An exciting 3-Day itinerary for things to do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro (also known as “Rio”) is the second largest city in Brazil and is renowned for its carnival, samba, açaí, beautiful beaches, Christ the Redeemer statue, and more. Rio de Janeiro’s landscapes will leave you breathless and desiring to see and do more during your visit. I visited Rio at the end of August-September 2022 for 3 full days. Overall I had a great time and want to share with you some places I visited that you should check out during your visit.

Language

Portuguese. Very little English is spoken except at sites most frequently visited by tourists.

Places Visited

Selaron Steps

The Selaron Steps are one of the most beautiful stairways in the world and most infamously seen in music videos such as Snoop Dogg and Pharell’s “Beautiful” and U2’s “Walk On.” The Selaron Steps, created by Jose Selarón, a Chiliean painter, artist, and world traveler who eventually settled in Brazil, were designed as a tribute to the Brazilian people. The key to getting a great picture of the Selaron steps is to go early or on a misty day when crowds are likely to be minimal. In the photos below, you can see the steps were not crowded with people when I went, which was great because I could take many pictures without waiting in a line or having others in my photos. The Selaron steps go further than shown (215 steps overall), but I did not walk to the top of the stairs. When visiting the steps, take notice of the unique ceramic tiles on each side, where you will find over 2,000 titles showing U.S. states, countries, cartoons/tv shows (i.e., The Simpsons), beverage brands (i.e., coca cola), and many more.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Another beautiful and iconic landmark in Rio is Sugarloaf mountain. The mountain’s name derives from its appearance and similarity to a refined loaf of sugar. Sugarloaf mountain provides some of the best views of Rio. Getting to the top of Sugarloaf requires two cable car rides lasting 1-2 minutes each. The first cable car takes passengers to Urca Hill and the second to Sugarloaf mountain. It is easy to spend a lot of time at Urca Hill, so I suggest you arrive early to spend a fair amount of time at both cable car stops. If you get hungry, there are places to sit, eat, and shop at the top. Sugarloaf mountain was one of my favorite sites in Rio because of the spectacular views of Copacabana Beach, Guanabara Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and other landscapes. Sugarloaf mountain is a must visit for any first-time visitor.

View of the entrance of Guanabara bay from Sugarloaf Mountain
View of Copacabana Beach from Sugarloaf Mountain

Copacabana Beach

One of the world’s most famous beaches is Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Although it’s not the longest beach I’ve been to, it is one of my favorites! I particularly liked the water, the good vibes and energy of the people on the beach, and the landscape surrounding its beauty. I could’ve spent hours on this beach enjoying the sun, water, and people-watching. Like most beaches, you’ll see vendors, kids, and adults playing soccer or volleyball, swimming, and walking along Copacabana Beach. Another nice feature is the mosaic sidewalk along the street. The mosaic pattern is the same one you’ll see when visiting any city in Portugal because the Portuguese colonized Brazil from the 16th to the early 19th century when Brazil gained independence.

Rooftop View of Copacabana Beach

I would like to add that I went to the beach alone and felt very safe. Everyone’s experience at Copacabana Beach (or any beach) will vary, but it’s best to use common sense everywhere you travel.

Maracanã Stadium

Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho aka Maracanã Stadium is the largest soccer stadium in Brazil. The stadium is for the four major football (soccer) clubs in Rio de Janeiro: Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo, and Vasco da Gama. Additionally, the stadium has held many international events: the 2016 Summer Olympics, 15 World Cup matches, and 2 World Cup finals.

Christ the Redeemer

One of the new seven wonders of the world, Christ the Redeemer is the fourth largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world and the most recognizable landmark in Rio de Janeiro. Christ the Redeemer stands at 98 feet tall and sits at the top of Mount Covocado overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. Christ the Redeemer can be reached by an authorized city van or cog train. I visited the statue twice and took the cog train each time which took approximately 20 minutes. During my trip, there were times when the cog train lost power but resumed after 10-15 minutes. The cog train is best way up because it allows visitors to view the beauty of the Tijuca Forest. Once you have arrived at the station, you can choose the stairs, elevator, or escalator (if its working) to get to Christ the Redeemer. I took the elevator when it was raining, and the next time I visited, I decided to take the stairs that gave my legs a great workout.

Cog Train

Usually, this is a crowded tourist site but since it rained the first day and drizzled the next day, there were barely any visitors at the statue. This was great for pictures. On the second day, when the drizzle stopped and some clouds moved, I saw views of Rio de Janeiro below that would be nicer on a clear sunny day. Visiting Christ the Redeemer statue can be a hit or miss due to the weather or clouds but do not let that stop you from visiting.

Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian

A uniquely designed circular and cone-shaped cathedral in Rio de Janeiro, the Metropolitan is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. The cathedral’s design was influenced by the Mayan architecture of pyramids and flat tops to symbolize the closeness of the people to God.

Because there is not much to see, my visit to the cathedral was short. However, I enjoyed viewing the beautiful floor-to-ceiling four stained glass walls. Outside of the cathedral, it appears that there is not much to see inside which is accurate. However, there are a few statues on the outside of the cathedral that visitors can view. I missed those during my visit. If you have time or passing by en route to another attraction, the cathedral is worth a quick visit.

Copacabana Palace

Famous for hosting many A-list celebrities (Madonna, Halle Berry, Justin Bieber, etc.), Copacabana Palace is located directly across from Copacabana Beach. The hotel has a stunning large heated outdoor pool, three restaurants, Pérgula, Ristorante Hotel Cipriani, and Mee, that are pricey but worth the experience. If you want to dine at one of their restaurants, you must make reservations ahead of time as no walk-ins are allowed (security will stop you at the entrance to the hotel).

My meal and service at Pérgula were excellent. Also located next to the hotel is a delicious and must-visit gelato shop (vegan options available) called Sorveteria Momo Gelato.

Meal at Pérgula Restaurant: Wild rice aubergine risotto, lentils polpettine

Bonus: Iguazu Falls- Brazilian Side

Even though it is not in Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu falls is a place you must visit when visiting Brazil. Iguazu falls are breathtaking! Pictures do not do this place justice. I can attest that overall, Iguazu falls (both Brazilian and Argentine sides) are the best waterfalls I’ve seen, and I’ve seen plenty. When you arrive at the park, a shuttle bus will take you to the path that leads to different viewing points of the falls. You can get a close-up view of the falls at the end of the bridge (see the picture below). The final viewing point, at the end of the bridge, has the best views where you can see the Argentine side too. Yes, you will get wet, but it is worth it! If you have time, visit the Argentine side as well.

Iguazu Falls Brazilian Side

Other Recommendations

  • Ipanema and Leblon for high end shopping bars, and dining. Both areas are right next to each other. Leblon beach is less crowded than Ipanema and Copacabana. However all beaches are less crowded if you go very early.
  • Sorveteria Momo Gelato for gelato in Rio de Janeiro
  • LF Cafe and Bistro in Rio de Janeiro
  • Visit a Beach Bar/Nightclub! They’re all lined up along Copacabana Beach and can be a lot of fun.
  • Churrascaria (steakhouse) for the meat eaters. From what I saw, you’ll definitely get more than your money’s worth!
  • Try an açaí bowl. They’re delicious and highly addictive!
  • Visit Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. I’m definitely going back for this experience!

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