Information & Facts
Situated in the tropical South Atlantic, Rio de Janeiro is warm all year round. Summers, between November and March, are very hot and humid. Winters are cool and dry, never cold, with some precipitation, lasting only from June to September.
Brazilian cuisine is famous for its use of red meat, a fact deliciously confirmed when eating out in Rio. Churrascarias (Brazilian barbeque) is a simple beef dish, normally spiced only with salt, and often accompanied with feijão com arroz (rice and beans). Other meat may end up in feijoada, a traditional stew made with black beans. Local taste runs toward oily, sweet, and salty food, with a noticeable lack of spices. A popular treat is bacalhau (salted cod), which is usually imported from Norway. Good restaurants in which to look for traditional Brazilian food include Bar do Arnaudo in Santa Teresa, Marius in Copacabana, or Brasileirinho in Ipanema.
Lunch in Rio is an adventure for those on a budget. A range of street vendors selling everything from fruit to grilled prawns to cheese bread offer options for everyone. Use your own judgment regarding food safety by gauging the cleanliness of the stall (and vendor) and how popular it is with locals. The beach has many similar options, including oysters or shrimp tarts, and drinks like fresh coconut water out of the shell and bright purple açai juice. The Brazilian equivalent to MacDonald's, Bob's Burgers, will take your order and deliver to you right on the sand.
Coffee in Rio is traditionally drunk standing at a corner bar, but you'll find a few cafés dotted around, like Café Severino, located in the famous Livraria Argumento bookstore; Jasmin Manga Cyber Café, which offers rare free internet access; or Café du Lage, in a beautiful Roman villa-esque building.
One popular type of Rio restaurant offers a pay-by-weight system where the customer selects his or her food from a buffet, bringing it to the chef to be cooked. This is a great way to sample a variety of different dishes, taking as much or as little as you like while the waiters mark your receipt. Take care to keep your receipt safe, though, as the fee for losing it is often very high. Frontera in Ipanema is a good example of this type of restaurant, or Fellini in Leblon.
There are also a few good organic and vegetarian restaurants in Rio, including Blyss Holy Foods in Ipanema, Universo Organico in Leblon, and the aptly named Vegan Vegan in Botafogo. Most restaurants in Rio de Janeiro are open from 11am to 4pm, and from 7pm to midnight. Some stay open all day, especially on Saturday when people stream in from the beaches at all hours. Restaurants usually add a 10% service charge to the bill, but waiters will appreciate another 5% if their service has been good. If the service is truly terrible, you can ask not to pay the service charge. Some restaurants do not take credit cards, so it's best to ask up front if you don't have cash.
Although a large and sprawling city, the neighbourhoods most frequented by visitors are easy to access using a combination of Rio's public transport, and one's own feet.
The public transport system in Rio is cheap and efficient, and most places can be reached by metro or bus. By far the quickest and easiest way to get around is by the efficient metro, but there are limits to its coverage of the city with only two lines.
Walking around is generally safe as long as there are crowds of people, although walking in the centre of the city is not recommended after the shops close and their security guards go home.
The most inexpensive form of transport is the local buses, which travel all over the city as fast as the traffic will allow. Unfortunately, they are often badly driven, crowded, and the scene of much petty theft, especially during rush hours when the crowded conditions are ideal for pickpockets. Special care should be taken on buses known to be used by tourists, such as those to the Sugar Loaf. Drivers frequently have little to no change, so don't try to use money in large denominations.
Public transport stops between 11pm and midnight, with some buses operating twenty-four hours, but it is safer to hire a taxi late at night. Taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, charging a lower rate after 6pm (except Sundays, holidays, and in December). Radiotaxi can be ordered and are said to be safer and more reliable, usually with air-conditioning, but they are thirty percent more expensive than regular taxis. Drivers may add a surcharge for extra luggage.
Driving in Rio is not recommended for overseas visitors do to the chaotic nature of the traffic. To hire a car, though, you'll need an international driver's license, and insurance.
