HomeBrazilRio de Janeiro: 10 Essential Activities for Your First Visit

Rio de Janeiro: 10 Essential Activities for Your First Visit

Ahh, Brazil… we love the beaches, the tanned inhabitants, the icy cold cocktails. This summer, after spending two weeks in the Amazon rainforest, I had the chance to visit Rio de Janeiro in all its glory! No, it wasn’t for the Olympics. Ironically, I arrived a day after the closing ceremony! I told myself (or rather my Carioca friends had convinced me) that Rio de Janeiro was a must-see in Brazil. Here are my ten highlights from this Latin American jewel.

The 10 Essential Activities to Do in Rio de Janeiro

1. Eat without breaking the bank!

I must admit that I still miss tapioca pancakes and classic black bean and rice chicken platters for the equivalent of $2 to $6 CAD. Forget fancy restaurants and favour mini-restaurants that look like a convenience store/sports bar on football nights. Yes, you’ll be sitting cross-legged and often right in the middle of the sidewalk, but YUM! Your wallet will say thank you! Afterwards, please take advantage of eating as much tapioca flour as you can because, unfortunately, you shouldn’t bring it through customs as a souvenir. It looks like a big bag of cocaine… no joke!

Check out all the recommendations for the best budget food in Rio de Janeiro on TripAdvisor.

2. Visit the favelas recommended in the official brochure

Favela - Quoi faire à Rio de Janeiro : 10 incontournables pour une première visite - Nomad Junkies
Photo @nomadic_nyny

Well, I can imagine you already starting to worry from the moment you read the word favela (which means Brazilian slum). I won’t hide from you that these are the poorest areas of Rio de Janeiro where the crime rates are the highest, BUT they don’t all have this reputation today. Just go to a tourist information office (there are many all over the city) and ask for the famous brochure! You can even join a guided tour of the favelas if you prefer someone to accompany you.

You might also like: 10 safety tips for solo travellers in Latin America

3. Go out dancing in Lapa

For the best nightlife in Rio de Janeiro, Lapa is THE place to go out! Here we feel an omnipresent wave of tourists, but we will also meet an equally impressive amount of localsMy Brazilian friends recommended this neighbourhood to me because that’s where they went out the most to drink, eat and dance! I still advise you to go there on a Friday or Saturday, because it’s like here in the sense that people work during the week! 😉

4. Relax on Ipanema Beach

Have you ever heard of it? Personally, I hadn’t! Not before getting good advice. Everyone knows Copacabana Beach, but I will l fill you in on the big secret: Ipanema beach is SO most beautiful, especially at sunset!

5.  Climb the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf)

Sugarloaf - Quoi faire à Rio de Janeiro : 10 incontournables pour une première visite - Nomad Junkies
Photo @nomadic_nyny

Well, I know, going up to the summit of Sugarloaf is super cliché, but when you are there, you are entitled to nothing less than a 360-degree view of Rio!! That’s all; that’s my only argument! Haha, no, that’s not true! You have to drink a caipirinha at the top! It’s only $9 CAD, which isn’t much if you compare it to New York prices, $20 USD for a drink with a view! 😉 And make sure to do the ascent on foot as you will meet lots of monkeys (even more than in the botanical garden). That’s saying something!

6. Learn bare minimum Portuguese!

We can’t stress this enough: Learn a few basic words before you visit a new country, out of respect for the local culture and to help you to interact more in the environment! A portable dictionary (or Google Translate) is your new best friend!

We recommend the Ulysses phrasebook: Brazilian for better travel.


I will say this to you frankly: if you went to Brazil without tasting REAL caipirinhas, you committed a crime! Go back! Enjoy it while you’re there because the bottle of cachaça (the sugar cane alcohol that is the basis of the drink) is super expensive to buy back home! I will not add anything else; it is something you learn as you live! Friendly advice: don’t say “cheers” anymore, say “CAÏPIRINHAAAA”!!

8. Find the hidden beaches (near Pão de Açúcar)

Red Beach - Quoi faire à Rio de Janeiro : 10 incontournables pour une première visite - Nomad Junkies
Photo @nomadic_nyny

Once at the top of Pão de Açúcar, you will see plenty of beaches all around. What could be better than going hunting for hidden beaches once you get back down? If you don’t want to worry too much, the beach just below Pão de Açúcar (Praia Vermelha or Red Beach) is not very touristy, and it feels like you’re in Asia!

9. Take a walk in the botanical garden

Well, I admit it: I have never gone crazy for the Montreal Botanical Garden, but the same concept is always more exotic elsewhere…. and with good reason! When I arrived in Rio, I had just spent two weeks in the Amazon rainforest and sadly did not see any monkeys there… IN TWO WHOLE WEEKS!!! (We will talk about the effects of deforestation in another article.) The good news is that if you want to guarantee you’ll see monkeys, you can go to the botanical garden of Rio de Janeiro. It’s worth your trip for the monkeys and the trees that are six times your width!

10. Have a drink on the roof of a hotel in Copacabana

As far as I’m concerned, this is the best way to end a trip to Brazil: with a caipirinha in hand. The view of Rio at night, with the sea in front of you… WOW! And you know what’s even more wow? Several hotels organize rooftop parties with DJs!

Are you looking for inexpensive accommodation in Rio de Janeiro? Find the best prices on Agoda.


If you are ever game (especially if you have the budget), you can fly over the city in a hang-glider and land on Copacabana beach! So fun!

Ate logo (“see you soon,” in Portuguese)!

To learn more about Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, we suggest the Lonely Planet Brazil Guide or the Lonely Planet Rio de Janeiro Guide.

What Rio de Janeiro essential appeals to you the most? What other corners of South America would you like us to take you to?

This article was originally published in French and adapted in English by Britney Claveau.

Fanny Beaulieu-Cormier
Fanny Beaulieu-Cormierhttps://www.pathwhite.com
Voyager est avant tout un état d'esprit. En voyage, on s'apprivoise... on devient qui l'on est et ça, il n'y a rien de plus précieux dans la vie. Le besoin de découvrir et de m'accomplir sont primordiaux et tous mes choix de vie vont en ce sens! Saute et le filet va apparaître!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular