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24 of the Best Rio de Janeiro Activities to Add To Your Trip to Brazil

Find out about awesome activities in Rio de Janeiro Brazil to fill a five day trip. We'll focus on what to see, things to do, and places to eat in Rio.
What comes to mind when you think of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Beaches of course, and great food and culture. We spent five days in Rio at the end of a 6 week South American sabbatical (#DrJSabbatical) that started with 3 days in Lima and included 2 weeks in Patagonia

Read on for the scoop on awesome activities in Rio de Janeiro with an eye toward what to see, things to do and places to eat in Brazil's most famous city.

Awesome activities in Rio de Janeiro: take a walk on Ipanema Beach

Explore Rio's Beaches

Brazil is famous for its beaches and Rio is a beach mecca. Each beach has its own vibe which is well worth exploring.

1. Walk from Copacabana to Ipanema Beach and Leblon

View of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro
We stayed along Copacabana Beach at the Miramar Hotel by Windsor. We could see the waves crashing in to shore and sun seekers strolling along the mosaic tile path at the edge of the sand.
Black and white mosaic tile sidewalk along Copacabana Beach in Rio Brazil
We were drawn to the undulating black and white patterned tiles which seemed to beckon us to take a walk. 

The walk from Copacabana to Ipanema Beach and onward to Leblon is totally worth doing to get the lay of the land. Rio's beaches were awash in colorful umbrellas and I couldn't help but smile. 
Colorful umbrellas on Copacabana Beach in Rio Brazil
Ipanema Beach is super-picturesque with a mountain backdrop beyond the sea.
Things to do in Rio de Janeiro: Visit Ipanema Beach
The black and white mosaic tiles continue in Ipanema but the pattern changes from black and white waves to more complex bead-like configuration. 

Keep going and you'll eventually reach the more residential and shopping focused district of Leblon. It takes about an hour and a half to walk from Copacabana Beach through Ipanema Beach to Leblon.
Black and white mosaic tiles along Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

2. Spend A Relaxing Afternoon at Copacabana Beach

We're not big beach people (thus the focus on walking in the last section of this post). However, sitting on the beach and splashing around in the water does rank up there among the best awesome activities in Rio de Janeiro. 

Our hotel staked out a patch of beach just across the road and offered free beach chairs and umbrellas to protect us from the sun. 

We relaxed in the shade of our beach umbrella as locals played soccer and showed off their fancy footwork and kids playfully threw sand at each other. Birds circled overhead, adding to the ambiance.
Birds in the sky over Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro
The waves can be really big so be very careful not to wade too far in if you decide to splash around in the ocean.
Woman staring out at the water of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Crashing wave on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

3. Sandcastle Fever in Rio

Another fun activity in Rio de Janeiro is admiring sandcastles. Locals build elaborate creations and leave a jar out so you can tip before taking a photo. The creativity and level of detail is pretty amazing.
Sandcastle on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

4. Beach music at Nativo on Copacabana Beach

Walking along Copacabana Beach at dusk, you have your choice of beachside bars to watch the sunset. Many of the bars have a local band to lure people in. We stopped at Nativo for a beer (heads-up that you will pay a small but poorly advertised cover charge for the music). 

We laughed as a lady in wet shorts started dancing like crazy. It was clear she'd had too much to drink. The local music seemed like the Brazilian equivalent of an Irish trad session back home.
Collage of Brazilian Musicians playing at Nativo on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro
Brazilian Musicians playing at Nativo on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro

5. Watch an Amazing Sunrise Over Copacabana Beach

Awesome Activities in Rio de Janeiro Brazil: Watch the sunrise over Copacabana Beach
Sunset drinks may be one classic activity in Rio de Janeiro but watching the sunrise is another. Pick a hotel along the beach, set yourself an alarm, and get up early for spectacular views over the ocean.

Shopping in Rio

It's always a good idea to plan ahead and create a packing list for a trip to Brazil. However, shopping opportunities abound in Rio, so don't worry if you forget something. Shopping is simply another fun activity to keep you busy in Brazil.

6. Hippie Market

The Hippie Market in Ipanema is definitely worth visiting if you are looking for cool things to do in Rio de Janiero on a Sunday. You'll find clothing, jewelry, food and other souvenirs. Spend a couple hours browsing for unique arts and crafts to bring home from your Brazilian adventure.
Things to do in Rio: Visit the Hippie Market on Sunday in Ipanema

7. Rio de Janeiro's Beachside Crafts 

Fabric Earrings for sale on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Keep an eye out for industrious vendors selling everything from bathing suits and cover-ups to food and drink along the beach. We discovered a vendor on Ipanema Beach selling unique fabric earrings for the equivalent of less than $5 USD. Such a unique and inexpensive souvenir. 

