Introducing my GRRRLTRAVELER expert traveler series, this guest post written by travel blogger, Miguel of Travelsauro. Miguel has lived in a favella in Rio De Janeiro for a year! He will be your 48 hour travel guide to best things to do in Rio De Janeiro.
When I first stepped into Rio de Janeiro, I understood why it’s on the bucket list of most travelers going to South America. The city boasts amazing beaches, wild rainforests, huge peaks and the craziest nightlife. There are so many cool activities, you could spend weeks or months enjoying the “cidade maravilhosa”. However, Rio is also a great destination for short day visits or 48-hour layovers.
If you have a couple of days to visit Rio, let me give you a few recommendations so you can make the most out of the city!
48 Hours Rio de Janeiro | Best Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Free walking tours
On the first day, you can go downtown. If you take a free walking tour, you’ll have a chance to visit the most important places, like the National Library, the Lapa Arches (aka Carioca Aquaduct), Escadaria de Celaron and the Municipal Theater. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the history of Rio and the first Portuguese settlements. Some tours will also take you to the Docks, in which Eduardo Kobra created a huge, beautiful mural for the Olympics. If you like urban art, you won’t want to miss it!
In the afternoon, you can visit popular beaches like Ipanema or Copacabana to take a swim, get a tan, and drink a well-deserved caipirinha to the rhythm of animated Brazilian music. If you want to see an impressive sunset, get to “Arpoador”, which is located between those two beaches. It’s a great spot to watch the sun setting behind the giant mounts that draw the natural skyline of the city.
At night, there are no better places than Lapa and Santa Teresa. These two neighborhoods (especially Lapa) boast great restaurants and an animated nightlife. You’ll find live music, “batucada” parties, food and caipirinha stalls, as well as some of the best “samba” bars. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know how to dance samba to have a good time. Cariocas (that’s what people from Rio are called) are very friendly and you’ll make friends. However, be careful with caipirinhas because while they taste like lemonade, they are actually quite strong.
On the second day, you can wake up early and enjoy the city from above. Don’t miss a tour to the famous Christ the Redeemer.
You can get there by taxi, van or train, and enjoy a beautiful panorama of Botafogo Bay, the Sugar Loaf, Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon, Ipanema and the southern part of the city. That’s the classic postcard of Rio that you’ve seen so many times.
Botafogo and Sugar Loaf
On the way back from the Christ, you can stop in Botafogo and visit the neighbourhood. The best way to visit this part of the city is by renting a bike and exploring the coast at your own pace. Several bike rental shops offer fair prices. I recommend that you cycle all the way from Flamengo to Praia Vermelha, where you’ll find breathtaking landscapes.
After that, take the cable car from Praia Vermelha and get up to Sugar Loaf. This place is especially beautiful at sunset, when the colors of Guanabara Bay start changing from blue to yellow and orange. As a budget alternative, you can hike to Morro da Urca, which is just in front of Sugar Loaf and is free. If you love hiking, you’ll want to know that Rio de Janeiro offers amazing hikes. One of my favorite trails is Dois Irmãos, which is located close to Ipanema and Leblon Beach. If you have one more day, do it!
Best things to eat in Rio de Janeiro
Brazilian cuisine has a great Portuguese influence mixed with intense flavours and tropical ingredients. Some regions have a strong African influence, too.
Most local restaurants typically serve rice with chicken and chicken with rice. However, other interesting options are available. Some dishes you should try:
One of the most popular and affordable options. Tapiocas look like the Brazilian version of a crepe, and are made of yuca flour. You can fill them with chicken, cheese, chocolate, coconut, etc.
Churrasco de carne
Rodizio restaurants offer a wide variety of grilled meats, served with vegetables and purées.
Acarajé and Moqueca
These two dishes are not originally from Rio de Janeiro, but instead are from Northeast Brazil. However, you can try these delicious options at a few restaurants and street food stalls. (A food stall is in front of the Carioca metro station.) These are heavy dishes with a significant African influence. They contain lots of pepper, dendê oil, coconut milk, and other ingredients.
