62 Best Sights in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil

Centro Fodor's choice

What was once the headquarters of Brazil's oldest bank is now an enormous cultural space in downtown Rio. With areas designated for cinema screenings, expositions, music, educational programs, and theater, this is one of the city's best rainy-day options. The 19th-century building, with its ornate domed roof, is impressive in itself, and the visiting exhibitions—which might showcase anything from impressionist masterpieces to the works of São Paulo street artists—rarely disappoint. There's a good bookshop downstairs, a children's library on the top floor, and free kids' film screenings on weekend afternoons.

Christ the Redeemer

Cosme Velho Fodor's choice

Rio's iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue stands arms outstretched atop 690-meter-high (2,300-foot-high) Corcovado mountain. It wasn't until 1921, the centennial of Brazil's independence from Portugal, that someone had the idea of placing a statue atop Corcovado. A team of French artisans headed by sculptor Paul Landowski was assigned the task of erecting a statue of Christ with his arms apart as if embracing the city. (Nowadays, mischievous cariocas say Christ is getting ready to clap for his favorite escola de samba.) It took 10 years, but on October 12, 1931, Christ the Redeemer was inaugurated by then-president Getúlio Vargas, Brazil's FDR. The sleek, modern figure rises more than 30 meters (100 feet) from a 6-meter (20-foot) pedestal and weighs 700 tons. In the evening a powerful lighting system transforms it into an even more dramatic icon. Access to Rio's most iconic monument is via the Corcovado Mountain (see review).

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Cosme Velho Fodor's choice

There's an eternal argument about which city view is better, the one from Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) or the one from Corcovado. In our opinion, it's best to visit Sugarloaf before you visit Corcovado, or you may experience Sugarloaf only as an anticlimax. Corcovado has two advantages: it's nearly twice as high, and it offers an excellent view of Pão de Açúcar itself. The sheer 300-meter (1,000-foot) granite face of Corcovado (the name means "hunchback" and refers to the mountain's shape) has always been a difficult undertaking for climbers. There are three ways to reach the top: by funicular railway, by official van, or on foot. The train (advance online tickets only) was built in 1885 and provides delightful views of Ipanema and Leblon from an absurd angle of ascent, as well as a close look at thick vegetation and butterflies. Official vans (www.paineirascorcovado.com.br) are slightly cheaper but not as much fun as the railway. There are boarding points for the vans in Copacabana and Largo do Machado, and at Paineiras inside the national park. After disembarking you can climb up 220 steep, zigzagging steps to the summit, or take an escalator or a panoramic elevator. If you choose the stairs, you pass little cafés and shops selling souvenirs along the way, but save your money for Copacabana's night market; you'll pay at least double atop Corcovado. If you hike, keep in mind that it's a short but strenuous journey that's best undertaken with a local guide for safety reasons.

Visit Corcovado on a clear day; clouds often obscure the Christ statue and the view of the city. Go as early in the morning as possible, before people start pouring out of tour buses, and before the haze sets in.

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Escadaria Selarón

Lapa Fodor's choice

After traveling the world and living in more than 50 countries, Chilean painter Selarón began working in 1990 on the iconic tile staircase that is now one of the highlights of Lapa. With tiles from around the world, Selarón's staircase is the product of years of dedication, artistic vision, and donations of tiles from places far and near. Sadly, in 2013 Selarón was found murdered at his nearby home. The colorful stairs provide a great photo opportunity—Snoop Dogg and Pharell Williams shot the video for their song "Beautiful" here.

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Jardim Botânico

Jardim Botânico Fodor's choice

The 340-acre Botanical Garden contains more than 5,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants and trees, including 900 varieties of palms (some more than a century old) and more than 140 species of birds. The shady garden, created in 1808 by the Portuguese king João VI during his exile in Brazil, offers respite from Rio's sticky heat. In 1842 the garden gained its most impressive adornment, the Avenue of the Royal Palms, a 720-meter (800-yard) double row of 134 soaring royal palms. Elsewhere, the Casa dos Pilões, an old gunpowder factory, has been restored and displays objects pertaining to the nobility and their slaves. Also on the grounds are a museum dedicated to environmental concerns, a library, two small cafés, and a gift shop.


Maracanã Fodor's choice

Fans have witnessed many historic sports moments at this stadium that hosted the finals of the 1950 and 2014 FIFA World Cups and was the venue where the soccer star Pelé scored his 1,000th goal. Now seating 78,838 fans after a major makeover in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup, the stadium hosted key matches during the 2016 Rio Olympics, and big local games are also held here during the seemingly never-ending Brazilian soccer season. The stadium is officially called Estádio Mário Filho, after a famous journalist, but it's best known as Maracanã, the name of the surrounding neighborhood and a nearby river. Guided and non-guided stadium tours can be booked on the official website; on match days the last tour begins three hours before gates open.

Check local press outlets for match times.

Mosteiro de São Bento

Centro Fodor's choice

Just a glimpse of the Monastery of St. Benedict's main altar can fill you with awe. Layer upon layer of curvaceous wood carvings coated in gold lend the space an opulent air, while spiral columns whirl upward to capitals topped by the chubbiest of cherubs and angels that appear lost in divine thought. Although the Benedictine monks arrived in 1586, work didn't begin on this church and monastery until 1617. It was completed in 1641, but artisans including Mestre Valentim (who designed the silver chandeliers) continued to add details almost to the 19th century. Sunday Mass at 10 am is accompanied by Gregorian chants.

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Museu de Arte do Rio

Centro Fodor's choice

Rio's once run-down port zone is now the focus of a major investment and regeneration program, and the 2013 opening of the Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) has provided a compelling reason for visitors to head to this part of town. The attention-grabbing museum structures—a colonial palace and a modernist former bus station, united visually by a wavelike postmodern form that floats on stilts above them—represent an impressive feat of architectural reimagination. The gallery celebrates depictions of Rio throughout the ages, and the eight gallery spaces inside the buildings contain permanent collections of surrealist, modernist, and naïf artworks. Visiting exhibitions tend to be good, and the views from the top floor—looking out to sea and across Rio's port—are impressive.

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Palácio do Catete

Catete Fodor's choice

Once the villa of a German baron, this elegant, 19th-century granite-and-marble palace became the presidential residence after the 1889 coup overthrew the monarchy and established the Republic of Brazil. Eighteen presidents lived here. Gaze at the palace's gleaming parquet floors and intricate bas-relief ceilings as you wander through its Museu da República (Museum of the Republic). The permanent exhibits include a shroud-draped view of the bedroom where President Getúlio Vargas committed suicide in 1954 after the military threatened to overthrow his government. Presidential memorabilia, furniture, and paintings that date from the proclamation of the republic to the end of Brazil's military regime in 1985 are also displayed. The palace gardens are free, and worth a visit in themselves. With their imperial palm trees, water features, chattering monkeys, and strolling geese they are among the most pleasant—and safest, thanks to patrolling guards—parks in the city, and there's a well-equipped children's playground at the far end. A small contemporary art gallery, a movie theater, a café, and a bistro operate within the grounds, and there's free live music around 6pm each weekday, courtesy of a group of senior local sambistas.

Pão de Açúcar

Urca Fodor's choice

The indigenous Tupi people originally called the soaring 396-meter (1,300-foot) granite block at the mouth of Baía de Guanabara pau-nh-acugua (high, pointed peak). To the Portuguese the phrase seemed similar to pão de açúcar, itself fitting because the rock's shape reminded them of the conical loaves in which refined sugar was sold. Italian-made bubble cars holding 75 passengers each move up the mountain in two stages. The first stop is at Morro da Urca, a smaller, 212-meter (705-foot) mountain; the second is at the summit of Pão de Açúcar itself. The trip to each level takes three minutes. In high season long lines form for the cable car; the rest of the year the wait is seldom more than 30 minutes. Consider visiting Pão de Açúcar before climbing the considerably higher Corcovado---as breathaking as the view is, it may seem anticlimactic if experienced second.

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Parque Lage

Jardim Botânico Fodor's choice

This lush green space down the road from Jardim Botânico was acquired by Antônio Martins Lage Jr., whose grandson, Henrique Lage, fell head-over-heels in love with the Italian singer Gabriela Bezanzoni. The magnificent palace he had constructed for her was completed in 1922; the impressive mansion and grounds were turned into a public park in 1960. A visual-arts school and a café occupy the mansion. On the grounds are small aquariums and a few caves that have stalactites and stalagmites. If you want to tackle Corcovado on foot to make your pilgrimage to see Christ the Redeemer, start in Parque Lage; trails are clearly marked, though you shouldn't go alone.

