14 Unique Things to do in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

14 Unique Things to do in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

What's Groovy
⤞ Immersing yourself into the energetic Carioca culture and exploring unique neighbourhoods
⤞ Listening to incredible live music such as Bossa Nova, Samba, Brazilian Funk, and Jazz
⤞ Visiting the Escardia Steps and Plage Mansion that were filmed in the "Beautiful" - Snoop Dogg & Pharrell music video
⤞ Lazy beach days, beautiful sand and spectacular sunsets

1. Beach day and sunset watching at Ipanema Beach

Known from the famous Bossa Nova song, "Girl from Ipanema", Ipanema beach is Rio's beach to be at and is less touristy than its neighbour Copacabana. We often hung around Postos 7 (lifeguard station and landmark) which is slightly less crowded than Postos 8 and 9. One beach umbrella and two chairs cost 20 Brazilian Reals ($6 USD) for the whole day. The water is surprisingly colder than expected but refreshing in the blasting heat of the sun.

We went for a walk to Posto 9 where the famous sandwich stand Barraca do Uruguai that was featured on Anthony Bourdain No Reservations and ordered a delicious chicken sandwich with chimichurri. Should have ordered two!

Once sunset rolls around, Arpoador Rock has one of the best views in the city and is located on Ipanema beach right beside Postos 7. You get to see the whole beach, city skyline as well as the iconic "Dois Irmãos" (Two Brothers) mountains.

We saw what we thought was ice cold fruit juice being served by people walking up and down the beach with trays. We bought one, took a sip, and realized it was an alcoholic beverage with a chemical sweet flavour. The barraca worker renting beach chairs and umbrellas saw it and made a gesture to not consume it. After feeling wobbly from two sips, we threw it out. Better safe than sorry!

Top Tip: Rent an airbnb close to the beach so you don’t have to bring your devices or worry about things getting stolen!

Read our article on 15 things to avoid in Rio De Janeiro  

2. See a Bossa Nova Show

Flavia Dantas at Little club

We LOVE Bossa Nova and were excited to see many Bossa Nova shows on while we were in Rio. We saw our first Bossa Nova Show at Little Club, which was one of the clubs where Bossa Nova started in the late 1950s. In 1960 Sergio Mendes made his mark here by having gigs on Sundays afternoons. We saw Flavia Dantas and she sounded exactly like you would imagine! The staff was very friendly and the drinks and small bites were good.  

3. Party at The Maze

View from The Maze jazz club

If you're in Rio the first Friday of the month you won't want to miss going to The Maze, which hosts one of the best jazz nights in the city! The Maze is a guesthouse perched on the top of a hill overlooking the city and has an excellent outdoor patio. Vans escort people from the bottom to the top of the favela and employees lead people through the literal maze of a street to get to the party.

The Maze jazz club

The party was lively and filled with hip looking people young and old. The event went from 10pm-4am and the jazz ensemble included a trumpet, sax, piano, upright bass, jazz guitar, and a vocalist.

4. Walk up the Escadaria steps to explore the bohemian Santa Theresa neighbourhood

Escadaria Steps

The colourful Escadaria Selaron was created by Jorge Selarón who fell in love with Rio De Janiero and spent more than 20 years decorating the steps.  You may have seen these colourful tiled steps in the popular music video Beautiful by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.

Once at the top of the stairs take a left to start exploring the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Theresa. As Anthony Bourdain said, it’s “the most magical neighbourhood of Rio De Janeiro.” At the top of the road you’ll find a quirky bar/convenience store named Bar do Serginho with graffiti, plastic tables and chairs lining the streets. We ordered a couple caipirinhas, cold beer and a satisfying salami pizza. It has that neighbourhood bodega kind of feel and was the perfect spot for lunch.  

Cool area in Santa Theresa

From there headed down the street to explore passing many funky bars and shops along the way. We were lucky to get a seat at Explorer Bar, located on the side of a hill overlooking the main strip. It’s in a teal coloured house and serves up delicious cocktails. Make a reservation in advance for this place!

On Saturdays at Mercados Da Pulga, there is a samba event called Samba dos Guimarães where tons of people gather to dance. Samba is a powerful rhythmic music. We noticed that a trend was to place an ice bucket loaded with beers (always Stella) on the ground and to dance with your group around it. Who needs tables when you have drink and song?  

5. Grab lunch in a reformed mansion

Plage Cafe

In Parque Lage, a private estate turned public park, there is a reformed mansion with a nice cafe called Plage Café. You can sit in the mansion's courtyard alongside the pool and have the perfect setting for lunch or a coffee. You can also see Christ the Redeemer in the distance from the courtyard!

6. Try Brazil’s signature drink, the Caipirinha

A Caipirinha

The Caipirinha is a cocktail simply consisting of muddled lime, sugar, and Cachaça, a liquor made from sugarcane. It’s the perfect go-to cocktail when you’re not in the mood for wine or beer. You find it everywhere!

7. Take the cog train up to see Christ the Redeemer

View of Christ The Redeemer

The cog train is a scenic way to get up the mountain. You can also take a van or hike up, but it was way too hot for us hike! The top of the mountain is at 680 meters above sea level.