Cariocas (locals) in Rio are remarkably kid-friendly, with children welcome almost anywhere. Kids on holiday in Rio de Janeiro will love spending time in the sun and surf of the beaches, building sand castles and devouring mounds of ice-cream. Leblon Beach has Baixo Baby, a play area with a vast selection of kids toys. The streets lining the waterfront host entertaining jugglers, magicians, stilt-walkers and fire-eaters, and there are toy cars to rent, so there's always something for children to do in Rio.
There are many places for kids to enjoy the natural wonders of Rio, including the massive Tijuca Forest, which contains Corcovado Mountain with the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, Cascatinha Waterfall, and the giant granite picnic table called the 'Mesa do Imperador'. The forest is immense and best attempted with a guide. Smaller children will tire long before all the sights are seen.
The Parque do Catete, a small, manicured park in the Palácio do Catete, offers a shady refuge from the heat, with ponds, stroller-friendly walkways, music and theatre performances, and even a kind of toy loan service that charges by the hour.
The Rio City Zoo offers a close view of local wildlife, with over 2,000 species to see, most of them native to Brazil. It has an open walk-through aviary, reptile house and primate displays. It's open Tuesday to Sunday and charges a small admission fee.
Rio also has a number of child-friendly museums, including the Museu do Indio (Indian Museum), where children can use stamps and body paint to decorate themselves as native warriors. The National Museum has mummies, zoological displays, historical artefacts, and a 5 tonne meteorite. The Museu do Universo (Museum of the Universe) has models and experiments for kids to discover how the physics and astronomy. Many museums offer free entry for kids under seven.
The spoken language in Brazil is Portuguese, however Spanish and English are also used in the cities.
The Brazilian monetary unit is the real (BRL), plural reais. There are 100 centavos to the real. The US dollar is also welcome in most tourist establishments. In the main cities foreign currencies and travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks or cambios. There is an extensive network of ATMs in the country and most major international credit cards are accepted.
Home to Carnival, samba and the Copacabana, it's not surprising that the nightlife in Rio de Janeiro is one of a kind, and Cariocas (Rio's residents) will make a party out of just about any social gathering. Whether you're looking for a relaxing bar or lounge to sip on a couple of 'chopps' (draft beer), or you're in the mood for a big night out at a hip and happening dance club, Rio de Janeiro has it all.
A popular way to warm things up is to start off in the cooler early evening at one of the numerous beach bars for a coconut juice or cocktail. Head off to one of Rio de Janeiro's trendy beach communities, such as Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon and explore the bars and clubs, but be warned, some of these places may not grant entry to people wearing shorts and T-shirts or flip-flops.
Head off to a trendy restaurant for a late dinner with friends and then at around 11pm, when most clubs open, check out who's playing at the Rio Scenarium, Comuna da Semente or Carioca da Gema. Lapa is a popular spot for revellers as well as Gamba.
Live music and dancing is also big in the entertainment scene in Rio de Janeiro and there is a wide variety, such as Samba, Bossa Nova, rock, MBP (Brazilian pop), blues, jazz and much more. If you search hard enough, there is sure to be a gig happening somewhere in this vibrant city on any given night. You can also watch Samba school rehearsal parties, where local drummers and dancers showcase their skills in warehouses for thousands of people. It's a great way to get a taste of the Carnival atmosphere at other times of the year.
Clubbing in Rio can be expensive, but you can have a cheaper night out by sticking to local drinks. Many clubs will charge you for drinks and entry only when you leave, so keep track of what you spend. Most clubs have a dress code, so t-shirts and flip flops aren't allowed. Each club is different: some will only allow men when accompanied by women, and most will require an ID or passport to enter.
Rio also has a vibrant gay clubbing scene, with many bars and clubs in Copacabana and Ipanema, including Le Boy, La Girl, Dama da Ferro, Fosfobox and The Week. An alternative to clubs and bars in Rio are the street parties. Lapa hosts a street party every Friday and Saturday night near the aqueduct on Avenida Mem de Sá; and Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays are the best nights to head to Gávea, where you'll find music, cheap beer, and many university students on the street in front of the bar Hipódromo.