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Praia de Copacabana

Copacabana Fodor's choice

Maddening traffic, noise, packed apartment blocks, and a world-famous beach—this is Copacabana, or, Manhattan with bikinis. Walk along the neighborhood's classic crescent to dive headfirst into Rio's beach culture, a cradle-to-grave lifestyle that begins with toddlers accompanying their parents to the water and ends with silver-haired seniors walking hand in hand along the sidewalk. Copacabana hums with activity: you're likely to see athletic men playing volleyball using only their feet and heads, not their hands—a sport Brazilians have dubbed futevôlei. Soccer is also popular, and Copacabana has been a frequent host to the annual world beach soccer championships. You can swim here, although pollution levels and a strong undertow can sometimes be discouraging. Pollution levels change daily and are well publicized; someone at your hotel should be able to get you the information.

Copacabana's privileged live on beachfront Avenida Atlântica, famed for its wide mosaic sidewalks designed by Roberto Burle Marx, and for its grand hotels—including the Copacabana Palace Hotel—and cafés with sidewalk seating. On Sunday two of the avenue's lanes are closed to traffic and are taken over by joggers, rollerbladers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; walking.

Praia de Grumari

Grumari Fodor's choice

A bit beyond Prainha, off Estrada de Guaratiba, is Grumari, a beach that seems a preview of paradise. What it lacks in amenities—it has only a couple of groupings of thatch-roof huts selling drinks and snacks—it makes up for in natural beauty: the glorious red sands of its quiet cove are backed by low, lush hills. Weekends are extremely crowded—arrive early—but during the week it's blissfully quiet and makes for a great day out from town. Take a lunch break at Restaurante Point de Grumari, which serves excellent fish dishes. If you've ventured this far, you might as well take a slight detour to the Museu Casa do Pontal, Brazil's largest folk-art museum, and, for an in-depth look at one of the world's greatest landscape artists, the Sítio Roberto Burle Marx. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: surfing; sunset.

Praia de Ipanema

Ipanema Fodor's choice

As you stroll this world-famous beach you'll encounter a cross section of the city's residents, each favoring a particular stretch. Families predominate in the area near Posto (Post) 10, for instance, and the gay community clusters near Posto 8 by a giant rainbow flag. Throughout the day you'll see groups playing beach volleyball and soccer, and if you're lucky you might even come across the Brazilian Olympic volleyball team practicing here. At kiosks all along the boardwalk, you can sample all sorts of food and drink, from the typical coconut water to fried shrimp and sushi. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: walking; sunset.

Sítio Roberto Burle Marx

Jardim Piaí Fodor's choice

Nature lovers and architecture buffs will find it worth making the advance booking required to visit this plantation-turned-museum honoring Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil's legendary landscape architect. Marx, the mind behind Rio's swirling mosaic beachfront walkways and the Atêrro do Flamengo, was said to have "painted with plants," and he was the first designer to use Brazilian flora in his projects. More than 3,500 species—including some discovered by and named for Marx, as well as many on the endangered list—flourish at this 100-acre estate. Marx grouped his plants not only according to their soil and light needs but also according to their shape and texture. He also liked to mix the modern with the traditional—a recurring theme throughout the property. The results are both whimsical and elegant. In 1985 he bequeathed the farm to the Brazilian government, though he remained here until his death in 1994. His house is now a cultural center full of his belongings, including collections of folk art, and the beautiful gardens are a tribute to his talents. The grounds also contain his ultramodern studio (he was a painter, too) and a small, restored colonial chapel dedicated to St. Anthony.

Theatro Municipal

Centro Fodor's choice

If you visit one place in Centro, make it the Municipal Theater, modeled after the Paris Opera House and opened in 1909. Now restored to its sparkling best, the theater boasts Carrara marble, stunning mosaics, glittering chandeliers, bronze and onyx statues, gilded mirrors, German stained-glass windows, and brazilwood inlay floors. Murals by Brazilian artists Eliseu Visconti and Rodolfo Amoedo further enhance the opulent feel. The main entrance and first two galleries are particularly ornate. As you climb to the upper floors, the decor becomes simpler, a reflection of a time when different classes entered through different doors and sat in separate sections, but also due in part to the exhaustion of funds toward the end of the project. The theater seats 2,357—with outstanding sight lines—for its dance performances and classical music concerts. English-speaking guides are available.

