top of page
  • Writer's pictureMarion Mueller

Rio - a guide for beginners

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Cidade Maravilhosa - Wonderful City this is how the people of Rio - the Cariocas- call their city. So it has been already some years ago since I got infected with the "Rio virus" and from my first time there I was connected with that city in a special way and it never lets me go since then. I came so many times back and Rio is always a great source of energy and happiness for me. I must say that since the very first time I was introduced to this city by real Caricocas, of whome some of them are my best friends now - so from the start I experienced Rio in the local way.

I had couple of friends who were in Rio but came back quite unimpressed and sometimes even with negative experiences. And for my family it comes pretty much to the same opinion like for Beirut - why do I have to travel to such a dangerous place from which they mainly heard negative things in the media. They think I am nuts!

But I am sure that everybody who has the same luck to get to know to Rio in the same way like me through Cariocas - you will fall in love like it happened to me.

So with below I want to give a short run up of my favorite places and activities in Rio. Of course I can not fit all of them here now as they just got too many over the years - but my favorite ones you find here and watch out my Blog for further news on Rio - sure I will be there once again soon.

One thing first which is always the main topic when it comes to Rio - SAFETY. Of course like in any other city a 100% safety can not be guaranteed and maybe Rio is a bit more "dangerous" than some other cities, but if you follow some basic rules - you should be fine.

- So all jewelry or any valuable items plus big handbags etc. leave them at the hotel or better even at home. In Rio you can go everywhere very casual, even to the good restaurants (with exception of some very few real high end ones like in Copacabana Palace) - so dress down and just bring a very small bag that you can wrap tight around your body.

- Never bring big amounts of money to the street, but have always some money with you because in case the worse case scenario happens and you get robbed you need to give them something so they go off and DO NOT PLAY THE HERO. Often these people are only kids but they might be on drugs and even have a gun, so better to give them what they want.

- No big cameras or expansive phones on the street.

- Make sure you know the way you are going when on tour. Rio is a picturesque city with many hills, however a hill usually means a Favela (slum), where you should not end up. I will have some words on Favelas later on.

That sounds all scary now - take it easy! Just mingle into the relaxed Carioca lifestyle and you will be perfectly fine.

Main Touristic sights

I do not want to spend much time here on this as all these sights are well known and you can read it up in any normal tourguide book. Plus for me it is already some time ago that I done them as this was all in my very first visit.

Just to say that of course you should not miss a visit to Corcovado with the Christ Statue and the cable car ride up Sugar Loaf (expect long queues there in the main season) . For the main sights you can either book some organized tour or just explore them by yourself and get around by taxi, which are quite cheap in Rio.

When you visit Sugar Loaf at the bottom of the rock it has a nice beach and a walk way through some tropical forest where you can often see some monkeys.

Just a short taxi drive away from there is a nice lunch spot in Urca, called Bar Urca (, where you can get excellent seafood. Sometimes you need to wait for a table as this restaurant is very popular - but just grab a beer and sit opposite at the sea side to enjoy the view of the Bay.


......what Rio is really famous for. Happens either end of February or beginning of March, dates vary check out

A crazy time and the Cariocas start partying already a week before the actual carnival weekend. You will find street parties - the so called Blocos - on every day in many different places of the city. Usually you have some band playing there and then it is all about the dance, drinks and funny dresses -often the Blocos have a special theme. Online or in certain newspaper you can find a listing for the Blocos, so best get some help here in the hotel. Nice is for example the Bloco das Carmelitas in Santa Teresa or the Bloco do Sargento Pimenta (all about the Beatles)

Lapa the nightlife spot of Rio is busy throughout the year, but during carnival that part of the city basically never sleeps. You can find great concerts at the Fundicao Progresso or Circo Voador and in all the small bars around like Caricoa da Gema (go further down for more information on these venues) - these venues usually charge an entrance fee, but the huge street party out there is just for free.

At the main carnival weekend you should also not miss to go one night to the Sambodromo - where the big samba schools of Rio go on stunning parades. Friday and Saturday are the days for the smaller schools and tickets are cheaper - Sunday and Monday the most important schools have their shows. My first time there I could really not believe my eyes what each Samba School was setting up here, it is just so amazing with the incredible floats, dancers and costumes. Rio might be chaotic in many ways, but their carnival they take it serious and the detailed organization is out of this world.

