There aren’t many cities in the word that are perfectly summed up by its nickname but Rio de Janerio “Marvelous City” moniker does a pretty good job. Suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of the city’s hosting duties of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Rio residents or “cariocas” know that they have always been lucky to call Rio home. Renowned for its nightlife, beaches, soccer, and food many will be surprised to know that the city is also the arts capital of Brazil so the city is a perfect destination for an all-around vacation. Most of what you know of Brazil in popular culture comes from this southeastern city: the samba style of soccer, caipirinhas, and havaianas.
Rio De Janeiro Neighborhoods
The second largest city in Brazil with a population of over 6 million people, Rio is divided into three main zones: the Center (Centro), the South Zone (Zona Sul), and the North Zone (Zona Norte).
Centro has a little bit of everything for the more urban traveler. The district houses Rio’s financial center in downtown, its authentic party capital in Lapa, and its artistic haven in Lapa.
Downtown is considered to be where the development of Rio started. It houses the city’s financial center and most of its multinational corporations. It is about 20-25 minutes away from the beach areas and is filled with landmarks and monuments illustrating Rio de Janerio's colorful and illustrious history. It is also filled with Rio residents in suits and rushing which is a stark contrast to their natural disposition of tranquility and calmness. Highlights in the neighborhood include The Sambadrome, The Arch of Lapa, and The Historic National Museum (Museo Historico Nacional).
While Downtown is Rio’s financial center, Lapa is arguably its most authentic party center. In Lapa you can dance samba all night at one of its more popular establishments such as Rio Scenarium or Clube dos Democraticos. While it is still relatively an overwhelmingly local spot, foreigners are continuing to make their way out of the South Zone to party in Lapa. If partying isn’t what you would like to do, the neighborhood also houses the beautiful Arcos de Lapa, an aqueduct constructed in the mid-18th century and the Escaderia Selaron, the famous colorful stairs you have probably seen in many Rio brochures.
Before it was known for its artistic characteristics, Lapa used to be well known for housing the city’s most affluent families. As these individuals made their way down closer to the beaches, Lapa has now become an artistic haven for young cariocas. Nestled in the hillside above the city, a trip to Lapa is definitely encouraged. Known for its winding, narrow streets, spend an afternoon walking around the neighborhood, visit local art galleries and museums and eat at some its more popular establishments like Bar do Arnaudo, Rustico, and Cafecito.
Caipirinhas flowing on the beach, kids playing futebol on the sand, samba blasting in the air, yes, this feels more like the Rio we all envision. Chances are that if you are on vacation this is the area of the city you will call home for the duration of your stay and with good reason.
Famous for its beach side living and funky lifestyle, Copacabana is the unofficial capital of Rio’s nightlife. Your day time activities in Copacabana will look something like this: throw on swimming gear and walk up and down the beach stopping at their famous beach kiosks in which you can eat and drink anything you desire from seafood to pizza to beer. Some of the more well-known eating establishments are Amir, Le Pre-Catalan, and Café 10 do Forte.
Bordering Copacabana, Ipanema differs from its neighbor in that Ipanema is one of the most expensive places to live in Rio and is generally frequented by upper middle class residents. Considered the “chic beach,” in Ipanema there is no shortage of eye candy for both men and women. Listed by Travel Channel as one of the world’s sexiest beaches, Ipanema is filled with groups of people playing football, volleyball, and surfing. Historically, it has also acted as a safe haven for the city’s gay population as well as its artists, intellectuals, and hippies. Ipanema truly shines when it comes to local dining and some of the more popular restaurants are Casa de Feijoada, Ipanema Beach, and Garota de Ipanema.
Lapa is the most financially affluent neighborhood of Rio and the most expensive (per residential square meter) in all of Latin America. This neighborhood is located west of Ipanema and borders another neighborhood by the name of Gavea. It is located at the foot of the Two Brothers Mountains so prepare for beautiful scenery. This neighborhood’s beach is more exclusive than those of Copacabana and Ipanema and not as trendy.
This South Zone neighborhood may not have the same cache as Ipanema or Copacabana but it’s equally as entertaining with fun nightlife establishments and youth movement. Lapa has its own strip of sand and while we wouldn’t recommend swimming in the water due it not being as fresh as the body of water along the Copacabana strip, it is ideal for sunbathing with spectacular views of Rio’s Sugar Loaf Mountain. For a less touristy option, Lapa is great neighborhood to call home for your vacation stay in Rio. A good option for carnivores staying in Botafogo is Porcao Rio’s.
If you want to experience one of the most magical moments in your life, head over to Urca as it boasts having the Sugar Loaf Mountain. The spectacular view that you’ll witness while climbing Sugar Loaf Mountain and then while you’re on top is majestic. Get a bird’s eye view of the great city that is Rio and be sure to bring your camera. Even though it has one of the more popular tourist attractions, Urca has stayed relatively tourist free and most eating establishments are mom and pop restaurants.
The seediest of the four Rio districts, the North Zone is home to two of the city’s most beautiful monuments: Christ the Redeemer and Maracanã soccer stadium. Housing the majority of the city’s slums and favelas, we encourage you to visit this district with tour guides or locals.
Visit this neighborhood to begin your trek to the top of Corcovado and experience Christ the Redeemer, one of the wonders of the world. You can opt to take a tour bus to the top of the mountain and take your selfie with Christ or opt for trekking through the Tijuca Forest and enjoy the beautiful green scenery. The climb to the top if relatively easy and can be accomplished in less than two hours.
Bordering Tijuca, Lapa houses the Maracanã stadium which is where the final of the 2014 World Cup took place and will be one of the Olympic zones for the 2016 Olympics. Named after the Maracanã River, the stadium can house over 200,000 fans and normally hosts the Brazilian national soccer team for both men and women. There are tours available of this beautiful stadium, and we encourage you take a visit.
All in all, Rio de Janerio is one of those cities you will find yourself missing after it’s all said and done so ensure you make the most of your visit. As always practice good judgement when in Brazil and remember to do as the cariocas and keep calm and live easy.
This article was written by Walter Godinez.