Arcos da Lapa


Formerly the Aqueduto da Carioca (Carioca Aqueduct), this structure with 42 massive stone arches was built between 1744 and 1750 to carry water from the Carioca River in the hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa to Centro. In 1896 the city transportation company converted the aqueduct, by then abandoned, into a viaduct, laying trolley tracks along it. For decades, Santa Teresa's rattling yellow street cars (the "bonde" or "bondinho") passed over the aqueduct as they carried passengers from Centro up to the hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The historic bonde underwent extensive upgrades to improve its quality and safety in time for the 2016 Olympics.

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Rio de Janeiro, 20021–180, Brazil
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Rate Includes: R$20

Beco do Comércio


A network of narrow streets and alleys centers on this pedestrian thoroughfare, also called the Travessa do Comércio, whose name translates to Alley of Commerce. The area is flanked by restored 18th-century homes, now converted to offices, shops, and galleries. The best-known sight here is the Arco de Teles, a picturesque archway named in honor of the wealthy Teles de Menezes family, who built many of the street's most handsome buildings. Beco do Comércio is a good place to stop for lunch—the street is lined with everything from simple pay-by-weight buffet spots and casual bars to more upmarket restaurants and cafés.

Praça 15 de Novembro, Rio de Janeiro, 20010–080, Brazil

Biblioteca Nacional


Corinthian columns adorn the neoclassical National Library (built between 1905 and 1908), the first such establishment in Latin America. Its original archives were brought to Brazil by King João VI in 1808. The library contains roughly 13 million books, including two 15th-century printed Bibles, manuscript New Testaments from the 11th and 12th centuries, and volumes that belonged to Empress Teresa Christina. Also here are first-edition Mozart scores, as well as scores by Carlos Gomes, who adapted the José de Alencar novel about Brazil's Indians, O Guarani, into an opera of the same name.

Nonmembers can see the library by guided tour only (weekdays 10--5); tours are given in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Visitors will need photo ID to enter.

Av. Rio Branco 219, Rio de Janeiro, 20040–008, Brazil
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Rate Includes: tours free, Tours on the hr weekdays 10–5

Catedral de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro


The exterior of this circa-1960 metropolitan cathedral, which looks like a concrete beehive, divides opinion. The daring modern design stands in sharp contrast to the baroque style of other churches in Rio, but don't judge until you've stepped inside. When light floods through the colorful stained-glass windows, it transforms the interior—which is 80 meters (263 feet) high and 96 meters (315 feet) in diameter—into a warm, serious place of worship that accommodates up to 20,000 people. An 8½-ton granite rock lends considerable weight to the concept of an altar.

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Av. República do Chile 245, Rio de Janeiro, 20031–170, Brazil
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Rate Includes: Free, Daily 8-5

Centro Cultural Laurinda Santos Lobo

Santa Teresa
This pink mansion houses Santa Teresa's small Museu do Bonde (Bonde Museum), dedicated to Rio's trolleys, and the exhibition covering the history of the city's streetcars is worth a peek. One of the original wooden streetcars is on view—children love to climb inside and "drive" the bonde. The cultural center also houses arts and photography exhibitions, there are regular free samba shows on weekends, and there's a small library and children's reading area.

Convento do Santo Antônio


The Convent of St. Anthony was completed in 1780, but some parts date from 1615, making it one of Rio's oldest structures. Its baroque interior contains priceless colonial art, including wood carvings and wall paintings. The sacristy is covered with traditional Portuguese azulejos (ceramic tiles). The church has no bell tower: its bells hang from a double arch on the monastery ceiling. An exterior mausoleum contains the tombs of the offspring of Dom Pedro I and Dom Pedro II.

Largo da Carioca 5, Rio de Janeiro, 20050–020, Brazil
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Rate Includes: R$10 (guided tour R$20), Closed Sun.

Floresta da Tijuca

Alto da Boa Vista

Surrounding Corcovado is the dense, tropical Tijuca Forest, also known as the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. Once part of a Brazilian nobleman's estate, it's studded with exotic trees and thick jungle vines and has several waterfalls, including the delightful Cascatinha de Taunay (Taunay Waterfall). About 180 meters (200 yards) beyond the waterfall is the small pink-and-purple Capela Mayrink (Mayrink Chapel), with painted panels by the 20th-century Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari.

The views are breathtaking from several points along this national park's 96 km (60 miles) of narrow winding roads. Some of the most spectacular are from Dona Marta, on the way up Corcovado; the Emperor's Table, supposedly where Brazil's last emperor, Pedro II, took his court for picnics; and, farther down the road, the Chinese View, the area where Portuguese king João VI allegedly settled the first Chinese immigrants to Brazil, who came in the early 19th century to develop tea plantations. A great way to see the forest is by Jeep or van; you can arrange tours through several agencies, among them Brazil Expedition (www.brazilexpedition.com) and Jeep Tour (21/2108--5800www.jeeptour.com.br).

