Though everyone has heard of Rio de Janeiro, not as many may realize that Rio de Janeiro itself is actually a state. However, their capital city, Rio de Janeiro, is the place that most people fly into within the state and hence, end up staying there to vacation. I was lucky enough to be able to tour not only the city, but also Armação dos Búzios and Arraial do Cabo while in Brazil. We’ll get to those itineraries soon, I promise, but, for now, here are some of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro on a long weekend.
Things To Do in Rio: Day 1
- 11:00AM: Start your day off with some adrenaline! Try a hang gliding tour. Beginning atop the largest urban rainforest in the entire world and landing down on the sparkling beach far below, you won’t get a better view in the entire city.
- 3:30PM: Check off a world wonder: Christ the Redeemer. You will take a mountain train to the top, where the statue will be awaiting. I highly recommend booking online beforehand, especially during busy season, as the lines upon arrival can get up to 3 hour waits just for grabbing tickets. If you’d like to avoid more of the crowds and the heat, try to plan your visit between 3:30- 6:00PM (when they close).
- 6:00PM: Take the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. The mountain is open from 8:30AM until 6:30PM. If you finish earlier at Christ the Redeemer, you can always hit this stop sooner, although sunset over the city will be spectacular. You also have the option to take a 30-minute hike up the first hill, then hop on the second cable car to get up. This is less expensive and will provide more opportunities to spot wildlife and viewpoints, although I would recommend planning for the weather beforehand.
- 7:00PM: Walk next-door to Praia Vermelha. There is a fun spot called Bar Urca here where you can grab drinks with an incredible view. If you arrive earlier, you can also rent canoes or paddle board at the beach.
Things To Do In Rio: Day 2
- 8:00AM: Try your hand at surfing! I took my first lesson ever with One Carioca Day and have been hooked ever since. You can also opt for the option of getting a jeep tour along the coast to less-touristed spots after your surf lessons with the instructor.
- 12:00PM: Head to Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro. This is an ENORMOUS park. For your best bet at spotting toucans and monkeys, I would honestly recommend booking an actual tour with them. You’ll be driven around on a go-cart, allowing for more time to see everything. Please note that they only take cash at the entrance and to come prepared with this! There is also a nice cafe within the free portion of the park when you first enter that’s a great place to grab lunch.
- 5:00PM: Head to Ipanema to watch the sunset on the beach. As of right now, the “cool kids” place to hang out is at Post 9. However, anywhere along the shore will boast great views and plenty of options to purchase souvenirs, drinks and snacks.
- 7:00PM: Grab dinner on the beach! Your options here are pretty endless, so I recommend to just walk until you find a menu that sparks your interest. Walking the streets at night in Rio de Janeiro is safe until around 10:00PM, when the streets begin to empty. If you plan to go anywhere after this time, I do recommend taking an Uber. Note that Ubers sometimes take a bit longer to get between cancellations in Brazil and to give yourself at least 20 extra minutes when calling before needing to be somewhere.
Bonus Local Experience
- 9:00PM: Ready for an adventure? This one is not for the weak, although, it might have been my favorite activity in Rio de Janeiro. You’re going to party in the favela. Here’s how it works. You’ll first take an Uber to the Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel. You’ll walk just a couple blocks back to this park, where a bunch of motorbikes will be waiting. During construction, some motorbikes were actually parked before the entrance, and you can take those as well. Simply hand them 10 reais cash and tell them exactly which bar you want to go. If you don’t give them straight instructions, you may get dropped off in the wrong area. Bar da Laje is a great place to go and in the middle of the other gringo bars. Note that if they have an event the night you go, you may need to bring a bag of rice for entry. If you forget, it’s no big deal, but you may be charged an extra 8 reais. To get back down the hill, you’ll go to the same place you were dropped off or you can take the van down with other tourists for cheap. There will be people directing you where to go all night long. Have fun!
Things To Do In Rio: Day 3:
- 9:00AM: Test out some of the local’s best food at a farmer’s market. There are markets all over the city and, depending on where you stay, you can ask your host for recommendations nearby. I went to Feira Livre Laranjeiras for their Saturday morning market. Wherever you end up, I can assure you they will have two things and you need to try them both: Sugar Cane Juice and Pastels. Both will be made right in front of you and leave you wanting more!
- 11:00AM: Ready to experience the real favela? Take a walking tour of Rocinha, the largest favela in the entire world. I chose this experience, with a guide that had lived there for over 50 years and it was absolutely fascinating. If there is one thing that you do on this itinerary, let it be this.
I hope this long-weekend itinerary gave you a good idea on where to start for planning your trip, but if you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to reach out! If you’d like a more organized approach to planning, check out the Mobile Itinerary Template.