At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks


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Think of Rio de Janeiro, and what comes to mind? Probably sun-soaked beaches and samba music, right? Can you see yourself lounging on the world-famous beaches of Ipanema or Copacabana and sipping caipirinhas?

Well, that certainly sounds like the ideal vacation in Rio de Janeiro, but there’s so much more to this city.

To see and experience the very best that Rio de Janeiro has to offer, you need to find the best place to stay!

Forget the usual tourist stuff; I’m going to show you the real Rio. I had the pleasure of living in Brazil, and Rio was my go-to place to go for fun. I’ve scouted the streets, tasted the local eats, and uncovered the coolest spots, all to help you nail down the perfect neighborhood for your adventure.

Ipanema Sunset in Rio de Janeiro

1. Ipanema – Sun, Surf & Sophistication

If you’ve heard the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema,’ you’re about to live that experience in this neighborhood. With all-day sunshine and a lively surf culture, Ipanema is pretty much a postcard-perfect experience for travelers.

Framed by the Dois Irmãos peaks lies the famous Ipanema beach. Here, you can join locals in sun-soaking, surfing, or trying out different beach sports. The convenience of beach vendors means you’re never far from a cold drink or a new bikini.

You can experience Ipanema away from the beach, too, of course. It’s less flashy than its neighbor Copacabana but just as lively. It’s nicknamed Rio’s “little Paris” for a reason! There’s an array of trendy bars, restaurants, art galleries, fashion boutiques, and bookstores to explore.

For places to stay, there’s something for every budget. Hotel Fasano, a favorite among celebrities, offers luxuriously spacious rooms and an incredible rooftop swimming pool.

Hotel Arpoador is a great choice for modern comforts at a reasonable price. And if you’d like to keep it budget-friendly, El Misti Hostel Ipanema is an excellent choice with its raving reviews and proximity to the beach.

Things to do, see, and eat in Ipanema

  • Hit the beach: Start at the famous Ipanema beach. You can soak up the sun, enjoy a game of Frescobol, or simply tan and people-watch. You also don’t want to miss Arpoador, the rock formation at the beach’s end. It’s a local hangout spot and the perfect place to watch an amazing sunset.
  • Shop and snack: Sundays in Ipanema are for Feira Hippie de Ipanema. Stroll through this vibrant market to grab unique souvenirs, from crafts to fashion. Be sure to try some Acarajé – a spicy shrimp-filled delight.
  • Visit famous cultural spots: You can’t stay in Ipanema without visiting The Girl From Ipanema Cafe, where the famous Bossa Nova song was born! Another unique experience is Oi Futuro Flamengo, a contemporary space with cultural events, technology exhibits, and a popular cafe on the top floor.
  • Get active: Feeling adventurous? Take a surf lesson near Arpoador or try your hand at some beach tennis.
  • Experience the nightlife: Ipanema doesn’t sleep after sunset. Check out Shenanigans Pub for an energetic atmosphere. Or, for something different, Galeria Café offers a blend of boutique shopping by day and a buzzing nightclub scene by night.
  • Indulge in the local cuisine: No visit to Ipanema is complete without indulging in local cuisine. Casa da Feijoada serves up Brazil’s famous dish, feijoada, in a myriad of ways. For a relaxed afternoon, Canastra Bar offers a selection of wines paired perfectly with Brazilian Canastra cheese.
Arcos da Lapa in Rio de Janeiro

2. Santa Teresa – Brimming With Bohemian Charm & Art

Santa Teresa is Rio’s hidden gem. It’s laid-back, artsy, and feels like a village perched above the city. Here, you swap beach scenes for winding streets, historic trams, and old mansions that now host cool bars and galleries.

This bohemian neighborhood is popular with artists and intellectuals, so there’s always something thought-provoking going on. And the views? They’re incredible – you’re right in the lap of Rio’s stunning landscapes.

Plus, you’re close to Christ the Redeemer, so you can tick that off your must-see list. Just hop on the 007 line bus for around R$5 ($1), and you’ll arrive at the iconic statue in under 30 minutes.

Staying in Santa Teresa means choosing from an array of boutique hotels. Santa Teresa Hotel RJ – MGallery is a win if you’re after a luxury hotel. For views of Sugarloaf Mountain, book a villa at Chez Georges.

Did you know that Sugarloaf Mountain is believed to have formed around 600 million years ago? That’s just one of many fascinating facts about Brazil!