Let me give you here a very small introduction into the system: samba schools are almost like football clubs with their own colors, flags and supporters. In the parade each school consists of around 3000- 5000 participants including the professional samba dancers from the school, plus flag holder, the Samba Queen of that year, the percussion band (bateria) and various other sections of different costumes plus the sometimes massive floats. There is a team of judges who will give their points according to various criteria like the song, the harmony, the theme, the spirit of the dancers, the costumes and so on. The Wednesday after the carneval weekend the results will be announced. And on the following Saturday there is a Champions parade of the 6 best schools - also very nice to go there as tickets are much cheaper than on the carnival weekend and you will get to see the best selection. However there the schools take it less serious so sometimes they dance out of what they are supposed to do or some floats are already slightly damaged - but still great fun!

For tickets it is best to get them through a local tour operator as they usually have seats in good sections and they also organize your transportation as it is not so easy to reach there. If you want to have a special experience you can get a real expansive ticket (from around 500 USD) for a Camarote - there you have the best views and food and drinks are included - it is kind of a lounge where you can relax and sit down as well - and you will need that as each parade day starts with the first school around 20.00 hrs and ends the next day around 07.00 hrs in the morning..... :-) told you there is no sleep in carnival.

Some other possibility to get into the carnival spirit from real close - go and participate in the parade! All the samba schools have some sections in their line-up where the costumes are on free sale, so you can go before the carnival there and try to buy one (sometimes they put that online as well). However costumes are quite expansive and often very heavy with many details (yeah, let the gringo tourist carry the heavy stuff :-)) - and if you do not speak Portuguese it is also difficult to figure out on that day where is your line-up and what you are supposed to do and they do not want you to make a mistake - even as a gringo (foreigner) - as the school can loose points then with your misbehavior. So be ready that people will shout on you - but still it is a unique experience and the feeling when you enter the Sambodrome and have all the emotional samba dancers around you is thrilling and a once in a lifetime experience. But if you go for this experience I recommend you to find somewhere a costume - they call it Fantasia- that is as light as possible with not many details.

Close to the Samba stadium is an open-air space called Terreirao do Samba - where you can find every night various bands on stage surrounded by a food and drink village. There is a small entrance charge to get into this place, but for that you can see great and popular musicians. It goes on the whole night until early morning hours - again who needs sleep :-)

Last word here for all the ladies among you going there for carnival - well, like I said carnival is a crazy time and a time of pure freedom - so a lot of people take that serious and you might end up that guys just grabbing you on the road and start kissing you - Welcome to carnival in Rio and I have to say there are many gorgeous guys out there, so you might not be to sad about that :-) but if that is too much freedom for you or the guys get too pushy - put them off clearly that they know you don't want to kiss them. Few times when they are too drunk they might get real annoying so my Carioca friends told me to tell them "Vasa fila da puta" - but be careful on using that, because these are strong words - means like "go off son of a bitch" - but Rio carnival sometimes need harsh words despite all the fun :-)

And one paragraph should be dedicated here to Motels - as they are a very Brazilian invention for a love affair and very popular during carnival (and also the rest of the year - hello you are in Brazil don't forget :-)). For most of the people from outside a Motel is a kind of hotel mainly on a highway for a quick night sleep en route. Well, yes people usually come also here by car and you can reach your room from an individual garage - but in Brazil you go there with your lover, whoever that is :-) Mostly you can find different type of rooms, sometimes with different themes and well let's say amenities. And you might have guessed already you pay there per hour - much said now, the rest is to be explored by yourself.

Here are some of my carnival impressions at Blocos and at the Sambodromo:


Same as there is no Rio without a carnival, there is no Rio without Favelas or Comunidades how they are called now in the correct political way. Although a lot of the Favelas nowadays are pacified and a kind of special peace police called UPP takes care of them - these areas should be normally avoided from tourists as they are still a place of drugs, crime and weapons and you never know when some conflict is boiling there.

