Nearly half a million tourists are expected to descend on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. In addition to runners, jumpers, swimmers, and gymnasts taking the stage, the city itself will be in the spotlight. While some of the Olympic stadiums and arenas may not be ready for the athletic events, Rio as a city is always ready to welcome visitors who are eager to explore the bustling town’s many historic and cultural.
Rio has a lot to offer travelers from sun to sand to samba dancing to modern museums and charming neighborhoods filled with galleries and al fresco cafes serving traditional meals.
Here’s what you need to see in between the games.
1. Christ the Redeemer
Photo by Getty/Chris McGrath
Since 1931 Christ the Redeemer has stood guard over the city of Rio from high on its perch atop Corcovado Mountain. Not only is the 100-foot Jesus one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, but it’s also the rare touristy stop that is truly worth the trip. When you plan your trip up Corcovado, expect crowds to be part of the experience. Push through the crowds and you will be rewarded with an incredible view of the city below and Christ himself looming above. At the foot of the Corcovado Mountain, the Parque Lage was designed by the English landscaper John Tyndale back in 1840 and remains one of the natural highlights of Rio. It’s filled with curated gardens, lakes, and a gorgeous mansion that houses the Escola de Artes Visuais (School of Visual Arts), which hosts free art exhibitions and performances. If you want to climb the Corcovado, the trailhead begins in Parque Lage.
2. Museum of Tomorrow
In a country filled with the modernistic designs of architect Oscar Niemeyer, it can be hard to stand out, but the Museu do Amanhã (The Museum of Tomorrow) manages with its remarkable wing-like structure. The museum, which opened in 2015, was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava with a focus on green design and a goal to use 40 percent less energy than a traditional building. Inside the future-forward museum there are installations and exhibitions that paint a picture of a world dramatically transformed by climate change. If the museum depresses you, follow the waterfront paths to drown your sorrows at one of the bars and restaurants that are popping up around the museum as part of the city’s drive to revitalize the historic port area.
3. Santa Teresa
Tucked into the hills surrounding Rio is the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Founded in 1750, it is one of the city’s oldest enclaves, lined with cobblestoned streets, charming homes, and historic villas. To visit the neighborhood, ride the Santa Teresa tram from Carioca station over the 18th century aqueduct. In addition to getting you up the hill without breaking a sweat, the historic rail system offers some of the best views of the city. Once you arrive, explore the winding streets filled with lively cafes, bars, and galleries. Stop into Bar do Mineiro for their giant Minas Gerais-style feijoadas and a cold beer or step into the backyard wonderland of Aprazível for a more formal meal.
4. Copacabana Palace
If you can afford to stay at the historic Copacabana Palace hotel, which has housed everyone from real royalty (Prince Charles and Princess Diana) to pop royalty (Madonna, The Rolling Stones), you definitely should do it. The rest of us can stop in for a drink at the iconic hotel’s piano bar to sip a glass of wine or a caipirinha and ogle the hotel that inspired Barry Manilow, tolerated Orson Welles throwing a desk out its window, and once had Fred Astaire dance across its ballroom floor.