These things to do in Rio de Janeiro are super local and based on my personal experiences living in this city. I’ve collected a few that aren’t tourist attractions – from samba jams to spots where you won’t see tourists. Hope you enjoy my city!
📬 Reader Mail: Hello Trisha! I love all your local content on Rio de Janeiro. I have been following your stories on Instagram. The samba videos look so much fun!
I understand you are staying with Brazilians there and that you have many Brazilian friends so I am eager to know the best local things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
I am not a fan of popular tourist attractions as I want to experience more local life so your input will be greatly appreciated! Thank you for all the work you do and enjoy Brazil! Can’t wait to come!
-Gemma McWhae, Australia
Thank you for following on Instagram! You are correct – I love Rio de Janeiro and I keep coming back because of my friends! A lot of people already asked me about the things to do in Rio so it’s about time I share them with you.
If you ever make it here and you are traveling by yourself, I would love to introduce you to some people so you’ll feel safe and enjoy the local culture more.
Good luck and I hope you make it! I keep telling everyone not to be afraid to visit Rio and finally, they are listening!
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🇧🇷 Unique things to do in Rio de Janeiro
1. Go to Largo de Sao Francisco da Prainha
As you’ve all seen on Instagram, I have frequented this place because this wasn’t here when I visited in 2014! Largo de Sao Francisco de Prainha is the new local hotspot – everyone left Lapa for the tourists.
You will find historical buildings here and at noon, the whole plaza turns into a drinking and eating hub. You would want to go here because you will only see Brazilians day drinking and having fun with music.
This square is also a hub for cultural events and gatherings, where locals and tourists alike come together to enjoy live music, dance performances, and local cuisine.
It’s a wonderful place to get to know the local culture and immerse yourself in the rhythms of Rio’s lively music scene.
2. Brunch at Casa Porto
Casa Porto Restaurant, nestled in the enchanting Largo de São Francisco da Prainha is a charming eatery exudes an inviting ambiance, with its rustic decor and warm, welcoming atmosphere.
Casa Porto’s menu is a delightful fusion of traditional Brazilian flavors and international influences, offering a diverse range of dishes. I love their menu, I tried all the food here!
What I truly love about Casa Porto apart is its commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, ensuring that each dish bursts with authentic flavors and freshness.
Make sure to sit on the terrace (limited tables!) so you can have a view of the historic square and São Francisco da Prainha Church.
3. Beco do rato: the house of Samba
Beco do Rato is one of the oldest samba bars in Rio de Janeiro. Beco do rato means “the rat in the alley” because it’s literally located in the alley!
Be mindful when walking here at night only when there are no people around you. But this alley is definitely super fun!
They hold samba concerts and invite the best samba bands in the country! They also do other artistic activities like film showing. Plus, this is a local spot so rest assured you will only see Brazilians!
Always check their calendar of events on Facebook because they do super cool ones. I had the pleasure of seeing an all-girls samba band here which is really rare in Brazil!
4. Samba nights in Pedra do Sal
The most famous place for street samba and parties! Pedra do sal translates “salt stone” in English and is one of the most historical landmarks in Rio that turned into a samba hub.
This historic neighborhood, often referred to as the “Cradle of Samba,” is a vibrant hub of music, dance, and Brazilian heritage.
They have different samba bands every night – yep, 7 days a week!
Honestly, if there isn’t anything to do in the evenings in Rio, you can always come to Pedra do sal and I guarantee you, something is always happening here!
Come early to have the best seat in the house. Early means 7:30 PM. You can go for dinner and drinks at Comida di Buteco. This is where the samba bands are set up so you’ll have a great spot for the samba.
5. Pedra do Sal during the day
During the day, Pedra do Sal is extremely different so it is a must to visit this twice!
Wander through the cobblestone streets, adorned with colorful murals and art installations, and discover the rich Afro-Brazilian heritage that permeates the area.
You can also eat traditional street food and enjoy local specialties, like acarajé and feijoada.
It’s a captivating destination where history, music, and community come together to create an unforgettable experience for tourists eager to explore Rio’s vibrant soul.
A golden tip I can give you is to combine this with your visit to Largo Sao Francisco da Prainha because they are close to each other (2 min walk).
6. Discover downtown Rio de Janeiro
The business district of Rio de Janeiro has a lot of European influence. Often, tourists only go to Copacabana/Ipanema and are missing this area.
This is also the digital nomad hub in Rio de Janeiro so if you are a remote worker, this is your neighborhood!
You will be amazed at the infrastructure of downtown and how different it is from the beach area. Walk endlessly and stroll the streets – all the areas of downtown are so pretty!
If you are looking to shop for souvenirs, do not do it in touristy places like Copacabana. Go to Sahara in downtown which is the cheapest shopping spot in Rio de Janeiro.