Nevertheless it does not mean that all people in a Favela are criminals - it is more the opposite, they are poor but honest people who try to survive and have a great spirit. A Favela is nothing else than consolidated functional and innovative community full with life and cultural activities. Some of Brazils most famous contributions to the world are originated in Favelas - like Samba, Capoeira and Funk and some famous football players are brought up there.

I have been in Favelas a couple of times with my local friends and we were always very welcomed there and had some great food. But never do this alone - only with people from there who really know the neighborhood.

Nowadays there are also tour operators offering Favela Tours - but to be honest I am always very reluctant to these kind of tours as I feel like a group of tourists, most of them often with a lack of understanding for the social circumstances, is entering there like a trip to the zoo. That is my personal opinion - but should you have the chance to visit with somebody who lives there, go ahead but only to a pacified one.

You can also find now Guest Houses in Favelas, but once again be careful with that and don't do it if you not have enough information about that place. I can recommend you here one guest house from a good friend of mine, who is also a dancing teacher. If you are interested you can book through / Cantinho Alegre na Favela / FB: Luiz Henrique de Paula or send me an email and I will get you connected.

Also some bars and restaurants have popped up lately in Favelas - usually they are safe to go, but check with somebody who knows the actual situation in that Favela at the time of your visit.

One Favela bar even made it into international magazines and tourguides - Bar do David (, owned by a former fisherman in the Chapeau Mangueira comunidade behind Leme (end of Copacabana). He even got some awards now - the food is simple, but delicious. You can go there directly by taxi.

Further a super nice place is THE MAZE ( in the comunidade of Tavares Bastos behind Catete. The adventure starts in the approach already as the place is quite high up on the hill, so at the entrance street to the comunidade you can choose a van or the motorcycle guys who will bring you up. If you come by taxi, the driver can also bring you up if he is willing to do so. The last 5 minutes however you have to do on foot through the narrow alleys. The Maze which is also a guesthouse became quite famous and is organizing regular Jazz Nights, usually on the first Friday of a month. They have organized the whole thing quite well now and some guys will help you out to find the place and walk you through - so you are safe. On my last visit to Rio I did not go there, but I heard that it is still a nice place, the view from the terrace over the bay to Niteroi is amazing, but due to its popularity it got quite pricey in aspect of the poor neighborhood around. Also lately there have been some few incidents in that comunidade, so call ahead before visiting to make sure you are safe.

Another pacified comunidade and for sure one with the best views is Alto Vidigal behind Leblon. You have here the meanwhile real funky Alto Vidigal Hostel & Bar, check out their website for their very popular events.

Where to stay in Rio

As most of the time I was staying in my friends house my knowledge about hotels is a bit limited. But of course best is a place somewhere in Ipanema/Leblon. Copacabana which is internationally well known has lost a bit of its glory and is in many corners not so shining anymore as it used to be.

If you are coming with a group of friends it is also nice to rent an apartment for example through Airbnb (, but be very careful with the location and maybe check with somebody who is familiar with Rio. A lot of apartments that are offered there are often in bad conditions and very close to Favelas - which you should absolutely avoid.

I stayed during my last visit at the Golden Tulip Ipanema Plaza 4* ( which is a medium prized hotel in a fantastic location. I have booked it through and I got into one of their renovated rooms which are simple, but clean and nice. However the bathroom needs some up-dates as well. I saw in TripAdvisor some not so good comments about the rooms there, which I guess was in the not renovated part - so try to get into the new ones.

The big plus of the hotel is the location just one street away from the lovely Ipanema beach plus the nice rooftop swimming pool and bar. Further the breakfast was very good with many choices and you can have it outside on the terrace. I ate one night at their Asian Fusion restaurant which was very good as well.

The only negative point was the airport transfer which I have booked through the hotel - it was totally overpriced, with a crumpy driver who almost crashed the car in a tunnel while texting on his phone - not to be recommended!

Some of my favorite restaurants

Well, always when I am in Rio I eat a lot of street food which is simple, but always very tasty - so I do not have THE favorite restaurant. Also during lunch time a lot of restaurants offer buffets where you can basically find everything and often the grilled meat is made on the spot - you pay here by weight. So you can upload all on your plate and pay at the check-out.

