Rio, more than most cities, is defined by her
geography, which is a bit complex. Guanabara Bay,
sprawling beaches, majestic granite cones, plus the
world’s largest urban forest smack in the middle –
all combine to influence everything from traffic to
If you are planning to visit The Marvelous City, you’ll
want to devote a little time to studying a map. Rio
is divided into four zones: Downtown, North, West,
and South. Why is there no East Zone? Because to the
east, my friend, lie Guanabara Bay and the glorious
Each zone is divided into bairros (pronounced “BUY
whose”). Sometimes bairro is translated as “neighborhood”,
but a bairro typically is larger and contains
Rio’s downtown, known as Centro, contains the
expected high rises, shops, and governmental offices.
There are also several interesting museums here,
including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Air Force
Museum. In Centro you will also find some landmark
eateries. Perhaps the most famous is Colombo
Confetaria, which specializes in decadent desserts –
and is a wonderful spot to rest your feet after a
bit of exploration. So don’t overlook Centro during
your visit here. However, don’t linger there after
dark either, as you’ll find many homeless on the
Adjacent to the downtown business areas is the
bairro of Lapa, which is the center for weekend
revelry. On Friday and Saturday nights, streets and
nightclubs like Bola Preta fill with partiers who
drink and dance until dawn. If you want to enjoy
some great live music, stop by Beco do Rato.
Rio’s South Zone – Zona Sul – is where most tourists
stay and hang out. Zona Sul is comprised of many
bairros, but the most famous are Copacabana and
Ipanema, which are well known for their beaches.
(Alas, contrary to what you might have heard, Rio’s
beaches are not topless! The swimsuits, however, are
tiny!) In these glamorous bairros you’ll also find a
wide variety of restaurants and nightspots, and some
tres chic shops, especially in Ipanema and in
neighboring Leblon, Rio’s most upscale (and pricey)
Another bairro in Zona Sul to add to your itinerary
is Santa Teresa. Located adjacent to downtown and to
Lapa, Santa Teresa was at one time the place to live,
and you can still see many lovely mansions there.
Located atop a granite morro (hill), Santa Teresa
affords wonderful views of the city and receives
cool breezes. It’s a wonderful place to wander on a
Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
If you would like to exercise a bit, visit Lagoa,
named for the lagoon around which it wraps. Here you
can walk, jog, cycle, rent a paddleboat, or just sip
a chilled coconut. Or you might prefer to stroll the
aterro (reclaimed land) along Guanabara Bay in
Flamengo or Botafogo, where you have wonderful views
of Sugarloaf Mountain.
And speaking of Sugarloaf, no visit to Rio is really
complete without a cablecar ride to the top. Enjoy
360-degree views of Zona Sul, Centro, and the
neighboring city of Niteroi. I think the views here
are even better than the ones from Christ the
Redeemer, but not everyone agrees. You’ll just have
to visit both and decide for yourself!
Zona North is worth exploring a bit, too,
particularly those areas near Centro. Even if you
aren’t a soccer fan, you might want to take in a
game at Maracanã Stadium, newly renovated for the
2014 World Cup. Quite nearby are the Rio Zoo and the
Museum of Astronomy. All are in the bairro of São
Cristóvão. Not far away in Meier is the Train Museum.
Zona West has less of interest, but you might visit
Barra de Tijuca. It has some of the best beaches –
and the best surfing – in Rio. Barra (say “BAH hah”),
as it is called by locals, was developed to look
like the U.S., so it has a different feel from the
rest of Rio. You’ll find great restaurants, shopping
malls, and hot nightlife here.
One aspect of Rio to love is that, although it is a
large city of six million, there is so much nature
to enjoy close at hand. There are the beaches, of
course. But don’t overlook Lagoa. Also, you should
pay a visit to Tijuca Forest, the largest urban
forest in the world, which is located right in the
middle of Rio.
There are many ways to enjoy the forest. You could
climb Pedra Bonita and watch the hang gliders launch
from the ramp – and maybe even go soaring yourself!
If you aren’t so daring, you might prefer just to
stroll through the Botanical Gardens or nearby
Parque Lage. Guided tours of the Forest are also
Truly, there are many activities and attractions
awaiting you in Rio – many more than we could
possibly mention here. So get out there! See what
The Marvelous City has to offer!
Text: John Clites (contact)
(Any views or opinions expressed in
this article are personal to the
author and do not necessarily
reflect the views/opinions of the