First-Timer's Guide to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Curated By


  • Brazil

  • Rio de Janeiro

  • City Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • International Travel

  • Outdoors

  • Downtown

  • Sightseeing

View of downtown Rio de Janeiro with mountains in background
Fora’s Take

Rio De Janeiro is one of the most vibrant cities in Brazil. It is a city that manages to marry the extremes, including contemporary buildings and mountains, rainforest and beaches, all in one. If the views alone weren’t enough, its Cariocas, local people from Rio, are the loveliest, and give the city a unique personality. When you’re done hiking and swimming, Rio’s culinary scene awaits with tempting options ranging from the famous cheese balls to Michelin-starred restaurants. Try a little bit of everything in this first-timer's guide.

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Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Things to do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Palm trees, cars and pedestrians by the beach in Copacabana, Brazil

Rio’s beaches

Ready to be the girl from Ipanema? Check out the world-famous beach and its neighbor, Copacabana. Different stretches of the beach have different personalities, so walk around to see which spot fits you best. Kiosks near Posto 8 in Ipanema cater to the LGBTQ+ community, while the Barraca do Uruguai near Posto 9 was one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite spots in the city. If you want to catch some waves, surf (or take lessons), head to el Arpoador.

Floresta da Tijuca rainforest

Rio is home to the largest urban rainforest in the world, the Floresta da Tijuca. There are dozens of trails throughout the forest for hikers of all experience levels. Vista Chinesa is a gentle hike that leads to a hilltop pagoda and offers excellent views of the beaches below. Pedra Bonita is great for hikers of all experience levels, including young children. It starts just outside the city and takes about an hour each way. 

Christ the Redeemer

One of the world's seven wonders, Christ the Redeemer spreads his arms wide as he overlooks Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A train takes you on a 20-minute ride to the top (with a pit stop halfway up at the gift shop). There are also elevators at the statue's base for accessibility. 

Pão de Açúcar

Sugarloaf Mountain has some of the best views in Rio. Enjoy a cable car ride to the top and walk around to take in the 360-degree views of the city.

Santa Teresa neighborhood

The artsiest neighborhood in Rio, Santa Teresa, is home to many art galleries and cafés that give it a bohemian feel. Take the streetcar up the hill to get to Santa Teresa, and wander around for a bit, taking in the art and city views.

Real Gabinete Português de Leitura

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room is a quick stop, but is absolutely worth your while. It is a library left behind by the Portuguese royal family. Its gorgeous old-world architecture will make you feel like you're in a fairytale. The institution spans just one large room and doesn't take more than half an hour at the most (depending on how many photos you want to take). Plan this as a stop on the way to or from somewhere else.

Eat & drink in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Pão de Queijo (cheese bread) in a basket in Brazil


Brazil loves a big breakfast spread with lots of bread, including the ubiquitous pão de queijo (cheese bread), jam, cheese, meats, pastries, fresh fruits and juices. And no breakfast would be complete without Brazilian coffee.

Plage Café: Located inside Rio's Botanical Garden, this café is set around a reflecting pool that sits in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer. There's classic breakfast fare like omelets and pastries, or you can opt for the complete Brazilian brunch. Be sure to get there before it opens, at 9 am, because there's always a line.

Confeitaria Colombo: A Rio classic, this institution gives off European vibes with Brazilian prices. While they have a range of menu options, the baked goods and pastries are truly divine.

Arp: Located inside the Hotel Arpoador, this spot has a great brunch spread with beautiful beach views of Ipanema and Arpoador.

Lunch & dinner

Terra Brasilis: A quintessential carioca spot with great views of Sugarloaf Mountain. Be sure to get the feijoada, Brazilian meat and bean stew served over rice.

Pizza Canastra: Hip bar and pizzeria in Ipanema with incredible Italian-style pizza. 

O Amarelinho: An old Rio spot known for its feijoada and petiscos (bar snacks.)

Fine dining

Rio is one of only two South American cities in the Michelin Guide. There are some fantastic restaurants here with some of the lowest prices you'll pay for a Michelin-starred meal.

Oro: Elevated Brazilian cuisine. Go for the tasting menu to try the best of everything.

Lasai: Set in a gorgeous historic mansion, Lasai does Brazilian fusion cuisine better than any other restaurant.

Aprazível: Located in a treehouse on a hill overlooking the city, this modern Brazilian restaurant is one of the best in Rio de Janeiro.

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