Free and Almost Free in Rio de Janeiro
It may be a cliché to say that the best things in life are free, but the sentiment rings true in Rio de Janeiro. For proof of this, just take a stroll along the beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon or around the beautiful city lake, Lagoa, admiring the stunning mountain backdrop. Entrance to the vast Parque Nacional da Tijuca is also free, although it's wise to stick to the main paths and go in a group if you can't afford a guide.
There are some impressive man-made attractions that are free to visit, too. Hop on the metro to the Carioca stop to admire the colorful stairwell known as the Escadaria Selarón. Nearby, check out the Lapa Aqueduct before turning your attention to some of the city’s best colonial architecture in Lapa and Santa Teresa.
Museums, Galleries, and Cultural Centers
For a city known for its partying and beach culture, Rio boasts a surprisingly high number of excellent options for culture vultures on a budget. The imposing Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil and Caixa Cultural host impressive visiting art exhibitions and free film screenings. Most attractions that do charge an entry fee (including Palácio do Catete and the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes) are free to enter on Sunday. At the eye-catching Museu de Arte do Rio, an arts center at the heart of Rio’s regenerated port zone, the R$20 entry fee is waived on Tuesday.
Budget visitors to Rio can eat well for very little, provided they avoid formal dining. At lunchtime, head to the Centro area for some well-priced buffet spots, where you pay by weight for anything from sushi and bean salads to steak and sausages. While similar spots in the Zona Sul charge upward of R$9 per 100 grams, in the Centro you can chow down for less than half that price.
All you need to do is stroll along the side streets that branch off Carioca and Uruguaiana squares, and look for the best prices. The cost per 100 grams is usually displayed in restaurant windows. When you enter, you will be given a piece of paper that you hand over to the staff member who will weigh your plate. Extras such as drinks will be marked at your table, and the paper is handed to the cashier when you're ready to leave. You’re not obliged to eat: if you enter and don’t like the look of the buffet, simply head for the exit and hand your paper back to the door staff. Most restaurants are open from 11 am to 3:30 pm and charge less before noon and after 2 pm.
Street eats are another great bet. Meat eaters can bite into burgers and hot dogs piled high with everything from matchstick potatoes to olives and quail eggs for less than R$2. Tapioca (a pancake made from tapioca flour) filled with anything from sundried beef or cheese and tomato to Nutella with banana. It's a good gluten-free option that typically costs under R$10.