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Big City Life in Rio de Janeiro

The Rio Bucket List
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.
By Arturo Lezcano, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Diego Berruecos
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    The Rio Bucket List
    The Rio Bucket List
    Rio’s breathtaking urban landscape is its greatest asset. 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. For a bird’s-eye view of the city’s serpentine layout, ride the cogwheel train to Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven new wonders of the world, or take the cable car to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain. On the way down, order a caipirinha (Rio’s signature cocktail of cane liquor and lime) in Urca and contemplate your surroundings.
    Photo by Diego Berruecos
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    City Secrets Beyond the Must-See Sights
    City Secrets Beyond the Must-See Sights
    While every traveler must see Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, those who also venture beyond the landmarks will discover the history and soul of Rio. The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, or royal reading room, offers a reprieve from the bustling streets as well as a chance to explore more than 350,000 works of art and literature. At the Escadaria Selarón, you can climb more than 200 steps, 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 rarely get attention in Rio guides.
    Photo by Diego Berruecos
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    Cheer on Team Brazil
    Cheer on Team Brazil
    Cariocas love their soccer—and it shows. Brazil’s team is one of the best in the game, having claimed a record five World Cup victories. At the colossal Maracanã Stadium, you can catch some of the world’s most exciting club team matches as spectators pound samba drums, wave team colors, and voice their disapproval over bad calls. If you can’t attend a professional game, just stroll along the beach, where you’re likely to see several pickup fútbol games. Join in if you’re feeling confident.
    Photo by Diego Berruecos
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    Commune with Nature in Rio
    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. On offer to visitors are rain forest caves, hundreds of orchids and Amazonian plants, and 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. Travelers can also stroll through rows of towering palm trees at Jardim Botânico, or catch a fútbol game on a field framed by the sea at Flamengo Park. Pack a picnic lunch and just explore.
    Photo by Diego Berruecos
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    Avant-Garde Galleries and Imperial Buildings
    Avant-Garde Galleries and Imperial Buildings
    For a taste of Rio’s historic and cultural heritage, head to downtown, where you’ll find Baroque churches, avant-garde galleries, and imperial buildings. 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. You can also learn about the city’s seafaring legacy at the Candelária Church, or visit the Municipal Theatre and walk the opulent marble halls that host the city’s ballet, orchestra, and opera companies.


    Photo by Sávio Martins
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    Hit the Beach
    Hit the Beach
    With soft sand, mosaic-covered promenades, and beautiful scenery, Rio’s beaches attract visitors seeking local culture, spectacular views, and a tan. Don your teeniest suit (you’ll probably still be overdressed), and join an impromptu fútbol or volleyball game, or watch tightrope walkers dance across slack lines strung between palms. You can also admire sand sculptors shaping mini replicas of Christ the Redeemer that put all other sandcastles to shame, or simply grab a coconut and sarong from a beach vendor and relax on the sand. Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana are the most popular beaches among travelers, while Arpoador is the best place to catch the sunset.
    Photo by Diego Berruecos
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    Thrilling Rio
    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 Rio’s granite towers provide the perfect springboard for hang gliding. Water-sport fans can take a scuba diving or surfing class in one of the most beautiful bays in the world, while 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 breathtaking free falls possible.
    Photo by Ana Schlimovich