Of course also no Rio trip is complete without a visit to one of the many Churrascarias - yeah now we come to the serious stuff for all meat lovers among you. After seated at your table you are offered to have a visit to the buffet where you can find the starters, salads, side dishes and lots of other tasty stuff plus desserts - BUT I recommend to basically ignore that except maybe for some salads or sides because you are here for the MEAT - so if you fill yourself up on the buffet, you have no space in your tummy anymore - because once back at the table there will be a continuous stream of different kind of meats coming to you which are freshly cut down in front of you. For all first timers this is really an experience and for sure after the first meats you are full - but do it as a professional and skip some of the first servings as the real good ones are coming at a later stage (because then everybody is full and can't eat much of the expansive stuff - yeah smart people the Brazilians :-) ). One of my favorite Churrascaria is Fogo de Chao Botafogo (, which has a very nice terrace overlooking the Bay and Sugar Loaf.

Another favorite of mine is the Balada Mix ( chain - which has many outlets throughout the city. They have a lot of healthy food options including Quinoa Salad and Acai Bowls for the morning. Very yummy and food without regrets :-) after all that meat affairs......

A further all time favorite from me is in Ipanema and is called Resto, tugged away in a small side street, R. Joana Angelica 184 ( half-way between the beach and the lagoon. This cozy bistro offers a fusion of light French cuisine mixed with typical Carioca dishes alongside good wines and mixed drinks.

During my last visit I discovered also a new place which was recommended from my friend CT Boucherie in Leblon, Rua dias Ferreira 636 ( A lovely small restaurant that serves delicious plated meat cuts together with amazing side dishes which are served to your table all the time.....and you just can't get enough from them. The French Chef owner duo really knows how to use the typical Brazilian ingredients for new fantastic creations. Thumbs up here - even if it comes with a higher price tag. But for the quality and for Leblon standards it is really value for money.

If you are there for dinner and want to have some drinks afterwards head for the Academia de Cachaca ( where you can get the national drink Caipirinha served in all variations and it is always a very good vibe there.

Or alternatively down to Lagoa for the chilled open-air bar Palaphita Lagoa ( and enjoy your drinks in a tropical atmosphere overlooking the lagoon. Soooooo relaxed and sooooo much holiday!

Rio and the Olympic Heritage

Well as we all know there was a lot of controversy discussion in the race to the Olympics, similar as it has been before the World Cup - but then in the end Rio showed itself from its best party side. I have been only at the World Cup, which really was a great and peaceful celebration of sport and I know from my friends who were at the Olympics it has been the same there. Of course there were a couple of organizational problems, but in the end the Cariocas with their welcoming charm and their party spirit made it all up again.

So the Olympics left Rio some nice, but expansive heritage like the new metro line to Baha or some new roads and tunnels. But the best of all is the New Port area with the Museu do Amanha ( the newly developed waterfront with its amazing street art project - the Graffiti Wall by the popular artist Eduardo Kobra, 190 meter long, 15.5 meter tall and 30000 square meter big. It took the artist 1500 liters of paint and 3500 cans of spray to finish it.

I would start a trip to that New Port district with a visit to the futuristic Museu do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow)- but it is wise to buy the tickets online in advance otherwise you might face a very long queue and still might not get into after a long wait - like it happened to me :-(

Then afterwards have a walk along the Graffiti Wall.....

You can then come back towards the museum and pass to the other side of the marina walk towards Centro .....when reaching Centro you can find many bars and nice lunch spots like the Bar do Gengibre, which are missing a bit around the museum and walk.

A trip to the other side of the Bay

If you are in Centro and still have some spare time in the afternoon you can walk down to Barcas - the ferry boat station from where boats are leaving every 20 minutes to the other side of the Rio Guanabara Bay - Niteroi. The people of Rio say the best thing of Niteroi is the view towards Rio - which is actually true - so taking the ferry boat offers you these nice perspective of Rio. While the many daily commuters are stucked in the notorious traffic that happens every day on the bridge between Rio and Niteroi - the ferry boat ride is fast and sufficient.

