In addition to numerous beaches, Rio is also blessed with a variety of parks. On the waterfront near Centro there's Flamengo Park, a good place to stroll in the late afternoon if you're looking for a nice view of the Sugarloaf.

Just past the northern edge of downtown, the Quinta da Boa Vista, the royal family's former country residence, sits on Avenida Bartolomeu de Gusmã, just a short walk from the Sao Cristóvão Metrô stop. It's as delightful now as it was when the royal princesses scampered round the villa gardens. Designed in the Romantic style, the Quinta da Boa Vista has all the tricks of the gardener's trade: tree-lined dells, small ponds and waterfalls, a grotto, a lookout, even a temple of Apollo. The park is also home to the city zoo and the national museum. Open daily from 7am to 6pm.

Closer to the city core lies the Campo de Santana, opposite the Central Metrô stop on Avenida Presidente Vargas. A pretty, formal park, its fence and four iron gates protect 50 species of trees, four ponds, and a grotto. The fence also encloses numerous agoutis (a bizarre-looking mini-capybara), ducks, peacocks, and marmosets, as well as a large collection of stray cats. Open daily from 7am to 7pm.

Last and best, the Parque Nacional da Tijuca (Tijuca National Park) is a wonder. At more than 3,360 hectares (8,300 acres) it's the biggest urban forest in the world and one of the last remnants of Atlantic rainforest on Brazil's southern coast. It's a great place to go for a hike, splash in a waterfall, or admire the view. Among its more special points are the Pico de Tijuca, the Vista Chinesa, and the Pedra da Gávea.

Squares & Plazas

What's the difference between a largo and a praça? Simple, although not really. A praça is a city square, and a largo is, well, also a city square except a largo is always bigger than a praça, except -- like with the Largo de Boticario -- when it isn't.

Tucked away just a few hundred meters uphill along Rua Cosme Velho from the Corcovado Train Station is one of Rio's prettiest squares, the Largo de Boticario. It's a gem of a spot, with five gaily painted colonial houses encircling a fountain in the middle of a flagstone square. Mature fig trees overhead make for abundant shade, while traffic noise seems completely drowned out by the soft gurgling of the Rio Carioca (from which residents of Rio derive their nickname) taking its last few breaths of air before disappearing forever beneath the city streets. It's well worth the 5-minute detour if you're going to the Corcovado anyway.

The best way to arrive in Praça XV de Novembro is by sea -- if not on a sailing ship from Portugal then a ferry from Niterói will do the trick. Rio's most important square, Praça XV is also its most abused. Earlier generations of city planners ran six lanes of traffic in front of it, a freeway over the top of it, then knocked down most of the old structures used to frame the space, and erected 20-story glass blocks. Still, some of the old charm shines through (and six lanes of traffic have been sunk in an underground tunnel, which helps). To your right as you arrive, beyond a statue of Dom João VI on a horse, is the Chafariz do Mestre Valentim, an ornate fountain that marks Rio's former coastline.

The Largo de São Francisco de Paula in Rio's old shopping district is well worth a visit. There's an outdoor market on one side of the square, and on the other the huge baroque-style Igreja de São Francisco de Paula.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.