by Doug Gray, The Telegraph, October 29, 2018
Rio has always maximised its natural charms, augmenting its hills and mountains with statues, churches and attractions that have become its instantly recognisable emblems. Cristo Redentor is the 30m-tall art deco wonder perched atop beautiful Corcovado, and Sugarloaf Mountain’s cable cars ferry the hoards upwards to marvel at the city unfolding below. Add in one of the world’s great botanical gardens, impressive art galleries and independent and official state museums, and Rio’s varied attractions have something for everyone.
Centro and Lapa
Take time to think about Planet Earth
The iconic Museum of Tomorrow juts out into the Guanabara Bay as a bold statement of intent and one of the more successful legacies from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The provocative interactive exhibits inside encourage visitors to stop and think about the planet, and are great for all ages. In fact, the whole area around the museum is a must-visit purely for what has been resurrected here.
Insider's tip: Take the opportunity to walk along the neighbouring Olympic Boulevard, lined with food trucks and street art, occupying the wide open spaces where the eyesore Perimetral highway once stood.
Contact: 00 55 21 3812 1812; museudoamanha.org.br
Opening times: Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm
Nearest metro: Parada dos Museus VLT
Marvel at modern Brazilian art
Rio’s stern-looking Museum of Modern Art (MAM) somehow manages to fit seamlessly in to its green surroundings on the edge of Guanabara Bay. The museum was one of several private initiatives that flourished in Brazil’s cultural diversification following World War Two, and in the 1960s it was at the centre of several important shows that culminated in the famous Tropicália movement.
Insider's tip: Regardless of the main exhibition of the moment, MAM’s permanent collection – though ravaged by fire in 1978 – provides plenty of thrills. Pollock, Haring and Miró feature among the international names, while Tarsila Amaral and Hélio Oiticica fly the flag for Brazil’s art icons.
Contact: 00 55 21 3883 5600; mamrio.org.br
Opening times: Tue-Fri, 12pm-6pm; Sat-Sun, 11am-6pm
Taste the theatrical at this restored auditorium
The Theatro Municipal was restored to its full glory in 2010 to mark its 100th birthday, and so grand pillars and delicate golden details once again dominate the main square in Centro’s Cinelândia. Inspired by the Paris Opera House, the main staircase is a sweeping display of marble and onyx opulence, while the auditorium itself seats 2,244 spectators in near-luxurious splendour. The season runs from March until the end of the year.
Insider's tip: If you can face waiting in line for up to 90 minutes, most Sunday mornings the theatre makes tickets available for just BRL 1 (19p). This is a brilliant and commendable way to open up the worlds of ballet, contemporary dance and opera to the masses.
Contact: 00 55 21 2332 9191; theatromunicipal.rj.gov.br
Opening times: See website
Nearest metro: Cinelândia
Catch a cable car and head skywards
Sugarloaf Mountain thrusts off the Urca headland to signal the start of Guanabara Bay. Since 1912, a cable car has run to its 396m-high peak, affording visitors captivating views along the city beaches and out to Niteroí and Corcovado. Each stage of the 1,400-metre route from beautiful Praia Vermelha beach to a first station at Morro da Urca and up to its more famous neighbour takes three minutes.
Insider's tip: Timing is everything, and to get the most out of a visit, you should aim to arrive two hours before sunset so you can ascend without hurry, grab a drink and watch the spectacular show as the city lights gradually flicker into life.
Contact: 00 55 21 2546 8400; bondinho.com.br
Opening times: Daily, 8am-8.40pm (last ride down on the cable car)
Reach Rio's towering monument
Corcovado’s Christ the Redeemer statue remains the most awe-inspiring of all the city's many wonders. At 38 metres high and visible from most corners of the city, the sandstone figure provides useful orientation looking out over Guanabara Bay, arms pointing north and south. Standing at Cristo’s feet, you get the full wonder not just of this mind-bending monument, but the sprawling city below.
Insider's tip: The best route up remains the pretty tram ride from Cosme Velho, but tickets must be bought in advance from a RioTur office (such as the kiosk on Copacabana Beach at the end of Rua Hilário de Gouveia) or from the official website.
Barra da Tijuca
Set out on a hike to remember
Climbing the world’s largest coastal monolith is one of the toughest and most rewarding hikes in the city. Pedra da Gávea's unmistakable flat peak, surrounded by thick vegetation, looks insurmountable, but for anyone in reasonable physical condition it can be conquered in a four-hour round trip. The trail begins behind Jardim Oceânico in Barra da Tijuca.
Insider's tip: A hazardous free-climb two-thirds of the way up means that a guide (and more importantly, their ropes) comes highly recommended. DNAventura provide English-speaking guides for BRL 140 (£27) per person. Cool off in the waterfall on the way back down.
