We’re lucky enough to get our share of enjoying top notch destinations around the globe, but we were completely awestruck when we visited Brazil’s crown jewel Cidade Maravilhosa (The marvellous city) last month. Never before have we seen such a breathtaking setting for a city – surrounded by beautifully shaped mountains, curving white sand beaches and ridiculously blue water, we soon had that delightful fluttery feeling in our stomachs that you only get on a very special occasion: when you’re genuinely falling in love. With Rio de Janeiro.
The overwhelmingly friendly habitants (called Cariocas) create a very unique and laid back atmosphere that lovingly embraces the whole city. It’s not only the obvious love for the easy life that makes this city so very special, it’s also the fact that Rio is pure sex. With a coast line of 73km the city practically lives on the beach and the art of perfecting your body and showing it off publicly has become one of the most popular sports (after football, of course).
What this means is: smoking hot people. They’re on the beach, in dance halls and open air cafes. They’re all over the place. Women trying hard to cover their assets with as little clothing as possible and numerous shredded-looking men consequently strolling around with partly erected speedo-inhabitants. Maybe that fluttery feeling of ours was a redirection of the blood flow down south after all. Sex is in the air. We love it.
Now of course Rio isn’t without their share of problems (City of God, anyone?). More than 1000 favelas (slums) are spread across the city and have been poverty-stricken and have seen high crime rates for a long time. With international events like the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics in Rio in 2016, a new police force has made almost all the favelas safe to visit and has thereby created lively cultural hubs that peacefully co-exist with the ongoing sound of catchy samba tunes rather than the fire of gun shots. The favelas are not only where the kids dream of becoming Brazil’s next great football players and vigorously conquer the streets to work on their dream’s fulfilment, they’re also the source of a near infinite creativity that’s expressed year by year when the lively melodies of the favelas take the whole city by storm in carnival season.
Rio has enchanted its visitors for centuries and is so much more than just an inhibited, opulent city with countless dainties, bars and eye-catching costumes. Rio is a way of life.
Berlinagenten has toured this beauty of a city and found the perfect hotels, restaurants, hip boroughs, bars, clubs, shopping malls, scenic highlights and even private tours for your next getaway vacation.
Santa Teresa used to be home to the city’s wealthy upper class that left when the neighborhood started suffering from decay and neglect. Today Santa Teresa can be considered as Rio’s cool bohemian Montmatre – the city’s artistic heart. We hoped to take a challenging ride on the the old-fashioned street cars called bondes to get a very unique view over the city that way. Unfortunately they were down for maintenance, so we hopped on a taxi instead and drove up the serpentine alleys to discover a few marvellous old mansions along the way. Once you made it to the top you’re rewarded with magnificent view over downtown!
When most hoods get quiet after midnight, Lapa becomes the new queen of nightlifte districts. The perfect starting point for discovering the hood is the old aqueduct Arcos da Lapa. Lapa is relatively small in size but very popular for its vivid nightlife – many of the district’s houses have been turned into late night bars and dance halls over the years, making it home to unforgettable samba nights. Arrrrrriba! (Make sure you don’t spill your drink while shouting).
The city’s center is best known for its cultural highlights: Prestigious churches, historical squares, colonial buildings, modern skyscrapers, art deco architecture and museums roam the streets and wait to be discovered. Don’t miss out Teatro Municipal (a masterpiece), Arco Do Teles and the colonial streets around Rua Do Ouvidor, Real Gabinete Português De Leitura (a library a la Harry potter) and the Cathedral of Rio De Janeiro. All with guaranteed wow-factor!
The famous beach is home to swimmers, joggers, surfers and is a real hot spot (literally) for going out and having a few drinks. And watching certain parts of the body happily bounce to the constant rhythm of beach volleyballs flying from left to right. The Nossa Senhora de Copacabana is one of the two streets inland and boasts lots of shops and boutiques, so shop away! Approximately 80% of all hotels in Rio are squeezed into the 4 km long neighbourhood so expect mass tourism and less glamour. The golden days of this area are gone but with the new museum Copacobana gets a new landmark right next to the beach.
Ipanema is easy to love, it reminds you of some of the world’s best beach hoods: Miami South beach, Tel Aviv and Venice beach. The district’s buildings aren’t exactly the prettiest we’ve ever encountered, but you can feel the diversity of the area on every corner. The vivid borough is marked by the peaceful co-existence of stereotyped gays, boho-chic locals and sexy tourists. They meet at the beach every day for beach activities, pick-nicks and lots of caipirinha causing a daily party vibe when they all crawl over the beach promenade to the nearest bar in the hood after sunset. Especially on sundays, when the beachside street gets closed for traffic, Ipanema beach gets really crazy. Cyclists, inline skaters, sun seekers and muscle posers take over the place, showing off their best assets. Clothing has never been so tight and the caipi has never been so yummy!
A little more sophisticated than Ipanema, Leblon probably is the trendiest neighbourhoods right now. Accommodation here comes at a price and you won’t have trouble finding top notch bars and restaurants to fulfil your culinary needs. Local television and movie stars frequently visit the beach, infusing it with a touch of exclusivity. And Silicone. Don’t miss walking up to Mirante Do Leblon (direction favela Vidagal) to get the much envied facebook picture of Leblon and Ipanema beach.
Places To Be
Rua Dias Ferreira, Leblon. Bar and restaurant hopping among hipsters, telenovela stars, creatives and fashionistas. Check here for more.
Praça São Salvado, Flamengo. Somewhat off the beaten track, this place is a true treasure cave on any evening of the week. Especially on the weekends it’s the perfect location for drinking beer, watch locals hanging out on the square, socializing and chilling in a beautiful setting. We met many cool young people and think it’s a great place for traditional meals in one of the local pubs and restaurants around the square. This is the place.
Praça Santos Dumont, Gávea. Only on Sundays you will find a flea market here. Get here in the afternoon and hang out in front of any of the local restaurants and pubs, grab a beer at Bar do Alemão and soak up the local flair away from all the mainstream tourism. Surfers, skaters & bikers pop in for a beer, to pose their muscles and tanned bodies… a perfect start for a night out on an early Sunday!
Farme de Amoedo, Ipamena. Rio’s gay street where it gets busy as soon as the sun goes down. Perfect for watching people with an after beach beer in your hand. You have probably never seen so many half naked men mingling the streets just in zungas (speedos) but no wonder when the temperature hardly drops under 30 degrees by night in the summer. The main gathering inns where the action keeps going on until late hours are Galitos, Tô Nem Aí and Pop Eye butthere are lots of cosy eateries to be found in the side streets.
Where to stay?
Rio’s hotels have been in transition for a while now – unsightly towers along the beach have dominated the scene for years, offering poor service and even less luxury. These last years have seen an eagerly awaited upspring of trendy design & boutique hotels though, that initiated a whole new era of upscale hotel luxury in Rio. The rates of the beachfront lodgings are now amongst the most expensive in the world and they like to double or triple their rates during high season (New Year & Carnival), so you’re well advised to book months in advance.
Fasano Rio (our top pick)
The jewel in the crown of Rio’s hotel scene is the fabulous Fasano Rio, designed by Phillipe Stark. Not only the London bar and groundfloor restaurant boast uberstylish visitors. Its rooftop infinity pool is the hangout for visiting A-listers and attracts a model look-a-like crowd. Splash in the pool all day and make sure that you don’t miss the sunset from the rooftop, just stunning! Book a room with ocean view in order to get the full Ipanema experience.
Very exclusive. The hotel features a swimming pool, beach service, a tennis court, a fitness center and even two boutiques within the hotel. With the beach just meters away, you’re right in the epicentre of all the buzz.
This property is member of Relais Châteaux and is a hidden oasis up on the hills of the historic district Santa Teresa. The hotel boasts spectacular panoramic views of the Bay of Rio and the Centro, colonial atmosphere, “tropical chic” design and a lush garden with a pool. The restaurant reinterprets contemporary Brazilian cuisine and the Bar Dos Descasados is an exclusive meeting place by nights.
Where to eat?
The Cariocas love food. Their cuisine is heavily influenced by the Portuguese colonisers and Africans who immigrated to the city centuries ago. Expect intense flavours, spices and lots of meat. Great thing is, you can take your time while eating. No waiter is even going to think of asking you to leave because their shifts are over, so have great, long talks, linger over your meals and don’t forget to sip on your cold beer in between. There’s no excuse to rush in Rio, because service is very slow! Note: table reservations are only accepted until 8pm, or you drop in with risk for long waiting list!
Restaurante Aprazível (our top pick)
Rio’s nightlife isn’t half as wild and cosmopolitan as it is in Sao Paulo. The focus is more on getting tipsy on the beach and enjoying caipis in a corner bar than advanced clubbing and sleepless nights out. However, there’s countless ways of getting your game on in Rio, starting from buying cooled beer out of the trunk of a car on the next corner, visiting one of the botequins (bars) where you’re welcomed by finger foods and even more cold beer or opting for a more sophisticated venue and hitting one of the trendy & expensive bars with live music in Leblon. You definitely can’t do wrong with these:
Fasano al Mare (our top pick)
As Rio grows into an international destination a little more every year, their nightlife is continually reinventing itself and new neighbourhoods with bars and clubs popped up lately. Check out the area around Rua Sacadura Cabral in Saúde. Even though Sao Paulo is boasting the ultimate club scene on this planet (comparable with Berlin) the party lovers will find satisfaction in Rio as well if they dig in the program and ask around. Everything is on the menue these days but you won’t get away from the Samba rhythms in most venues. It’s summer in Rio right now, so the nightlife is as hot as it gets. Just the way we like it. Our top picks:
The Week (our top pick)
Other Highlights include…
These are traditionally the nights where Rio goes completely CRAZY. With million of people celebrating on the streets, you’re guaranteed to never experience anything like it anywhere else on the planet. But on New Year’s Eve pull on your favourite white beach outfit (white is the base outfit and means peace) and enjoy the mesmerizing fireworks from the Copacobana beach with 2 million people! Definitely on the list of “hundred things you have to do before you die”!
Follow the trails of dead pop legend Michael Jackson as you explore the Santa Marta Favela, the place where the King of Pop shot his video for “They Don’t Really Care About Us” in 1996!
A secluded bay with the most pristine beach off the beaten track below the superluxurious villas of Joá district – Rio´s answer of „Beverly Hills“. Well worth the visit if you want to get away from the crowdy beaches in the city!
This place is settled right on the shore of the picturesque hood of Urca and it is considered to be the longest open air dining place of Rio. Grab a beer and some typical Brazilian delicatessen at the bar and prepare your lunch or pick-nick on the stone fence by the waterside just opposite the bar. Not only is the atmosphere and the food great, it also comes with a spectacular view of Botafogo, Flamengo & Centro. To round up the visit, take a ride on a cable car to the top of the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain and enjoy panoramic views over one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
Overlooking the Copacabana’s legendary swimming pool, Pérgula Restaurant offers first class Brazilian and international cuisine in a refined yet relaxed atmosphere. The casual poolside ambience is perfect for Pérgula’s renowned Sunday Brunch from 1pm – 5pm.
The Institution in Rio´s gastronomic scene since 1894. A traditional coffee shop reminding of a Viennese coffee house.
There’s lots to be discovered on your own in Rio, but if you really want to get to know Rio off the beaten path and find out it’s best kept secrets and spots, try one of these great private tours! We recommend:
For two people with an included car you’ll have to pay 1350R$ with Marco Bransford Tours. We took a dive into the districts of Downtown, Lapa, Santa Teresa and the Prazeras Favela. Both tours were absolutely great and provided us with insider knowledge you won’t find in any city guide, so don’t hesitate to take one of these amazing tours!