Pick up a copy of the Friday editions of the O Globo, O Dia or Jornal do Brasil newspapers for listing on nightlife and entertainment in Rio de Janeiro.
Shopping in Rio de Janeiro can be a rewarding experience for tourists on the hunt for bargains, whether they're seeking cheap souvenirs or designer goods. While it isn't considered a major shopping destination, there are numerous shopping centres, boutiques, street stalls and markets offering a wide selection of mementos.
Rio's main shopping destinations are concentrated into areas like Rio Sul in the city centre. There are also numerous shopping districts near the beaches, including Avenida Nossa Senhora and Rua Barata Ribeiro in Copacabana, Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva in Leblon, and Rua Visconde de Pirajá in Ipanema.
Religious antiques, soapstone carvings, leather goods and gemstone jewellery are Rio's most popular souvenirs, offered by various shops throughout the city. You can also find local gemstones carved into shapes like toucans, jaguars, and other wild figures that make good gifts, alongside tacky options like plastic replicas of Christ the Redeemer.
Good-quality beachwear and Brazilian soccer jerseys are also popular, though you'll need to choose between cheap imitations at market stalls and more expensive official merchandise. Rio is the birthplace of Havaianas (flip flops), so they're available in any number of brands, styles, and colours. One of the best things to buy in Rio de Janeiro though, is music, with albums available of Brazil's distinctive local music. Modern Sound on Barata Ribeiro has the biggest collection, or for a good selection of jazz music and books, head to the artsy Livraria da Travessa.
The gift shop at the Museu do Índio has a selection of pots, woven baskets, and wooden artefacts made by indigenous tribes. Another unique souvenir is the cachaça, or sugar cane brandy, brewed at Petisco da Vila. Try a bottle after watching the production process right in the brewery.
Good-quality local arts and crafts can be found at outdoor weekend markets, the best of which include the Hippie Fair, the Babilônia Hype Fair, and the enormous Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão, which has over 700 stalls. For flowers and food, including fruit, vegetables and cheeses (though you won't be able to bring them home), Praca General Osorio in Ipanema and Rua Domingos Ferreira in Copacabana are also worth a visit.
Most items are reasonably priced, as long as you stay away from the obvious tourist traps around the major hotels. Bartering is acceptable though, and you can usually earn yourself up to a 10 percent discount in shops if you pay cash, though most shops and even some markets will accept major credit cards. Shops tend to stay open Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm, and shopping centres stay open daily from 10am to 10pm. Sales tax is 18 percent, and there is no tax refund scheme for departing tourists in Brazil.
Steeped in a rich and diverse cultural history, Rio de Janeiro is a sightseer's dream with hundreds of spectacular attractions awaiting them! With the verdant Amazon rainforest, miles of beautiful coastline and some seriously exciting neighbourhoods to explore, this city has so much to offer. A trip to Rio de Janeiro would not be complete without heading up Sugar Loaf Mountain or an obligatory visit to the statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven New Wonders of the Modern World and Rio de Janeiro's most famous landmark. Ipanema is the place to go for sun worshippers, where miles of sugary white beaches and shopping opportunities abound. Sip on a caipirinhacocktail while singing along to the hit Barry Manilow tune in the Copacabana, or explore the cobblestone streets of downtown Centro, Lapa and Santa Teresa. Sports lovers should head down to the Estádio do Maracanã and enjoy a spot of the national sport of soccer. Tourists will do well to purchase the Rio Pass which enables the bearer to gain free entry to four of Rio's charging tourist attractions, 50% off on all other admission fees, discounts on nightlife, 15 additional deals, and a free map and guidebook full of need-to-know information. The pass is valid for seven days and can be bought from tourist offices around the city starting from a cost of $50.
Brazil spans four time zones: Rio and Sao Paulo: GMT -2 (GMT -3 April to October); Brasilia and Belm: GMT -3 (GMT -2 October to March); GMT -4 in the West.