We bought our tickets online here. Do you need to print out your voucher like it says online? Nope! We were able to just show the PDF form on our phone and give them the voucher code. They do require to see the credit card that purchased the tickets.

Time of day to go: either early morning if you want light to hit the front of the statue or in the afternoon after 3pm if you prefer to get nice shot of the city.

Once you’re done taking your pics, take a break at the restaurant overlooking the city and order some refreshing watermelon. We ordered caipirinhas but they were the worst we drank in the city.

8. Spend a day at Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf views

We took the cable car up to Sugarloaf mountain to see a panoramic view of the city. There are two cable cars you take to get to the top. You can purchase tickets in person for 98R$ or online here. If you book your ticket online you can save money depending on how far in advance you book and what day of the week. We saw rates online range from 69R$ to 98R$.  

If you walk down the stairs at the back of the top of the mountain, Beach Club Bar has marvellous views of Copacabana beach and the city. Enjoy fruit juices, coffee, cocktails, or appies in the comfy chairs.

Once back down the mountain we basked in the sun at Praia Vermehla next door, a picturesque beach with views of Sugarloaf mountain. It's a beautiful beach for standup paddle boarding to catch the views.

If you only have time to do Sugarloaf Mountain OR Christ the Redeemer, we would recommend Christ the Redeemer, since the cog train ride is longer with nice views of the city and Corcovado Mountain is almost twice as high. It's good value at 79 R ($21 USD) per roundtrip ticket during high season if you buy online. In low season tickets cost 65 R ($17 USD).

Another beautiful viewpoint of the city is from the iconic Dois Irmãos mountains seen in Ipanema beach sunset photos. It was too hot for us when we were there in January to do the hike. The blog, Now in Rio, has an informative article on what the hike entails if you're up for it!

9. Hang out with locals at Canastra Bar

Ceviche and drinks at Canastra Bar

Canastra Bar is a Brazilian wine and cheese bar in the happening Ipanema neighbourhood with outdoor seating that is great for people watching. On Tuesdays it gets very lively with vendors and people filling up on the street beside the bar. Most of the ladies got bottles of Brazilian rose wine and guys, buckets of Stella.

We sat there for hours and ordered the burrata and ceviche. It felt like we were really part of the local scene. It was excellent!

Another bar of interest for a more casual atmosphere is the beautiful Le Pulê filled with greenery and located just down the street from Canastra. Their food menu is more comprehensive and cocktails expertly made.

10. Drink the coldest beer in the world!

Cariocas (people from Rio) love their beer cold, brain freezing cold. It was an amazing fact that often lead to ordering another. The coldest beer we found in the city was at Bar Urca, an award winning seafood restaurant and Blue Note, an international jazz club.

11. Explore the Leblon neighbourhood

Beef tartare at CT Bucherie

Leblon is the affluent neighbourhood of Rio and has good shopping and restaurants. Walk the street Rua Dias Ferreira to find tons of trendy restaurants and bars. We ate at CT Boucherie which is a steakhouse in the Michelin guide and was truly one of the best steaks of our lives. Ari ordered the ribeye and I ordered the prime rib. Each tasted fantastically different in a way that whispered, "come try me next time". As we ate, servers would come by offering up different fresh made sides. The Brazilian bubbly rose was excellent; so much so that we had a couple glasses of it for dessert.

Leblon gets lively at night so we continued bar hopping down the strip.

12. See a jazz show at Blue Note

Blue Note has the best sound system we have heard in a jazz club. We saw a tribute to Azymuth, a Brazilian funk jazz band from the 70s and it was just incredible! The food and drinks were decent for a jazz club and service was top notch. Blue Note has eight jazz clubs located around the world. If you're not from Brazil and would like to pre-order your ticket for a show in Rio, you must email them for an International Sales Form.

13. Go on a walking Favela tour

Typical Rochina houses

Rochina, the largest favela in Rio is an eye-opening place. We were taken on a tour by a man who lives in the favela. It was very interesting to see inside, how people lived, what the people were like and to hear stories from our guide.

Our guide then took us to a local school where the kids played music for us with drums. It was an amazing experience to see them so happy. One asked Ari if he was making a video for YouTube, then grabbed his friend and danced like crazy for the camera!  

We always felt safe although there were drug dealers around. They are a part of the community just like everyone else and there is a mutual respect between the people. "Don't take photos here" our guide would say as we walked by a few dealers.

We highly recommend going on this tour. Read the reviews here.

14. Bike ride around Lagoa lake and have a picnic

Rent some bikes enjoy cycling around the 7km lake, a natural wonder in the centre of the city. Bring a blanket and some groceries for you to have a picnic in a grass patch along the way!

Burnt Potato 🥔💨 Fogo De Chao

We were so excited to go to a Brazilian steakhouse because we love them back in North America. It turned out to be expensive and underwhelming as it was the exact same experience. You sit there always guessing which one is the best cut of meat, trying to avoid the bad ones. We recommend skipping this and going to CT Boucherie instead, which is in the Michelin guide and around the same price. It was WAY better and one of our favourite restaurants of the trip!

Check out what it was like in our video: