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São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca

West of the Zona Sul lie the largely residential (and considerably affluent) neighborhoods of São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca. If you're accustomed to the shop-lined and restaurant-filled streets of Copacabana and Ipanema, you're in for a shock if you head to these neighborhoods, dominated mainly by towering, modern apartment buildings. São Conrado's main attractions are the beach, which serves as a landing point for hang gliders and paragliders, and the chic Fashion Mall. Barra da Tijuca, often likened to Miami because of its wide avenues, towering condos, and sprawling malls, offers ample high-end dining opportunities as well as a white-sand beach that stretches for a staggering 15 km (9 miles).

Barra da Tijuca is not known as a cultural hot spot, but if you are looking for serious shopping it is the place to go. It's also home to Rio's largest beach, so set aside a day for both beachgoing and retail therapy. A metro station is set to open here ahead of the 2016 Olympics, but until that happens it is best reached by cab; ask the driver to stop at São Conrado so you can snap a few photos of the hang gliders, or alternatively visit this beach hangout as part of a group tour—until the metro arrives it is a little difficult to reach by public transport.

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