This article will introduce you to Rio de Janeiro, the most visited city in Brazil, focusing on its historical importance and its current role in the country.
Rio de Janeiro's historical background
The most visited city in the southern hemisphere, Rio de Janeiro is known for its unique settings, carnival celebrations, samba, Copacabana, Ipanema, Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar) and many other attractions.
Rio was the Brazilian capital for nearly two centuries and it hosted the Portuguese Royal Family in 1808, in a phenomenon that is called by some historians as a “metropolitan inversion”.
The arrival of the Royal Family brought some significant changes to the country, such as the foundation of the first Brazilian bank, the opening of some schools and the Royal Library, and the introduction of the press . It also contributed to the sophistication of the city.
Rio de Janeiro's current role in Brazil
Despite many social issues, Rio de Janeiro still is the number one destination of tourists in Brazil, receiving more than 35% of the total amount of those who visit the country.
Its representativeness gave it the title of host for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, which will be a milestone for the city development, once the city will go through great investments on infrastructure and technology. However, one of the main concerns regarding the two events is Rio's high crime rates, which has lead the government to take drastic measures in order to regain control over some areas of the city.
Rio de Janeiro for the Beginners
If this is your first trip to Rio, here a list of the places you must visit:
One of the greatest touristic attractions in Brazil, Corcovado is part of Tijuca National Park, where it is possible to enjoy a gorgeous view of the city. It is where the Christ Redeemer statue is located.
Created on June 13, 1808, by D. João VI, Prince Regent at the time, the Botanical Garden is considered one of the world's most important garden. Known as a Living Museum, it brings together more than eight thousand pieces of plants.
Quinta da Boa Vista
Residence of the Royal Family throughout the Empire, it still features the original design of the French landscape artist Auguste Marie Glaziou and it currently houses the National Museum.
Rio for the Initiated
If you have already been to Rio and is familiar with its most famous touristic attractions, be aware that there is another side of the city waiting to be discovered. A side that is more related to Rio's historical importance and bohemian and artistic traditions.
Arcos da Lapa
Known as the most monumental work undertaken in Rio, Arcos da Lapa now work as a viaduct to the streetcars that connects Carioca Station to the unique neighborhood of Santa Teresa.
Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião (São Sebastião Metropolitan Cathedral)
In a modern style, it presents a conical structure and has capacity for 20 thousand people. Located on historic downtown, its colorful stained glass makes it a beautiful construction.
Fortaleza de Santa Cruz
A historical fort, from the times when Rio de Janeiro was a target of French and Dutch invasions. Even those who are not so interested in historical sites would enjoy a visit to the place, once its extreme point has a gorgeous view.
Igreja da Penha
Built on the top of a rock, it is famous for its stairway with 382 steps where many religious people pay their promises, walking or kneeling up the stairs. The church has a trolley with capacity for 500 people per hour.
One of the prettiest buildings in Rio de Janeiro, Theatro Municipal is the main playhouse in Brazil and one of the most important in South America. Since its inauguration in 1909, it has received great national and international artists from dance to opera.
Santa Teresa Neighborhood
A neighborhood that carries a bohemian aura, famous for its artists, ateliês and excellent restaurants. One of the most scenic neighborhoods in the city, Santa Teresa is located on the top of a hill that comprises Rio's North, South and downtown with pleasant belvederes.
Cidade do Samba
Home of the “Samba Carioca”, the area concentrates a great popular culture tradition of personalities and entities connected do Carnival. It is considered to be a center of production of genuine Brazilian art.
Rio for the Beach Lovers
Besides its traditional settings, Rio de Janeiro is famous for its gorgeous beaches. Here is a list of the most important ones:
Due to its beauty and to the surfing practice, Arpoador is one of the favorites by cariocas and tourists. When in the area, it is indispensable to visit the Arpoador rocks, a perfect place to enjoy the sea or a beautiful sunset.
Famous for the song by Vinícius de Moraes and Tom Jobim, “Garota de Ipanema” (Ipanema Girl), its charm and a relaxation atmosphere, this beach stages several free concerts and sports events, such as volleyball, soccer, surf and many others.
As a hidden paradise, the access to it is restricted to cars. A white sand beach, it is the perfect place for families and surfers.
A family beach, with a specific area for kids, it attracts young and pretty people who walk by the boardwalk. At the end of the beach, there is a belvedere with a beautiful view of Leblon and Ipanema shores.
Leme and Copacabana
Considered to be the two most famous beaches in the wold, they have hosted several events, such as New Year's Eve, Pan-American games, volleyball tournaments and many others. It has kiosks, hotels, bars and restaurants that are frequented day and night. It also has forts on each edge, where it is possible to have a panoramic views of the area.
Praia do Diabo
It is a small beach, located on the left side of Arpoador rock. It has a small square where you can sit down and enjoy the scenario while drinking some refreshing coconut water.
Located between Pão de Açúcar and Morro da Babilônia (Babilônia hill), Praia Vermelha is a small beach with a nice landscape. On its left is Cláudio Coutinho track, a great option for those who enjoy ecological tours. Besides being perfect for a walk or even a run, the track also has a great belvedere.
Located right next to Pedra Bonita, it is ideal for those who practice hang-glider. For those who enjoy surfing, São Conrado has some strong waves as well.
Barra da Tijuca
Largest beach in Rio de Janeiro, it is perfect for those who practice surfing, windsurfing and bodyboarding. It also has several bars, restaurants, kiosks and a bicycle path.
Barra de Guaratiba
Located on an ecological reserve area, between mangroves and the rainforest, Barra de Guaratiba is nationally known as a gastronomic center. For those who are willing to walk, there are some desert and wild beaches surrounding the area. Due to the isolation of the area, it is recommended to have a tourist guide.
Recreio dos Bandeirantes
The neighborhood has the most clean and reserved beaches in the city. It is highly frequented by surfers and it often houses surfing and bodyboard tournaments. Visitors can enjoy the sun until it goes down, once the buildings on the shores are not so tall. Bike riding is a pleasant alternative in this area.
Long and not so frequented beach, it is perfect for those who look for tranquility in Rio de Janeiro city. Located on an environmental protection area, it is an option for those who enjoy fishing.
Places to see Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro has a beautiful skyline that can be marvelously contemplated from one of the two belvederes:
Mirante do Pasmado
A pleasant area with panoramic view of Botafogo bay, Pão de Açúcar and Corcovado. It is also where Monumento à Bandeira is located.
Mirante Dona Marta
One of the most visited places in Rio de Janeiro, it provides a panoramic view of almost the entire city, including Pão de Açúcar, Maracanã stadium, Guanabara bay and Christ the Redeemer.