Rio de Janeiro Tips for First Time Visitors: If you’re planning your first trip to Rio de Janeiro, this Rio de Janeiro travel guide has all you need to know! Includes the best areas to stay in Rio, things to do in Rio, what to eat and drink, the best Rio souvenirs, and what to pack. Get started with your trip planning with our best Rio de Janeiro travel tips
This is a guest post by Yvonne Ivanescu of Now in Rio
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So you’ve decided to come to Rio de Janeiro for the first time. Now what? Before you hop on a plane to this marvelous city, there are a couple of things you need to know. Lucky for you, this Rio de Janeiro guide has you covered!
But before we start, there is definitely one thing you should know about coming to Brazil. If you are a traveler from the US, Canada, Japan, or Australia, Brazil has just implemented a new e-Visa, making it even easier for travelers from these countries to come to Brazil. No more trips to the embassy with photos and numerous papers; now you can apply directly for the Brazilian e-visa online, and receive it via email in just five days.
With that out of the way, let’s get started planning your trip to Rio.
Rio de Janeiro Travel Tips for First Timers: Table of Contents
- Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro Brazil: A Rundown of the Best Areas to Stay in Rio de Janeiro.
- Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro: What to do on your first visit to Rio, including the main highlights plus some cool local’s tips to get off-the-beaten-path.
- Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Our picks for the best food and drink to try while in Rio.
- What to Buy in Rio: Souvenirs you’ll be excited to take home with you.
- What to Pack for Rio: Weather throughout the year, plus general advice for packing for a winter and summer trip to Rio.
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Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is a city of over 11 million people that is divided in four different districts: the south zone, north zone, west zone and the center. Most travellers will spend their days in Rio in the South Zone, specifically in Copacabana and Ipanema, Rio’s two most famous neighbourhoods. If you have your heart set on staying in one of these neighbourhoods, we recommend Ipanema due to its cleaner beach and close proximity to a variety bars and restaurants.
That said, Rio is more than just Ipanema and Copacabana.
Santa Teresa is One of the Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Rio to Live Like a Local
If you are seeking a more off-the-beaten path experience, take the yellow tram up to Santa Teresa. This hilltop district was an upper-class neighbourhood at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, and is still home to some of the most opulent mansions in all of Rio de Janeiro. Today, Santa Teresa is known for its village-like bohemian vibe, and its art studios, galleries, restaurants and bars.
Recreio is One of the Best Areas to Stay in Rio to Get Off-the-Beaten-Path!
If you want to go incredibly off-the-beaten-path, we would recommend Recreio, a small beach neighbourhood around 32 km away from Ipanema. Recreio is the perfect place for people who want to escape the hustle and bustle of Rio and are looking to relax and catch some waves. In fact, if you want to surf, Recreio has some of the best surf beaches in Rio de Janeiro, and numerous surf academies ready to teach you how to pop-up.
What to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Top 5 Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
If you only have a day in Rio de Janeiro, you should probably tick off the biggies first: visit Christ the Redeemer, the Selaron Steps, Sugarloaf, the Botanical Gardens and Parque Lage (and make sure to stop by the Cafe du Lage for a drink or brunch).
Top Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro in One Day:
Sun, Sand, Shopping…and Caipirinhas
Everyone who plans a trip to Rio probably wants to spend a morning or afternoon lying on the beach, drinking caipirinhas, and buying souvenirs to remember your travels and for loved ones.
If you have time, we would recommend some other events and fun things to do in Rio de Janeiro that might interest your more adventurous side!
Learn Samba in Rio de Janeiro
Samba was actually created in Rio de Janeiro, making it the perfect place to learn some samba moves…or at the very least, enjoy a show! There are a number of places in Rio de Janeiro where you can enjoy samba, even if you feel like watching, rather than participating in this dance style.
First off, there is Pedra do Sal, which happens every Monday in the Center. This is the actual birthplace of Samba, and every Monday people gather here to sing, dance and listen to samba.
On Saturday nights, there is the Mercado das Pulgas in Santa Teresa. It’s a paid event (around R$20), where a live samba band plays the night away! Our recommendation is to spend your entire Saturday in Santa Teresa. Start off by shopping at one of the many locally-owned souvenir shops, eat some feijoada at Bar do Mineiro, enjoy cocktails at Discovery Bar, and end the night at Mercado das Pulgas!
Last but not least is spending Friday or Saturday night at Lapa. An outside party underneath the white arches of the Lapa neighbourhood, the caipirinhas are strong (and cheap) and the music is loud! The experience is one-of-a-kind, but our recommendation is to be incredibly careful in Lapa; afterall, it is infamous as THE place where travellers get robbed.
