With its glorious coastline, dramatic mountains and urban rainforest, Rio de Janeiro is a city that hits you between the eyes with its natural beauty. But there’s plenty to discover here that isn’t instantly self-evident. From lively neighbourhood bars and an intricate beach culture to sculptural gardens and concrete modernist buildings, there is a lot more to Rio than bronzed bodies on Ipanema Beach.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. When in Rio: When asked about safety in the city, any local will be quick to say that you should be fine – as long as you are esperto (“street-smart”).
  2. First past the post: The city’s beaches are broken down into sections according to numbered postos (“posts”), each of which offers a different atmosphere.
  3. Make a day of it: The most important meal is lunch and it does not necessarily end with the arrival of the bill. Put aside at least two hours on weekdays and be prepared on weekends: it can be a day-long event.
  4. Meet and greet: Brazilians are known to be quite touchy-feely. Just extending your hand with no extra touching comes across as a little frio (“cold”) to most Cariocas.
  5. Dress to impress: Rio is extremely informal but don’t mistake casualness for lack of style. The majority of venues will have no problem if you turn up in T-shirt, shorts and Havaianas. Rio gets very hot and humid so always opt for lighter fabrics.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Fasano, Ipanema

    Design-centric digs

    The Fasano’s location is second to none but only about half of the rooms have a sea view, so be sure to ask. There are three Deluxe Ocean-Front Suites and these are easily the best. The Fasano’s other assets include a rooftop infinity pool.

  2. Belmond Copacabana Palace, Copacabana

    Old-school glamour

    The most sophisticated address in Rio has ushered the rich and famous across its marble threshold since it opened in 1923. The Palace’s rooms are a masterclass in simple grandeur.

  3. Mama Ruisa, Santa Teresa

    Personalised service

    Owner Jean Michel Ruis prides himself on giving each guest a unique experience; he can recommend a personalised itinerary for your visit.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Bom dia: Good morning
  2. Boa tarde: Good afternoon
  3. Boa noite: Good night
  4. Carioca: Local resident of Rio
  5. De nada: You’re welcome
  6. Lindo(a): Beautiful
  7. Obrigada: Thank you (for women)
  8. Obrigado: Thank you (for men)
  9. Oi: Hi
  10. Tchau: Good bye
  11. Tudo bem?: How are you?

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Gero, Ipanema

    Old-school Italian

    When hotelier Rogério Fasano opened Gero in 2002 he raised the gastronomic bar for the whole city. The menu is heavy on classic Italian staples such as lamb shanks and veal ravioli; our top pick is the saffron risotto with ossobuco.

  2. Aconchego Carioca, Praça da Bandeira

    Comforting Brazilian food

    This relaxed pub-style restaurant serves food that is typical of Brazil’s northeast. If you need a break from Rio’s carnivorous leanings this is a good option.

  3. Sushi Leblon, Leblon

    Japanese with a twist

    The sleek dining room has specialties such as sushi de agulhão branco (butterfish and fried quail egg nigiri with truffle oil) and tuna tartare, all served on crockery by São Paulo-based Japanese potters Hideko Honma and Kimi Nii.

  4. BB Lanches, Leblon

    Juicey secret

    Sample some lesser-known Amazonian fruits such as the lychee-like graviola, the bitter orange acerola fruit or the purple açaí, which some say tastes like a mix of berries and chocolate.

  5. Bar dos Descasados, Santa Teresa

    Sunset romance

    Tucked beneath the stunning Santa Teresa Hotel, this bar is a wonderful spot for a sundowner or two. The large arches open out onto one of the best views in Rio, over the rooftops of Santa Teresa to Guanabara Bay.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. Osklen, Ipanema

    Beach plus

    Global sportswear brand Osklen was founded in 1989 and the first Rio shop opened two years later. The flagship store offers high-end casualwear while Osklen Praia, a short walk away, hosts a range of T-shirts and shorts.

  2. Blue Man, Ipanema

    In-demand swimwear

    Brothers David and Simão Azulay made Blue Man into a success story during the 1970s by adding their vibrant prints to pieces such as a tie-side bikini and sungas: the swimming shorts favoured by fashionable men throughout Brazil.

  3. Poeira, Leblon

    Modern Portuguese

    Poeira (“dust”) is the creation of Portuguese entrepreneur Mónica Penaguião; this homeware shops hold a mix of international designs as well as its own-brand furniture, rugs and cushions.

  4. Toca do Vinícius, Ipanema

    Bossa nova central

    Carlos Alberto Afonso, now in his sixties, set up this record shop dedicated to bossa nova in 1993 and originally named it Toca da Bossa Nova (Den of Bossa Nova).

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