Best Attractions near the Cruise Port in Rio de Janeiro

Top Attractions to Enjoy near Rio de Janeiro's Cruise Port

Visitors planning to visit Rio de Janeiro by cruise ship are often disappointed to learn that their vessels will not be docking close to the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, but instead in a rather less celebrated district of downtown.

Things are looking up for the area though -  although Rio de Janeiro's docklands were left neglected in recent decades, they are currently the focus of a major regeneration project by the city council, and the gentrification of the area is well underway.

The opening of Rio Art Museum (Museu de Arte do Rio, or MAR) in 2013 was overseen by Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff and is being followed by a steady stream of new cultural centers, bars and restaurants as the area is spruced up for the 2016 Rio Olympics.  

Close by, Cidade da Samba (Samba City) is a purpose-built venue offering visitors the chance to see colorful samba parades year-round. A quick cab ride will take you to Centro, the business heart of the city, and to Lapa, where it is possible to see some of Rio's oldest buildings, as well as to appreciate the colorful Escadaria Selaron (also known as the 'Lapa Steps') and the iconic Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Aqueduct). From here, it is a quick bus ride or steep climb on foot to Santa Teresa, a breezily beautiful hilltop neighborhood whose historic bars - such as the inviting Bar do Gomes - are tourist attractions in their own rights.  


Tijuca National Park
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

The largest stretch of urban jungle in the world, Tijuca National Park is home to Corcovado mountain and the Christ statue as well as being the setting for some serious outdoor pursuits. While it isn't safe to enter the jungle without a knowledgeable guide - not least because getting lost would be all too easy - you can take your pick from a range of guides and tour operators running everything from hop-on, hop-off sightseeing drives to mountain-climbing adventures. Natural pools and waterfalls provide an opportunity to cool down, but be sure to bring plenty of drinking water as the temperatures can get seriously sticky.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: The Santa Teresa entrance to the park is a quick cab ride from the cruise port and offers spectacular views.

Lucy's expert tip: Slather on the insect repellent, and wear loose, comfortable clothes that cover the body as much as possible - there are lots of biting insects here.

Read more about Tijuca National Park →

Be sure to set aside time in your schedule to visit this unique, grand-scale artwork in downtown. Named after the Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who dedicated the last decades of his life to tirelessly working on this 'tribute to the Brazilian people', the Escadaria Selaron (often referred to as the 'Lapa Steps') is a long, steep stairwell linking the bohemian neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa, covered in brightly-hued and intricately-patterned tiles from across the world. These tiles are interspersed with distinctive artworks from Selaron himself - look out for the pregnant woman motif that appears in almost all his works - and was an ongoing, ever-evolving labour of love for the artist until he was killed at his home by the stairs, in early 2013. The stairwell makes a great photo opportunity, and has appeared in music videos from Snoop Dogg and Pharell, as well as the Black Eyed Peas.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: This is a truly unique artwork, and makes for great photo opportunities.

Lucy's expert tip: Street drinks stands make this a lively place to enjoy a caipirinha on weekend evenings, but be sure to go with a local as the surrounding area is a little seedy

Read more about Escadaria Selaron (Lapa Steps) →

Along with the beaches, the Christ statue and Sugar Loaf mountain, another postcard-perfect image of Rio are the mammoth white arches that stand in city's historic center. At night, revelers gather below the arches as a huge street party unfurls - head here on a Friday night to see Rio's party spirit at its liveliest. The area around the arches is taken over by hundreds of stalls selling all manner of tempting treats to eat and drink, from fresh-baked pizzas and beers to Northeastern acaraje and fruity-but-potent cocktails. Surrounded by bars and clubs pumping out everything from hip hop and favela funk to samba and pagode, the Arcos da Lapa are the starting point for many a memorable night out in Rio.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: The vast arches are an icon of bohemian Rio and a lively gathering point at night.

Lucy's expert tip: Keep valuables well hidden and snap pictures quickly - while safety in Lapa has improved in recent years, it is still a favorite spot for petty thieves.

Read more about Arcos da Lapa →


This Santa Teresa bar-restaurant was opened by a family of Spanish settlers in Brazil in 1919, when it doubled as a grocery store. The official name, Armazem Sao Thiago references this, but for decades this most inviting of watering holes has been affectionately known as Bar do Gomez in honor of the affable owner. Visually, little has changed here over the years, and it maintains a historic charm that makes it one of the best-loved botecos (bar-restaurants) in Rio. Along with an extensive list of bar snacks and nibbles, there are some good sandwiches and main meals on offer - including hearty plates of grilled meat with salad, rice, beans and fries. Wash it down with a cold draught beer or one of the 60 types of cachaca on offer.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: This is one of oldest and best-loved bars in Rio.

Lucy's expert tip: Head here on a Friday evening for a chance to meet friendly locals and long-stay visitors, before heading down to the lively nightlife of Lapa.

Read more about Bar do Gomez (Armazem Sao Thiago) →

Santa Teresa
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

There's more to Rio de Janeiro than its beaches, and the artistic heart of the city can be found up in the jungle-clad hills of Santa Teresa. Here, pastel-colored colonial mansions have been converted into bucolic bars, friendly guest houses, artists' studios and some of the best restaurants in Rio, and the lofty location makes for some terrific views over the city. Start your visit to Santa Teresa at Largo do Guimaraes, the busy square at the start of the city, and follow the steep cobbled streets to discover vintage clothes stores, bustling drinking dens and some of the friendliest locals in the city.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: Santa Teresa is home to Rio's most impressive colonial architecture.

Lucy's expert tip: Head to Santa Teresa on a sunny Sunday afternoon to catch craft fairs, street samba and a welcome change from the packed beaches of the Zona Sul.

Read more about Santa Teresa →


Rio de Janeiro is a spectacularly beautiful city, and visitors arriving in Rio by cruise ship will be wide-eyed with wonder as they take in sweeping vistas of mountains jungles and beaches. The cruise port itself is currently less than spectacular, but is at the center of a major regeneration project and the gentrification of the area is well underway. There are plans for a brand new port building, but for the time being, cruise ships dock at a colonial era whitewashed building in the city's port zone. While not a major tourist attraction in its own right, the cruise port is a pleasant place to dock, and there are a wealth of visitor attractions within reasonable distance of the cruise port.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: The cruise port is at the heart of a major regeneration project in Rio de Janeiro

Lucy's expert tip: Avoid wandering around the area surrounding the cruise port, especially after dark.

Read more about Cruise Port →

Rio Carnival is a once-a-year spectacular, but visitors can experience the glitz and glamour of the carnival parades year-round at this space dedicated to all things samba. The intricate carnival floats, spangly costumes and fleet-footed samba dancers are all present and correct, and spectators can also enjoy live samba music and traditional Brazilian food and drink. The vast space is divided into separate tents for each of the major Rio samba schools, and also hosts regular nocturnal dance events with live bands and DJs - the main musical motif being, naturally, samba. You don't need to be as snake-hipped as the locals to try a few samba moves, either. As a foreigner, any attempt you make at perfecting the Brazilian national dance will be met with good humor.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: This is the place to enjoy a little Carnival magic all year round.

Lucy's expert tip: Take taxis to and from the venue. It is located in an 'up and coming' area of downtown Rio, close to the docks, which remains a little unsafe

Read more about Cidade do Samba →

For a taste of Rio's Belle Epoque past, head to this historic cafe-restaurant in downtown Rio. Ornate chandeliers and jacaranda wood mirrors make an elegant setting for breakfasts, brunches and afternoon teas, and this is the ideal place to take the weight of your feet and soak up the opulence of the place during a Centro shopping or sightseeing spree. Far more than just a place to refuel, this is a tourist attraction in its own right.Take the time to linger over a lavish afternoon tea, or a hearty breakfast, depending on the time of day that you visit this Rio institution.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: This beautiful restaurant offers a glimpse of Rio's elegant past.

Lucy's expert tip: There's formal dining upstairs, a leafy garden outside, and a takeaway counter for picking up pastries and sandwiches on the hoof.

Read more about Confeitaria Colombo →

This impressive domed building in the heart of Rio's downtown 'cultural quarter' was formerly the headquarters of the Bank of Brasil, and today is an arts center hosting visiting exhibitions from big name international artists. There are regular classical music and live theater performances, as well as cinema screenings and a program of children's events on Saturdays - including free film screenings and arts workshops. More than just a rainy day option, CCBB (as the center is commonly known in Rio) is a must-visit for culturally-minded visitors to Rio. The building itself is noteworthy, and there's a cafe serving good coffee, sandwiches and more elaborate lunches.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: CCBB hosts big name art exhibitions and events in a grand old building.

Lucy's expert tip: While many Rio museums close on Mondays, CCBB closes on Tuesdays.

Read more about Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil →

Museu de Arte do Rio
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

When this impressive art museum opened its doors in early 2013, it marked a turning point in the ongoing regeneration of Rio's downtown port zone. This once-neglected part of the city is set to become a major arts and nightlife destination over the coming years,and the Museum de Arte do Rio - a space dedicated almost entirely to artworks celebrating the city itself - makes a great center piece for the area. The building itself is eye-catching, with a giant 'wave' structure joining a handsomely refurbished colonial building with a modern construction that began life as a parking lot, but has been transformed into the perfect neutral space for showcasing both modern and historical art works.

Recommended for Attractions near Cruise Port because: This is an impressive gallery that highlights the sheer volume of art that Rio has inspired.

Lucy's expert tip: Budget travelers should head here on a Tuesday, when the R$8 entrance fee is waived.

Read more about Museu de Arte do Rio →


Meet Lucy Bryson

Lucy is a British freelance writer living in Rio de Janeiro since 2007. While there are some things she misses about her home country, the lure of year-round sunshine has proved too powerful to resist.