Once you reach the other side you can either come immediately back or otherwise explore a bit Niteroi, which actually has more than the views to Rio. Just beside the ferry boat station is a small market with cloth and accessories - which I really love and for which all my friends are making jokes on me - well, you maybe have to dig a bit among all that cheap cloth but I already have found some real clothing jewels there. Otherwise you can take a taxi to the more up-market and modern shopping street of Icarai.

If you are interested in art you can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art ( which was built by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and which is also housing a very nice restaurant downstairs.

At the far end of Niteroi and quite a drive away from the ferry boat station you can visit the Santa Cruz da Barra Fortress - which is now a days a military museum, but the main attraction is the real beautiful view towards Rio.

My favorite neighborhood

My real favorite area in Rio is up on one of Rio's many hills and called Santa Teresa. The weekends there are very lively with a super relaxed vibe. From Lapa you can have a nice walk on the cobble streets up to Santa Teresa. In the past there used to be a famous and very old cable car, but that is under maintenance since quite some time now (how many years again..... :-)), but supposed to be running again in the future .....but only Christ at Corcovado knows when this will happen.

My usual visit to Santa Teresa starts on a Saturday or Sunday at lunch time in my beloved Amazonian restaurant Espirito Santa ( They serve excellent and very creative dishes which all have their origin in the Amazon region - and you can sit outside on a small terrace overlooking the nearby and pacified Favela. During the weekend most probably you have to wait for a table but use that time to try one of their excellent Caipirinhas.

When you leave the restaurant you will find on your right hand side a woman selling different kind of home-made sweets and cakes - try her small chocolate balls called Brigadero, they are simply delicious!

Then it is time for a stroll first to the Centro Cultural Parque das Ruinas ( which houses various artistic events as well and has super nice views over the city.

Then back to the main street where you can explore nice small art shops, street wear stores and galleries and on weekends they have a couple of different street markets there as well with food and live music performances. A bit hippie style and so much Rio......

On my last visit I discovered also an interesting new restaurant Cafecito (, which is built around a huge tree - I just had a coffee there this time, but will definitely try out their food on my next visit.


One of my favorite activities in Rio at the weekend is to visit some street markets where you can always sample authentic food and find some nice stuff to buy. The Feira Santa Tereza we just had above. Some other of my favorites are:

Feira de Sao Cristovao - this is all about the food and music of North/East Brazil. In various food stalls and restaurants you can try out the food from that area and there are various stages with live music - which is mainly Forro, the music of the North. Since my first visits I really fell in love with this music and started to take classes - so the Feira is the right place to show off my dance skills - which are at their best after a few Caipirinhas :-)

The Feira is super busy on Saturday and Sunday afternoons - so it is a great time for a real authentic experience (

Feira Rio Antigo - which only takes place at the first Saturday of each month. Situated in Lapa it is a great market full of artistic stands, food, drinks and music ( It used to be before a market just for antique furniture and decoration - but that has become a side affair nowadays.

Feira Hippie Ipanema - well nowadays it is not so much about Hippies anymore but it is still a nice place to sample some good food of the North of Brazil and to buy some artistic souvenirs (

Lapa - my second home

Lapa is basically the nightlife neighbourhood of Rio - definitely not the most fancy one, but the one with the best vibes at night. You can choose from so many bars and live music clubs or just have your beer outside on the streets, which are packed during the weekend.

The most popular one among tourists is for sure Rio Scenarium - which is a real nice place, but a bit too touristic for my taste (

My favorite places are:

Levianos - on a Thursday where they have a live Salsa Band downstairs and a Forro band up-stairs on other nights they have rock, mainstream etc.(

Democraticos - on Wednesday is for the real Forro enthusiasts - you will be made dancing there no matter if you want or not (

Lapa 40 Graus - venue with two different floors and different live music programs. Check the website for more information ( I always had great nights there, sometimes even with full samba carneval bands.

Carioca da Gema - for me the best place to listen to live Samba bands. It is small and cosy and you always get to know to nice people, sometimes even the musicians themselves. (

After all that good music for sure you built up some hunger so try out a soup or some of the pastels in Belmonte washed down with a chope (small glass of beer) or some of the other restaurants there that open until late night during the weekend.