At a Glance: Live Samba in Rio de Janeiro
- The Birthplace of Samba: Pedra do Sal Rio de Janeiro happens every Monday night on the steps of the Pedra, and is free (Location: Praça Mauá).
- Excellent Samba Show in Rio de Janeiro: Mercado das Pulgas in Santa Teresa happens every Saturday night and costs around R$20.
- Live Samba Street Party: Friday and Saturday nights in Lapa. If do attend, be careful and watch your belongings, as Lapa has a reputation for being the place where tourists get robbed in Rio.
Hike Through Tijuca Forest
Rio is home to the largest urban forest in the world, Tijuca Forest, also known as a hiker’s paradise.
No matter your experience level, there is a hike for you in Rio. If you want to take it easy, try Pedra Telegrafo, a 40-minute brisk uphill hike to a stunning viewpoint. For those who want to push themselves, try the intense Pedra da Gavea, which offers some of the most stunning views of Rio from above!
What to Eat in Rio de Janeiro Brazil (and Drink!)
Food and drinks in Rio de Janeiro are plentiful. As there are so many different recommendations we can offer in terms of what you should eat in Rio de Janeiro (and what to drink!), we thought we’d stick with the basics.
For the best churrascaria in Rio, we recommend visiting Fogo de Chão for its all-you-can-eat menu of Brazil’s finest cuts of steak, chicken, and pork. Picanha is the nation’s best cut of beef and you can find it here cooked to sublime quality. Chicken hearts are often overlooked by tourists, but those in the know don’t turn them down, so do your best to try them. The salad bar has a wide range of pasta and salad, but these may take up too much precious room on your plate, given the steady stream of skewered meats brought to your table by the tireless waiters!
Then there are the caipirinhas, a mix of cachaca (sugar cane rum), lime, sugar and ice. Simple yet delicious, caipirinhas can also can come with a mix of fruit, such as strawberry, passion fruit, kiwi and/or pineapple.
For dessert, travellers must try the brigadeiro, a traditional Brazilian dessert made with condensed milk, butter, powdered chocolate and chocolate sprinkles layered on the outside.
At a Glance: Best Things to Eat and Drink in Rio de Janeiro
- Best Churrascaria Rio de Janeiro: Go to Fogo de Chão and order the picanha steak.
- Must-Try Famous Brazilian Drink: Caipirinhas
- Best Dessert Rio de Janeiro: Try brigadeiro
What To Buy in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
At the end of your trip, you’ll want to buy something to remember your trip to Rio de Janeiro. Most travellers opt for a Brazilian canga, also known as a sarong. Used in Brazil as both a towel to sit on and a cover-up, a canga is one of the most popular souvenirs to buy in Brazil.
Other great Rio souvenirs can include a caipirinha making kit, cachaca rum, Brazilian dulce de leite, Brazilian coffee, and – of course – the infamous Brazilian bikini!
All of these items can be found at the weekly Ipanema Hippie Fair, which happens every Sunday at General Osorio square. Just make sure to bring some cash!
At a Glance: Best Things to Buy in Rio de Janeiro
- Best Overall Souvenir from Rio: A Brazilian Canga
- Best Souvenir from Rio For Drinkers: Cachaca Rum (the sugarcane rum used to make a caipirinha) and Caipirinha-Making Kit
- Best Souvenir from Rio For Foodies: Brazilian-style dulce de leite or Brazilian coffee
What to Pack For Rio de Janeiro
In truth, it’s hot in Rio de Janeiro all year round. Summer in Rio runs from December to March, while winter in Rio is from around May to August.