7. Try “kilos” restaurants
In Rio de Janeiro, “kilo restaurants” are a unique dining concept that is very popular to locals, but not so much with tourists.
These eateries offer a self-service buffet where you pay for their food by weight (usually priced per kilogram, hence the name).
Kilo restaurants offer flexibility in portion size. You can choose as much or as little of each dish as you like, making it suitable for trying new foods without committing to a full-sized plate.
Kilo restaurants often provide excellent value for money. You pay only for what they eat, which can be more cost-effective than ordering individual dishes at traditional restaurants, especially for those who want to sample various items.
Dining at a kilo restaurant provides an authentic experience and is one of the best local things to do in Rio de Janeiro to mingle with locals, observe their eating habits, and enjoy a slice of everyday life in the city!
8. Visit the Museum of Tomorrow
The Museum of Tomorrow is a science museum that explores the sustainability of our ever-changing planet.
Apart from that, this structure is one of a kind – I mean look at the picture! It’s like a spaceship that permanently landed in Rio.
The Museum of Tomorrow is located in a large outdoor area where people do picnics, hang out, skate, etc.
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro recently opened this area for the cariocas to enjoy the outdoors during. It’s a massive space with bars, restaurants, and different kinds of things to do!
Buy your tickets online. The Museum of Tomorrow limits the guests because of COVID so it’s better to buy ahead of time. The ticket costs $5.50 USD.
The Museum of Tomorrow is walkable from Pedra do Sal and Largo Sao Francisco da Prainha so you can definitely combine it with these two places!
9. Go to Urca neighborhood
Urca is an underrated neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro and on many occasions that I came here, I did not see any tourists! There is also a beach here but not as big as the other main beaches of Rio.
This is a great spot for sunset and being outdoors if you are sick of spending sunsets in Copacabana and Ipanema.
It’s really a hotspot for sunset and you’ll often find Brazilians hanging out here with their families and friends. It’s a very local spot!
Find a great spot to sit at the Mureta de Urca and then buy your food and drinks at the famous Bar Urca. Beware, the line here is long but their service is fast!
Urca is also close to Praia Vermelha. The Uber from Copacabana costs $5 USD but you can also rent a bike for less than a dollar. It’s the best way to discover Urca!
10. Hike to Pedra do Telegrafo
Pedra do Telegrafo is a rock formation perched on the edge of a mountain ridge and is renowned for its optical illusion opportunities, where daring visitors can pose for photos seemingly hanging off the edge of the cliff, creating the illusion of a daring leap.
To reach Pedra do Telegrafo, you need to embark on a moderately challenging hike through the lush Tijuca National Park.
Once at the summit, the panoramic vistas of Rio de Janeiro, including the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay, are nothing short of spectacular.
Pedra do Telegrafo has become a social media sensation, attracting thrill-seekers and photography enthusiasts alike.
11. Rodizio: unlimited meat
Rodizio is a dining concept that has become a must-do for tourists seeking an authentic taste of Brazilian culture.
Rodizio refers to an all-you-can-eat style of restaurant service, typically featuring grilled meats served tableside by attentive servers, known as “passadores.”
In Rio de Janeiro Brazil, rodizio restaurants offer a carnivore’s paradise, where a dizzying array of meats, from succulent cuts of beef and lamb to savory pork and chicken, are skewered, expertly carved at your table.
The experience is accompanied by an impressive selection of side dishes, including salads, rice, beans, and traditional Brazilian accompaniments like farofa and pão de queijo.
What sets rodizio apart as one of the must things to do in Rio de Janeiro is not just the delicious food but also the lively and communal atmosphere.
It’s a celebration of Brazilian culinary traditions and a chance to savor the flavors of the country while enjoying live music and warm hospitality.
You will find many rodizio restaurants in Rio but my favorite is Carretao Restaurant in Ipanema.
12. Copacabana nightlife
Copacabana, one of Rio de Janeiro’s most iconic neighborhoods, comes alive after dark with a vibrant and eclectic nightlife scene that you shouldn’t miss!
Copacabana is a hub of samba, and its bars and clubs offer some of the best live music and dance performances in Rio.
The neighborhood is home to numerous stylish bars and cocktail lounges that serve up creative caipirinhas and exotic Brazilian concoctions.
Copacabana boasts a diverse culinary scene, ranging from beachside kiosks serving fresh seafood to upscale restaurants offering international and Brazilian cuisine.
The nightlife in Copacabana offers an excellent opportunity for tourists to mingle with locals and fellow travelers. Remember that Brazilians love to be outside and party on the street so the streets of Copa will always be alive!
