September 15, 2019
Rio de Janeiro is the Marvelous City ("a Cidade Maravilhosa"). Its natural setting is simply stunning. Combined with the laid-back lifestyle, the beaches, the weather and the music there is something irresistible about it.
Something irresistible that I always feel when walking on Ipanema. That is
because Ipanema is the birthplace of the bossanova, the music style that I
admire so much as you can see elsewhere on this site.
Bossanova is Rio at its best in music: laid-back, sophisticated and beautiful.
My enthusiastic endorsement of Rio may have surprised you. You may have heard that it is a city with lots of poverty, crime, violence, drugs, and corruption. Well, that is also true. Rio is at the same time marvelous and problematic. It is hard to predict what will prevail as your eventual impression, but for sure the city will not leave you indifferent.
In any case - please be careful and vigilant. When going out, keep it simple and sober. Realize that you will be spotted as a tourist immediately. Most Brazilians will be very friendly an helpful, and actually warn you about potential dangers - but not all of them.
Do not assume that you will get by with English everywhere. Brazil is a half-continent and many people will never need any other language but Portuguese. If at all possible, let someone who knows the language or the city be your guide.
How to get around
Nothing beats a walk, for example along Ipanema or Copacabana. It can be hot though. Therefore, do as cariocas do, and walk slowly.
There is a metro network in Rio, but it is rather limited, although by now there seems to be a new line from Ipanema over Leblon towards Barra da Tijuca. Check locally for the latest on this.
For tourism, the most convenient way to get around in this large city is by taxi. Let your hotel or restaurant help you to arrange a taxi. Predefining pick-up times is generally easy.
What to drink
Coffee lovers will be pleased to learn that Brazil resembles Italy in this respect - good espresso (cafézinho) is easy to find.
When in Brazil, and in Rio in particular, never settle for any type of fruit juice except fresh, prepared à la minute. You will see many reliable juicer shops that offer a bewildering variety of exotic fruits. Nothing wrong with orange juice, but do take the opportunity to try something else. Suco de maracujá (passion fruit) and suco de abacaxi (pineapple)m: are a must.
Along the beaches, you find may find vendors that open a fresh coconut for you. Spectacular and delightfully refreshing.
If you do want a soft drink, show your sophistication by skipping coca-cola and ordering a typically brazilian guaraná instead.
Beer is popular, but because of the weather it is mostly lighter-style (but very good) pils (um chopp). Ordering is easy: blink with your eye or lift your finger and your next chopp will arrive, if it wasn't there already.
Finally, try the famous caipirinha cocktail. Check with a local for a good place because this has to be done right. Go for the real thing with cachaça instead of the international version with vodka (caipriroska). And perhaps ask for the minimal required amount of sugar because the brazilian taste is often too sweet for Europeans. And only have one ;-)
What to eat
Brazil does not have an important gastronomic tradition, although people like Alex Atala (Dom, São Paulo), Helena Rizzo (Mani, São Paulo) and Roberta Sudbrack (Sud, Rio) are changing that.
On the other hand, because it is a large nation of immigrants, there is a wide variety of good restaurants in many styles, both with national and international influences. Brazilians like to eat out, so you will easily find something to your taste.
If there is a brazilian national dish, it would be feijoada. I like it occasionally, but it is not exactly a light meal, so don't worry if you miss it this time.
Typical brazilian food that I recommend to try include pão de queijo, a light snack eaten as breakfast or in-between, and grilled fresh palm heart.
For Italian cuisine in a more sophisticated style, try Fasano al Mare in Ipanema.
For a typical brazilian experience, consider a churrascaria. This is an all-you-can-eat meat restaurant where waiters are continuously offering all kinds of grilled meats at your table, starting with chicken hearts up to the famous picanha. In Rio, I can recommend Fogo de Chão in the Botafogo neighbourhood. Needless to say, this is something for meat lovers. If you are vegetarian are particularly sensitive to animal rights, just don't go.
What to visit
Here is my personal list of things to visit.
The famous statue of Christ overlooking the city is on the top of the Corcocado hill. You can take a mountain train to the top. From there, you have the most fabulous view on the city. Very touristic indeed, but you shouldn't miss it.
The place can be crowded at times, so make sure to reserve your tickets in advance. Or you can consider making a reservation for a tour that includes this visit.
Pão de Açucar
As an alternative to the Corcovado, you can take the cable train to the top Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf), one of landmark hills of the city. (Or do both).
The Jardim Botánico (botanical garden) is a beautiful, quiet place in the city with a large collection of exotic plants and flowers. Tom Jobim liked to walk here. The neighbourhood with the name has some nice bistros.
Confeitaria Colombo is located in the city center. It must be one of the most beautiful grand cafe's in the world. It is decorated in Art Nouveau style. (Part of the decoration was made in Belgium.) Great food and drinks also. On Saturdays, they offer the best feijoada you can find.
The cathedral is a building with a remarkable architecture. Be sure to visit it inside to admire the glass windows.
Rio would not be Rio without its beaches and beach life.
So do go to have a look at Copacabana, its most famous beach. Be warned however that it can be very crowded, with all the related inconveniences.
And Ipanema, of course.