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.
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 revitalizing bite to eat, and are often filled with the sound of live music after dark.
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.
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.
Surprisingly overlooked by many visitors to Rio, Praia Vermelha is a small curve of coarse sand that sits right at the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain. The mountain-and-ocean backdrop is stunning, and the calm waters are occasionally clean enough for swimming. Once the sun starts to wane, dust the sand from your swimwear and follow the trail that leads around the base of Sugar Loaf itself - it�s a scenic 20-minute stroll that us enlivened further by the sight if monkeys playing in the trees overhead. At the other end of the beach, a bar-restaurant offers decent food and superb views.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.