Things to do, see, and eat in Santa Teresa

  • Discover Santa Teresa on foot: Santa Teresa’s streets are narrow, winding, and full of surprises, so why not book a walking tour? You’ll see historic architecture and amazing views. No rush, just take it all in at your own pace.
  • Hop aboard the Santa Teresa Tram: You’ll pass amazing spots like Arcos da Lapa and get glimpses of downtown Rio de Janeiro and Guanara Bay. Plus, it’s a neat way to reach some museums and the airport.
  • Relax on pristine beaches: The weather here during summer screams beach day. Praia do Meio, Praia das Cariocas, and Praia dos Mineiros are a short trip away but so worth it.
  • Marvel at the art: Art lovers should head to Museu Chácara do Céu. The museum has some pretty epic Brazillian art, with pieces by big names like Candido Portinari and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti.
  • Savor Brazilian flavors at Armazém São Thiago: Located in an old 1920s-style warehouse, this bar is a trendy spot that offers a taste of traditional Brazillian appetizers and ambiance.
  • Dive into the local energy: Every first and third Saturday of the month, the cultural center of Mercado das Pulgas transforms into a samba party with local drummers, dancing, and the quintessential caipirinha cocktail.
Copacabana Beach

3. Copacabana – Famous For First-Time Travelers

Copacabana is the place to be if it’s your first time in Rio. It’s the lively neighbor between Ipanema and Leme, and it’s got everything you could want. The main attraction here? It’s the famous Copacabana beach, of course!

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The beach is where you’ll want to spend most of your time, whether it’s swimming, playing a game of beach volleyball, or just lounging on the sand.

When New Year’s Eve rolls around, the beach transforms into one of the world’s biggest party spots, complete with spectacular fireworks.

But Copacabana is more than its beach. The neighborhood is a mix of old and new. There are historic buildings, Art Deco spots in Peixoto, and some of the best rooftop bars and restaurants around.

When it comes to staying here, you’re spoiled for choice. Want to splurge? Copacabana Palace is legendary. The Hilton Copacabana is another top pick, popular for its rooftop pool and bar. On a budget? Aquarela do Leme is a great hostel with solid reviews.

The best part? Copacabana’s well connected. You’ve got three metro stations in the neighborhood, making it super easy to hop over to other parts of Rio. You can zip over to Sugarloaf Mountain or visit neighboring Ipanema without any hassle.

Things to do, see, and eat in Copacabana

  • Copacabana Beach: You can’t talk about Copacabana without starting with its famous beach. It’s the go-to spot for sunbathing, volleyball, or just chilling out.
  • See Copacabana Fort: This coastal fortress from 1908 houses the Army Historical Museum as well as interesting historic military architecture.
  • Take on an adventure: Fly over Rio de Janeiro on a paragliding adventure departing from the Tijuca National Park.
  • Witness incredible sea views: Climb up Ponta do Leme for some incredible sea views. There’s also the Forte Duque de Caxias at the top.
  • Go dancing: The samba music really knows how to draw you in. For a real party, head to New Mariuzinn Night Club. There’s also Bip Bip where you can enjoy live samba music.
Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro

4. Barra da Tijuca – An Upscale Oasis

Barra da Tijuca, or just Barra, is Rio’s upscale, laid-back side. It’s modern, safe, and has a bit of everything – fancy condos, leafy streets, and some seriously nice beaches that are way less crowded than Ipanema or Copacabana Beach.

This neighborhood is kind of like the Beverly Hills of Rio. Celebrities and the city’s well-to-do call it home. You might even brush shoulders with a few while exploring!

Even though Barra has this luxury vibe, it’s surprisingly affordable. There are some great mid-range and budget-friendly hotels, especially if you stick to the east end, closer to the rest of Rio de Janeiro.

For luxury seekers, Windsor Marapendi sits on a stunning beachfront location and is a quick walk from the BarraShopping mall. Tropical Barra Hotel hits the sweet spot if you’re aiming for something mid-range.

Praia da Barra and Barra da Tijuca Beach are much more laid-back than the usual Rio crowd-pullers, so you can actually relax and enjoy the sun. And when you’re not beach bumming, there’s plenty to do.

Golfing at Itanhangá Golf Club, checking out the local shops and restaurants, or exploring the nearby Parque Nacional da Tijuca – it’s all right here.

Sure, Barra is a bit further out from the usual Rio hotspots, but it’s worth it if you’re seeking somewhere calm and classy.

