T+L's Definitive Guide to Rio de Janeiro
Published: December 2013
By Colin Barraclough
All eyes are on the Cidade Maravilhosa—host of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games—where a citywide rejuvenation effort has infused Rio’s neighborhoods with newfound energy.
Lay of the Land
Botafogo: Come here for Rio’s designer boutiques, art galleries, and views of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Centro: Colonial-era structures and glass-and-steel office buildings fill the city’s commercial heart.
Copacabana: With its world-famous beach and raucous nightclubs, Copacabana is Rio’s touristy epicenter.
Ipanema: This trendy district draws crowds but is calmer than Copacabana. Outdoor cafés line the leafy avenues.
Jardim Botânico: The elegant Jardim Botânico edges the botanical gardens and hums with buzzy restaurants.
Santa Teresa: Artists flock to this hilly area for its bohemian bars and Guanabara Bay views.
Safety & Getting Around
Be wary of pickpockets, especially near major tourist sites. We recommend traveling by taxis, which can be hailed on the street.
Rio’s stylish new hotels—and classics we love.
Casa Mosquito: Opened in 2011 on a hill above Ipanema, this 1940’s retreat is a mise-en-scène of tropical languor: palm-inspired print pillows; polished parquet; orchids everywhere. Sliding doors in the lobby open up to a sun-dappled patio that looks out over Copacabana’s rooftops; upstairs, the four rooms are decorated with paintings by local artists and have wide, private terraces. $$
Copacabana Palace: Rio’s Neoclassical grande dame has lost none of her stateliness since the 1920’s glory days. Fresh off a $20 million makeover, the 145 contemporary rooms are done up in French fabrics and vibrant Brazilian artwork. Food is a highlight: the property’s six-seat chef’s table at Cipriani Restaurant is one of the hottest spots in town, while the Sunday brunch at Pérgula is perennially packed. $$$$
Hotel Fasano Rio De Janeiro: The second branch of restaurateur Rogério Fasano’s understatedly chic brand appeals to both fashionable São Paulo senhoras and European hipsters. Philippe Starck–designed rooms have billowing silk curtains and 1960’s Sergio Rodrigues chairs; at the ground-floor Fasano al Mare restaurant, chef Paolo Lavezzini prepares scallop risotto and an outstanding rock lobster with broccoli soufflé. What we love most: the rooftop pool, with its knockout views of Ipanema’s crescent-shaped beach. $$$$
Hotel Santa Teresa: If you’re looking for an intimate hideaway in sprawling Rio, this is it. There’s a lush garden with swooping, colorful birds; a mosaic-tiled eco-spa; and a quiet hilltop location in charming Santa Teresa. Rooms incorporate indigenous handicrafts from Minas Gerais and floors of glossy ipe hardwood. Ask about staff-led tours of the on-site art collection, which includes sculptures by such notable artists as Rock Lane. $$$$
Mama Ruisa: Set in a colonial-style town house, the seven-bedroom Mama Ruisa is a study in quiet refinement: cedar shutters; French doors; illustrations by Jean Cocteau. The colonnaded veranda is the perfect place for a breakfast of fresh Brazilian fruit and gourmet cheeses, with the Guanabara Bay as your backdrop. $$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Standout boutiques with Carioca flair.
Ausländer: Local designer Ricardo Bräutigam creates street clothes with serious attitude—semitransparent black-silk vests; T-shirts emblazoned with rebellious slogans—that are a hit among Rio’s young and stylish set.
Maz: With pop-up stores across the city and flash promotions around the world, designer and entrepreneur Juliana Hemerly Silva’s line has developed a cult following with its zany, colorful sneakers, made of foldable nylon and completely customizable.
Toca do Vinicius: Bossa nova aficionados will love this tiny Ipanema store—a temple to Brazil’s jazz-samba culture—packed with CD’s, vinyl, sheet music, and multilingual books that draw musicians of every skill level. The shop also hosts in-house concerts once a month, featuring leading bossa nova acts.
Gilson Martins: High-end-souvenir seekers won’t want to miss Gilson Martins’s namesake flagship in Ipanema. The Rio-born designer uses the city’s landmarks (Christ the Redeemer; the Lapa arches) as inspiration for the stylized patterns on his inimitable satchels, wallets, and handbags. His items are so iconic, they’ve been shown at the Louvre and Milan Design Week.
See + Do
Five essential stops for soaking up Brazilian culture.
Casa Daros: Zurich-based art collector Ruth Schmidheiny just unveiled her 1,200-piece Latin American art collection in Botafogo following a six-year renovation of the 1866 building. Inside are works from more than 100 talents, including native sculptor Iole de Freitas and Argentine kinetic artist Julio Le Parc.
Maracanã Stadium: Few activities in Rio can rival the thrill of watching a match at Brazil’s national soccer stadium—a symbol of the country’s futebol-centric culture—which reopened in June after a $500 million refurbishment. Originally built for the 1950 World Cup, the Maracanã will host the tournament’s championship game for the second time this year. Guided tours are available on non–game days.
Museu De Arte Do Rio: Rio’s newest art museum is the anchor of the Port district revitalization project. Eight exhibition halls in the 20th-century palace feature rotating shows—watercolors of Sugarloaf Mountain; a colorful brick model of Rio’s favelas—that celebrate the city’s scenery and diversity, while art workshops are held in the glass-walled annex.
