Rio de Janeiro Itinerary

Introduction to Rio, 4 Days

Rio de Janeiro is a city like no other on Earth—prepare to have your senses dazzled by the sheer beauty of the place. With so many unmissable attractions, good planning is key to making the most of your time in the Cidade Maravilhosa.

Day 1: Explore the Beaches and the Bars

Shake off your jet lag and satisfy your curiosity for the iconic Rio you've heard about in songs by heading straight to Ipanema Beach. Before hitting the beach, order a tasty, blended glass of açaí from any of the nearby juice bars. Fortified by the Amazonian berry's many vitamins and antioxidants, take a stroll and watch the show; on the city’s beaches, you’ll find the most spectacularly proportioned bodies and equally spectacular views.

When you've had enough sun, surf, and sightseeing, make your way to Leblon for a tasty bite of bolinho de bacalhau (small cod cake)—or any other seafood dish on the menu at one of the restaurants that we recommend. A sunset visit to Pão de Açucar is a lovely way to end your first day.

Logistics: Be careful with Rio's strong undertow and waves. Bring only the bare minimum of belongings to the beach, and make sure someone from your group keeps an eye on them if you take a dip.

Day 2: Enjoy Bird's-Eye Views from Corcovada

Regardless of how you chose to end your first night, an early wake-up on Day 2 is advisable if you want to see gorgeous views of the city from Corcovado. It’s also a good idea if you want to avoid both the haze and throngs of sightseers who set upon the peak as the day wears on.

Next, spend the afternoon in Santa Teresa, leisurely walking the narrow, cobblestone streets lined with beautiful, Portuguese-style homes. Stop by Bar do Arnaudo for a hearty late lunch, or Cultivar Brasil for a fortifying coffee and a light snack. If you still have enough energy, make a night of it in Lapa.

Logistics: Check the weather to make sure the Christ statue will not be above the clouds. Wear comfortable shoes for hiking.

Day 3: The City as It Lives and Breathes

Wandering around Centro is a lovely way to spend your third day, stopping by the Theatro Municipal and exploring the various plazas and churches. The ornate Confeitaria Colombo is one of the oldest eateries in Rio and a nice place for a tea break. Order the lavish afternoon tea if you really want to treat yourself.

If you missed Lapa by night, see it by day by taking a stroll down here—be sure to check out the colorful Escadaria Selaron and the gigantic, whitewashed Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Arches). Alternatively, if you have an itch for sand between your toes, head down to Copacabana, where you can either sunbathe or simply walk its 4-km (2½-mile) promenade.

Day 4: Shop Till You Drop

If your final day falls on a weekend, Ipanema's Feira Hippie takes place on Sunday and is well worth a gander. Local arts and crafts, handmade clothes, and accessories are on offer alongside mass-produced tourist knickknacks. There is more outdoor shopping along Avenida Atlântica and at the Feira Nordestina, also known as the Feira de São Cristóvão, which runs from Friday at 10 am through Sunday at 8 pm. The fair, which celebrates Northeastern Brazilian food and culture, features live forro music and feels like a vast nightclub after midnight on Saturday. If it is raining, popping into the Rio Sul mall is a good option.

Option 1 for Days 5–6: Brigitte Bardot’s Búzios

Just over two hours from Rio, the old fishing village of Búzios has some wonderful beaches (Azeda and Azedinha are particularly quiet and perfect for a romantic afternoon). If you can swing the sometimes hefty price tag, stay at the Casas Brancas—it's a delicious spot for doing absolutely nothing and feeling wonderful about it. For those with a little less money to burn, the Collona Galápagos Boutique Hotel has a lovely view of the sea and sunset, and even has bar service at the beach.

When hunger strikes, Cigalon is one of the finest restaurants in town; make sure to have a meal on its seductive veranda that overlooks the beach. If you're on a budget, just off the Rua das Pedras is the pay-per-kilo restaurant Buzin, which also serves churrasco. Its casual, welcoming atmosphere is perfect for those who want to keep their weekend away from Rio as unpretentious as possible. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy in Búzios, such as surfing lessons or windsurfing. For those who want to be on the water but don't want to paddle, take a three-hour catamaran around the peninsula from Orla Bardot. Don't miss the statue of Brigitte Bardot on the Orla Bardot along the water near downtown.

Logistics: Búzios is about 175 km (110 miles) northeast of Rio. The trip is much more pleasant if you rent a car. Driving in Rio de Janeiro State isn't difficult but do be mindful of other drivers. You'll be thankful you have a car if you want to find some of the more idyllic beaches in the area.

Days 5–6 (Option 2): The Unspoiled Island of Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande once provided refuge for pirates, and was the first point of entry for many slaves brought here from Africa. Now, it’s known for its lovely, somewhat unspoiled beaches.

The island is a nature lover's dream, and getting there is simpler than it once was thanks to collective transfer services, which include hotel pickup, minibus, and schooner boat from Coneicao de Jacare, near Angra dos Reis. Once there, we recommend using Vila do Abraão—the island's only real town—as a starting point for your beach explorations. There are no roads and no private cars on the island, so try to travel light, bring comfortable shoes, and expect to walk a lot.

Hire a local boatman who can take you to a quiet, pristine beach or an even more remote islet. Don't miss the shockingly clear waters of Abraãozinho Beach, accessible only by foot (about 25 minutes from Vila do Abraão) or by boat.

Logistics: The quickest and most cost-effective way to reach the island is by organized transfer. Whiz along in a comfy minivan to the small town of Conceicao de Jacare, around two hours' drive from Rio, before taking a schooner boat (around 45 minutes) to the island's main settlement. The island has bountiful trekking opportunities, although taxi boats are on hand to whisk less energetic visitors to the best beaches.

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