If you like your cities with white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and verdant mountains— with a few skyscrapers and wild festivals thrown in — Rio de Janeiro is your Nirvana. It's easy to see why Brazilians call Rio the Marvelous City. Spend a few days in town and the term will seem like an understatement.
Lapped by the Atlantic Ocean and sheltered by the many islands of Guanabara Bay, Rio is famous for its vibrant melting-pot culture and suntanned, beach-lounging inhabitants. The city has so many pristine beaches (45 miles of them!) that even the most dedicated traveler won’t be able to visit them all (if you’re set on trying, we recommend starting in Ipanema, the city’s hippest district).
Located in the city’s South Zone (Zona Sul), Ipanema wears its “Sexiest Beach in the World” title with pride - leaving the rest of its clothes in the closet. Locals and tourists alike mingle in barely-there bikinis, often with a drink in hand, admiring the stunning scenery and each other. Off the sand you’ll find upscale boutiques alongside chic cafes and restaurants.
Next head to the neighboring district of Copacabana, perhaps the most famous 3-mile stretch of sand in the world. Once the hangout for the rich and famous, Copacabana today is a chaotic but charming slice of Rio’s diversity. Expect to spot favela children in animated soccer matches, hipsters dancing in open-air clubs, and ageing artisans peddling their wares.
Beyond the beaches, the South Zone is home to two of Rio’s most recognized postcard backgrounds: Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado Hill (where Christ the Redeemer hangs out). For the best views and smallest crowds consider visiting Christ the Redeemer (one of the 7 New Wonders of the World) in the morning and swinging by Sugarloaf Mountain for sunset.
Later, turn inland to see Rio’s City Center. This is where you’ll find imposing baroque churches and the majority of the city’s museums and theaters. Bohemian and samba lovers will enjoy the districts of Santa Teresa and Lapa, two areas experiencing a cultural resonance. Perched atop a hill Santa Teresa offers stunning city views, while Lapa is best known for its popular music and dance clubs. Travelers looking to dive deeper into Rio's character will want to head up the hill into the favelas, home to Rio's poorest residents. The houses might not look like much, but they come with a million dollar view.
Rio’s North Zone is the city’s industrial region. This is where you’ll land if you’re arriving by air to Rio’s international airport. The other noteworthy attraction in this area is the Maracana, one of the world’s largest and most iconic soccer stadiums and host of the 2014 World Cup Final.