I loved the earrings that I bought and sought this vendor out again. Sadly, I couldn't find them. The moral of this story? If you see something you like, grab it!

8. Rio Design Mall Leblon

The Rio Design Mall in Leblon is a solid upscale shopping destination. Pop in to this air-conditioned haven to shop for high-end fashion and housewares. 

Sip a hip coffee at Monica Ponde. Pro tip: the Rio Design Mall is an ideal place to stop if you need to use the bathroom.
Coffee at Monica Ponde at the Rio Design Mall in Leblon

9. Shopping in Ipanema

Check out the shops a block or two away from Ipanema Beach. Buy yourself some touristy flip flops or take time to browse Liberia de Travessa bookstore which stocks some English language titles. 

If you aren't staying within walking distance, consider taking Uber to the shopping areas of Ipanema. We were staying about 10 minutes away and the ride cost us less than the equivelent of $4 USD at the time of writing.
Brazilian Flip-flops bought on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Where to Eat in Rio de Janeiro

We discovered lots of great places to eat in Rio during the course of our 5 day visit. Read on for some Rio restaurant recommendations.

10. Feijoada at Boteco Belmonte in Copacabana

What to eat in Rio: Feijoada at Boteco Belmonte in Copacabana
We sampled feijoada, a Brazilian stew made with beans plus beef and pork. Feijoada goes well with an ice cold beer on the terrace at Boteco Belmonte in Copacabana.

11. Steak on Swords Dinner at Carretao Churrascaria

Dining at an all-you-can-eat churrascaria is a must-do experience in Rio de Janeiro. We ate at Carretão. When we were seated, we were given two cards: a green one that said Sim (yes in Portuguese) and a red one that said Não (no in Portuguese). 

Waiters came around with different cuts of meat on swords and would stop at the table to carve off slices when they saw your sim card. 

Because the churrascaria was all you can eat for just one price, I felt like I could try things that I wouldn't try otherwise. I even ate a chicken heart! 

It tasted ok and had the texture of octopus. Chicken heart is definitely a delicacy that you should try at least once while visiting Brazil.
Where to eat in Rio de Janeiro Brazil: Carretao Churrascaria
Chicken heart served at Carretao Churrascaria in Rio de Janeiro
When you visit a churrascaria, be careful not to fill up on sides and salads. That's how the buffets get you. If you fill up on this stuff, that leaves less room for the main attraction: lots and lots of meat on swords.
Salad bar at Carretao Churrascaria in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

12. Lunch at Tropeco

Tropeco in Leblon offers a menu of the day. We tried picanha (sirloin cap) and barbecue chicken washed down with Guarana Zero, a diet soda made with guarana, a plant that grows in Brazil and has one of the highest concentrations of caffeine of any plant. 

Check out Tropeco for an affordable lunch when you are out and about in Leblon.
Where to eat in Rio: collage of lunch at Tropeco in Leblon

13. Ice Cream at Mil Frutas in Ipanema

After lunch, consider re-investing some of the money that you saved on lunch at Mil Frutas in Ipanema. Mil Frutas serves gelato made with local fruits. It's pretty expensive (23 BRL, about $6.50 USD at the time of writing) for a small cup. 

Mil Frutas will let you try a few tastes before you buy. Many of the flavors are highly local Brazilian fruit. Use the tastes to your advantage to see which you like best before commiting to a full portion.
What to eat in Rio: ice cream at Mil Frutas in Ipanema

14. Garota de Ipanema

Garota de Ipanema is an awesome old-school spot for lunch. "The Girl from Ipanema" restaurant features classic Brazilian cuisine served by waiters wearing bowties. Sit on the dark wood patio and soak in the ambiance. 

We liked Garota de Ipanema so much that we ate there twice: once for lunch and once for dinner. The pork and pineapple sandwich was amazing with juicy salty pork complemented nicely by grilled pineapple. 

We also enjoyed Cuban chicken with bananas, chips, and peas. The second time we visited, we noshed on filete that was so tender the waiter was able to cut it for us with a spoon. Wash it all down with a glass of respectable Brazilian red wine.
What to eat in Rio: Filete served with a spoon at Garota de Ipanema
What to eat in Rio de Janeiro: pork sandwich and brazilian wine at Garota de Ipanema
Tile sidewalk outside Garota de Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

15. Drink A Fresh Coconut on Ipanema Beach

What to eat in Rio de Janeiro: freshly opened coconut on Ipanema Beach
If you are looking for cool and convenient places to eat in Rio de Janeiro, don't overlook the kiosks on the beach. Try a fresh coconut sliced on the spot. This unique Brazilian treat costs around 5 BRL (about $1.50 at the time of writing).

