Best Places to Enjoy Al Fresco Eating, Drinking in Rio de Janeiro

The year-round hot (often scorching) sunny weather and spectacular natural landscape make outdoor dining in Rio de Janeiro an extremely enticing option.  And there's no shortage of opportunity to enjoy a bite to eat by the beach or a romantic meal under the stars in Rio. 

The beachfronts of Ipanema and Copacabana are lined with eating opportunities that range from smart bar-restaurants to simple kiosks selling sardines, French fries and bargain caipirinhas, while up in the hills of Santa Teresa diners can enjoy a meal in a magical setting at the tropical gardens of Aprazivel or an informal meal on the leafy patios of Cafecito or Rustico.

Sidewalk tables and chairs offer a chance to people-watch, admire the scenery and enjoy a meal at the same time, and even the most simple of establishments in Rio will usually offer a few outdoor tables - these tend to be hotly contested when the weather is fine (yes, it does rain in Rio, so make the most of sunny days and dry evenings) so arrive early to grab one if you have a specific destination in mind. Otherwise, simply stroll along busy drinking and dining strips such as Rua do Lavradio, downtown, or Rua Dias Ferreira, in Leblon, until you come across somewhere that takes your fancy. 


Somewhat glitzier than your average Santa Teresa hangout, Explorer bar harbours one end of the famous Largo do Guimaraes square, but has a terrace with views overlooking the steep cobbled streets of this picturesque neighborhood. The drinks, like the food menu, aim to reflect the flavors of the world, with good quality imported gins and tequilas as well as the obligatory sugar cane rum for caipirinhas. Food is colorful and inventive - diners can enjoy traditional Brazilian pasteis or Middle Eastern mezze, among the many options, and the plates are good for tapas-style sharing between friends. Regular live music performances keep things lively, and the light-strewn terrace is simply a lovely place to be on a balmy Rio night.

Largo das Neves
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Framed by a pretty whitewashed church and surrounded by laid back bars and restaurants, this neighborhood hangout feels charmingly like a village square despite being mere minutes from Rio city centre. On Friday nights, the square throngs with vendors selling caipirinhas and batidas (surprisingly delicious mixtures of condensed milk with sugar cane rum and fruit or even chocolate), as well as oven-fired pizzas, grilled meat and bowls of hearty soup. Children whizz around the center of the square while their parents relax with drinks, and everybody stays up until the small hours. Occasional live music performances and dance displays turn the square into a prime party location in Santa Teresa, but on an average Friday night it is the perfect place for parents to enjoy a fun, laidback and very inexpensive night out.

For a night out among Rio's fashionable elite, make a beeline for Rua Dias Ferreira, at the heart of upmarket Leblon. This tree-lined street is lined with so many fashionable bars and upscale restaurants that it has become the go-to spot for foodies and socialites visiting Rio, and new eating and drinking spots seem to bloom like wildflowers along this well-maintained street. Cariocas rarely drink without eating, so many of the bars also serve as restaurants, and the culinary offerings are as sophisticated and attractively presented as the privileged location demands.

Ipanema Beach

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.

Bar do Bonde
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Take just a slight detour from Santa Teresa's main tourist trail and you'll find one of the neighborhood's best value bar-restaurants. Located just a few minutes' walk (follow the tram line uphill from the main square at Largo do Guimaraes), this laid-back little bar offers an excellent range of bar snacks and main meals at prices that compare very favorably with those down the hill at Largo do Guimaraes. There's also a decent cocktail list and a seriously well-mixed caipirinha. Saturday nights see live samba, jazz and bossa nova bands draw a sizable crowd of locals - get there before 8pm to grab one of the few sidewalk tables here.

Rua do Lavradio
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Visitors looking for the historic heart of Rio won't find it by the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, but in the heart of downtown Lapa. Rua do Lavradio was one of the first streets to be built in Rio de Janeiro back in the 1770s, and its handsome colonial buildings offer plenty to offer architecture buffs. Fittingly, many of the buildings have been converted into antiques stores, while others now serve as bars and restaurants. On the first Saturday of each month, the street packs with vendors, shoppers and sightseers when the famous Feira do Rio Antigo - an antiques, fashion and arts fair - takes place.

For the ultimate indulgent Rio experience, head to the Pergula, the elegant poolside restaurant at the enduringly elegant Copacabana Palace hotel. Less formal than the hotel's fine dining Italian restaurant, Cipriani. at Pergula you can dine in your (suitanbly stylish) swimwear and sarong. Watch beautiful people splash around in the pool as you sip Champagne cocktails and dine on seafood and light pasta dishes, or head here for the famous breakfasts and brunches, which include salmon and even caviar washed down with a spot of bubbly. The likes of the Obamas, Will Smith and Madonna have all dined here, so keep your eyes peeled for A-listers.

Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

The team behind Santa Teresa's acclaimed Cafecito cafe-bar have expanded into the floor above their much-loved establishment, transforming the leafy courtyard into a dining space that is arelaxed in ambiance and as rustic in decor as the name suggests. The menu takes in some interesting vegetarian options such as a delicious grilled brie and pineapple salad as well as grilled ribs and other meaty favourites. It's hard to go wrong with pizzas from the wood-fired oven, and the light, crispy vegetarian option that skips the cheese and piles on the grilled eggplant, cherry tomatoes and black olives is a refreshingly light way to indulge. Staff are attentive without being pushy, the choice of wines and beers is impressive, and the location at the heart of Santa Teresa can't be beat.

Copacabana Beach
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

There's no danger of going hungry at Copacabana beach. While vendors stroll the sands selling simple snacks and sandwiches, the boardwalk is lined with bars and restaurants that range from cheap and cheerful to seriously sophisticated. Here you can tuck into everything from a plate of fried sardines to smoked salmon washed down with a glass of genuine French Champagne. When it comes to relaxed dining, this is really the way to do it, and the leisurely pace of life here means you can linger as long as you like over your meal and drinks. With some kiosks open into the small hours, this is a great place to start or end a night out.

Located high on a jungle-clad hillside in Santa Teresa, Aprazivel is worth a visit for the views alone. Wisely making the most of the sweeping vistas over downtown Rio, the owners have made al-fresco dining the order of the day, here, with grass-roofed gazebos sitting amid lush tropical gardens visited by toucans and monkeys. At night, the scene is lit by candles and flickering fairy lights which, when combined with the views and the delicious French-Brazilian dishes on the menu, makes this one of the best spots in Rio for a romantic meal. Chef Ana Castilho has combined Brazilian culinary influences with tricks of hte trade learned during her training in France, and the result is a menu of light dishes that add some chic French touches to the wealth of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood available locally.


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.