10 best things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Hannah Summers
Rio de Janeiro is a vibrant city whatever time of year: Getty

Slip into your sequins: the Carnival of Brazil, the world’s biggest party, is descending on the streets of Rio de Janeiro from 21-26 February.

It’s a great time to visit, although the “Marvellous City” is one big party every night of the week – whenever you choose to go.

Whether you’re in town for beaches, 4am finishes or the world’s best steak, here are the top 10 things you must try.

Eat steak at Assador

For a slap-up steak book into the city’s best churrascaria, Assador. Located in glam Flamengo Park, it’s a swanky restaurant that serves all-you-can-eat meat – from classic beef cuts to ones you’ve probably never heard of (don’t worry, your menu comes with a diagram of a cow to help you work it all out). You use a card (green on one side, red on the other), which signals to waiters if you want another slice (you do – don’t live in regret). It costs £30 a head, with the world’s best salad buffet included. Bargain.

Drink caipirinhas at Bar Urca​

Plastic glasses rammed with lime and generous glugs of cachaca are just one reason to visit this cheap little bar at the foot of Sugar Loaf. Another is the cheap prawn empanadas – they’re totally addictive – and then there are the views, rights across Guanabara Bay. Sit on the wall outside, where hundreds of regulars gather for drinks, snacks and selfies.

Ride the tram in Santa Teresa

Drag yourself from the beach for a day and take a wander around Santa Teresa, Rio’s oldest boho neighbourhood. Start with some pictures on the Escadaria Steps – famed by Snoop Dog’s “Beautiful” video – then take a stroll past the crumbling houses and walls coated in vibrant murals. It’s steep, hot and sweaty, so pay for a tram ticket which will whiz you back down the hill to downtown Rio.

Dance all night in Lapa

You can’t take a trip to Rio without hitting the street parties. For a big night out with a 4am finish, head to the streets of Lapa, where locals crowd pavements drinking cheap Brahma beer and straight up cachaca. If you’re looking for samba then your best shout is Beco do Rato. Inside, it’s a gritty little bar with live samba music from 8pm, while outside, it’s essentially a party on the pavement.

When in Rio, drink caipirinhas (Getty)

Hit the beach in Copacabana

You’ll have your pick of beaches in Rio – take the metro out to Barra da Tijuca if you’re looking for crowd-free bathing. But if people watching, music and beers are your thing, you’re better off sticking to Copacabana. Hire an umbrella and a beach chair for a few quid and restock your beers, caipirinhas and fresh coconuts from the beach bar tents. Bikinis are tiny (verging on non-existent) so leave the one-piece at home.

Soak up the vibes on Copacabana beach (Getty)

Drink craft beer in Botafogo

While the rough and ready street parties are over in Lapa, you’ll find the hipster crowd congregating in Botafogo – Rio’s answer to London’s Hackney. Swap your cheap Brahma for a craft beer at Hocus Pocus in a pretty and chilled setting, complete with hanging plants, bare brick walls and wooden beams. It’s not cheap by Rio standards – but one sip of the Apa Cadabra (geddit?) and you’ll soon forget that.

Take a food tour

Want to stuff your face with the best food in the city? Course you do. One of the best ways to get around the cheap local eats is by meeting up with Eduardo, a local foodie who offers tours on Airbnb Experiences. You’ll head to the city’s top local botecos (friendly gastro bars), where you’ll drink a delicious homemade creamy vodka concoction, snack on chicken hearts (better than you’d think) and devour grilled chicken sprayed with cachaca.

Snap some selfies on the Escadaria Steps (Getty)

Sleep in the city’s coolest hotel

Rio’s track record of cheap but cool hotels hasn’t been particularly impressive – until recently. One of the city’s newer openings is the Yoo2, a snazzy high-rise with ultra-modern, colourful bedrooms and bathrooms stuffed with amenities. The best bit? The huge buffet breakfast is pretty good, but it’s the rooftop bar and pool – the best place in the city for Sugarloaf-at-sunset views – that really steal the show. Doubles from £99, B&B.

Watch football at the Maracana

The site of crushing defeats and unforgettable victories, the Maracana is one of the most famous football stadiums in the world. Rio’s most popular team is Flamengo FC; head to the stadium on match day and you’ll be able to snap up on-the-day tickets to see them for under a tenner.

Catch the beautiful game at Maracana (Getty)

Hire a yacht on Guanabara Bay

You’ll get some pretty sweet views of Rio from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, but for a different perspective on the city, get out on the water at Guanabara Bay. Real World Holidays offers overnight trips on 40ft-yachts – plush cabin and private chef included – or for those on a budget, book a day trip with Airbnb.

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