Say "Rio" and mental images explode: sparkling costumes of Carnaval; the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer, arms outspread; white-sand beaches crowded with fit women in minuscule bikinis; the granite grandeur of the Sugarloaf; and sultry samba rhythms. Fortunately, there's much beyond the festive glitter and grimy favelas (shanty towns): historic neighborhoods, compelling architecture, exhilarating nature and, above all, the passionate, welcoming Cariocas who make this a truly cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city).
Things to Do
Rio's scenery of lush green mountains plunging down to the Atlantic is pure drama. Survey Rio's immensity from the monolithic Sugar Loaf Mountain and the mighty Christ the Redeemer statue crowning Mount Corcovado. Try a different beach every day -- from white-sand Arpoador, famous for surf and sunsets, to people-watching Ipanema and Copacabana. A futuristic swirl on the landscape, Niterói Contemporary Art Museum showcases contemporary Brazilian art. Sneak away to Cascatinha Waterfall in the forested Tijuca National Park. Rio's sights are spread out, so plan carefully.
Cariocas are image-mad. Work your look shopping for dazzling Carnaval costumes in Saara, and hot Brazilian styles and itsy-bitsy bikinis in Ipanema. For more glitz, accessorize with quartz and topaz from Copacabana's exclusive jewelry shops. The Fashion Mall in São Conrado is a one-stop-shop for Brazilian high-street stores and designers. On the weekends, locals descend on Feira de São Cristóvão market to dance to northeastern rhythms and shop for leatherwork, pottery and specialties like chili peppers and cachaça (sugarcane liqueur).
Nightlife and Entertainment
There's always a reason to celebrate in Rio. In festive Lapa and the Centro, you'll find street parties, open-air bars, and clubs wiggling to samba and choro. For northeastern rhythms like forró, there's Casa Rosa in Laranjeiras. Swing your hips at the free summertime concerts on Copacabana beach and at the rehearsal of a samba school (such as Vila Isabel or Mangueira) before Carnaval. The opulent Parisian-style Theatro Municipal stages first-rate opera and ballet.
Restaurants and Dining
Rio's cuisine has as many origins as its people. Dine on world cuisines from Italy to Japan in Zona Sul. Bohemian Santa Catarina tempts with German food and Brazilian favorites like feijoada (meat and bean stew) and moqueca (seafood stew). Business people on the run enjoy sandwiches and exotic juices at casas de suco in Centro and snack on sardines in Beco das Sardinhas. Nibble on finger-food and crepes in bar-lined Lapa and join hungry revelers at Copacabana's late-night Cervantes for classic delectable ham and pineapple sandwiches.