This is a kind of ice cream made using a tasty fruit called açai, served with granola and bananas. Energetic, delicious and refreshing!
Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro
Most hostels are in Southern Rio. Ipanema and Copacabana are popular places among travelers because they are safe areas with easy access to the beach. They tend to be a bit more expensive than other areas, but they have a great atmosphere with sophisticated restaurants and “chic” bars as well as some local options.
Santa Teresa and Lapa are also good places to stay, especially if you’re planning to hang out at night. On the downside, there are no beaches around, so take that into consideration if you’re looking only for sun and sea. In any event, by taking the metro or the local city bus, you’ll get to Copacabana Beach in less than 30 minutes.
Getting around in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is a huge city. However, some places in Southern Rio (where most foreigners stay) are within walking distance. On foot, you can easily move around Leblon, Ipanema, Laguna Rodrigo Freitas and Copacabana.
Bus and Metro
You can get pretty much anywhere in the city by taking city buses. Most of the time, the bus stops have no maps, making it quite difficult for foreigners to determine which bus they should take.
The metro travels along most places in southern Rio. I recommend taking the metro rather than the bus because it’s much easier to use.
Taxi and Uber
You’ll find thousands of taxis all over the city. Taxis are generally safe and the prices are OK. Uber works like a charm, and as in most cities, the prices are better than the taxis.
Cycling is another great option, even if you have only a couple of days in Rio. You can go to a bike rental shop or use the city bike scheme, which is easy to use. You’ll register via smartphone, and bike stations are available throughout the city.
Safety tips for solo travelers in Rio de Janeiro
You’ve probably heard scary stories about Rio and how dangerous it is. Let me tell you, it’s not that bad. I’m not saying it’s the safest destination in the world, but most “incidents” happen in certain neighborhoods and favelas. While assaults are common in some areas, you shouldn’t have any problem if you take basic precautions.
1- Don’t visit downtown at night or on the weekends. The commercial area is crowded from Monday to Friday, and it’s safe to visit during those days. Assaults are common when most shops close and streets become totally empty.
2- If you are staying in Santa Teresa, don’t walk back at night. This is a beautiful neighborhood; I lived there, and I really love it. (It’s probably my favorite place in Rio.) To get to certain parts of Santa Teresa, you must go through dark alleys and endless narrow stairs. Assaults are common at night. Take a cab! More safety tips for solo travelers.
3- When hanging out in Lapa, bring as few valuables as possible. This is common sense; if you’re partying, don’t bring expensive phones and large amounts of money. Pickpockets know their stuff, and night parties with huge crowds are perfect places to target tipsy foreigners. Read 21 Ways to Outwit Pickpockets
4- Be careful if you are planning to visit a community. Favela tours have become very popular among foreigners because the tours give you a chance to visit a different part of the city and learn about its history and culture. Some favelas that have been “peaceful” for years are gradually becoming quite dangerous again. Today, shootings are common in most of Rio’s favelas, with a few exceptions. Right now, I’d say that Vidigal is the only favela where I’d feel totally safe. I recommend that you visit it, by the way. It’s a nice place with impressive views of the city.
Travel Essentials to Shop for Rio deJaneiro
|Recommended Travel Essentials for Rio deJaneiro. Click to Shop.|
I hope this travel guide helps you plan a great 48-hour layover in the marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro! If you enjoyed reading this post on best things to do in Rio de Janeiro, please share it or Pin it!
Miguel of Travelsauro
|Author’s Bio: Hi, I’m Miguel, adventure traveler and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last five years, always trying to explore and hike some of the most remote regions.Follow me on my blog travelsauro and enjoy exciting adventures in places like Papua, Timor, the Himalayas, Africa and the Caribbean! In every place I visit I always try to combine my passion for hiking, scuba diving and photography. Follow on: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter|
Related 48 Hour Layover Guides
Disclaimer: GRRRLTRAVELER uses affiliate links within our articles (no additional cost to you).
Looking for travel insurance?
American travelers often pay a premium on travel insurance. World Nomads offers economic solutions for travelers who seek security and peace of mind. It covers 150 countries.