16. Beer and Bar Snacks at Devassa

Bar snacks at Devassa in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
If you are looking for something a little more craft in Rio, sample a tasting paddle of Brazilian craft beers and some deep fried snacks at Devassa in Ipanema.

17. Sip a Caipirinha in Rio, It Doesn't Matter Where

What to drink in Rio de Janeiro: a Caipirinha

No trip to Brazil is complete without a caipirinha. It doesn't matter where you try Brazil's national cocktail, just make sure you do. A caipirinha is incredibly simple and is made with cachaça, sugar and lime. 

We sampled an awesome caipirinha at Carretao Churrascaria. I especially liked it because it was extra tart. If you're on a budget, you could consider picking up a beachside caipirinha from a local vendor or kiosk.

18. Rio's Beachside Bar Snacks

Watch the sunset over Rio's famous beaches while sampling bar snacks like pastéis (deep fried empanadas) or tapioca-based snacks that look like quesadillas. Wash down your Brazilian small bites with a beer served in a chiller like fine wine.
What to drink in Rio de Janeiro: beer on Copacabana Beach
What to eat in Rio: bar snacks on Copacabana Beach including pastéis and tapioca

19. What to Eat in Rio: Açaí from a Beach Vendor

Awesome activities in Rio de Janeiro: buy Acai from a beach vendor
Rio is famous for Açaí, a local berry believed to have antioxidant properties. In the U.S., açaí can be super-expensive. 

However, seek it out on the beach in Brazil for an inexpensive and healthy treat (4-12 BRL, between $1-$3 USD at the time of writing). You'll find açaí vendors pushing their carts up and down Copacabana Beach.

Outdoor Activities in Rio

When visiting Rio de Janeiro for a 5 day trip, you'll have plenty of time to get up off the beach and do some outdoor exploration.

20. Jungle Me Hike in Tijuca National Forest

We decided to have an adventure in Tijuca National Forest, a nature and wildlife reserve in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. When Rio was originally settled, this area was clear cut. 

The barren land was then replanted by hand in 1860 at the order of Emperor Pedro II to return the land to its former natural glory. Jungle Me took us on a half-day guided hike to Pedra Bonita. En route we say native and non-native primates. We even saw a dung beetle rolling a ball of poo up the hill.
Awesome activities in Rio: spotting monkeys and insects on a Jungle Me Hike in Tijuca National Forest
Along the way, we caught glimpses of Christ the Redeemer in the distance.
View of Christ the Redeemer from Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro
Once we reached Pedra Bonita, we marveled at gorgeous views of Rio below while daring paragliders leapt off the mountain nearby.
Paraglider viewed from Pedra Bonita in Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Fog covered mountain over Rio de Janeiro Brazil
View from Pedra Bonita in Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Make sure to wear proper hiking boots or sturdy sneakers on the Jungle Me's Tijuca Express Hike to Pedra Bonita. The trail can get quite slippery, especially going back downhill after the climb to the viewpoint.
Trail to Pedra Bonita in Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

21. Rio's Sugarloaf Cable Car

Awesome activities in Rio de Janeiro Brazil: Ride the Sugarloaf Cable Car
After our hike in Tijuca National Forest, we decided to go see another of Rio de Janiero's premiere points of interest: Sugarloaf Mountain. 

Take an Uber to the base and hop on the 2-stage Sugarloaf cable car. Getting there is half the fun. Enjoy spectacular city and harbor views during the ascent and descent.
View of the Centro District of Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain
Boats in the harbour viewed from Sugarloaf Cable Car in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Make sure you visit on a clear day so that you can fully take advantage of the stunning views over Rio.
Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
If you are afraid of heights, the Sugarloaf Cable Car will take you out of your comfort zone but hang in there, the ride is worth it for the views and the cable car is large and sturdy.
View from the Sugarloaf Mountain Cable Car in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

22. Rio by Foot Free Walking Tour of Centro

Cinelândia Square in Rio Centro
The Centro district of Rio has a reputation for being unsafe for tourists. However, we really wanted to check out this district which is full of Rio's historic points of interest. Our solution? Take a Rio by Foot free walking tour

We took an Uber to Centro where we met up with Rafael (aka "Hafa"), our English-speaking guide, at Cinelândia Square. Rafael was a 24 year old museum studies student who was super-excited to show us his city. 

