10 Best Museums and Cultural Centers in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is more famous for its beautiful beaches, beautiful people and beautiful natural landscape than for its museums, but culture vultures heading to this most stunning of cities may be pleasantly surprised by the quantity and quality of museums and cultural spaces in the city.

On rainy days in Rio -  this is a city in the middle of the rainforest, so when it rains it really rains - head to indoor spaces such as the excellent Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, where big name visiting arts exhibitions are housed alongside a well-stocked bookshop and children's library, cinemas and spaces for classical music performances. On sunny days, make the most of the clear skies and soak up Rio's history in stunning Santa Teresa - which can be seen as a giant outdoor museum dedicated to Rio's colonial architecture, and which is in itself home to some lovely galleries such as Parque das Ruinas. 

Soccer fans should make a beeline for the museum at Rio's legendary Maracana stadium, while fans of the visual arts and architecture should be sure to visit Rio Art Museum and the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Contemporary Art Museum over the bay in Niteroi, both of which are as notable for their unique building design as they are for their arts exhibitions. 

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,...  Read More

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...  Read More

The breezy, bohemian hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa is known as the artistic heart of Rio, and once a year the neighborhood's many artists throw open the doors of their studios to the public. Known as Arte de Portas Abertas (Open-Door...  Read More

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...  Read More

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...  Read More

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...  Read More

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...  Read More

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,...  Read More

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...  Read More

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...  Read More


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.