A Local’s Guide: What to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Welcome to Brazil! There are easily many tourist traps to fall into during your visit and we at Casa Bromelia endeavor to transition you seamlessly into “living like a local” as quickly as possible. Our Rio Travel Concierge in Ipanema Beach, provides you with the experience of stepping into life as a Carioca (a local Rio resident) while still being taken care of. This is how we like to spend our time enjoying this marvelous city… And if you would like company and a more in-depth experience, let us know, for we’d be happy to go on an excursion with you!
Monday is the day of samba! For those who like to chit chat with locals & drink a cold cold beer, the best spot is one of the most traditional Sambas of Rio, Pedra do Sal. Because it was the center of the slave trade back in the day, Pedra do Sal is also recognized as a cultural heritage site. Maintaining ancestral tradition, this samba is traditionally performed in the “Adam’s apple” of the square- where the steep rocks meet the stairs- without the help of amplifiers. It’s the festive and participative atmosphere of those who come to enjoy, that really drives the energy of this local spot. Located downtown in Gamboa near Praça Mauá, the music, street food, and drink vendors all get going around 9pm. And if you loved it so much, remember you can always come back because the samba also happens on Fridays.
If what you’re looking for is a little exercise and integration with nature, this tip is to venture across the bay to Niterói and take a walk through City Park. The park is an environmentally protected area located in Morro da Viração. It has a panoramic view of the beaches of Niterói, all of the Guanabara Bay, as well as several other beautiful sights of Rio de Janeiro. Following our theme of culture and leisure, since you are already over there, it is worth taking a look at the coastal hike of Itacoatiara. This is ideal for those looking for a unique local view of the city “off the beaten path”.
One of Rio’s best hidden beaches is Parainha. Located past Barra da Tijuca, this charming spot is popular with local surfers and Cariocas alike. It is a quintessential Rio landscape of mountain meets beach, studded with tiny stands selling cold beers, iced matte tea, and typical ‘Globo’ crackers. When hunger hits, there is a fabulous Brazilian fish restaurant just a few steps from the sand. At Mirante da Prainha you will have your choice of a variety of fresh catches of the day, along with sides of rice, beans, salad, traditional gravy, and the ideal Brazilian beach accessory: the lime caipirinha.
Located in downtown Rio, next to Praça XV, there is a little something for everybody on Thursday nights. Appealing to a very local crowd with tastes for dancing in the streets and stupidly cold beers, a new Thursday night tradition happens on Rua do Mercado with live Forró- the most popular dance in Brazil. The street comes alive with an alternative, local, artsy crowd, vendors selling artisanal cachaças, and a live band including an accordion and a triangle. If you are looking for a little something more upbeat, 2 minutes away is Rua do Ouvidor, a cobblestone alley peppered with a handful of colorful colonial buildings. There you will find a traditional ‘Roda de Samba’ (literally meaning “the Samba wheel”, this is a style where the musicians play in a circle). They go on for several sets leaving everyone smiling, feeling the music and sharing the delicious Rio night energy.
What to do on the Weekend in Rio de Janeiro
Finally Friday has arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Hearts are warm and looking for romance and good fun. Your option is simple yet offers a ton of variety… Lapa! The most bohemian neighborhood of Rio has many attractions to please any audience and pocket. And best off, with so many bars right next to each other, you can change styles in a matter of minutes. But while the masses flood to the obvious, there are a few places that appeal to a more local audience. Clube dos Democráticos has been a dance hall for over 100 years and always offer the opportunity to see incredible local musicians. Beco do Rato is a Samba ‘hole-in-the-wall’, great for dancing and many more of those cold cheap beers!
On the first Saturday of every month, you can have a taste of Old Rio. The fair of Rua do Lavradio, is an open-aired crafts, antiques, fashion and art fair. It occupies the entire length of a very long street in center of the city. During the event, there are musical performances ranging from classical to MPB, dance shows, art exhibitions, and photography. And of course, on every corner, you will find a samba accompanied with the favorite Brazilian weekend dish: feijoada (a slow cooked black bean stew). Another option located just around the corner is a traditional boteco (street bar) called Bar do Peixe. On the weekends, they put out tables and chairs on the street and serve fresh fish and homemade drinks all day long! Now if you have the good fortune of being in Rio on the first Saturday of the month, it’s also worth wandering the city center. There are gorgeous Portuguese churches, old forts and mansions, both fallen and preserved yet both rich in culture.
For those of you who are looking for a slice of quiet after a long week, a visit the tropical island of Paquetá, 40 minutes off the Praça XV port, is as distant as you can get from the chaotic traffic of the Carioca capital. To reach the island, visitors must take a delightful boat ride across Guanabara Bay. Arriving at the destination, the visitor can enjoy the much needed tranquility, without big crowds or cars…for the only away around this small island is via horse-drawn carriages, bicycle or on foot. Paquetá has a very strong cultural movement, mainly through music, and is very rich in stories and fascinating legends. Its lush beauty served as refuge for noble families during the Colonial period of Brazil.
Tip for a Rainy Day in Rio
A good option is to refer to the programming of museums and cultural venues which often offer free exhibits & events. The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), for example, is a classic cultural institution located downtown in a gorgeous colonial bank, offering everything from theater, cinema, performance art, and traveling exhibits.
About the authors: Lauren Amber Quinn and Valdemir de Almeida are life long travelers, Brazil residents and specialists in tourism/journalism in Rio de Janeiro. If you would like to spend the day with a local who can show you around the city, feel free to contact us here.