One of the most interesting cities in the world, an authentic destination where the warmth of the culture and the people wins your heart.
Rio is all about the beach life and the Cariocas know how to enjoy it. Rent a flat or book a hotel in Leblon (right next to Ipanema), it is the best location to enjoy the beach and the local bars and restaurants. Hotel Marina Palace has the best location but it is not cheap compared to the level of hospitality and hotel Fasano is your luxurious option but further in Ipanema. I also experienced the Airbnb flat. Make sure you rent one with air conditioning.
I usually go to the beach (between Marina Palace and Mirante do Leblon) in the morning after breakfast at Talho Capixaba or a juice at BB Lanches.
Rent your seats and umbrellas, enjoy fresh coconut water and avoid the grilled seafood offered by the peddlers.
Sunset is another great time to go to the beach and enjoy a caipirinha from one of the many local barracas.
The after-beach place to be Bar Bracarense for aperitif with the locals. Enjoy the small ice cold tap beers 'chopine' and bolinhos, the classic Brazilian savoury dough balls.
The kiosks, all lining the famous beach boardwalk designed by Roberto Burle Marx, are part of the culture and a great stop when you decide to go for a morning run on the beach or a walk to Arpoador. But my favourite spot, for the view and the simplicity of the experience, is the kiosk on Mirante do Leblon for a caipirinha and the best views over Ipanema.
Prainha beach, about 35km west of Leblon is an amazing day or half-day escape. Book a cab to go there and make sure you organise your return pick-up. Pack water and food as offering is very limited there. Go before noon in high season to ensure you get an umbrella as it gets really hot.
New Year's Eve : 2 million people gather on Copacabana beach to watch the fireworks over the sea. Dress in white, pack some bubbles and a picnic and enjoy one of the most thrilling experiences of your life! (don't be scared as there is police everywhere).
Samba : even if you are not an aficionado of samba music, you won't be disappointed by a concert at Carioca da Gema, a wonderful concert / bar venue in Lappa. Don't go too late as it gets packed quickly. Rio Scenarium is the institution in Rio. I find it too commercial and touristy, but the dance floor is vibrant. Sadly, the wonderful Casa Rosa, the place for partying, samba and feijoada, has closed. Let's hope it comes back.
Oscar Niemeyer : architecture lovers rejoice. Rio is home to Oscar Niemeyer's many works amongst which the Contemporary Art Museum in Niteroi. Take the ferry and enjoy a walk along the sea after your visit. You can also visit his former house Casa das Canoas.
Favelas : they fascinate and are now more safe to visit. Vidigal is small and close to Leblon. Go to Ponto de Moto Taxi and hop at the back of a motorbike. It's going to be quite an experience to drive up to the top of the favela. Ask your driver to drop you at Bar Da Laje. I went on a Saturday afternoon and had the best time ever. Cocktails, samba concerts, an incomparable ambiance and stunning views of Ipanema.
Botequins : it is THE way to live in Rio and especially in Leblon. A local bar with choppine and bolinhos, packed with beautiful people in flipflops and light attires. Boteco Belmonte on Rua Dias Ferreira is the best and offers and large variety of nibbles brought to you in trays by the waiters. A few doors away, Chico e Alaide is more of a casual bar / restaurant and a great spot for some nibbles when returning from the beach
Santa Teresa is the very picturesque old quarter on the top of rio, with its yellow cable car called 'Bonde' and its steep streets.
If you are looking for a luxury retreat in an oasis, book a room or go for lunch at Santa Teresa Hotel. It is part of the Relais & Chateaux collection and offers sleek local design, outdoor pool with a view, a vibrant bar and a refined restaurant.
A few blocks away, Bar Do Mineiro is the place to be. A local bar where crowds come for the feijoada, cachaca and beer, and mostly to socialise.
Across the street is the casual joint Cultivar which is a good spot for breakfast.
At the other side of the spectrum is Aprazivel, the iconic refined restaurant at the top of the hill. It offers a mesmerizing open-air wooden decor, set in trees with stunning views over the Guanabara Bay, but I find the prices silly and the experience a bit too serious.
Leblon / Ipanema / Marina Palace / Fasano hotel / Bar Bracarense / Prainha beach / Mirante do Leblon - Casa de Cachaca
New Year's Eve fireworks on Copacabana beach / Rio Scenarium / Carioca da Gema / Conetmporary Art Museum in Niterói / Casa de Canoas / Favela do Vidigal / Bar Da Laje / Boteco Belmonte / Chico e Alaide
Hotel Santa Teresa / Bar Do Minero / Cultivar / Aprazivel / Cine Santa Teresa
Safety has massively improved but be careful still. Don't wander around, especially at night, take taxis. Don't wear any jewellery. Dress casually and avoid any exterior signs. Lapa can still be dodgy, especially the arches area.