Things to do, see, and eat in Barra da Tijuca

  • Beach time, again: Obviously, the beaches are a big draw. Praia da Barra da Tijuca, Praia do Pepê, and Praia da Reserva are stunning, less crowded, and perfect for lounging about.
  • Explore Tijuca National Park: There’s no better place for nature enthusiasts than Tijuca National Park. It’s full of hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife.
  • Visit the Olympic Park: Sports fans and avid Olympic watchers will love being in the very place where the 2016 Summer Olympics happened. You can wander around the sports arenas and see the amazing mural by Eduardo Kobra.
  • Hike up Pedra Da Gávea: Up for a challenge? Hiking Pedra da Gávea is tough but the views are unreal.
  • Shop ’til you drop: There’s no shortage of shopping opportunities in Barra. Shop high-end at Village Mall or check the extensive array of options at Open Mall and BarraShopping.
  • Try kitesurfing: Barra is pretty popular for its water and winds, so it’s great for kitesurfing! Whether you’re a pro or a newbie, there are shops along the beach for renting gear or taking lessons.
  • See a show at Cidade Das Artes: As the largest concert hall in South America that’s seen some big names in music, there’s no way you can’t catch a show here!
  • Bite into local cuisine: Barra da Tijuca is home to a delicious and diverse food scene. For fine dining, try Gurumê for Japanese, Kohinoor for Indian, Fasano Al Mare’s restaurant for Italian, or L’Etoile for French. For something more laid-back, hit up Fogo de Chão for Brazilian barbecue, Pobre Juan for steaks, or Mamma Jamma for pizza.
Leblon in Rio de Janeiro

5. Leblon – Ultimate Luxury In Rio

Nestled next to Ipanema, Leblon is similar to Barra da Tijuca – exclusive and less crowded. Staying in Leblon means you’re in one of Rio’s most glamorous spots, and the prices here – from accommodation to dining – reflect that.

The neighborhood’s main street, Rua Dias Ferreira, is a must-visit. This is where fine dining meets high fashion. Dress up, dine out at one of the swanky restaurants, and cap off your evening with cocktails at a chic bar.

Hotels in Leblon match the area’s luxury, from stylish apart-hotels to boutique design hotels. If I had to recommend some top stays, it would definitely be the Sheraton Grand Rio for ultimate luxury, the Ritz Leblon for chic comfort, and the Janeiro Hotel for sophisticated elegance.

There’s much to do here, but the beaches always beckon.

If you’re in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, Leblon is the prime choice. It’s close to the action but still offers a peaceful retreat when you need a break.

Things to do, see, and eat in Leblon

  • Chill at Jardim de Alah Lagoon: Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, known locally as ‘Jardim de Alah’, offers a nice change of pace at the east end of Leblon Beach.
  • Explore Casa Museu Eva Klabin: Art lovers, this one’s for you. This museum has an amazing collection of European and Brazilian art. It has some big names here, including Picasso, Matisse, and Portinari.
  • Immerse yourself in nature: In the middle of Rio de Janeiro, Parque Natural Municipal da Catacumba offers the perfect break from the city with its hiking trails, bike paths, and picnic spots.
  • Sunbathe at Leblon Beach: Leblon Beach is known for its calmer waters and sparser crowds compared to Ipanema Beach. It’s a nice spot to relax, soak up the sun, and enjoy the view from the top of the Dois Irmãos Mountains (this is one of my favorite hikes in Rio!).
  • Indulge in retail therapy: If you’re into high-end fashion, bikinis, and jewelry, you’ll find plenty of boutiques here. Just watch your spending, it can get pricey!
  • Grab a bite: Leblon is home to some great local restaurants. There’s a mix of everything, from Italian to Japanese, and even some great options for the health-conscious at Vegetariano Social Clube.
  • Go dancing: For those who enjoy the nightlife, Leblon has a plethora of clubs and bars for dining, drinking, and dancing until the early hours.
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Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro

6. Centro-Lapa – Samba, Street Parties & Budget-Friendly

Centro-Lapa, where old meets new in Rio’s downtown, calls history buffs and budget travelers to its doorstep. Here, you’ll stroll past skyscrapers and centuries-old monuments, like the São Bento Monastery and the elegant Paço Imperial Palace. Centro is also the financial hub of Rio, so weekdays are bustling with office workers.

While Centro may not have the charm of Rio’s beachside spots, it has its perks. For one, there’s the 18th-century public gardens of Passeio Público when you need a break. You can go see the ballet or opera, attend an event at the Sambadrome, or take in some of the most amazing Baroque-style architecture.

But the real draw here is Centro’s lively neighbor, Lapa. It’s famous for the Arcos da Lapa arches and the colorful Escadaria Selarón steps you’ve probably seen in photos. On weekends, this lively neighborhood turns into a party zone with live music and street food.

