Best Sightseeing in Rio de Janeiro

10 Spectacular Sights to See in Rio de Janeiro

Don't be ashamed to follow the tourist trail in Rio de Janeiro. Sights such as the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana should be at the top of any sun lover´s itinerary, while the legendary Christ Statue (officially one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World) and the towering form of Sugar Loaf are equally unmissable.

It is worth making the most of sunny days to tick off these must-sees, as the views are at their photogenic best in the sparkling sunshine. 

Once you´ve seen the biggest of the sights, it´s time to check out some of Rio´s slightly less famous charms. Firstly, head up into the hills of Santa Teresa, where you will find steep cobbed streets, envy-inspiring colonial mansions and a wealth of bohemian bars and restaurants. 

On hot days, the lovely Botanical Gardens offer much needed shade and a little respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, while nearby Parque Lage is home to a historic building with a backdrop so stunning that it has featured in videos from the likes of Snoop Dogg and the Black Eyed Peas.

Meanwhile, adventure seekers and nature lovers can find any number of outdoor activities in the vast Tijuca National Park - the largest swathe of urban jungle in the world - but be sure to go with a guide as it is all to easy to get lost. 


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.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Rio's Botanical Gardens offer a chance to see native flora and fauna in a tranquil setting.

Lucy's expert tip: Bring a picnic if you're on a budget - there are several cafes within the park, but they are predictably pricey.

Read more about Botanical Gardens →

Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Lagao Rodrigues de Freitas, or Lagoa as it is popularly known, is Rio's beautiful city lake and yet another postcard perfect scene in this city of so many natural wonders. The vast stretch of water is flanked by jungle-clad, cloud-swathed mountains, and ringed by a seven-kilometer walking, running and cycling track that is a major draw for health-conscious locals. Tourists flock to take swan pedal boats out into the water, and this is a great place for a family day out. Cafes, bars and restaurants around the lake make pleasant places of a cooling drink and a revitalising bite to eat, and are often filled with the sound of live music after dark.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Rio's mountain-flanked city lake is another of the city's postcard-perfect spots.

Lucy's expert tip: Head here at Christmas to see an absolutely enormous artificial Christmas tree - lit with millions of twinkling stars - right in the middle of the lake.

Read more about Lagoa →

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 Sightseeing because: This colorful stairway is an icon of bohemian Rio and makes for terrific photos.

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) →

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.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Maracana is a legend among soccer stadiums, take a tour here or soak up the atmosphere at a game.

Lucy's expert tip: Don't wear club colors here on match days, the rivalry between Brazilian teams is fierce to say the least.

Read more about Maracana Stadium →

While Copacabana wins out as the most picture-perfect city beach in Rio, Ipanema is easily the more chic of the two neighboring stretches of sand. Less flanked by high rise hotels than its neighbor, Ipanema is the ideal place to while away the hours just working on that tan and watching the beautiful people glide by. There are scores of kiosks selling tempting food and drink, too. The towering twin peaks of the Dois Irmaos (two brothers) mountains frames the beach scene in spectacular fashion, and visitors will find the beach informally divided into social groups. Head to Posto Nove (Lifeguard post 9) for a young, hip crowd, or look for the giant rainbow flag if you're looking for gay-friendly sunbathing and socializing.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Beautiful views and beautiful people abound at this legendary beach.

Lucy's expert tip: Rio's beaches are its social spaces - don't be afraid to try out your Portuguese if somebody catches your eye on the beach, just make sure they're not already accompanied before you try out your lines!

Read more about Ipanema Beach →

Copacabana Beach
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Copacabana beach is famous the world over, and while it's 1950s glamorous heyday is over, it is still a spectacular stretch of sand. The crashing waves, scantically-clad beachgoers and skilled beach soccer players all call the eye, while the vision of Sugar Loaf mountain in the background frames the scene perfectly. This is one of the best places in Rio to shop for keepsakes and gifts for friends and family back home - and you can do it all from the comfort of a beachfront bar. Vendors stroll along the beachfront, selling all manner of goods from replica christ statues (scaled down, of course) to hats, t-shirts and sarongs.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Copacabana Beach is arguably the most famous stretch of sand in the world.

Lucy's expert tip: Give a polite but firm shake of the head to the many beach vendors if you don't want to buy their wares - some can be pushy if they think there's a chance of a sale.

Read more about Copacabana Beach →

Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar)
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

One of the most famous mountain peaks in the world, Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar in Portuguese) scarcely needs an introduction. But while you may be familiar with the tourist board images of the cable car making its dizzying ascent up to the top of the mountain, nothing can prepare you for the spectacular views and the true splendor of Rio's cityscape as it unfurls below. The cable car makes two stops - calling first at Morro da Urca, Sugar Loaf's smaller sister mountain, before continuing its journey to the lofty vantage point. Sugar Loaf juts right out of the Atlantic Ocean, and the sweeping vistas of white sand beaches, jungle-clad mountains and crashing waves will take your breath away.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The cable car ride up Sugar Loaf mountain offers stunning views over Rio.

Lucy's expert tip: Try to time your visit to catch sunset from the top of the mountain. Sipping a caipirinha while the pumpkin sun descends over the city is an unforgettable experience.

Read more about Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar) →

Along with the Christ Statue and the beaches, one of the most emblematic images of Rio de Janeiro is the bright yellow bonde - or tram - rattling over the Lapa Aqueduct and through the cobbled streets of Santa Teresa. Out of action for several years following a serious accident in 2011, the trams are now back in business, with improved safety features (no more free rides for those brave enough to stand on the running boards for the duration of the journey) and more modern trams. The journey remains as much of a thrill as ever, departing from downtown to clatter over the whitewashed Lapa Arches, taking in amazing views of Centro before making the steep climb up into the historic hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Riding the Santa Teresa tram is an unforgettable experience, and an energy-saving way to climb the street cobbled streets.

Lucy's expert tip: The best place for first-timers to jump off the bonde is at Largo do GuimarĂ£es - Santa Teresa's main square. The tram rattles along for an additional stretch, but this is the heart of the action in the neighborhood.

Read more about Bonde de Santa Teresa (Santa Teresa Tram) →

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.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: This under-the-radar attraction has gorgeous views and makes for great photographs

Lucy's expert tip: Take some time to wander around the park - it throws up a few surprises in the form of caves and other curiosities

Read more about Parque Lage →

No trip to Rio would be complete without a trip to see 'the Big Guy', and the views from the feet of this most iconic of statues are truly breathtaking. One of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, the 'Christo Redentor' stands tall atop Corcovado, or 'hunchback' mountain - the highest peak in this city of rugged mountains. While minibus trips run up to the statue, the best way to make the ascent is to ride the funicular railway. As the little red train climbs through the jungle-clad hills, leaving sweeping vistas in its wake, it's not uncommon for live samba bands to entertain passengers onboard.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Rio's World Famous Christ Statue is officially one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

Lucy's expert tip: While there are walking trails up to the Christ Statue, it is not safe to walk up unless you are with a group and an experienced guide

Read more about Christ the Redeemer and Corcovado Mountain →


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.