Rio de Janeiro Scores: 5 Winning Attractions

car hire rioVenue for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Rio can rightfully claim a place among the most unforgettable cities in the world. It is described in its anthem as a “marvelous city, full of 1,000 charms,” and if you rent a car in Rio, you’ll soon be crossing some of those 1,000 charms off your list. From ascending Pao de Acucar by cable car to exploring the belle epoque palaces of Praca Floriano Peixoto (“Cinelandia”) and strutting your stuff at Copacabana, there’s a lot more to Rio than soccer.

Framed by icing-sugar beaches, striking mountains, and lush rainforests, Rio enjoys a spectacular natural setting, and, with some of the most beautiful people in the world living there, it certainly lives up to its nickname – “cidade maravilhosa” (marvellous city). It cannot be denied that Rio has its problems, but it’s easy to understand why some people dream of relocating after their first visit. Here are 5 of our favourite Rio attractions:

Cristo Redentor

Built to defend against what was perceived as a mounting wave of godlessness after World War I, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is a striking religious symbol, but it has also become an iconic cultural image too, both for Rio and the entire nation of Brazil. Overlooking the city from the granite peak of Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer is a spectacular 30 metres high, with an arm span of some 28 metres.

To put it in context, if you exit the trapdoor on Christ’s right shoulder (used by maintenance workers to repair lightning damage), you would probably not even reach Christ’s ear. Spread out far below the statue’s feet are the favelas, luxury apartments, celebrated football stadiums, and famous beaches. About 5,000 people visit the statue every day, arriving early in the morning to marvel at the view and at the sheer scale and spectacle of the statue itself.

These visitors are too far away to see the effects of weathering, which has left the surface a patchwork of chipped mosaic tiles. Lightning storms are a constant factor, but strikes in January 2014 were more destructive than usual, prompting the tyre company Pirelli to fund a R$1.9 million bill to repair a blasted middle fingertip and scorched head before the FIFA World Cup.

With the original pale grey-green tiles no longer available, the statue is likely to turn a darker colour over time.

If you hire a car in Rio during Carnival, watch out for Suvaco do Cristo (“Christ’s Armpit”), a street party that takes place in the shadow of Corcovado as a tribute to the outstretched arms overhead. Dancers and drummers samba through the streets, most wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Christ.

Sugar Loaf Mountain/Pao de Acucar

The view from the statue of Christ the Redeemer is not the only spectacular panorama of Rio. Take the cable car to the summit of the Sugar Loaf, and you can appreciate the entire city spread out beneath you, from the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana to the favelas of Babylonia, Tijuca National Park, Cristo Redentor himself, the Bay of Guanabara, and the fortifications flanking distant Niteroi. Phew!

It really is worth countering your fear of heights to enjoy this unforgettable experience. From Copacabana, Pão de Açúcar e bondinho is a 4.4km drive along Av. Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, Av. Venceslau Braz, and Av. Pasteur. The cable car ticket office opens at 8am, with closing times varying according to the season. The park closes one hour after the ticket office. Cable cars run frequently – between 20 and 30 minutes, or more frequently if there is sufficient demand.

car hire copacabana rioCopacabana

Pretty much the first thing that springs to mind when most people think of Rio de Janeiro is a long and lovely beach. This is likely to be either Ipanema or Copacabana. In fact, beaches are as synonymous with Rio as cafes are with Paris, so get thee to the beach – and don’t forget your Brazilian bikini (if you are a woman). Irrespective of body type or misgivings, bikinis are more or less obligatory on a Rio beach.

Copacabana is the first beach you will encounter in Rio, and it is also the most popular. The broad and beautifully laid out Avenida Atlantica was made for people-watching and just generally ambling in the sun. Take note of the curving mosaic on the pavement: It was created by landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx.

If you want to relax (or engage in more intensive people-watching), buy a cold drink at one of the many beachside kiosks, and admire the view. Right at the end of the beach, close to the Forte de Copacabana, you’ll find great grilled seafood, as this is where fishermen land their small boats.

Postos (lifeguard stations) line both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. They open every day between 8am and 8pm, offering first aid (free if necessary), and changing and toilet facilities at a cost of R$1. Postos make useful reference points, as they are numbered 1 through 11 starting from Leme and ending in Leblon. A strong current along Copacabana beach means that the water is cleaner than at beaches like Flamengo or Botafogo, but check the local press for details of any beach closures.

Parque Nacional da Tijuca

Take a breather from all that samba dancing and beach partying with a trip to the Tijuca Forest, a mountainous man-made rainforest that lays claim to the title of the world’s largest urban forest, extending across some 32 km². A 13.1km drive from Rio via Av. Maracana, the forest is entered via the bairros (neighborhoods) of Tijuca and Barra da Tijuca. The word “Tijuca” means marsh, referring to the Tijuca Lagoon in Barra da Tijuca, which separates the city’s west zone from the other zones.

Take time to explore the forest, as it is home to many species of plants and animals that are threatened by extinction. One of the most notable attractions in the park is Cristo Redentor, but it is also home to the Cascatinha Waterfall, the stunning murals of the Mayrink Chapel, the pagoda-style gazebo at Vista Chinesa, and an enormous stone picnic table dubbed the Mesa do Imperador. The park is studded with impressive mountains, including the Stone of Gavea.

Planted to replace an existing forest destroyed to accommodate coffee farms, Tijuca was created by Major Manuel Gomes Archer in the late 19th century to conserve Rio’s water supply.Today, descendants of the migrants who participated in the replanting scheme live in a favela within the Tijuca Forest.

car rental rioEstadio do Maracana

In case you didn’t already know, football is far and away Brazil’s favourite sport, making the state-owned Estadio do Maracana (Maracana Stadium)one of Rio’s most important landmarks. The world’s biggest football venue in terms of capacity when it opened in 1950, it could accommodate close to 200,000 people at the time, but that capacity has been more than halved because of safety consideration and full seating.

Since the inaugural competition, in which Brazil was defeated by Uruguay in the deciding game of the 1950 FIFA World Cup, the stadium has been used predominantly for matches between Rio’s leading clubs, such as Botafogo, Flamengo, and Vasco da Gama. Concerts and other non-football sporting events are also staged here.

Partially rebuilt in advance of the 2014 World Cup, the Maracana Stadium has a current capacity of 80,000 seated spectators, making it South America’s biggest stadium. It is also the host venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

This city is popular at any time of year, so be sure to book your car hire in Rio well in advance, particularly if you plan to attend Carnival in spring, or any of the major sporting events.