He was so excited, in fact, that our tour took 4 hours instead of 3. We were the only English-speakers around that day and thus got a private tour of Centro.
Rafael, our guide on our Rio by Foot free walking tour
Our tour included tons of churches and lots of history.
Collage of interiors and exteriors of churches in Rio de Janeiro Centro District
We also saw a lots of cultural centers in Rio Centro. Rafael told us that companies are incentivized with tax breaks for setting up cultural centers and that's why there are so many.
One of many culture centers in Centro district of Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Rafael regaled us with stories of how Brazil went from an empire to a republic. Did you know that for a while, the seat of government in Portugal was in Rio when the Portuguese Royal family decamped for Brazil during the Napoleanic Wars?

We stopped at classic Confeitaria Colombo where we got to try deliciously dense but sickeningly sweet chocolate covered brigadeiro. Brigadeiro is a traditional Brazilian dessert created about 80 years ago and made with condensed milk, powdered chocolate, butter, and chocolate sprinkles. So decadent...
Collage of Confeitaria Colombo interior and brigadeiro treats in the Centro District of Rio de Janeiro
Because our group was so small, Rafael decided to take a detour and surprise us with a visit to Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, the Royal Portuguese Reading Room. The interior of this library was simply stunning with historic volumes covering the walls on all sides from floor to ceiling. 
Things to see in Rio de Janeiro: Royal Portuguese Reading Room in the Centro District
Rio by Foot really exceeded our expectations and we definitely tipped accordingly.

23. Rio's Selaron Steps in Lapa

Our Rio by Foot walking tour ended with a cachaça tasting at Lapa e Arte. From here, it was just a two minute walk to another of the most famous points of interest in Rio: the Selaron Steps. Dating back to 1990, this mosaic-tiled staircase is the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón. 

Initially a dilapidated staircase, Selarón began adding colorful tiles to the steps. Soon, people began donating tiles to the cause from all over the world. Escadaria Selarón now features more than 2000 eclectic tiles.
Awesome Activities in Rio de Janeiro: climb the Selaron Steps in Lapa

24. Corcovado and Rio's Christ the Redeemer

One of the most iconic attractions in Rio de Janiero is also one of the most elusive. Christ the Redeemer sits atop Corcovado, a mountain in the center of the city. 

To get to Corcovado, you can book your tickets online. Beware though of booking too far in advance. Fog can roll in and out quickly. If it's foggy, you won't see anything. We're planners and this time it worked against us.

We had a limited window of time to see Christ the Redeemer so we booked our tickets in the morning before leaving for the day. By the time we got to Praça do Lido to catch the van to Corcovado, a heavy fog had rolled in. 

At that point we were committed though. The van driver was, how shall I put this, insane. The road to Corcovado is super-curvy and has lots of hairpins which our driver took at break-neck speed. I'm amazed that no one hurled on the 30 minute ride up the mountain.
Vans headed to Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
We perused the museum in the visitors center while we tried to wait out the fog. The interactive exhibit introduced us to various species that call Corcovado and the surrounding Tijuca National Forest home. We also learned about the devastating effects of development that can lead to damaging landslides.
Exhibit in the Visitors Center at Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro
We eventually resigned ourselves to the fact that the fog was not going to clear. We hiked up to the foot of the Christ the Redeemer statue. Hundreds of others waited for a small break in the fog. 

Everytime the fog thinned and we caught a quick glimpse of Jesus' art deco facial features, the crowd cheered. The timing of our visit to Corcovado was unfortunate but we made the most of it anyway.
Collage of Christ the Redeemer covered in fog in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Is Rio Safe to Visit? What Precautions Should You Take?

We were warned by various people (Brazilians and tourists alike) that Rio is not very safe and that we should not walk around on our own. We heeded this advice at night but felt relatively safe walking in Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon during the day. 

Even Centro felt reasonably safe when we were accompanied by our Rio by Foot guide. There was one area in Lapa where Rafael asked us to put our cameras away but once we passed those few blocks, Rafael declared that we were safe once again. 

I definitely recommend using common sense precautions when visiting Rio. Don't dress in an ostentatious way or flash a lot of cash. Rio was the only destination on our trip to South America where I locked up my engagement ring and wedding band in the hotel safe. That may have been overkill but I didn't want to take any chances.

Map of Rio de Janeiro Points of Interest

Check out all the awesome activities in Rio that are covered in this post in the handy map below. Click on the image of the map to open up an interactive version in Google Maps to help you plan your trip.

Map of Rio de Janeiro Activities

Want to see an entirely different side of Brazil? Head on over to Brasília where you'll discover monumental things to do in Brasília and why I think this government-focused and non-touristy city is worth a visit.

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Rio de Janeiro Activities


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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 24 of the Best Rio de Janeiro Activities to Add To Your Trip to Brazil
24 of the Best Rio de Janeiro Activities to Add To Your Trip to Brazil
Find out about awesome activities in Rio de Janeiro Brazil to fill a five day trip. We'll focus on what to see, things to do, and places to eat in Rio.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog