The Cidade Maravilhosa has more than a few marvelous places to spend the night.

By Karen I. Chen
June 17, 2019
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Courtesy Arpoador Hotel

There’s no city quite like Rio. Its gorgeous urban beaches aren't just places to get a tan, they're destinations. Filled with bronzed cariocas (Rio residents) deftly playing beach soccer, vendors selling everything from açaí to grilled cheese, and surfers weaving in and out of waves, the famous beaches are enough of a reason to visit. But the city's nightlife is also legendary: parties go all night and samba bands play until the morning hours. Few venues are contained by four walls; instead, people overflow onto the streets to the thrum of live music. That's not to mention the non-stop revelry of Carnaval, which is its own bucket list item.

So if you’re going to Rio, you’ll want to be close to the action. But the truth is, the action is everywhere in this city and every neighborhood has its own personality and charm. The beach neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are obvious choices for first-time visitors and those who want to take full advantage of the beach. Botafogo is a burgeoning neighborhood, full of hip bars and restaurants, and the perfect pick for staying close to nightlife. And if you’re looking for a more bohemian experience, the artsy enclave of Santa Teresa is your best bet. One thing that's guaranteed anywhere you choose to stay: Rio's captivating views.

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My personal preference? Stay in more than one neighborhood, and return to the city as often as you can to experience them all. Here's a rundown of the best neighborhoods and our picks for the best hotels to stay in Rio de Janeiro for any budget.

The Best Rio Hotels on the Beach

Karen I. Chen

If you want to be able to cruise straight from your hotel room to Rio’s golden sands just across the street, stay in Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. Classic Copacabana has a bit of an older-school crowd, while Ipanema and Leblon are full of stylish restaurants and boutiques, and the beaches will be crowded with young, hip cariocas gathered with friends. Subway and bus access is convenient and plentiful in these neighborhoods, and you can walk along the orla, the beachfront walkway, to check out the beach scene in them all. A bonus to staying on the beach: complimentary beach service at each of the following hotels provides chairs, umbrellas, and towels for guests so you won’t have to worry about renting or packing your own.

The Best Hotels in Copacabana

Courtesy Copacabana Palace

Copacabana Palace

Rio's iconic grand dame opened in 1923 and remains one of the city’s best and most luxurious places to stay, having hosted the likes of Princess Diana, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones. The white Art Deco palace was modeled after French Rivera coastal resorts and exudes old-world glamour: 239 rooms are styled with French fabrics, mahogany furniture, and Brazilian paintings. Enjoy a cocktail by the the half-Olympic-sized pool and make reservations for the on-site restaurants: Michelin-starred Mee and Ristorante Cipriani are two of the best in Rio. And if you’re in town for New Year’s Eve, the beach in front of Copacabana Palace hosts one of the most lively reveillon celebrations in the city, with big-name musical acts and fireworks.

Avenida Atlântica 1702 - Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, belmond.com

To book: expedia.com

Emiliano Hotel

This swish luxury brand from Sao Paulo opened its Rio outpost in early 2017 in Copacabana, a neighborhood that was in need of a fresh new hotel. Sophisticated and stylish, the Emiliano will appeal to contemporary design lovers: The building’s honeycombed facade opens and folds to alternately allow for more privacy or more sunlight into rooms, and the interiors (think white marble, wood, and gold accents) blend mid-century modern with breezy beach resort. Though rooftop pools aren’t uncommon in Rio, the glass-edged pool here scores points as it gets sunlight all day long, making it a great place for sunset drinks.

Avenida Atlântica 3804 - Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, emiliano.com.br/en

To book: expedia.com

Budget Pick: Miramar Hotel by Windsor

For an affordable hotel just steps from the beach, the Miramar in Copacabana is a great choice. Rooms are clean, spacious, and bright; service is attentive; and you’ll get champagne at check-in, plus chocolates at turndown. The rooftop pool, though compact, is sizable by Rio’s standards, and affords beautiful views of the entire arc of Copacabana beach, as well as the tumbling houses of Cantagalo favela on the backside of the hotel. (Note that the proximity of this community doesn’t mean that the area is at all dangerous — many affluent and perfectly safe neighborhoods in Rio are bordered by favelas.) For those interested in experiencing live samba, Bip Bip, one of the city’s classic venues, is also located just around the block.

Avenida Atlântica, 3668 - Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, miramarhotelbywindsor.com.br

To book: expedia.com

The Best Hotels in Ipanema

Daniel Pinheiro/Courtesy of Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro

Fasano Rio de Janeiro

Designed by Philippe Starck, the ultra-trendy Fasano has 89 sleek rooms furnished with mid-century pieces in sensuous leathers and hardwoods, each with private balconies (make sure to book an ocean-facing one). Set in one of the liveliest parts of Ipanema, the hotel does have a bit of a reputation for its social scene — you’ll likely find the Baretto-Londra bar always crowded with jet-set types. But the staff will go above and beyond to make your stay as comfortable as possible. The rooftop infinity pool, arguably the hottest place in Rio to see and be seen, boasts unbeatable panoramas of the entire length of Ipanema beach, from the rocky output of Arpoador on one end to the Dois Irmãos peaks on the other.

Avenida Vieira Souto, 80 - Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, fasano.com

To book: expedia.com

Courtesy Hotel Arpoador

Budget Pick: Hotel Arpoador

Sharing the same enviable location as the Fasano, but at not nearly the same price point, the newly renovated Arpoador is the only hotel in Rio that sits directly on the beach, without a busy street separating it from the sand. The ground-floor restaurant opens straight onto the sidewalk, accentuating the ocean views and breezes. Modern, minimalist rooms evoke beach chic, the largest of which have private balconies with hammocks (our favorites for sure), and the small rooftop plunge pool provides a very scenic place for a refreshing dip after a long day of sun. Want to get moving? Take out one of the complimentary bikes for a pedal along the orla or Lagoa, or participate in a morning yoga class on the roof with — you're spotting a trend here — unparalleled views of the beach.

Rua Francisco Otaviano 177 - Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro, hotelarpoador.com

To book: expedia.com

The Best Hotel in Leblon

Karen I. Chen

Janeiro Hotel

This new adults-only hotel by Oskar Mehtsavaht, owner and founder of Brazilian fashion label Osklen, fronts the most posh stretch of sand in Rio. With an emphasis on sustainability, the hotel’s contemporary, hip aesthetic incorporates locally sourced furnishings using Brazilian upcycled materials and local artwork selected by the hotelier himself. The highly Instagrammable rooftop pool boasts gorgeous panoramas of the Atlantic, with a cutout that perfectly frames the Dois Irmãos twin peaks. Book the spacious oceanfront suites, with soaking tubs and double showers that look straight onto the beach below. Janeiro also makes it easy for guests to get active with bikes for rent, rooftop yoga classes, and access to a nearby gym.

Avenida Delfim Moreira, 696 - Leblon, Rio de Janeiro, janeirohotel.rio

To book: expedia.com

The Best Rio Hotels for Staying Close to Nightlife

The neighborhoods of Botafogo, Catete, and Lapa are Rio’s most happening areas for nightlife, where you’ll find many of the city’s best samba clubs and bars. These neighborhoods (all quite small and bordering each other) are close to some of the city’s most popular attractions as well, such as the Escadaria Selarón, Teatro Municipal, Catedral Metropolitana, and the Museum of Modern Art. From Wednesday to Saturday nights, many of the streets and squares in these neighborhoods teem with young people, who gather at the open-air bars and restaurants. If you’re in town to party, consider staying in these neighborhoods as you’ll be able to set out for the night on foot, or in a very cheap Uber or taxi.

Courtesy Yoo2 Rio de Janeiro by Intercity

Yoo2 Rio de Janeiro

The Yoo2 has a trendy, youthful vibe, with rooms decorated in bright geometric patterns, abundant greenery filling the common spaces, and hallways painted in sultry purple and dark green hues. Most guestrooms also have expansive windows looking out on Guanabara Bay or Christ the Redeemer, which make for welcome views to wake up to. Be sure to relax with a cocktail at the rooftop bar, which stays busy with couples and friends enjoying drinks late into the night.