13. Go to Lapa Steps
The Lapa Steps, or “Escadaria Selarón,” is a vibrant and visually captivating landmark that should be on your list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
Created by the late Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, this mosaic-covered staircase is a true labor of love and a testament to his passion for art and culture.
Each of the 215 steps is adorned with over 2,000 tiles from around the world, representing a unique and colorful tapestry of cultures, history, and artistic expression.
The eclectic mix of ceramics, mirrors, and tiles creates a mesmerizing visual spectacle that has become an Instagram-worthy sensation.
Visiting the Lapa Steps will give you a chance to immerse in Rio’s artistic spirit while exploring the historic Lapa neighborhood.
It’s not just a staircase; it’s a vibrant open-air museum that celebrates diversity and creativity.
14. Lapa nightlife
Lapa is a young neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro and is very popular with tourists. Bars, restaurants, and different kinds of concerts fill the streets of Lapa. It’s an upbeat neighborhood!
Lapa’s nightlife is set against the backdrop of charming, historic architecture, including the iconic Arcos da Lapa, illuminated at night. This creates a unique ambiance that blends the old and the new.
If you are looking for vibrant (and crazier) Rio de Janeiro nightlife, this is the place. It goes until the wee hours of the morning!
Lapa offers a diverse range of dining options, from street food stalls serving delectable snacks to cozy restaurants dishing out Brazilian and international cuisine.
The best local hangout is Ximeninho. Locals come here as a pre-game because snacks and beers are super cheap!
15. Visit Lapa during the day
If you’re not one for exploring the nightlife, Lapa is a must-visit during the day!
Lapa boasts a wealth of stunning architecture, including the iconic Arcos da Lapa, a historic aqueduct, and the Santa Teresa neighborhood, known for its colonial-style houses and charming streets.
It is also home to several cultural institutions and museums, such as the Museum of Image and Sound (MIS), which showcases Brazilian music and audiovisual history.
Lapa’s streets are adorned with colorful street art and murals, providing a vibrant and dynamic backdrop for daytime exploration.
It also hosts bustling markets during the day, where you can shop for handmade crafts, souvenirs, and sample local street food, such as acarajé and pastéis.
16. 4×4 jeep tour through Floresta da Tijuca
Floresta da Tijuca is the largest urban rainforest in the world and a natural paradise. This lush green oasis, encompassing over 32 square kilometers of protected forest, offers an enchanting escape into the heart of nature.
You can explore a network of well-maintained hiking trails that lead to breathtaking viewpoints, serene waterfalls, and diverse flora and fauna.
It’s a haven for birdwatchers, with numerous avian species calling the forest home.
One of the main attractions within the forest is the colossal statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain, affording panoramic views of Rio and its iconic landmarks.
Floresta da Tijuaca is best visited on a 4×4 jeep!
17. Rent a bike in Rio de Janeiro
Renting a bicycle in Rio de Janeiro is an exhilarating and eco-friendly way for tourists to explore this stunning city.
Biking allows you to set your own pace and make spontaneous stops to take photos or explore intriguing spots. Unlike tour buses, you’re not limited by predetermined schedules.
It’s an eco-friendly way to explore the city, reducing your carbon footprint while enjoying the outdoors.
Riding a bike immerses you in the local culture. You can interact with locals, discover hidden gems, and experience the daily life of Cariocas (Rio’s residents).
Renting a bike is a budget-friendly way to explore Rio, especially when compared to guided tours or taxis. Most bike rental shops offer hourly or daily rates, making it accessible to various budgets.
18. Visit Christ the Redeemer
The Christ the Redeemer statue was completed in 1931. The size of the statue is 30 meters (98 feet) and the arms are 28 meters (92 feet).
Known as Cristo Redentor in Portuguese, this is the picture that we have not only when we hear Rio de Janeiro but also Brazil.
The Christ the Redeemer statue stands on a 704-meter summit which makes it visible all over the city. The moment you arrive in Rio de Janeiro, you will definitely see it right away during the taxi ride to your hotel!
Extra adventure – take the train to Christ the Redeemer! The train to Christ the Redeemer costs $14.50 USD in the high season and $12 USD during the low season. The train works from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM daily.
19. Sugar Loaf Mountain
The Sugar Loaf Mountain is probably one of the most famous images of Rio, next to Christ the Redeemer.
Apart from its mandatory tourist circuit, you will enjoy great views of Rio de Janeiro especially when you take the cable car ride!
Combine your visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain with Praia Vermelha, one of the most famous beaches in Rio de Janeiro. They are next to each other and are worth visiting at the same time!
20. Rio de Janeiro beaches
There are over 10 beaches in Rio de Janeiro and while you won’t be able to see them all, they are all different and iconic in their own ways! Yep, those Instagram pictures you see are real!
You will see a lot of local life and you will get to experience how the cariocas really love their beaches!
