It can be tempting for visitors to Rio de Janeiro to spend all their time spreadeagled on the beach, making the most of the tropical sun and - possibly - recovering from the effects of one too many caipirinhas the night before. Aside from making the obligatory ascents up to the Christ statue and the top of Sugar Loaf mountain, it can be hard to tear oneself away from the sunlounger long enough to see a little of the city's history.
But while the beach zones have plenty of appeal, it would be a shame to visit Rio without taking in a little of its history. The towering condominiums and high rise hotels of Ipanema and Copacabana are not fair representations of the city´s architecture - head downtown to Lapa and into the hills of Santa Teresa to see some fine examples of colonial architecture.
Rua do Lavradio, at the heart of Rio´s Historic Centre, hosts a popular monthly antiques fair — Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
Begin your historical adventure with an early morning Metro to Centro, and treat yourself to breakfast at Confeitara Colombo - one of the oldest eateries in the city, and an opulent reminder of Rio´s Belle Epoque. If time and budget allow, take a seat in the ornate downstairs dining room for a breakfast spread of coffee, fresh juice, cakes, jams and jellies. If time and reais are of the essence, make like the locals and order a quick pastry and an espresso at the front-of-house snack bar.
From here, head to Lapa. Dangerously run-down until recently, this part of Centro is the historic centre of the city, and a walk along Rua do Lavradio, the oldest street in the city, will take you past tall and handsome colonial buildings that today function mainly as bars, restaurants and - fittingly - antiques stores.
First Saturdays a Treat
Should you happen to be here on the first Saturday of any given month, you are in for a treat. The Feira do Rio Antigo is a colorful antiques fair that also takes in arts, crafts and new and vintage fashion, with the street closed to traffic and filled with the sound of live samba and chattering shoppers.
While in Lapa, don´t miss a visit to the Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Arches), a giant aqueduct that once carried water down from the mountains to Centro and, latterly, ferried the last of the Rio trams up to Santa Teresa. (Note that the tram has been out of service following an accident in 2011, but is expected to be running again ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup).
A word to the wise: be safety-conscious around the arches, keeping cameras well-hidden, as despite a major investment in security, the area continues to be a favorite haunt for pickpockets.
From the arches you can grab a cab up to Santa Teresa, or walk down to Rua Gomes Freire to jump on a bus (006 or 007) up to this scenic historic neighborhood. Should you have the energy, it is a steep climb that will take around 30 minutes.
The hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa is packed with beautiful historic buildings — Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
Santa Teresa is known as the artistic heart of Rio, and the cobbled streets of this most bucolic of neighborhoods are a pleasure to explore. Start at Largo do Guimaraes - the busy square at the heart of the neighborhood - and enjoy an iced coffee at Cafecito before taking a wander around the area. Highlights include Parque das Ruinas - a small, well-maintained park housing the refurbished ruins of a former mansion home. Entry is free and the views from the top of the building are terrific.
As the day turns into night, make a beeline for Bar do Mineiro - one of the liveliest spots for drinking and dining in Santa Teresa.