Just don’t wander up any colorful hills…
Known for its gorgeous sandy beaches, lush mountains and landscapes, beautiful people, world class meat, caipirinhas and of course- Carnival, Rio is a city that is full of natural beauty. With the exception of Carnival, which was cancelled for the first time in 100 years, not even a pandemic can change that.
It’s hard not to fall completely in love, even during a brief stay. If you’re looking for a lot of fun, in a short amount of time, we’ve got the perfect guide to get you the best of Rio in 48 hours or less. And yes, the country remains open to most visitors…
Arrival, Airport And Travel
Rio de Janeiro has two main airports, Galeão International Airport, where you’ll likely land if coming from abroad- and Santos Dumont Airport for domestic flights.
If you’re lucky enough to find a flight arriving or departing from Santos Dumont, you’ll be treated to some of the best and most famous flying views in the world, with panoramic city views. Here’s where to sit too.
For international visits- the drive from Galeão to Copacabana is about 30 minutes, and it’s easy to pick up a taxi, Uber or bus to your hotel. For safety- unless you’re Uber’ing, it’s always good to pre book transportation.
Good To Know Before You Get There…
Before opening the airport doors there are a few good things to know. Particularly- tuck your nice: watch, necklace, earrings, electronics and luxury bags away. Like all major cities, crime can exist- and though the city is generally safe in touristy areas, you never want to attract attention “too much” attention in Rio. Most robberies and incidents occur over jewelry or valuable goods.
Just keep it in your hotel safe, if you want to feel fabulous at your rooftop hotel bar.
ALSO- don’t go wandering up toward those beautiful, colourful little houses called “favelas” on the hill. If you’re not with an in the know local, and you’re walking up a steep hill, you’re likely headed to danger. Stick to the beaches or areas designated safe, like those found shortly in this handy guide.
Where To Stay In Rio De Janeiro
There are some great hotel options in Rio for all budgets, from basic to super baller, and plenty that take points too. For super high end less points centric options, we’d highly recommend the Belmond Copacabana Palace or the Fasano.
For great hotels on the points game, the JW Marriott, Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro, and MGallery Santa Teresa Hotel won’t do you wrong. The Miramar by Windsor is also a top choice, given its priceless location at the edge of where Copacabana meets Ipanema as is the Hotel Emiliano.
Breakfast and Coffee
The coffee in Brazil is as good as it gets- and vey cheap. Consider your jet lag instantly vanished.
If massive buffet breakfasts aren’t quite your thing, venture out of the hotel to find a local cafe selling good pastries and coffee, like: Café Secreto, Curto Café (cash only), Emporio De Jardim, Da Casa da Táta, Sofa Cafe, and Le P’tit Cafe.
And if you want an area with a more artsy local feel, and more cafes than you can count- point your taxi driver to Santa Teresa.
What To See In Rio
The truth is, every viewpoint of Rio De Janeiro is captivating and squeezing in the highly worthy sights, in just 48 hours is tricky. Short answer: stay longer, or as long as you can.
Rio De Janeiro is an excellent city for hiring a private tour guide, and rates for private guides are reasonable- somewhere around $200 per day for pick up outside the hotel and a tour completely customized to your personal desires.
Think: skip the churches, just show me nature. Or skip the nature and take me right to the colourful houses and hidden cafes. We highly recommend Ederson Almeida, a top rated guide. Send him our love.
Start the day with the Vista Chinesa, which happens to be mind blowing, and then get moving on to Christ the Redeemer, Escadaria Selarón, and Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s pretty much only doable in a day if you have a guide. Side note – good guides can help skip all the lines… which apparently is a “thing” here. Money well spent for sure.
You Must Churrascaria and Caipirinha
There are two things you legally, by law, cannot leave the country without trying. That’s a bluff, but you can hardly call yourself a tourist or say you’ve been to Brazil if you don’t.
First up, a churrascaria. The famous Portuguese style “steakhouse”, where finely carved, succulent meats are delivered directly onto your plate, is a right of passage here. Any good guide or concierge can arrange a taxi out of the center of the city, where rates will be a fraction of tourist central pricing. Rio/Brasa, Porcão, Fogo de Chão, and Majórica are great starter restaurants.
If you don’t leave full, you didn’t do it right!
Next: Caipirinhas. The caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil and it’s truly a national treasure. Using rich local cane sugar, the unique cachaça liquor, fresh limes and occasionally some lovely passion fruit- it complements the sun like nothing else.
Even the cheap ones are stunning : ) And on that note, be sure to bring home a bottle of cachaça. Few things will instantly transport you back to the feeling of being in Rio like making your own Caipirinha at home. It just won’t feel nearly as cool.
Visit The Small Rio Neighborhoods
Rio is a huge, world famous city, yet its series of small neighborhoods give the charming, local feel we all crave.
Santa Teresa is a must visit, for a low key “no businessmen”, bohemian vibe. You’ll find an endless supply of cool street art, boutique shops and top notch cocktails at a reasonable price. If you want to go a bit more upscale, seeing where the famous Brazilian supply of supermodels hang out, head to Leblon for the more glamorous, expensive lifestyle, with truly excellent bars, restaurants and shops that are worth the price.
But for all the fun and wild Brazilian nightlife you’ve surely heard about- go to Lapa. Full of bars, nightclubs, cheap beer and Casa de Cachaça – you’ll find all the excitement, loud music, party and singles lifestyle one could ask for- and maybe more. Just be careful not to pick fights with local gangsters.
Overwhelmed already? For a more casual and refined stroll- Jardim Botânico is a sweet, beautiful area, home to the city’s stunning Botanical Gardens. This is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the local plant life while basking in the lovely air of the city.
If it’s beach, beach and beach you’re after, you just can’t do much better than Copacabana and Ipanema, two of the most famous beaches in the entire world. You can participate or spectate in beach volleyball, football, or for the more adventurous- some serious surfing.
But if you want to experience something few tourists do, head over to Niteroi, the locals preferred area for fun in the sun. And for any exhibitionists out there- it’s easy to google “nude beaches”, which do exist.
Dinner, Drinks And Beyond
In case you haven’t quite gotten the picture, Rio is full of amazing food and fun bars. Any of the neighborhoods mentioned above will lead to incredible times, whichever door you open.
But for those of you still unsure, or who need a little more specifics consider: Sá – top quality fine dining, WineHouse – great wine obviously, Explorer Bar – excellent cocktails, Térèze – quality food and drinks, ORO – nice restaurant in Leblon and Fasano – lively hotel bar on Ipanema beach.
Honestly, 48 hours just may not be long enough in this amazing city!
Great recommendations! Just got back from Rio and took a tour with Ederson, he was great!!
Thanks Gilbert! I really like this series of articles.
Really glad to hear, PM1, Thanks for the kind words!
I’m with @PM1 about liking the series. To ask my Dumb Question of the Week contender, why would you pick a fight with a local gangster in a foreign country? Google “Bad Idea Jeans” video.
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