Most people are lured to Rio de Janeiro by the siren calls of sun, sea, samba and spectacular views. But the city also has a great deal to offer those with an interest in history and architecture.
While the casual visitor could be forgiven for thinking that Rio is all about high-rise beach hotels, sprawling slums and towering office blocks, a quick visit to the historic center casts a new light on a city better known for its natural beauties than its architectural ones.
Aside from the enduringly grand Copacabana Palace hotel, there is little of much architectural interest to be found along Rio de Janeiro's beachfront, making it necessary to sacrifice a little tanning time in order to appreciate the city's many fine old buildings.
Santa Teresa is home to stunning historical buildings such as this fairytale-esque castle. — Photo courtesy of Rogerio Zgiet
Even a passing interest in history or architecture should be enough to make a visit to Lapa worthwhile. Head for the bucolic Rua do Lavradio, the oldest street in the city, whose grand old town houses today function as antique stores, bars and restaurants.
It's just a few minutes' walk to the towering Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Aqueduct), which has become a symbol of Rio's bohemian heart. The whitewashed arches - which once transported water from the mountains to the citizens of Rio - latterlu served as a bridge over which the famous bonde (street car) traveled from Centro up to the hills of Santa Teresa.
The bonde is currently out of action while repair works are carried out to the tracks (A scheduled completion date ahead of the 2014 FIFA Olympics is looking unlikely.), but a trip to Santa Teresa is still an essential part of any cultural visit to Rio.
Take a bus or cab up the steep cobbled hills, and you'll find yourself in a neighborhood that feels worlds apart from the crowded streets of Centro and Lapa. Hop out at Largo do Guimaraes, the neighborhood's focal point that feels for all the world like a busy village square. From here, a stroll in any direction will take you past grand colonial-era mansion houses that today operate as guest houses, restaurants and artists' studios.
Considered the artistic heart of Rio de Janeiro, this bohemian enclave is the haunt of musicians, actors and others attracted by its unique atmosphere. Often referred to as the 'Montmartre of the Tropics' due to its similarities with the famously artistic Parisian hilltop neighborhood, Santa Teresa is home to the finest historic buildings in Rio, as well as a wealth of inviting bars, restaurants, vintage clothing stores and arts shops.