“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” - Francis Bacon
Every year, Rio de Janeiro becomes more touristy. In 2018, the city welcomed 1.5 million tourists just during the Rio carnival, 400,000 more than the previous year. If you want to visit Brazil, don’t miss Rio de Janeiro. The second-largest city in the country is home to plenty of cultural and festive sights.
Here’s our advice for planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro, where you should visit, how much it'll cost, where you can stay, and the best time to visit.
Visiting Rio: The Different Areas of the City
Rio de Janeiro is by the Guanabara Bay on the Atlantic Ocean and is surrounded by hills and the Atlantic Forest.
Rio is divided into four main districts:
- The North Zone
- The Central Zone
- The South Zone
- The West Zone
Most tourist activities are located in the centre and south of the city. In these areas, you’ll find the city’s main attraction whereas, in the west, you’ll find wealthy areas away from tourists.
When you arrive, you’ll land in the north of the city, known for its slums, locally known as favelas. Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the world: the very poor rub shoulders with the very rich but cannot afford to pay rent in the centre or south of the city.
The Central Zone is a mix of old and new. This is where you’ll find Avenida Rio Branco, which runs through the business district. The old colonial homes lead right up to modern business buildings.
You can also visit Cinelândia, where there are magnificent buildings to see and visit: Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro, National Library of Brazil, and the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes.
Santa Teresa and Lapa near Cinelândia run along the river. If you want to enjoy a bit of samba or a forro.
Santa Teresa shares similarities to Montmartre in Paris with the Escadaria Selarón and the old 145 tram crossing the old aqueduct. This bohemian neighbourhood is home to plenty of artists and workshops.
Rio’s South Zone
If you’ve come to Rio to enjoy beautiful beaches, you’ve come to the right place. Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, and Urca are areas in the south of the city where you can head to the beach with a good book (or a caipirinha, we won’t judge).
There are also plenty of parties, especially during the carnival period and the new year. If you want a great view of the city, the cable car to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain is waiting for you. On the other side, you can enjoy the statue of Chris the Redeemer by heading up the Corcovado mountain from Santa Teresa.
Find out more about the areas of Rio de Janeiro.
The Cost of Visiting Rio de Janeiro
The cost of visiting Rio will depend on how you like to travel. Brazil isn’t one of the cheapest countries in South America and generally, you’ll spend around £30 on accommodation, food, and activities. In some cases, you could end up paying a similar amount in some European countries.
Rio is more accessible than São Paulo but it’s still more expensive than a lot of Brazilian cities. There are 5 main things that you’ll need to budget for:
On average, return flights can cost around £700 but it’ll depend entirely on when you go. We recommend that you get your flights at least 3 months in advance and use sites like Skyscanner or Google Flights.
Accommodation will probably be your second biggest expense after the flights. The rates can vary wildly and at certain times of the year, be as expensive as in cities like New York or Paris. You can also save some money by staying in youth hostels, budget hotels, or Airbnbs.
Work out your budget per night and use sites like Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Airbnb.
To help you better understand the Brazilians, why not get Portuguese lessons?
Travelling is a great way to learn about Brazilian culture through food: açai berry purée, bolinhos de aipim, moqueca (a Brazilian Amazonian fish stew), vatapa, and plenty of fresh fruit. You can enjoy yourself for around £10 per day!
Our advice is to enjoy street food or restaurants that charge by the kilo.
Visiting Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain cost around £15 each. The botanical gardens cost under £4 and there are plenty of free attractions around the city. You’ll need to pay around £3 for a ferry to Ilha Grande. Our advice is to get your tickets ahead of time so that you won’t have to wait in a queue to get them.
With Copacabana beach, Ipanema beach, and plenty of other natural wonders on Brazil's marvellous coastline, there are plenty of things to see and do.
Public transport in Rio isn’t great. Buses aren’t very reliable so it’s probably best to avoid them. The metro is more reliable but it only runs in the centre and south of the city down to Ipanema. Taxis are more affordable and safer at night. We recommend getting the 99pop app so that you can save around 20% on your taxi.
Accommodation in Rio de Janeiro
Rio’s reputation as a dangerous city is hard to shake. In one respect, this is true and you should be careful and opt for travelling by taxi at night. Similarly, don’t leave valuable items on display and avoid unsafe neighbourhoods.
Don’t hesitate to ask your hotel or hostel about places to avoid. The locals are also very concerned about pickpockets and thieves and will know the city better than you. Don’t let this put you off, though, as there are plenty of safe places in Rio and if you’re careful, you’ll be fine.
Some of the safest areas are Urca, Ipanema, and Leblon. Copacabana, as a popular tourist destination, is also a popular destination for pickpockets. In Santa Teresa, you don’t need to worry too much as long as you aren’t walking around the city centre late at night.
Anyway, let's look at accommodation in Rio.
Hotels in Rio
The cost of hotels in Rio will depend on the type of hotel and where it is. There are a lot of high-end hotels in Rio but they tend to be cheaper than they’d be in the UK.
You can expect to pay between £40 and £80 a night for a double room with breakfast included in 3- and 4-star hotels. You can even get ocean views or a pool.
Youth hostels are popping up all over Rio and there are plenty of them all over the city, especially in Copacabana. If you’re travelling alone, this is a good way to meet people. You can pay between £7 and £15 a night for a bed in a dorm with breakfast included.
Airbnbs in Rio
You could also choose to rent a flat in Rio. Airbnb allows you to rent a room and rub shoulders with the locals or an entire property to yourself. Again, the rates will vary on when and where you go but you can get studio apartments for as little as £20 a night in Santa Teresa.
Improve yourself with a Portuguese lessons here on Superprof.
The Best Time to Visit Brazil’s Second City
Rio has a humid tropical climate and it’s generally quite warm and humid throughout the year. Like most tropical countries, there are two main seasons: the dry period and the rainy period.
The dry period, between October and December, is the best time to discover Rio, but you can also go between March and May if you don’t like the heat (with temperatures around 25°C) and want to avoid the rain and storms.
Carnaval takes place during the rainy season and is usually in February or March depending on the year. During the rainy season, temperatures can exceed 35°C and it rains regularly.
However, it doesn’t usually rain for the entire day and if you just have to see the carnival, then you’re going to have to deal with the rain.
You’ll need at least 4 days to enjoy the different areas of Rio. It would be silly to not enjoy your trip by enjoying samba classes, forro shows, the statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), and the beautiful beaches.
Discover the best time to visit Rio.
So when are you going to Rio de Janeiro?
Before you go, you might want to learn some Portuguese. Fortunately for you, there are plenty of talented Portuguese tutors on Superprof! There are three types of tutorial available, each with its advantages and disadvantages: group tutorials, online tutorials, and face-to-face tutorials.
Group tutorials are great for those on a budget as you can share the cost of the tutor's time with the other students in attendance. It could be useful if you're going to Porto with a group of friends, though.
Similarly, online tutorials are good if you're on a budget as the tutor doesn't have to travel and can, therefore, charge less per hour. Your tutor might even be from Brazil.
Finally, face-to-face tutorials are between just you and the tutor. This is the most costly type of tutorial but it's also the most cost-effective.