São Bento Monastery: Behind the 17th-century monastery’s austere façade, you’ll find such treasures as colonial-era panels, massive silver chandeliers, and an intricately carved, gold-plated altar. Don’t miss Sunday morning Mass, when resident monks sing Gregorian chant.
Teleférico Do Complexo Do Alemão: Take a cable car ride at dusk to see Rio’s curiously picturesque shantytowns, with their flickering lanterns and gas lamps.
Here’s where to eat in Rio now, from authentic Brazilian restaurants to temples of experimental fusion cuisine.
Bar Do Mineiro: Santa Teresa residents fill this rustic lunchtime favorite to feast on home-style comfort food such as pork-and-black-bean feijoada and chicken-and-okra stew—hearty recipes from the nearby mining state of Minas Gerais. If the dining room is packed, order a caipirinha, set yourself up at a sidewalk table, and take in the area’s artsy scene. $$
Olympe: Following in the culinary footsteps of his father (who led the nouvelle cuisine movement in 1970’s France), Burgundy-born chef Claude Troisgros decamped for Rio, where he built a four-restaurant empire famous for combining French cooking traditions with local ingredients. At his first outpost, Troisgros whips up innovative dishes that pack a flavorful punch: duck magret with passion fruit; stuffed quail with onion-and-raisin manioc farofa. $$$
Oui Oui: After Roberta Ciasca’s restaurant Miam Miam put up-and-coming Botafogo on the foodie map, the Cordon Bleu–trained chef pointed her talents toward Oui Oui, a tapas place that mixes the old-world (Art Deco chairs; ornate ironwork) with the kitsch (disco balls; fiberglass tables). The small, shareable portions are equally creative—tilapia with quinoa and olives; prawns with heart of pupunha (peach palm)—and pair well with any of the international wines. $$$
Roberta Sudbrack: Self-taught chef Roberta Sudbrack cooked at Brazil’s presidential palace for seven years before striking out on her own, opening her namesake restaurant in charming Jardim Botânico. The ever-changing menu focuses on seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors; options may include slow-cooked lamb with chervil and potatoes or panqueca de doce de leite. $$$$
Satyricon: You’ll be hard-pressed to find better (or fresher) seafood than at Ipanema’s Italian-influenced Satyricon. Choose from the tank’s stock of live lobster and crayfish, or opt for delicacies such as the just-caught sea bream, baked in a rock-salt crust and served by waiters displaying the ideal degree of gravitas. $$$
Live Lapa Sounds
Once-derelict Lapa reverberates far into the night with samba’s percussive beat. Three places to immerse yourself.
Rio Scenarium: Amid a scenic clutter of esoteric objects and art, the former antiques gallery turned landmark rocks out every night to five-act musical extravaganzas.
Carioca da Gema: The pioneering hot spot regularly scoops awards for note-perfect samba and jazz shows performed in a two-story town house.
Circo Voador: Bands from all over the world come to play at this cultural center; the energy on the dance floor is uniquely Brazilian.
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Three natives share their favorite city locales.
Chef, Espirito Santa
“The village of Santa Teresa, with its winding streets and crumbling mansions, has a bohemian spirit unlike the rest of Rio. I love to visit the atelier of Brazilian painter Carlos Vergara (by appointment), who now exhibits all over the world. You can always catch an authentic music performance at Parque das Ruínas (169 Rua Murtinho Nobre; 55-21/2215-0621), an open-air cultural center with amazing views of Sugarloaf. For drinks, don’t miss Armazém São Thiago, a neighborhood favorite known by locals as Bar do Gomes.”
Architect, House in Rio
“On weekends, I like to wander the tree-lined streets in Jardim Botânico and Gávea. If you enjoy photography, stop at the Instituto Moreira Salles to see works by both Brazilian and international artists. Hipódromo (55-21/2270-9720; $$) is a beloved lunch spot packed with young Cariocas; order the tasty picanha beef steak. Afterward, take a stroll through nearby Parque Lage. Oro Restaurante ($$$$) is great for dinner—try the multicourse tasting menu, made with fresh ingredients and avant-garde cooking techniques.”
“The district of Botafogo, where my studio is located, has become a gastronomic hub. My go-to place for modern Brazilian cuisine is Irajá Gastrô ($$$), run by chef Pedro de Artagão; get the pirarucu fish with sautéed banana. For experimental art exhibits, check out MAM Rio, in Flamengo; the museum’s Novo Desenho shop sells beautiful jewelry and housewares. After browsing the contemporary furniture at Ipanema’s Arquivo Contemporâneo, head to Arpoador beach and watch the sunset.”
Trips Out of Town
Sitio Roberto Burle Marx: Thousands of rare plant species fill the gardens at the farmhouse estate and studio of Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, who laid out Copacabana’s two-tone beachside promenade.
Petrópolis: Former emperor Pedro II’s mountainside retreat draws summer weekenders with its 19th-century Crystal Palace and verdant hiking trails inside Serra dos Órgãos National Park.
Niterói: Explore the UFO-shaped, Oscar Niemeyer–designed Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Santa Cruz da Barra fort, and unspoiled beaches of this city, a 15-minute ferry ride from downtown Rio.