Hotels in Lapa are a bit more affordable, with a bohemian charm. Hotel Atlântico Business is a comfortable mid-range option, while Selina Lapa Rio de Janeiro is a trendy, budget-friendly hostel in the heart of Lapa.

Things to do, see, and eat in Centro-Lapa

  • See the iconic Arcos da Lapa: Start with these 18th-century arches. They’re not just a bridge to Santa Teresa; they’re a symbol of Rio’s history. And at night, they’re the backdrop for some epic street parties.
  • Visit the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro: Inspired by Mayan pyramids, this cathedral is a bold piece of architecture you can’t miss.
  • Take a street art tour: Lapa is full of street art and walking tours are a regular ongoing activity. There are tours that’ll show you the best murals and graffiti around. It’s a vibrant way to see the city.
  • Check out the local museums and cultural centers: Places like the Museum of Image and Sound, Casa do Povo, and Centro Cultural Municipal Parque das Ruínas are worth visiting if you’re into art and culture.
  • Watch the opera or ballet: With one look at the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro, you’ll be rushing to book a seat for the ballet or opera. Considered to be one of the most beautiful and important theaters in Brazil, it hosts a number of amazing performances.
  • Attend Carnival: If you’re visiting Rio de Janeiro, then you have to attend the biggest carnival in the world! Held every year before Lent, you’ll see floats, adornments, and revelers from numerous samba schools.
  • Catch a soccer game: For soccer fans, why not watch a game at the legendary Maracanã Stadium?
  • Treat your tastebuds: Lapa offers a unique blend of flavors that will definitely spice up your culinary adventure. Walking into Contemporâneo Lapa is like stepping into a Frida Kahlo painting. The vibe is artsy and the food, well, it’s amazing. There’s also Bar Ernesto where German meets Brazilian cuisine. And for classic feijoada with all the traditional fixings, head to Boteco do Gomes.
  • Climb the Escadaria Selarón: You’ve probably seen them on your Instagram feed, but there’s no way you can’t visit these world-famous steps. Each step tells a story, with tiles from around the world making it a colorful climb.
Botafogo in Rio de Janeiro

7. Botafogo – Do It Lowkey & Like A Local

Botafogo, often overlooked by tourists, is quietly becoming one of Rio’s coolest neighborhoods. It’s not your typical tourist hotspot, but that’s precisely what makes it great. Botafogo is the area to stay if you’re looking to explore Rio de Janeiro like a local.

One of Botafogo’s strengths is its unbeatable location. Located smack in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, it provides easy and affordable access to all the city’s neighborhoods. Whether you want to hit the beaches, visit iconic landmarks, or discover local culture, the public transportation links will help you get there easily.

This neighborhood exudes a low-key welcome atmosphere. Strolling around, you’ll pass numerous fine-dining restaurants, hip bars, and funky cafes. It’s especially great for digital nomads, with plenty of co-working spaces.

When it comes to accommodation, Botafogo has options to suit every budget and taste. Book one of the spacious rooms at Yoo2 Rio de Janeiro, a luxury hotel with jaw-dropping views from the rooftop bar. On a tighter budget, the ibis Rio De Janeiro Botafogo presents affordability without compromising quality.

Things to do, see, and eat in Botafogo

  • Hop between the museums: Botafogo is home to several museums, so it’s great for history buffs. Each one offers a different glimpse into the city’s rich background and culture.
  • Explore Parque do Flamengo Park: Need some fresh air? This park stretches along the waterfront and is perfect for a leisurely walk. It has walking trails, sports facilities, and amazing views of the bay and Sugarloaf Mountain.
  • Go on a shopping spree: Botafogo has multiple shopping centers where you can shop till you drop. Whether you’re looking for local Brazilian brands or just want to browse, you’ll be happy here. Plus, you’re not too far from the beaches if you want to mix up your day a bit.
  • Relax at Parque Lage: Spend an afternoon sipping tea or coffee at Parque Lage’s outdoor pool. The mansion setting and the views of the Christ the Redeemer Statue above are pretty special.
  • Take the Sugarloaf Mountain Cable Car: The views from the cable car and the mountain itself are incredible. You can’t visit Rio without doing this.
  • Hike Corcovado Mountain: If you’re up for some exercise, hiking up Corcovado Mountain is a great way to get moving and enjoy nature.
  • Visit Christ the Redeemer statue: Have you really visited Rio de Janeiro if you haven’t seen and taken a picture in front of this imposing 98-foot statue? It’s iconic for a reason!
  • Indulge in local cuisine: Savor Brazilian barbecue at Fogo de Chão, enjoy cold beers and feijoada at Cafofo Pub, or indulge in upscale dining with prime cuts and sushi at Churrascaria Palace.
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Leme in Rio de Janeiro

8. Leme – Comfortable Beachside Living

Leme, nestled next to the bustling Copacabana, offers a unique and often overlooked experience for those visiting Rio de Janeiro. It’s an ideal neighborhood for travelers who appreciate a quieter, more residential atmosphere while staying close to both the beach and Rio’s cultural center.

You’re incredibly close to some of Rio’s most famous beaches and natural attractions, including the city center, Ipanema, Leblon, and Botafogo.

The famous Copacabana beach is within walking distance, but you’ll also have the lesser-known Praia do Leme and Pedra do Leme at your doorstep. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll love the nearby Forte Duque de Caxias, a fortress set in a forest with unbelievable views.

While Leme gives off a more peaceful residential atmosphere, it doesn’t lack entertainment. Beachside cafes, unique shops, and laid-back bars where you can unwind and soak in the local culture are easy to find.

As for the best spots to place your bags, Leme is home to plenty of both affordable hostels and internationally renowned hotel chains. Windsor Leme Hotel is an affordable luxury hotel, while Eco Pousada Estrelas da Babilônia offers a comfortable mid-range option.

Things to do, see, and eat in Leme

  • Relax at Leme Beach: Quieter and more laid-back than Copacabana, Leme Beach is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, or biking along the promenade. Don’t miss the sunset from Mirante do Leme!
  • Hike to Forte Duque de Caxias: This historical military fort at the top of Leme Hill offers panoramic city and ocean views. The walk is surrounded by the Atlantic forest, so keep an eye out for monkeys and birds.
  • Stroll around Praia Vermelha: This small beach, located at the base of the hill near Forte do Leme, is a quaint and peaceful spot to explore.
  • Explore Morro da Babilônia: One of Rio’s oldest and safest favelas, Babilônia offers guided tours to experience local culture, see murals, and try local delicacies. Estrelas da Babilonia, a rooftop bar and restaurant, serves organic food and drinks with live music and a fantastic view. Other safe favelas worth visiting on a tour are Rocinha and Vidigal, among others.
  • Catch a show at Princesa Isabel Theater: What better way to enjoy an evening of cultural entertainment? This modern and elegant venue hosts impressive plays, musicals, concerts, and exhibitions.
  • Seafood at Restaurante Marius Degustare: World renowned as a “must visit” dining establishment, this restaurant serves up a buffet with over 50 delectable seafood dishes. Fair warning: it’s pricey!
  • Veggie and gluten-free delights at Gaia Art & Cafe: This charming bistro focuses on natural, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Plus, it doubles as a cultural and artistic space hosting various events.
Rio de Janeiro Landscape in Brazil

FAQs

Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro for the first time?

The beach neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are great spots to stay in Rio de Janeiro for first-time visitors. They’re the main tourist hubs in Rio de Janeiro, thanks to the wide array of sights to see, things to do, and hotels for every kind of budget.

Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro on a budget?

Botafogo or Centro-Lapa are two budget-friendly neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. These neighborhoods offer affordable accommodations without compromising on experience. Barra da Tijuca is another budget-friendly choice but you also have the added benefit of being near the beach.

When is the best time to stay in Rio de Janeiro?

December to March, when the sun’s shining and the beaches are calling, is the prime time to visit Rio de Janeiro. But, bear in mind, this is also when Rio is packed with tourists, rain is heavy, and accommodation prices rise. If you’d rather skip this, springtime (September through October) is ideal.

What is the best area to stay in Rio de Janeiro for families?

Copacabana is easily a top choice for families visiting Rio de Janeiro. It provides easy beach access and it’s well-connected, so you can easily explore other areas and attractions. If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, Leme is a great option. For a safe and budget-friendly experience, consider Santa Teresa, although it’s not near the beach.

Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro

Final Thoughts

You’ve now got the full scoop on where to stay in Rio de Janeiro! Whether you’re soaking up the sun on Copacabana beach, chilling in laid-back Barra, exploring artsy Santa Teresa, or mingling in vibrant Centro, there’s a spot in Rio for you.

But picking the best area is just the first step! Now that you’ve got a feel for the neighborhoods, the next step is finding the perfect hotel to match.

Head over to my list of the 15 Best Hotels in Rio de Janeiro For Every Budget to find the best luxury hotel, cozy inn, or beachside resort that not only caters to your needs but also enhances your Rio de Janeiro experience.

Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro | 8 of the Best Neighborhoods
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