Contact: 00 55 21 3392 9535; dnaventura.com.br
Opening times: Tours each day from 8am
Nearest metro: Jardim Oceânico
Mooch around the city's maritime defences
Forte De Copacabana, conceived in the late 1800s to protect Rio’s port from enemy ships, inhabits a huge rock – blasted out to give its unusual, semi-submerged location. From the top, the view along the coastline is remarkable, made all the more so by the presence of three huge Krupp canons pointing out menacingly. Below, the old barracks were turned into an army museum in 1987.
Insider's tip: This sheltered headland forms the start of the breakwater between Copacabana and Ipanema, and has also been taken over by the historic Confeitaria Colombo café. Stop by to discover one of the most captivating settings imaginable for a long brunch or soothing sundowner.
Contact: 00 55 21 2521 1032; fortedecopacabana.com
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 10am-6pm
Nearest metro: General Osorio
Pay respects at the alter of South American soccer
The Maracanã is the undisputed home of Brazilian football. It was revamped to host the 2014 World Cup and Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening ceremony, meaning this once-imposing concrete cauldron of emotion is now very much in the model of the modern, FIFA-standardised, international stadiums. Local teams Flamengo and Fluminense continue to bring the passion to their obsessive legions of fans.
Insider's tip: If your trip to Rio doesn’t coincide with the football season calendar, a 45-minute tour of the stadium is the next best thing. The tours run daily between 9am-4pm, and the informative guides recount the full, turbulent history of the Maracanã.
Contact: 00 55 21 98341 1949; tourmaracana.com.br
Opening times: tours run daily, 9am-4pm; match times vary
Nearest metro: Maracanã
Soak up some of the country's finest art
In the mid-1900s, Paris-born entrepreneur Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya’s appetite for art was legendary. He helped to found the Museu de Arte Moderna, and today his personal collection spans two museums, of which Chacara do Céu is the better known. A famous daylight raid during carnival in 2006 robbed it of a Picasso and a Dali, but national and international gems remain by the likes of Matisse, Modigliani, Miró and Di Cavalcanti.
Insider's tip: The collection of inimitable Modernist Cândido Portinari’s engravings, drawings and paintings is the largest public collection of work by the influential Brazilian artist in the world, including the famous Dom Quixote series. It was acquired by Maya between 1940 and 1960.
Contact: 00 55 21 3970 1126; museuscastromaya.com.br
Opening times: Mon, Wed-Sun, 12pm-5pm
Explore the former home of Rio's most iconic landscape artist
Roberto Burle Marx was the last century's foremost landscape artist in Brazil, and he is intrinsically tied with the look and feel of much of Rio. He's responsible for creating the tropical splendour of Flamengo Park and the iconic, swirled promenade of Copacabana. Booking ahead is essential to visit Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, the former banana plantation where Marx lived and infamously loved to entertain, and where his prolific art is on plentiful display.
Insider's tip: Take the rare opportunity of a trip this far west to visit Guaratiba beach and the famous seafood restaurants that cariocas flock to at weekends. Bira is the best of the lot, so round off with a delicious fish moqueca (stew) looking across the mangroves.
Contact: 00 55 21 2410 1412; sitioburlemarx.blogspot.com.br
Opening times: Tours are Tue-Sat at 9.30am and 1.30pm (closed on public holidays)
Spot monkeys, toucans and thousands of plants
The city already had the mountains, the beaches and the forest, but apparently Prince Dom João VI and his son Pedro didn’t think that was enough natural beauty, so in 1808 the royal plant nursery became one of the world’s great botanical gardens. Soaring imperial palms line the path and over 9,000 different plant species fill the 340-hectare gardens of Jardim Botânico.
Insider's tip: Early in the mornings, monkeys and the occasional toucan can be found enjoying this calming oasis. Wake up early and listen to the forest come alive and the sun stream through the foliage, then hit the exquisite Jarbo café for a champagne brunch.
Contact: 00 55 21 3874 1808; jbrj.gov.br
Opening times: Mon, 12pm-5pm; Tue-Sun, 8am-5pm (open until 7pm in summer)
Get caught up in the action of an authentic street fair
The Centro Luiz Gonzaga is home to a hugely popular permanent paean to the country’s most laidback region, the north east. Set deep in the São Cristóvão neighbourhood, the Feira Nordestina fair comprises row after row of stalls brimming with traditional music, herbs, hats and hammocks. In the centre of the action, restaurants of varying quality serve up hearty plates of goat, stuffed pumpkin and crab, drawing regulars and inquisitive newcomers from all over town.
Insider's tip: For 48 non-stop hours at the weekend, the traditional sound of live forro music dominates proceedings. With a stage at either end of the dome-shaped venue, pick the one with the most entertaining dancing and either grab a drink or join right in.
Contact: 00 55 21 2580 5335
Opening times: Tue-Thu, 10am-6pm (free entry); Fri 10am until Sunday 10pm (entry costs BRL 3/50p)