Lapa is also worth a visit during the day, especially on weekends when a lot of bars and restaurants are open. Just be aware to stay always in busy streets and don't wander too much off the common trails. You will see then the morbid charm of that area, with its quite runned down houses - but the government is trying now to preserve these historic house facades without loosing the special touch of that neighborhood.

Nice to see is the Aqueduct - which you anyway can't miss out as it goes through the whole of Lapa, then the Escadaria Selaron - the world famous steps created by the Chilean born artist Jorge Selaron made out of tiles, ceramics and mirrors - and further the urban street art graffiti of some houses.

Live Music Venues

Apart from the smaller bars and clubs with their excellent live music it is worth to check out the larger venues during your visit what they have to offer each night.

Fundicao Progresso - which was an old steel fabric and still has that industrial charm is a great venue for all sorts of live concerts. If you are lucky and they have a show of the popular samba bloco group - Monobloco - go and watch it. The atmosphere in their concerts is electric and will take you away! (

Circo Voador - which is just next door, is an open-air venue that houses concerts in a smaller scale as well as some real good parties like the monthly - EU AMO BAILE FUNK - which is a great place to get into the booty shaking Brazilian Funk music (

Rio Vivo - is another concert venue which often houses the big names of Brazilian samba music. Just be aware not to walk around in the park there. Take a taxi straight to and from the venue (

Last but not least SAMBA Schools

Another great place to experience some live Samba music are the Samba schools themselves. Especially in the month from August until Carnival in February/March they are doing their practice and rehearsals there and are open for everybody to see and enjoy the great vibes and music.

If you have ever been in such a school and have experienced the emotion that lies in the Samba music for these people, you can really fall in love with the city and its citizen. Often for the Samba girls and especially the annually selected Samba Queen - this is the center of their lifes and their biggest dream is to lead their Samba School into the next carnival parade. Therefore the atmosphere is unique and with the Samba drums you will immerge yourself into that eclectic surrounding immediately.

Although visitors are very welcomed in the schools and the people there are proud that foreigners come to visit their school, still be aware that most of the Samba schools are either inside or at the edge of a comunidade - so best would be to visit with local people or an organized tour and do NOT bring any valuables with you. Even if the favelas around are problematic the local people are usually not bringing that trouble into their samba schools - as each school is in the end the pride of their comunidade and therefore people do not want to make any trouble there.

Academicos do Salgueiro (

Is for sure one of the more organized schools and easy accessible for tourists - and also from the location the neighborhood is fine. But go and leave directly by taxi. Check on their website for all events, but usually on Saturdays you can experience some great samba and carnival rehearsals there and see the well known percussion group (bateria). Depending on the day and how close the date is to carnival you can see sometimes the girls with the full feather dresses and carnival gear. Also often groups from other samba schools are invited to perform during the night. The program usually starts around 23.00 hrs and goes until the early morning hours. Before you leave have one of the delicious hot dogs outside on street in front of the school (cachorro quente) filled up with onions and chips and whatever else you like. The real treat after a full night of dancing.

Estacao Primeira de Mangueira (

Which is without doubts my favorite samba school and which was the winner of the carnival parade in 2016. Mangueira is a bit more "wild" and located inside the comunidade of Morro de Mangueira, therefore you should only visit together with some Cariocas. Check also their website for events you can join in - as their ones are less regular than in Salgueiro. If you have the chance try a Feijoada, which usually will be on a Sunday afternoon - here you can tug into some real Brazilian food and mingle with local families who are enjoying an afternoon of samba together.....super authentic!

Pedra do Sal

Not a Samba school but another nice place to experience some good Samba among local people is every Monday in Pedra do Sal, which is located in the neighborhood of Saude. Once again come and go directly by taxi and do not wander in the streets around there, but if you stay where the music and the people are you will be fine.

Saude was known as the little Africa where immigrants from northern Brazil lived before and is called the cradle of Samba.

So every Monday (except on days with heavy rains) you can find a Roda de Samba there, where you can dance, drink, mingle with locals and have some street food as well. A not to be missed Rio experience!

Some last impressions.......

89 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page