Rambunctious, raucous Rio – loved by many and hated by few! This great party city on the edge of the Brazilian coast is a place to really crack the bucket list in half. It's got so many iconic sights you're bound to be as busy as a drag queen during carnival time as you flit between the soaring statue of Christ the Redeemer, sunbathe on the sands of Ipanema and Copacabana, sip Caipirinhas, and do all the other things people do when they head here for the first time.
Santa Teresa is the bohemian side of Rio; a place of winding cobbled lanes and rattling trams, hidden squares and enticing little enotecas crammed between the arcades. It cascades down the upper reaches of central Rio towards the Atlantic Ocean, emerging from the protected reserves of the Tijuca Forest in a medley of gorgeous Art Deco buildings and classic 1930s streets. It's surrounded by sprawling favela slums, but has a distinct charm thanks to its colourful public art works and vibrant, mosaic-decorated parks. It's also one of the best places to come and sample the city's unique kitchen, which fuses the fresh flavours of South America with the earthiness of Portuguese cuisine – just check out little tapa joints like Espírito Santa, Aprazível and Bar do Mineiro!
Pedra da Gávea
You can hardly miss the great Pedra da Gávea, which emerges like Pride Rock (a la The Lion King) from the deep greens of the Tijuca Forest just around the headland from the lively neighbourhood of Ipanema. A truly breathtaking splinter of stone, many consider it to be even more dramatic than Rio's iconic Sugarloaf Mountain. However, unlike the famous Sugarloaf, this one doesn’t have a cable car all the way to the top, which means it's a job for the calf muscles and the hamstrings and the sturdy walking boots! In all, it's a two-hour hike from the city to the summit. But trust us, it's worth it! The sweeping panoramas of the Brazilian coast and the Atlantic Ocean are unrivalled, and the pinnacle itself is a bulbous dome made from a single boulder. It's not for the faint-hearted, or the scared-of-heights; and for darn's sake, be careful!
If you're tiring of the endless parties and carnivals and Caipirinha cocktails of the two famous beaches that line the front of Rio – Copacabana and Ipanema – then perhaps it's time to break out of the central zone and hit the metropolis's more hidden sands. Cue Prainha Beach, which hides beneath the rugged, jungle-clad hills of Grumari to the south-west of the city. Untouched and unspoiled, peppered with the occasional chicha beer shack, and buffeted by strong surf swells (and an equally strong rip tide – beware!), the beach draws just a fraction of the crowds as its bustling brothers back in the town. Head here to kick back between the huge boulders that pepper the shore, to sunbathe in privacy, or to escape the toots and samba tunes of Atlantic Avenue.
After a night spent letting loose on the sands of Copacabana and between the beach bars that spill onto the Atlantic Avenue (think more Caipirinha and hangover-inducing chicha beer than you can possibly guzzle in a single evening), it's time to join the locals and hit the legendary sandwich shop of Cervantes. Open until the small hours, the joint on Barata Ribeiro is famed throughout the city for its filling sandwiches. These come packed with local sausage cuts and South American meats, topped with melted cheeses and doused in traditional Portuguese Francesinha sauces. In short, the place is perfect for those after-party nibbles, and might just help keep the party going a little longer too!
A sharp turn inland from the pretty coastal boulevard that moves west from Ipanema to the Barra da Tijuca, up a winding mountain road that's shrouded by the deep greens of the Tijuca Forest, this haunting site is perfect for all those urban explorers. Originally built in the middle of the 20th century for visiting tourists (hence the other name: the Gávea Tourist Hotel), the huge high-rise of a building has been abandoned for over four decades. Over the years it's been slowly consumed by the jungle, with vines and monkeys and all manner of other critters making it their home. Recently, Rio's authorities shut the complex off to visitors (folk were abseiling down from the roof – so you can see why!), but it's still possible to see it from the roadside…
Mirante Dona Marta
Okay, so Rio definitely isn’t short of lookout points, we all know that. There's the soaring top of the Sugarloaf Mountain, and the rostrum of Christ the Redeemer, not to mention the countless other panoramic spots to be had atop the favela hills and in Santa Teresa. However, there's another, much less-visited and hidden lookout that's surely worth a mention too: Mirante Dona Marta. This high-perched point on the way from the coast to the Tijuca Forest is perfect for viewing the city from above. It sits nestled behind the main neighbourhoods that fringe the Atlantic, meaning there are breathtaking views of everything from Ipanema to Flamengo. And it's cheap – costing just a fraction of the other more popular viewing decks in town.
Bar e Restaurante Urca
Not a neighbourhood, nor a mountain, nor even a sight, but just a humble bar, this recommendation is great for those travellers who enjoy kicking back with a sunset and a beer – and let's be honest, who doesn't? The spot is sat under the soaring rises of the Sugarloaf Mountain, just a stone's throw from where the crashing Atlantic rollers collide with the sparkling sands of Botafogo Beach and the Brazilian shore. The bar section of the place has plenty of frothy cold ones, along with a menu of enticing snacks that are perfect for evening nibbles: codfish balls, beef jerky, mini sea crab pies – the list goes on…
If you think it's time you took to the road and started exploring the nooks and crannies of cities like Rio de Janiero, or have just been convinced to hit Brazil's carnival capital on account of these hidden spots, be sure to head over to our Brazil itineraries page for all the bucket-list-busting trips we've got on offer. We’d also love to hear any more suggestions for hidden spots in the city in the comments below…
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