link to Photos & Information page for Lagoa
Parque da Catacumba
Don't miss this secret garden and nature hike! It's a short walk to this Rio de Janeiro sightseeing park from the Ipanema Beach neighborhood.
Once there, you will find small statues placed throughout the deep, green tropical forest, winding walking paths and trails that take you up the side of Morro do Cabrito. Hike until you emerge at the summit and find gorgeous views of Lagoa, Ipanema, Dois Irmaos, Pedra da Gavea, and Christ the Redeemer Statue standing atop Corcovado Mountain.
Insider's Tip - On your way back from Parque da Catacumba, stop at the very traditional Bar Lagoa for an excellent German meal and ice cold Chopp!
Link to Photos & Information page for Parque da Catacumba
Walking, Running, or Biking Along the Beaches
By walking, running, or biking along the ocean front sidewalks from Leblon Beach to Leme Beach, you can pass by or stop and visit a number of Rio de Janeiro sightseeing areas.
You will pass through both Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches, the rocky outcrop at Arpoador Beach, Forte de Copacabana, and Morro do Leme.
Along the way you can stop at a seaside restaurant for lunch, or at a beach Kiosk for snacks and refreshments.
On Sundays, both Avenida Atlantica and Avenida Viero Souto are partially blocked off to traffic, making this the best day to complete this outdoor excursion.
Also, the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is a great place to walk, run, or bike around during the day.
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