Praia de Botafogo, 242 - Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, yoo2.com/riodejaneiro

To book: tripadvisor.com

Budget Pick: Vila Galé Rio de Janeiro

This boutique hotel on Rua Riachuelo, Lapa’s main drag and the epicenter of nightlife in Rio’s center, places you right in the heart of the action. Though this location might not appeal to everyone, rooms are large and clean, the breakfast buffet includes made-to-order omelettes and tapioca (a typical Brazilian snack), and the highlight is the lovely pool area, perfect for recovering from those late nights. For music enthusiasts, Rio's most famous venues to see live samba are just down the street: Carioca da Gema, Rio Scenarium, and Clube dos Democraticos.

Rua Riachuelo, 124 - Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, vilagale.com

To book: expedia.com

The Best Rio Hotels for Getting Away From It All

Courtesy Chez Georges

Santa Teresa is a world apart from the beaches of Zona Sul, but offers a more intimate look into authentic Rio. An artsy enclave built on the hills of the city center, the only way to get up and down the neighborhood is by car, bus, or tram, as there are no subway stations. But exploring the hilly streets on foot will bring wonderful discoveries: eclectic shops, artists' galleries, quaint cafes, and traditional bars with live samba and feijoada (a traditional meat and bean stew served on weekends). Santa Teresa does see a bit of tourist traffic because of those coming to the area to see the Selaron Steps and street art, but for the most part it’s a quiet retreat from the rush of Centro below. Your taxi ride up the winding cobblestone streets will be bumpy, but once you’ve arrived, the seclusion and views will be worth it.

The Best Hotels in Santa Teresa

Hotel Santa Teresa

In this neighborhood filled with colonial Portuguese architecture, there’s no shortage of boutique hotels in renovated villas, but the most established of them all is the Hotel Santa Teresa. Dating back to 1854, the luxurious mansion has 44 guestrooms, some outfitted with four-poster beds, wood floors, and shutters, recalling the days when it was once part of a coffee plantation. You’ll also have everything else you could possibly want during your stay: one of the city’s best spas, a spacious pool with loungers and daybeds, the acclaimed Térèze restaurant serving Franco-Brazilian fare, and buzzy Bar dos Descasados mixing craft cocktails with seasonal fruits. Although the villa’s palm-filled gardens offer the perfect place to get away from the bustle of the city, plenty of authentic Brazilian restaurants and botecos (traditional pubs) are also a short walk away.

Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 660 - Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, santateresahotelrio.com

To book: expedia.com

Courtesy Chez Georges

Chez Georges

Designed by celebrated Brazilian architect Wladimir Alves de Souza in 1974, this modernist residence is a breathtaking contrast of soaring concrete beams, glass walls, marble entryways, and lustrous wooden floors and accents. A design lover’s dream, every corner of the home is filled with art and antiques carefully handpicked from markets around the globe, and modern furniture that may as well be works of art themselves. The nine airy rooms all face out of the hillside, offering incredible vistas of the city and coast spread out below. As you laze on the deck of the 50-foot pool — surrounded by the lush greenery of the Mata Atlântica rainforest and the singing of tropical birds — you’ll feel less like a hotel guest and more like the very lucky owner of an absolutely stunning villa. 

Ladeira do Meireles, 90 - Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, georges.life

To book: booking.com

Courtesy Vila Santa Teresa

Vila Santa Teresa

If you enjoy jaw-dropping views, lounging by a pool, and feeling like a guest at an exclusive five-star mansion, look no further than Vila Santa Teresa. There are only seven elegantly appointed suites, and you can't go wrong with any of them. Though the location doesn’t offer very much in the way of activities nearby, once you arrive you’ll likely never want to leave anyway. Plus, with breakfast served until noon (which you can take poolside, or anywhere else on the gorgeous property), an on-site restaurant, and spa, you’ll easily spend the days in relaxed bliss.

Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 2305 - Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, vilasantateresa.com

To book: expedia.com

Budget Pick: Mama Shelter Rio de Janeiro

Not one for understated design, Mama Shelter’s funky vibe is entirely different than the refined villas above. The eclectic hotel features 55 individually-designed rooms, with graphic-printed rugs of Rio’s skyline and chalkboard-style lettering on the walls. Various common spaces and terraces decorated with tchotckes such as musical instruments and traditional hats and murals painted by local artists offer places to chill out and regroup. The expansive restaurant is a favorite among locals, serving everything from oven-fired pizza and burgers to Brazilian seafood rice.

Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno, 05 - Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, mamashelter.com/en/rio-de-janeiro

To book: expedia.com

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