Experience Rio’s Best
It’s possible to experience a sampling of the best that Rio de Janeiro offers in a week. Rio’s best is not just about sightseeing; it’s about eating, drinking, swimming, samba-ing, adventure sports like hang gliding, and, most important of all, chilling out.
After landing in Rio de Janeiro, go straight to your Zona Sul hotel, stash your bags, lather up with sunscreen, and recover from the long flight with a nap on Ipanema beach. Take refuge from the midday sun at one of the healthy per-kilo restaurants in Ipanema, such as Delírio Tropical or Fellini, and maybe do some boutique browsing.
In the mid-to-late afternoon, take a bus or taxi to Cosme Velho. Check out the art on display at the Museu Internacional de Arte Naïf and take a quick peek at the picturesque neo-colonial houses at the nearby Largo do Boticário before taking the train ride up to Corcovado for a view of Baía de Guanabara as the city lights come on.
Return to your hotel and then head out for a light but creative dinner at Carlota in Leblon. Stop off for a nightcap overlooking the sea at the romantic Bar d’Hotel, where the view will serve as a potent reminder that you really are in Rio.
After breakfast at your hotel, hit the beach. Copacabana beach is lovely in the morning and walking all the way from Pedra do Leme to the Forte de Copacabana is a great workout, not to mention a fine excuse to ogle the diverse parade of humanity that frequents this famous stretch of sand. When you feel the urge, stop for an água de coco (coconut water) or beer at a beach kiosk, or use your hunger as an excuse to check out the glorious Copacabana Palace—its Pérgula restaurant overlooking the pool serves a fabulous breakfast (and weekend brunch).
Those who save their appetite for lunch can hop a bus or cab to Jardim Botânico and indulge in a meal prepared by Roberta Sudbrack, one of Brazil’s most creative chefs, at her eponymous, contemporary restaurant. Next, spend a couple of leisurely hours strolling beneath imperial palms at Jardim Botânico. Have a cafezinho and pastry at the park’s café or walk a few blocks for coffee in the palatial courtyard café of the Escola de Artes Visuias, situated in the verdant Parque Lage. From here, it’s only a shortish walk (or very quick cab ride) to the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and Parque dos Patins, where you can rent a bike and circle the entire lagoon. Once you’ve returned the bike, have a happy-hour drink at Palaphita Kitch, a lagoon-side lounge with an Amazonian ambience (and menu).
After getting in a quick hour of sun on the beach, as long as it’s not the weekend (when downtown is dead) or Monday (when museums are closed), take a bus or Metrô to Cinelândia or Praça XV and spend the morning exploring the historic Centro. Wander the narrow streets around Rua Ouvidor and Arco do Telles, pop into baroque churches, and check out a couple of the scads of museums and cultural centers (top picks include the Paço Imperial, the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, and the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes). Don’t forget to stop for a cafezinho at the belle epoque Confeitaria Colombo and step inside the Theatro Municipal for a guided tour of its opulent interior.
Have lunch at the Bistrô do Paço, and then take the bonde (tram) up to the hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa to visit the Museu Chácara do Céu. Wander the cobblestoned streets and linger in a traditional botequim such as Bar do Mineiro.
Take a bus or cab to Urca. Climb the Pista Claudio Coutinho, a path that winds up towards Pão de Açúcar, and which you can manage without a guide. If you’re feeling ambitious, scale the iconic hump itself, or else settle for taking the cable car to the summit.
Back down on solid land, spend some time chilling on Praia Vermelha before taking a bus or cab to nearby Parque do Flamengo. Have lunch with a view of the Baía de Guanabara at Laguiole, which is located in the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM). After lunch check out the museum’s Brazilian modern and contemporary art. Very close by is the Marina da Glória, from where boat tours of the Baía de Guanabara depart (Marlin Yacht’s sunset tour is highly romantic).
Back on dry land, it’s only a short bus or cab ride to Rua Voluntários da Pátria in Botafogo, lined with art-house cinemas such as Espaço Unibanco de Cinema and Estação Botafogo. If you’re not in the mood to see a film, head straight to Lamas for Brazilian comfort food in a cool setting. Have a nightcap at the alternative club Casa da Matriz, which is also in Botafogo—but you’ll need to take a cab there.
After breakfast, take a bus or taxi to the Rodoviária Novo Rio, where buses depart every 20 minutes to Petrópolis, in the mountains an hour from Rio. Spend the day strolling around the imperial city and visiting attractions such as the Museu Imperial, Catedral de São Pedro de Alcântara, and the Casa de Santos Dumont. Pay homage to Petrópolis’s regal past by treating yourself to lunch or a lavish high tea at the Museu Imperial’s Bistro Petit Palais.
Return to Rio at the end of the day, and head to Copacabana for dinner at a traditional seafood restaurant such as Siri Mole Praia or Shirley. Afterwards, drop by Bip Bip to hear a live samba jam . If you have energy for dancing, hop in a cab to check out Copa’s alternative club scene. Both Bunker 94 and the more recent Fosfobox attract an eclectic crowd.
Since you can’t leave town without having tasted the national dish, for lunch head to Ipanema’s Casa da Feijoada to get your fill of beans and caipirinhas. For dessert, spring for a tropically flavored ice cream at Mil Frutas Café and/or a coffee at Armazém do Café. Hit the boutiques along Ipanema’s Rua Visconde de Pirajá.
In the late afternoon, return to Ipanema beach. Nab a table at Fasano Al Mare in front of Praia do Arpoador and enjoy a cocktail and a seafood dish while you watch the sunset. Afterwards, should you feel like a last-night’s nightcap in Ipanema, ensconce yourself in a sofa at the Fasano Al Mare’s happening bar, Londra.
Since most international flights leave in the early evening, it’s best to spend your last day in relaxation and preparation mode. For a light lunch, head to Leblon for a healthy meal at the Zona Sul’s high temple of comida natural, Celeiro. Reward yourself by indulging in a delicious pastry at Kurt or Talho Capixaba. Afterwards, take some time to wander around Leblon’s pretty streets before heading back to your hotel to depart for the airport.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition