The Brazilian soccer team may have lost out in this World Cup, but the country will always be a winner for travelers with its lush landscape, sugary beaches and party spirit. Chadner Navarro leads first timers through its most famous city, from the iconic Christ the Redeemer down to the boho boutiques and edgy art scene. Gol!
See Rio’s icons
Yes, it’s touristy, but when in Rio a visit to the nearly 100-foot Christ the Redeemer statue-one of the new seven wonders of the modern world-is a must. It’s easy to grab a tour van with little notice along Copacabana Beach, but we recommend planning ahead and snagging a ticket aboard the red-hued trem do corcovado , an electric train that takes passengers up Corcovado Mountain, through the lush vegetation of Atlantic Forest, part of Tijuaca’s National Park. The city’s other icon- Sugarloaf Mountain-is perched on the mouth of Guanabara Bay. From street level, you’ll need to take two different cable cars to reach the top, from where you’ll find birds-eye views of downtown Rio. Afterwards, take a short stroll from its base to walk along the water in the residential neighborhood of Urca, where you can grab an iced cold beer and lunch at Bar Urca, and dine along the sea wall.
Go wild in Tijuaca Forest National Park
Rio’s diverse natural landscape-the beach, the mountains and the rainforest-make it one of the world’s most unique cities. Immerse yourself in the city’s outdoorsy side in the nearly 8,000 acre Tijuaca Forest National Park, especially during the super hot summer months when the park’s microclimate means cooler temperatures. Nature lovers can hike its peaks and watch for playful monkeys. Get more incredible vistas of the city from Vista Chinesa. Named after the vaguely Asian design of the pagoda-inspired architecture, tourists hound this spot to take photos of the city. This is the only place in Rio where you can see the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf and the lagoon.
Shop for local designers
Style-wise, Cariocas (the Brazilian term for Rio locals) may be known for sexy bikinis and Havaiana flip flops (and they certainly look good in them). But Rio has a rich high fashion scene, playing host to some of Brazil’s most exciting labels. Internationally recognized Osklen, the on-trend men’s and women’s wear brand known for brightly printed shirts and lightweight dresses, has a chic two-floor boutique in Ipanema. Over in Leblon, check out Patricia Viera’s shop for striking leather pieces-think shredded leather dresses, patterned leather pants and laser-cut lace-like detailing.
Fill up on Brazilian cuisine
When it comes to food, most Rio newcomers might be expecting meals of non-stop meat thanks to Brazil’s famous rodizios, where waiters come to your table offering everything from pork loin to chicken hearts to flank steak. For that we recommend Porcão Rio’s in the Flamengo neighborhood, with its floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the Sugarloaf. But there’s so much more to Brazilian cuisine than grilled meats. Head to Casa da Feijoada in Leblon for its namesake dish, the Feijoada, a stew brought over from Portugal in the colonial era. Made with black beans, beef and pork, it’s served with sides of rice, veggies and farofa, a mixture of toasted manioc flour that adds a bit of crunch to every bite. In the city center, you can take a class with Cook in Rio to learn how to prepare Moqueca, another tasty stew from Africa, this time with saltwater fish and vegetables in a coconut milk base.
Party all night
Start your night with cocktails at Sheraton Rio’s newly minted Dry Martini by Javier Muelas. The Spain-based master mixologist brought his popular bar to Brazil and along with it clever takes on classic libations like a Negroni made earthier with fragrant rosemary. Prepare for a night on the town dancing the Samba with a class at Casa de Dança Carlinhos de Jesus in Botafogo, where the expertly trained staff will have you swaying your hips like a Brazilian in no time. Or, hit one of the dance clubs along the nightlife-rich neighborhood of Lapa (Asa Branca and Carioca da Gema are two of our favorites). Since dancing doesn’t get going until after 10pm, fuel up with pastels (fried dough filled with meat or cheese), bolinho de bacalhau (codfish cakes), Parma ham and olives, all washed down with Brahma draft beer at Antonio’s Botequim.
Watch a futebol match at the Maracanã
There isn’t a more famous soccer stadium in the world than Rio’s Maracanã, site of World Cup 2014 final match. Located in a northern neighborhood of the same name, the circular stadium was built specifically to host the championship game of the 1950 World Cup, which Brazil lost to Uruguay. It was renovated in 2013 in anticipation of this summer’s competition. These days, it also stages concerts and other events, but soccer-wise, you’ll want to schedule your trip when two of Rio’s four local teams (Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama) are battling it out for supremacy. They’re all rivals, and the atmosphere will be electrifying.
Museum and gallery hop
While Rio might be better known for its beaches and Samba, arts enthusiasts will appreciate the city’s robust museum and gallery scene. The Nietroi Contermporary Art Museum, a saucer-shaped Oscar Niemeyer creation perched on a cliff across the water from Rio de Janeiro, is well worth the visit for the spellbinding architecture alone. In Centro, the Fabrica Behring, previously a chocolate factory, is now home to the avant-garde works of numerous local creatives, from paintings to sculptures to photography. Artists split up the abandoned building into studios, exhibition spaces and shops. Then there’s the brand-new Art Museum of Rio, which opened in 2013 in the city center’s Portuary Zone. The variety of exhibits here is fantastic, from expositions on favela living and soccer to a performance and visual art showcase that touches on the relationship between architect Le Corbusier and entertainer Josephine Baker (on view until August 17, 2014).
Head to the beach
Locals meet their friends at the beach in Brazil by letting them know which numbered post they are seated near, and Posto 9 in Ipanema is one of the most popular. You’ll spot swimmers along with body builders, guys and gals playing pick-up soccer or volleyball and samba performers. You never have to get up from sunbathing as anything you could possibly need (snacks, beer, beer cozies, bikinis) will come up to you via one of the many walking vendors, and you can rent chairs and umbrellas when you arrive. The beach in Leblon is definitely more sedate and family friendly, hence Baixo Baby, a stretch where its safe for little ones to splash around.
Explore the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa
A bit away from the beaches of Rio is the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Perched atop a hill, the winding, leafy streets here (where a tram line still runs) offer a different take on the city. For one, it’s quieter. Check out Museu da Chácara do Céu. Previously the residence of art collector Raimundo Otoni Castro Maya, this mansion displays a small collection of modern works by the likes of Matisse and Portinari. Largo dos Guimarães is a perfect place for an afternoon admiring 19th century houses, stopping by crafts shops and sitting down for a drink at any of the nearby watering holes. For a special-occasion meal, make a reservation at Aprazível. You’ll want to be seated outside, where tables are high up among tree branches and chirping birds. From the kitchen, expect delicacies from all over the country, like the basket of Pão de Queijo, grilled hearts of palm and simply prepared meat paired with coconut rice.
Discover an alternative side to Rio at Comuna
This culture hotspot in Botafogo is a one-stop destination with everything from a gallery to an eatery. Tucked into a two-floor house, it’s also a nightlife favorite for raging parties and concerts. The upper floor is especially busy as it consistently hosts yoga workshops, lectures and film screenings. Pick up a one-of-a-kind creation at Sala de Estar, where up-and-coming design labels, from handmade jewelry to of-the-moment clothing for men and women, reign. The fusion restaurant here is particularly popular. Grab a burger or an Asian spring roll or French Fries topped with curry and take it to the outdoor patio, where you can soak in all of magical Rio. It’s not nicknamed Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City) for nothing.