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Big City Life in Rio de Janeiro

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Big City Life in Rio de Janeiro
A land of superlatives, Rio is home to some of the world’s best sights, parties, and beaches. High art mixes with Old World traditions, and African rhythms fuel a street culture that's almost as intoxicating as a caipirinha cocktail.
Photo by Ruddy Harootian
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    The Rio Bucket List
    Rio’s greatest asset is its breathtaking urban landscape. Experience it from the ground by spending a few hours (if not days) on the beach, working on your tan until the nearby mountains swallow the sun. Ride the cogwheel train to Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven new wonders of the world, for a view of the city’s serpentine layout from above. For a different but equally impressive perspective, take the cable car to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain. Order a caipirinha, Rio’s signature cocktail of cane liquor and lime, in Urca on the way down, and contemplate the view.
    Photo by Ruddy Harootian
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    City Secrets Beyond the Must-See Sights
    Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain are two of Rio's must-visit sights, but travelers who venture beyond the landmarks will encounter the history and soul of the city. The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, or royal reading room, offers a quiet reprieve from the bustle of Rio’s city center as well as a chance to explore more than 350,000 works of art and literature. At the Escadaria Selarón, you’ll climb more than 200 steps that were hand-tiled by a Chilean man who made Rio his home. The stairs have appeared in music videos and contributed to the city’s winning bid to host the 2016 Olympics, but they rarely get their fair play in Rio guides.
    Photo by Julia Duthie
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    Explore the Favelas of Rio
    Located on the craggy hills above the city, favelas, or shanty towns, house the city’s poorer residents (as well as people looking to escape Rio’s high rents). Favelas have long intrigued those travelers who seek a less polished perspective on the Marvelous City. Hire a local guide to lead you through the twisting alleys, and discover the entrepreneurial solutions developed by residents who, for many years, didn’t receive city services like running water. You’ll taste some of Rio's best food in favela restaurants, and you'll find that smiles are returned more readily and sincerely than on the streets below.
    Photo by John Banagan/age fotostock
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    Cheer on Team Brazil
    Cariocas love their soccer. And it shows. Their country’s team is one of the best in the game, having claimed a record five World Cup victories. Brazil’s shrine to futebol is the colossal Maracanã Stadium. Here you can catch some of the world’s most exciting club team matches. The crowds are just as dedicated as the players: Spectators pound samba drums, wave team colors, and voice their disapproval over bad play. If you can’t attend a professional game, just stroll along the beach. You’re likely to see several pick-up football games. Join in if you’re feeling confident.
    Photo by Matthew Keesecker
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    Carnival: The World's Best Party
    Every year before Ash Wednesday, Rio throws one of the world’s best parties. Drawing on African, Indian, and European traditions, Carnival features five days of street fairs, free concerts, and costumed balls. The festival culminates in a colorful parade through the city’s Sambódromo Stadium. Dancers clad in feathered headdresses, sequined body suits, and rhinestone-studded G-strings compete for top honors in the country’s ultimate dance competition. The festivities start weeks before Carnival officially kicks off. Brace yourself for impromptu dance parties, the occasional midnight swim, and very little sleep.
    Photo by Jan Sochor/age fotostock
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    Commune with Nature in Rio
    Rio de Janeiro’s parks embrace the city’s dizzying variety of plant and tree species as well as its beautiful landscapes. Here visitors can explore rain forest caves, see hundreds of varieties of orchids and Amazonian plants, and wander through gardens designed by a world-renowned landscape artist. One of the city’s most notable outdoor areas is Tijuca National Park, where you should keep an eye out for monkeys in the trees around you. At Jardim Botânico, travelers can stroll through famous rows of towering palm trees. Flamengo Park is the perfect place to watch football players score goals on fields framed by the sea. Pack a picnic lunch and explore!
    Photo by Dijedal
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    Avant-Garde Galleries and Imperial Buildings
    Travelers wandering through downtown will pass baroque churches, avant-garde galleries, and imperial buildings. This is the best district in the city to get a taste of Rio’s historic and cultural heritage. If you’re lucky, you may catch one of the regular film festivals at Rio’s Museum of Modern Art, which also hosts rotating photography and design exhibits. Learn about the city’s seafaring legacy at the Candelária Church, which began as a humble chapel founded by a captain who was nearly lost at sea. At the Municipal Theater, visitors can walk the opulent marble halls that host the city’s ballet, orchestra, and opera groups.
    Photo by Olivier Goujon/age fotostock
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    Hit the Beach
    With soft sand, mosaic-covered promenades, and beautiful scenery, Rio’s beaches attract visitors seeking a taste of local culture and a spectacular view, along with a tan. Don your teeniest suit (you’ll probably still be overdressed) and join an impromptu football or volleyball game with the locals. Watch tightrope walkers dance across slack lines strung between palms. Admire a sand sculptor shape a mini replica of Christ the Redeemer that puts all other sand castles to shame. Or just grab a coconut and sarong from a beach vendor and relax on the sand. The most popular beaches among travelers are Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana. Arpoador beach is the best place to catch the sunset.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Feel the Rhythm of Rio
    It is fitting that the city which put samba, bossa nova, and baile funk on the map has dozens of dance halls, jazz bars, and clubs where visitors can rub sweaty elbows with locals. Cariocas, Rio locals, prefer live music, and it’s not uncommon to find musicians performing early into the morning. The most popular venues for dancing are Rio Scenarium and Carioca da Gema. Here, singers backed by brass bands weave tales of love and heartbreak to the beat of a bass drum. Even those who claim they don’t dance can’t help but sway to the rhythm. The caipirinha helps!
    Photo by Elan Fleisher/age fotostock
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    Thrilling Rio
    Travelers will have no trouble satisfying their thirst for adventure in Rio de Janeiro. The city’s craggy mountains, glittering seas, and famous landmarks aren’t just for admiring—they’re also for exploring. There are hundreds of rock climbs within an hour of the city center, and many of the granite towers provide the perfect springboard for hang gliding. Take a scuba diving or surfing class in one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Hikers can explore local parks or the wilderness surrounding the base of Christ the Redeemer. Feeling extreme? Contact a local parachuting group, and enjoy one of the most beautiful free falls possible.
    Photo by Marcin Wichary