Rio is a vibrant city that wears its heart on its sleeve and lives its life on the street. Thousands of people will surround you everywhere you go, but what happens if you want to escape the crowds for a while? Luckily Rio has plenty of options when you want to relax for a moment, from quieter beaches to a stroll round the Lagoa de Freitas, a drink in a side-street bar or a visit to the gorgeous Botanical Gardens.
Come with me as I take you on a little tour of my favourite places to relax in Rio de Janeiro!
Rio is blessed with a spectacular location on Guanabara Bay, its forest-clad granite morros scattered like pearls across the bay. The best way to appreciate this is to get up high and there’s plenty of viewpoints around the city where you can do just that – if you’re brave enough you can even go hang-gliding for a bird’s eye view of the ‘Ciudad Maravilhosa’ (the marvellous city). But not being the biggest adventure sports fan, I’d recommend a visit to surely one of the most iconic visual images of Rio, Sugarloaf Mountain or Pão de Açúcar.
Take the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar)
The lovely Praia Vermelha in the foreground with the famous sands of Copacabana in the background
This might seem an unusual suggestion– surely Sugarloaf is teaming with visitors? Maybe we were just lucky, but we visited on a summer’s day and there was plenty of room to spread out and take photos – you can walk all around the top of the mountain, so you’ll be able to appreciate the incredible 360 degree views. There’s also plenty of seating and places to get a drink or an ice-cream while you soak up the wonderful scenery.
The harder way up!
People will often ask which is the better viewpoint to see Rio – the unforgettable Art Deco statue of Christ the Redeemer up at Corcovado, or Sugarloaf Mountain. Having been to both, I’m not sure I can choose – both have incredible views! Sometimes the cog railway up Corcovado isn’t working, but you can also take a taxi or a tour up. Sugarloaf is easily accessible although the nearest metro station is in Botafogo, from where it’s about 15 minutes’ walk through a safe neighbourhood. At the time of writing it cost 80 reais to take the cable car up Sugarloaf and 75 reais to visit Christ The Redeemer (for the cog railway and entry fee). Make sure you visit on a clear day if you can to make the most of the views. It’s incredible to see the whole city spread out before you; Rio really does have an enviable location!
Lagoa de Freitas
As if Rio didn’t have enough waterfront, it’s also home to a saltwater lagoon, the Lagoa de Freitas where you’ll see Cariocas at play; roller-skating, cycling and playing football and basketball at one of the courts scattered around the water’s edge. It’s a good place to take a stroll late in the afternoon/early evening as temperatures start to drop a little. Apparently there are also capybaras in the lagoon which can sometimes be seen at dusk – we weren’t lucky but you might be!
Urca doesn’t have any major sights although it does have a gem of a small beach, Praia Vermelha, set in a cove looking right up at Sugarloaf. It’s like a small village hidden away underneath the mountain, with a great view across the bay to Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado.
The quiet- tree-lined streets throw up the occasional surprise like this beautiful tiny baroque-style church, tiled with classic blue and white Portuguese motifs. Stop for a drink at one of the little botecos or just get lost in the backstreets (in the day time this seems like a very peaceful, chilled neighbourhood), admire the beautiful flowers and breathe for a moment.
Rio Botanic Garden
Rio’s Botanic Gardens are a gorgeous spot to wonder around for a couple of hours, from the paths lined with impossibly tall, skinny palm trees to the beautiful lily ponds full of Victoria Amazonica. In places the gardens almost run head first into the surrounding Atlantic rainforest on the hills behind them. If you’re very lucky/patient you may even spot one of the sloths that live in the trees high above. The Botanic Gardens isn’t close to a metro station, so the easiest way there is to take a taxi.
Have you visited Rio? Where are your favourite places to relax in the city?