Planning to visit Rio de Janeiro and not sure where to stay? This quick guide to the Rio’s 5 best neighborhoods will help you to choose the right area.
House of the most famous beach in the world, Copacabana is an important neighborhood in the south side of Rio. With a 4 km of beachfront, the place is extremely touristy and full of visitors all year round. It’s also one of the most populated neighborhoods on earth, with over 20 dwellers per square meter! So, stay away from here if your intention is to have a quiet time in Rio.
“Copa”, as natives call it, is busy, noisy and no other place in Rio is so democratic and eclectic. It travels from the top glamor, with the ultimate example being the traditional Copacabana Palace Hotel to the extreme popular, characterized by intense commercial areas, as around Santa Clara St. and Nossa Senhora de Copacabana Av. The place has a vivid atmosphere and there’s always something happening here, as artistic interventions, sport competitions and musical concerts. The beach is almost an entity, where important public events take place – as the New Year’s Eve celebration, which attracts every year over 2 million people.
Its famous “Calçadão” (boardwalk) attracts people from all kinds, social levels, style and ages, among locals and tourists. The large strip of white sand is perfect for sunbathing and the blue waters are good for swimming or doing stand up paddle – cariocas’ new passion. Located between Leme and Ipanema, “Copa” could be a city itself, offering all kinds of services, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and movie theatres. The place also has the biggest number of hotels and hostels in Rio, for all tastes and budgets.
Just south of Copacabana, Ipanema has the best of Rio: beautiful beach, beautiful people, nice atmosphere, good food and nightlife. Vibrant and cosmopolitan, Ipanema is a very touristy place yet a nice and posh residential area.
With some quieter streets out of the bustling area around Farme de Amoedo St. and Vinícius de Moraes St., Ipanema is a favorite among locals and 8 out of 10 would live here if they could afford it. This neighborhood has upscale restaurants and bars, such as the beachfront Astor, Zazá Bistrô and Capricciosa, as well as luxury hotels by the sea – Fasano being the best example. Although prices are higher here, people with smaller budgets are welcome, as Ipanema also offers less ostensible places to stay and eat.
The neighborhood’s main attraction is obviously the beach, frequented by interesting and beautiful people. Ipanema Beach is indeed a meeting point and a social event in Rio, as well as a place to do beach and water sports. The nightlife here is lively and cool, more focused on bars and pubs, as Studio RJ, Barzim and Shenanigans. Ipanema is not the best place to party hard but nightclubs are not absent in the neighborhood – Baronetti is here to prove it!
The most elegant and expensive neighborhood of the south side, Leblon is the perfect place for those who like luxury and tranquility. Located just south of Ipanema, the two neighborhoods share the same beautiful beach.
Leblon is a very residential place, where many local celebrities live. Although everything can be found here, it preserves its air of calmness. Good hotels serve the neighborhood, as the beachfront Hotel Marina Palace.
There are also a few hostels here, including Z.Bra, a boutique hostel characterized by the cool design. Leblon has good high priced restaurants and among the most famous are the contemporary Zuka and the traditional Sushi Leblon, which always figures on the list of the best Japanese restaurants in Rio. For those who like bars, Leblon has some considerable options, between casual-chic ones, such as the beloved by locals Jobi and upscale options, as the spanish style Venga. Leblon is the place to open the wallet and nothing could be more suitable here than Shopping Leblon, a high classe shopping mall where there are expensive brands shops, cinemas and a food court. Safer than the others south zone neighborhoods, Leblon is a privilege of those who can pay for it.
On the top of a hill lays Santa Teresa. Different from the beach neighborhoods, it looks like an old small town, with winding narrow cobblestone-paved streets. House of many local artists and foreigners, Santa Teresa breathes art and has an alternative style, accompanied by bohemians evenings.
Cool bars, interesting restaurants and a flea market are some examples of what it’s like here. Simplesmente and the 1919 founded Bar do Gomez (also called Armazém São Thiago) are daily occupied by locals and visitors, who drink and chat either seated at tables or standing in front of the bars. The place is also known for the good food and some restaurants are exceptional! Aprazível is definitely a must go, with nice decorations and outdoor tables, which provide amazing views of downtown and the Guanabara Bay. Bar do Mineiro serves the Brazilian feijoada, while Espírito Santa brings to Rio the exquisite amazon food. Big hotel chains have no place here, but cozy inns, hostels and the top boutique Hotel Santa Teresa, fit perfectly the place. Santa Teresa is an invitation for a walk, although it’s not recommended at night. Between old houses, art studios and craft markets, stunning views of the Guanabara Bay are revealed, as in Largo das Neves and at the top of the beautiful cultural center Parque das Ruínas. The neighborhood is well located and near many places of interest, as Lapa, downtown and the beaches are not so distant. However the access is a bit restricted – few buses serve the place and it’s not easy to get here walking.
The traditional tram, which used to take people from downtown to the hill and one of the place’s attractions, is still out of operation after a tragic accident in 2011. Taxis are the only good transportation option. Despite of this, Santa Teresa is a delight and people usually feel at home here – so much that often decide to stay!
This middle class neighborhood has a great asset: the location. Between downtown and Copacabana, it’s very easy to get anywhere from Botafogo.
The beaches of Ipanema, Leblon and Copacabana are located in neighboring districts; Lapa, the best area for late night partying is easy to reach by taxi or bus; the stunning Flamengo Park is just in the next door; and the top attractions Sugar Loaf and Corcovado are a few minutes away. The district stretches along the beach of same name, but the brown waters are evidence of its dirt. Botafogo is a bustling place, full of people coming and going all day long. There are 2 malls – Rio Sul and Botafogo Praia Shopping – and also street commerce of all kinds. Regarding culture, the area is very well served by 5 movie theatres, museums, theatres and cultural centers, as Casa Daros. The nightlife is buzzing and guaranteed by dozens of bars with tables on the streets, where young and students gather night after night – Shooters and Botequim Imperial are always crowded! For food lovers, Botafogo has its own gastronomic zone, where there are options for all tastes, from pizzerias, as the delicious Pizza Park to the vegan restaurant Vegan Vegan. The access is very good and the neighborhood is served by a metro station and many buses. There are some good hotels and a big number of hostels in Botafogo, where many young tourists looking for good prices choose to stay.
This article was written by Lilian Müller, a Brazilien journalist, travel writer and translator from Rio de Janeiro. You can reach her via her Facebook page.