48 Hours in Rio de Janeiro | What to Do, See, Eat

Last Updated on July 17, 2019 by Christine Kaaloa

48 hours Rio De Janeiro, Kobra Docks Rio
48 hours Rio De Janeiro: Kobra Docks


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 your 48 hours in Rio de Janeriro city!

48 hours Ri De Janiero Travel Guide: Best Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
What to Eat in Rio de Janeiro
How to Get Around
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

48 Hours Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide

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!

48 hours Rio De Janeiro
48 hours Rio De Janeiro: Downtown Mural
Lapa steps, 48 hours Rio De Janeiro
48 hours Rio De Janeiro: Lapa Steps | Escadaria Selarón

Rio de Janeiro Beaches

In the afternoon, you can visit popular Rio 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.

If you have an extra day and love beaches, take a small boat tour to Ilha Grande, one of Rio’s best beaches where you can swim and snorkel with fishes in the crystal clear waters of Agra dos Rios

48 hours Rio De Janeiro, Ipanema Beach
48 hours Rio De Janeiro: Ipanema Beach

Nightlife in Rio

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. Caipirinhas are the national cocktail, made from sugar cane and mixed with lime. However, be careful with caipirinhas because while they taste like lemonade, they are actually quite strong. Here’s seven best places to taste cairpirinhas in Rio

Christ the Redeemer

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.

Lagoa Freitas
Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon

Botafogo and Sugar Loaf

On the way back from the Christ, you can stop in Botafogo 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.

Hiking in Rio

If you love hiking, you’ll want to know that traveling 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!

Tijuca National Park

Looking for another exciting adventure for your Rio trip? Why not get back to nature with Rio de Janeiro’s urban rainforest  Tijuca National Park . You can take a tandem hang gliding tour over the mountains and forests, hike up Pico de Tijuca or visit the waterfalls of Cachoeira das Almas, or take a bike tour through the park.

Cycling on Botafogo, 48 hours rio de janeiro
48 Hours Rio De Janeiro: Cycling on Botafogo
48 hours Rio De Janeiro, Ipanema Beach
48 hours Rio De Janeiro: Ipanema Sunset


Maximize your Rio trip!

For solo travelers who want to maximize their time by seeing as much as they can, I always suggest a day tour

Do a six hour Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf day tour. Spend a day visiting other top Rio attractions like La Tijuca National Park, visit bohemian St Theresa neighborhood and climb the Selaron Staircase.

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


Traveling Rio de Janeiro, you have to realize it 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.

5- Take cabs at night and you should be fine!

Best Travel Insurance for traveling Rio De Janeiro

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.

Travel Essentials to Shop for your Rio Trip

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

Travelsauro, Miguel Travelsauro
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

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links of partners we use to book our own travels (no additional cost to you).

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  • Rattling clear website , thankyou for this post.

  • Fabio Mendonça
    October 24, 2018 10:26 am

    Rio de Janeiro is an amazing city for whole tastes. I suggest for who came one time already to visit on a second trip cities like Arraial do Cabo and Paraty. Also in Rio de Janeiro you can enjoy hikings to Tijuca Peak and Pedra Bonitar or enjoy a day in the most beatiful of Rio de Janeiro capital: Grumari, Reserva, Prainha and Grumari. Nice post big hugs from Rio de Janeiro

  • Good Blog!! Thanks for the information about travel

  • That’s on my bucket list also, but than again, so is Bergen Norway and soooo many others, Christine. Hurrrr!

  • I love Rio!
    If you are as cautious as on your other trips you’ll be totally fine. The Copacabana and Ipenama are by far the best inner city beaches I have ever been to.
    But I don’t know how exciting these beaches are for someone who is from Hawaii 😉

    • Is there much thong wearing, Backpacktopia? Hawaii doesn’t have much of those 😉

    • There are lots and lots of ultra skimpy bikinis and also lots of the infamous ‘dental floss bikinis’ where the actual skin covered by this piece of nothingness amounts to less than 1/16 inch² of fabric.

      Being topless or nude is actually frowned upon so it’s not like in Europe where anything goes, but there are nude beaches south of Ipanema. I know that the U.S. doesn’t show as much skin but people in Rio are very well behaved at the beach. No littering, no blasting the boom box, people selling stuff from cold drinks, on the spot bbq, guys selling souvenirs are not pushy and in your face…

      I went there before I started making youtube videos so it was before I had a GoPro. But I was all over the safer parts of the city with my camera and lenses to take photos before dusk and after sunset and it was fine. I’d just make sure to put the camera strap around my wrist several times. Muggings and pickpocketing are extremely common, especially in Santa Teresa and along Avenida Atlantica, so just do what you would do in Barcelona or Rome. The parts that you’ll visit as a tourist don’t feel dangerous at all and I didn’t feel any different than living in NYC.

      If you are traveling across Brazil you’ll find out that it’s not quite as cheap as people may thing but I only stayed in Rio and I found it very easy and cheap for a low budget backpacker and I was there during the Carnival.

      (If you do go for Carnival DO NOT buy your ticket for the Sambodromo in advance!!!!!! If you do get to go to Rio I can also give you more detailed tips on where to go, what to avoid, where to eat good but cheap etc.)

  • I went to Rio for Carnivale in 2013 – it exceeded all expectations!! A favela tour of Santa Marta with a local guide was my favourite thing

    • Carnavale is soo on that bucketlist!! omg ideal. Did you go alone Sam and did you feel safe as a woman?

    • I felt fairly safe during the day and with others at night. I did a 1 week ‘tour’ that stayed the whole time in Rio but it was more a case of them securing tickets and accommodation that I would have difficulty doing.
      I went up the coast on a local bus to Buzious (spelling?) a beautiful but touristy beach town then a few days alone (i stuck to day trips) then another tour down the coast/islands to Iguazu falls, Uruguay and Buenoes Aires.
      This was part of a big dream trip – now I only have time for shorter trips. I’m going to work on exploring Australia more for now!
      Ps – I’ve been following since 2012 – keep it up!!

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