Honestly, people in Rio de Janeiro do not go out when it’s raining – they don’t know how to respond to rain but when the sun is out, everyone’s on the beach drinking their caipirinhas and Brahmas!
Bring your own beers! Supermarket beers are cheaper but you can also buy drinks at the beach including coconut water, caipirinhas, caipivodkas, etc. There are also many acai carts roaming around the shore!
✅ Is it worth it to go to Rio de Janeiro?
Rio de Janeiro is a destination that offers a diverse range of experiences, from stunning natural scenery to vibrant cultural offerings.
Here are five compelling reasons why it’s worth it to go to Rio de Janeiro Brazil:
1. Experience Unique Traditions and Festivals
Rio’s calendar is filled with various celebrations and traditions that go beyond its famed Carnival.
From the New Year’s Eve party on Copacabana Beach featuring millions of revelers dressed in white, to the Festa Junina celebrating Brazilian rural life, you’ll find an array of events that offer rich cultural experiences.
These festivals give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in Brazilian traditions that you won’t find anywhere else.
2. Explore Diverse Neighborhoods
Each neighborhood in Rio has its own unique vibe, architecture, and attractions. Take a tram ride in the bohemian streets of Santa Teresa, stroll around the chic and trendy area of Leblon, or explore the historic center of Rio with its colonial-era architecture.
The city offers a rich tapestry of experiences that cater to all kinds of travelers, whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or someone who enjoys soaking up local culture.
3. Water Sports and Adventure Activities
Besides lounging on the beach, Rio offers a plethora of water sports and adventure activities.
You can go hang gliding off Pedra Bonita for breathtaking views of the city, take a surfing lesson at Arpoador, or go paddleboarding on the tranquil Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.
These activities offer a unique perspective of the city and make for an exhilarating experience.
4. Exceptional Music and Nightlife
Rio is a city that comes alive when the sun sets.
From the pulsating beats of samba and bossa nova that fill the air in Lapa’s historic arches, to the trendy bars and clubs in neighborhoods like Ipanema and Botafogo, Rio’s nightlife is nothing short of electric.
For a unique musical experience, you can also check out live performances in various music genres that reflect the city’s diverse cultural influences.
5. Discover Hidden Gems
While the city is known for its iconic landmarks and popular beaches, it also offers hidden gems that most tourists don’t get to see.
From the stunning vistas at Vista Chinesa in Tijuca Forest to the secluded beaches of Prainha and Grumari, you can escape the crowds while still enjoying what makes Rio special.
Don’t miss out on smaller museums, quirky art galleries, or the local food markets that offer a taste of everyday life in Rio.
⭐ What is Rio best known for?
Rio de Janeiro is a city famous for its vibrant culture, natural beauty, and iconic landmarks. Here are five things that the city is best known for:
1. Christ the Redeemer
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Christ the Redeemer statue stands atop Corcovado Mountain and has become an iconic symbol of both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil as a whole.
The towering statue is 30 meters (98 feet) tall, not including its 8-meter (26-foot) pedestal, and its arms stretch 28 meters (92 feet) wide.
The statue is accessible by train and offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city below, making it a must-visit attraction.
2. Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches
These world-renowned beaches are synonymous with Rio de Janeiro. Copacabana is famous for its long, crescent-shaped sandy stretch, lively atmosphere, and beautiful people.
Ipanema, immortalized in the song “The Girl from Ipanema,” is equally stunning and is known for its upscale shops and restaurants as well as its diverse crowd.
Both beaches are more than just places to sunbathe; they’re social scenes where people play sports, dance, and engage in all kinds of beach activities.
3. Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is one of the largest and most famous in the world. The event is a dazzling display of color, music, dance, and extravagant costumes.
The highlight of the festival is the Samba Parade, where various samba schools compete in the Sambódromo, a specialized stadium built just for this event.
The energy and excitement of Carnival make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most visitors.
4. Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar)
Another of Rio’s famous natural landmarks, Sugarloaf Mountain offers stunning views of the city and its surrounding areas.
The mountain is accessible by a cable car, and the ride itself is part of the attraction, offering a bird’s-eye view of the city as you ascend.
It’s a popular spot for watching the sunset and offers hiking opportunities as well.
5. Samba Music and Dance
Rio de Janeiro is considered the birthplace of Samba, a musical genre and dance that has African and Brazilian roots.
The city is filled with samba clubs, and the music and dance form are integral parts of many local events and festivals, including Carnival.
Experiencing samba in Rio is a cultural treat and provides insight into the city’s diverse heritage.
Each of these elements contributes to Rio’s unique and irresistible charm, making it a destination that captures the imaginations of travelers from around the world.
⁉️ FAQ: Rio de Janeiro things to do
Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She’d like to believe she’s not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.