Rio de Janeiro for first timers: A short guide
Thinking of heading to Rio? Awesome choice! Get ready for an unforgettable experience in the “Marvellous City”!
Rio de Janeiro is a city that has everything you could possibly want for a successful holiday, from miles of beaches and trendy restaurants to exciting sights and wonderful nature experiences. All this spiced up with a buzzing South American vibe and exotic samba bars.
Here we give you a short guide to some of the best things to see and do in Rio de Janeiro when visiting for the first time. A few of them you’ll surely have heard of already, but others are a little more alternative, so there’s something for everyone.
Copacabana is one of the world’s best known beaches, and a trip to Rio wouldn’t be complete without paying a visit to its four kilometres of sandy shores.
There’s always lots going on at Copacabana Beach. You can play beach volleyball or football with the locals, have a swim or just unwind and enjoy the sunshine and people-watch.
If crowds and persistent peddlers aren’t your thing, however, you should steer clear of Copacabana, and head to Prainha Beach just south of Rio, where, more often than not, you’ll be sharing the chalk white beach with just a handful of surfers.
Cool off at a beach bar
Summer in Rio runs from December to February. Temperatures will often reach 30 degrees Celsius and humidity may be high. Cool down with a Caipirinha if you’re old enough, or a Cai-Pi as it’s called down there.
This cocktail is made from the Brazilian liquor known as Cachaça, together with sugar and lime. Simple but delicious. You can find Caipirinhas almost everywhere in Rio, from fancy locales to beach bars.
Not a big drinker? Grab yourself a refreshing “água de coco”, the water of a fresh, green coconut. You can get these at almost every kiosk on the beach, perfect for re-hydrating after a long day in the sun.
Amazing photo opps
Christ the Redeemer
One of the most famous landmarks in Rio is the Christ the Redeemer statue on Mount Corcovado. The statue was built in 1931 and was originally intended as a gift for Princess Isabel of Brazil.
The 40 metre tall statue of Jesus has escalators and lifts to take you up, so the trip is quite manageable and absolutely worth it for the photo opps alone.
Speaking of photo opportunities, how does a 360° of the city sound? A trip up Sugarloaf Mountain is a good move if you want to capture a perfect panorama and some of the most amazing views of Rio below.
There are cable cars up to the top of this iconic 396 metre-tall peak, and these are the only way to get there, since the mountain is precipitous on all sides.
Not high enough for you? From the top you can catch a helicopter flight and see the entire city from the air. Mountains, beaches, the Atlantic, the rainforest and Christ the Redeemer – all you need to do is keep your camera at the ready.
Pedra do Telégrafo
You’ve probably seen them: pictures of people seemingly free-falling from a cliff above Rio de Janeiro. But don’t be fooled. The cliff just outside of Rio, known as Pedra do Telégrafo, stands only two metres above the ground. If you take your photo from the right angle, you’ll look like a veritable action hero.
If you fancy a bit of a cultural boost, you should drop in at the bohemian neighbourhood of Jardim Botânico, where you’ll find a wealth of street art, galleries and restaurants.
To get away from the hustle-and-bustle for a while, you might like to take a stroll into the centre of the neighbourhood, where you’ll find the botanical gardens that have given this area its name.
Lapa and Santa Teresa
There are a few things you simply must see in Rio de Janeiro, and one of them is the Lapa aqueduct. Catch a traditional tram from Downtown to Santa Teresa via the Lapa Arches aka “Arcos da Lapa”.
The aqueduct was used to convey water from the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa to the city centre, and can be seen on innumerable postcards of the city.
During the tram ride you should see Ruins Park, a public park with an art gallery built around the ruins of an old mansion. Getting off here you can stroll down the colourful Selarón Steps, or visit Passeio Público, another park which is said to be the oldest public park in the whole of South America.
Ipanema borders on Copacabana in the south of Rio. This neighbourhood is known for its endless parties, but in this area of the city you’ll also find universities, art galleries and elegant restaurants, in addition to the hip nightclubs and cafés.
At Ipanema Beach you can chill out or, if you’re a keen surfer, hit the waves.
Shopping in Rio de Janeiro
If you love shopping you’ve come to the right place. In Rio you’ll find everything from enormous shopping centres with all the popular brands to street markets where you can buy just about anything under the sun.
In the shopping precinct of Rua Visconde de Piraja in Ipanema, you’ll find all the major stores, as well as in Rua Nossa Senhora de Copacabana in, you guessed it, Copacabana.
But the best prices are to be found in Centro, where you can pick up an obligatory pair of Havaianas to take home. Be sure to check out the many low-price stores in the Rua Senhor dos Passos for some bargain souvenirs, too.
The street markets, though, are in a class of their own – be sure to look for the craftsmen for some unique items. Try the Hippie Fair, “Feira Hippie”, which you’ll find at the Praça General Osorio on Sundays, and where the art and handicrafts are in a league of their own.
Jungles, safaris and carnivals
Go on a jungle safari, in the middle of the sixth biggest city in America. Parque Lage is an old sugar plantation in one of the world’s last urban jungles, and is located at the foot of Mount Corcovado where the Christ the Redeemer statue stands. It’s such a cool place that even Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams have made a music video there.
Jeep rides through the rainforest
Ready for a tourist attraction with a difference? See Rio’s Floresta da Tijuca rainforest from a former military jeep, where you can enjoy close contact with the animal life and immerse yourself in the iconic and luxuriant natural surroundings.
Samba and Carnival in Rio
Rio de Janeiro is samba and Carnival. But tickets and hotel rooms are very expensive during the festival and must be booked well in advance.
If you still want to experience the carnival atmosphere, you should go during the months prior to the festival. You’re guaranteed a great time at the Bloco Festival leading up to Carnival, where the city’s samba clubs rehearse for the big event. And best of all, it’s practically free.
There are plenty of exciting places to stay in Rio, and Norwegian can help you find the perfect hotel. If you make your reservation through us, you’ll also earn CashPoints which you can use to help pay for your next flight.
You’ll have a very pleasant stay at the Belga Hotel. There’s a great restaurant, and the hotel is situated just a 10-minute walk from the Museum of Tomorrow, and only a short distance from Guanabara Bay.
You get a lot of hotel for your money in Rio de Janeiro. Treat yourself to a stay at Windsor Marapendi, located near the beach at Barra da Tijuca. It has an outdoor swimming pool, perfect for the summer months.
Hotel Praia Ipanema
If you want a pleasant stay near Ipanema Beach, check out the four-star Hotel Praia Ipanema. Guests rate it for its rooftop pool and delicious breakfasts.