Forte de Copacabana and Museu Histórico do Exército


Copacabana Fort was built in 1914 as part of Rio's first line of defense, and many original features, such as the thick brick fortification and old Krupp cannons, are still visible. In the '60s and '70s, during Brazil's military dictatorship, political prisoners were kept here. The fort is impressive in itself, and the entrance archway perfectly frames a postcard view of Sugar Loaf. The best views, however, follow the path to its end and climb the steep stairs to the cannon roof, which juts right out into the ocean and takes in sweeping vistas over the Zona Sul beaches. The on-site military-history museum is worth a stop, and there are two good cafés here as well as a gift shop. During the Brazilian summer, violin recitals, classical music performances, and outdoor cinema screenings are held here, many free of charge.

Fundação Planetário


Rio's planetarium is a great escape if your vacation gets rained on, or if you simply have a passion for astronomy. The adjoining interactive Museu do Universo (Museum of the Universe) illustrates the history of space exploration and travel in a futuristic exhibition area with lots of hands-on activities for kids. The planetarium frequently updates its programming, which consists of a mixture of fictitious adventures in space (recommended for kids) and nonfiction shows about the constellations and our solar system.

Rua Vice-Governador Ruben Bernardo 100, Rio de Janeiro, 22451–070, Brazil
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Rate Includes: Museum R$13; museum and planetarium session R$26, Museum closed Mon. and Tues.--Sun. until 2:30 pm

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Candelária


The classic symmetry of Candelária's white dome and bell towers casts an unexpected air of tranquility over the chaos of downtown traffic. The church was built on the site of a chapel founded in 1610. Construction on the present church began in 1775, and although the emperor formally dedicated it in 1811, work on the dome wasn't completed until 1877. The sculpted bronze doors were exhibited at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris.

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Praça Pio X, Rio de Janeiro, 20040–020, Brazil
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Rate Includes: Free, Weekdays 7:30–4

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro


The aptly named Church of Our Lady of the Glory of the Knoll (Church of Glory for short) sits on top of a hill and is visible from many spots in the city, making it a landmark that's truly cherished by the cariocas. Its location was a strategic point in the city's early days, and the views from church grounds are impressive. Estácio da Sá took this hill from the French in the 1560s and then went on to expand the first settlement and to found a city for the Portuguese. The baroque church, which wasn't built until 1739, is notable for its octagonal floor plan, large dome, ornamental stonework, and vivid tile work. Tours are given by appointment only. As opening hours are sporadic, visitors might choose to arrive shortly before 9 am or 11 am on Sunday, when Mass takes place and the church is open to the public.

Igreja de São Francisco da Penitência


This baroque church was completed in 1737, nearly four decades after construction began. Today it's famed for its wooden sculptures and its rich gold-leaf interior. The nave contains a painting of St. Francis, the patron of the church—reportedly the first painting in Brazil done in perspective.

Guided tours are offered weekdays 2-4 pm.

Largo da Carioca 5, Rio de Janeiro, 20050–020, Brazil
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Rate Includes: R$10, Closed Sun.

Largo do Guimarães

Santa Teresa

Much of the activity in close-knit Santa Teresa takes place around its village-like squares, among them Largo do Guimarães, a social hub that frequently hosts street parties. The informal restaurant Bar do Arnaudo is popular with locals; the neighborhood's main drinking and dining strip spans out from here. On weekends, live music spills out from bars opening onto the square, and street vendors sell beer and caipirinhas. If you follow the tram track 1.2 km (¾ mile) northwest from here you'll come to Largo das Neves (Neves Square), with its picturesque whitewashed church. Families and other locals gather in this square until late at night.

Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno, Ladeira do Castro, and Rua Almirante Alexandrino, Rio de Janeiro, 20241–260, Brazil

Monumento aos Pracinhas


The Monument to the Brazilian Dead of World War II—the nation sided with the Allies during the conflict—is actually a combination museum and monument. The museum houses military uniforms, medals, stamps, and documents belonging to soldiers, and two soaring columns flank the tomb of an unknown soldier. The best time to visit is on a Sunday, when the road in front of the monument is closed to traffic, and joggers, dog-walkers, and strolling families fill the area.

Rio de Janeiro, 20011–000, Brazil
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Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.