With its cobblestone streets and bohemian atmosphere, Santa Teresa is a delightfully eccentric neighborhood. Gabled Victorian mansions sit beside alpine-style chalets as well as more prosaic dwellings—many hanging at unbelievable angles from the flower-encrusted hills. Cafés, galleries, and antiques shops have nudged their way into nooks and crannies between the colorful homes, many of which house artists and their studios.
Downhill from Santa Teresa, Lapa has some of the oldest buildings in the city and is home to the imposing Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Aqueduct) and the colorful Escadaria Selarón, also called the Lapa Steps, as well as the city's oldest street, the café-paved Rua do Lavradio. By night, Lapa is transformed into the party heart of Rio, with countless bars and clubs and a notoriously wild weekend street party.
Santa Teresa and Lapa merit a full day's exploring, and Santa Teresa is at its bohemian best from Thursday through Saturday—many bars and restaurants don't open early in the week. Take the metro to Carioca metro station and stroll past the towering cubic Petrobras building to Rua do Lavradio to browse the antiques stores and sidewalk cafés. From here, the Lapa Steps and Lapa Aqueduct are a quick stroll, or take the bone-rattling cab ride up the cobbled steps. Jump off at Largo do Guimaraes and prepare to spend a few hours admiring the architecture, galleries, and museums and enjoying the café culture here; the area is best seen on foot but avoid deserted streets. If it's a weekend or holiday, make a night of it by starting with drinks in one of Santa Teresa's many lively bars before taking a cab or bus down to the Lapa street party around midnight.