Weather in Rio de Janeiro
Weather in Rio de Janeiro Throughout the Year. Average highs, lows, and rainfall is sourced from Holiday Weather.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in January: You can expect average high temperatures of 30°C (86°F), and average low temperatures of 23°C (73°F). Expect about 114 mm of rainfall (4.5 inches) spread across roughly 13 days, sea temperatures of 25°C (77°F), and around 7 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in February: You can expect average high temperatures of 30°C (86°F), and average low temperatures of 24°C (75°F). Expect about 105 mm of rainfall (4.1 inches) spread across roughly 11 days, sea temperatures of 25°C (77°F), and around 7 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in March: You can expect average high temperatures of 29°C (84°F), and average low temperatures of 23°C (73°F). Expect about 103 mm of rainfall (4.1 inches) spread across roughly 12 days, sea temperatures of 26°C (79°F), and around 7 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in April: You can expect average high temperatures of 28°C (82°F), and average low temperatures of 22°C (72°F). Expect about 137 mm of rainfall (5.4 inches) spread across roughly 10 days, sea temperatures of 25°C (77°F), and around 6 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in May: You can expect average high temperatures of 26°C (79°F), and average low temperatures of 20°C (68°F). Expect about 86 mm of rainfall (3.4 inches) spread across roughly 10 days, sea temperatures of 24°C (75°F), and around 6 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in June: You can expect average high temperatures of 25°C (77°F), and average low temperatures of 19°C (66°F). Expect about 80 mm of rainfall (3.2 inches) spread across roughly 7 days, sea temperatures of 23°C (73°F), and around 6 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in July: You can expect average high temperatures of 25°C (77°F), and average low temperatures of 18°C (64°F). Expect about 56 mm of rainfall (2.2 inches) spread across roughly 7 days, sea temperatures of 22°C (72°F), and around 6 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in August: You can expect average high temperatures of 26°C (79°F), and average low temperatures of 19°C (66°F). Expect about 51 mm of rainfall (2 inches) spread across roughly 7 days, sea temperatures of 22°C (72°F), and around 7 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in September: You can expect average high temperatures of 25°C (77°F), and average low temperatures of 19°C (66°F). Expect about 87 mm of rainfall (3.4 inches) spread across roughly 11 days, sea temperatures of 22°C (72°F), and around 5 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in October: You can expect average high temperatures of 26°C (79°F), and average low temperatures of 20°C (68°F). Expect about 88 mm of rainfall (3.5 inches) spread across roughly 13 days, sea temperatures of 23°C (73°F), and around 5 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in November: You can expect average high temperatures of 27°C (81°F), and average low temperatures of 21°C (70°F). Expect about 96 mm of rainfall (3.8 inches) spread across roughly 13 days, sea temperatures of 23°C (73°F), and around 6 hours of sunshine per day.
- Rio de Janeiro Weather in December: You can expect average high temperatures of 29°C (84°F), and average low temperatures of 22°C (72°F). Expect about 169 mm of rainfall (6.7 inches) spread across roughly 14 days, sea temperatures of 24°C (75°F), and around 6 hours of sunshine per day.
The winter months in Rio aren’t cold, however they can be overcast and rainy. Temperatures can drop to around 15°C (59° F), so it’s recommended you bring a sweater, jeans, raincoat and an umbrella. Most accommodations do not have central heating, so if it’s 10° to 15° C (50° to 59° F) degrees outside, it will probably be the same temperature inside. Without thick duvets or blankets, you might want to pack some warm pyjamas or base layer to sleep in, just in case.
In the summer months, Rio can get unbearably hot, with average highs of 30° C (86° F) in January. Unless you love having jeans stick to sweaty legs, bring flowy and breathable clothes, a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun, and lots of sunscreen: Rio’s sun is no joke, so make sure to slather up.
What to Pack for Rio
- Sunscreen: And lots of it! You can always top up when you’re there but best come prepared with a good quality, water and sweat resistant sunscreen. The sun is strong even on an overcast day you can still end up with a bad burn.
- Deodorant wipes: Rio is hot and sticky most of the year, and when you’re out all day, it can get uncomfortable and sweaty. Keep a few of these in your pocket to freshen up on the go. Click to see more info.
- After sun care: Unlike sunscreen, a good aftersun care product may be tough to find. Be prepared and take along some paraben free aloe baed aftersun lotion. Click for more info.
- Power Adapter: Brazil uses a type N, three pronged power outlet so make sure you have the right adapter. One like this one with USB ports will be particularly handy when charging devices. US to Brazil / EU to Brazil / UK to Brazil
- RFID Money Belt: Unfortunately, petty theft happens in every city, but parts of Rio are a bit of a hot spot, so hide you cash and cards well with a comfortable RFID protected money belt. Click for more info.
Tips for Avoiding Pickpockets and Theft
Stay safe in Rio by checking out our anti-pickpocket guide to help travelers stay safe. While this post was origianlly written about avoiding scams in Europe, the advice is just as applicable for those visiting Rio as any other city. If you’re worried about keeping your belongings safe in Rio, be sure to read our article, 5 Cheap and Sneaky Ways to Stop Pickpockets.
About the Guest Author
Now in Rio is a travel and culture website that provides comprehensive information about Rio de Janeiro for both tourists and anyone interested in travel and/or Brazil. It seeks to change perspectives, shatter stereotypes and introduce you to the real Rio de Janeiro – its vibrant communities, delicious local cuisine, thriving underground culture and unbelievable scenery. To follow their adventures, visit their website, Facebook and/or their Visit Brazil Facebook group.