10 Best Cultural Spots for Families Visiting Rio de Janeiro



Rio de Janeiro is better known as a party spot than a family holiday destination, but in fact the city has a huge amount to offer travelers with children. And while there's lots of outdoorsy fun to be pursued here, the family-friendly activities extend to rainy day options too. 

Rio harbors a wealth of museums, galleries and cultural spaces, and many of these will appeal to children and teenagers just as much as they appeal to parents.

They may lie a little way from the beaches, but many of the best spots are well worth taking a metro or cab ride to.  One standout is Parque das Ruinas, in Santa Teresa, which offers spectacular views as well as a small play park and regular free events such as puppet shows and children's theater.  Santa Teresa can itself be seen as a giant open air museum, as its old cobbled streets are lined with fine examples of colonial architecture. Families should also check out the impressive Catete Palace, a quick metro ride from Copacabana and Ipanema. The former presidential residence is grand enough in itself, but it's the lovely gardens and great playground that make it a real hit with kids. 

Another top destination for families is the MAC Modern Art Museum in Niteroi - kids will love the ferry ride across the bay almost as much as the flying-saucer design of the museum itself. 



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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.


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Maracana Stadium
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

 

The mighty Maracana is arguably the world's most famous soccer stadium and, while it is no longer the largest in the world, its 78,000 capacity means it is still a giant among sports arenas. The stadium, whose official title is Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho, is known by the Maracana neighborhood in which it is located, and the drama on the pitch is matched by the dramatic backdrop of towering mountains. While new safety regulations have called for an end to the firecrackers that were once a part of the Brazilian soccer game experience, spectators can still expect frenetic drumming, chanting and general exuberance. For those lucky enough to be in Rio for the FIFA World Cup 2014 games here will doubtless be unforgettable.


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This beautiful park, located right next door to Rio de Janeiro--s famous Botanical Gardens, is largely overlooked by tourists. More fool them, as the park is home to one of the most spectacular builldings in the city, framed by the figure of Chriar the Redeemer atop his mountain perch. This building is currently home to an art school, and there are regular exhibitions, and is also the location for a coffee shop and restaurant that make great options for a leisurely brunch. The park may be recognisable to hip hop fans - it appears in the video for --Beautiful--, by Snoop Dogg and Pharell.


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Botanical Gardens
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

 

The informal restaurant inside the leafy gardens that give Jardim Botanico its name is one of the most pleasant spots in the city to enjoy a sandwich, salad and a coffee or glass of wine. This shady botanical garden is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in the fascinating flora and fauna of Rio as well as those just looking for a shady retreat from the sticky heat of the city streets. Colorful butterflies flutter through some 6,500 species of vegetation, while chattering marmoset monkeys play overhead. The sprawling gardens are spread over some 55 acres, with trails leading from one point of interest to another. It is perfectly possible to spend an entire day in this scenic park, so head here early in the morning to make the most of all there is to see here.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Designed by the late, legendary modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, this space-age modern art museum provides a compelling reason to make the half-hour ferry trip across Guanabara Bay to Niteroi. Resembling a giant white flying saucer that seems to jut right out of the mountainside, the building is reason enough to visit and offers spectacular panoramic views across Rio de Janeiro. The exhibitions themselves are often less than spectacular, but the kooky construction is sure to impress kids, as well as adults with even a passing interest in modernist architecture. There's a decent cafe, and entrance to the museum is free on Wednesdays.


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The former mansion home of 20th Century Rio socialite Laurinda Santos Lobo have been transformed from mere ruins to one of the best free cultural spaces in the city. The building combines 20th century grandeur with modern clean lines, sheer glass and steel, and those brave enough to climb the steep stairs to the very top are rewarded with breathtaking 360 views across Rio. There's a pleasant cafe, a small children's play park, and a stage that plays host to theater and dance events. Regular kids shows such as circuses and puppet theater make this a winning option for families visiting Rio.


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This grand building was a Royal residence until the late 19th Century, when it became a presidential building following the overthrowing of the monarchy. It remained a presidential home until the 1950s, when then President Getulio Vargas, knowing that his days in office were numbered, took his own life. The president's blood-stained pyjamas remain on display in his perfectly preserved bedroom, which is sure to impress those with a taste for the macabre. Elsewhere, the ornate floors and ceilings are impressive, and the building itself is an architecturally interesting mix of European styles, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the team that built it.


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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.

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