12 Things To Do In Every City You Visit - #1
Sample The Local Cuisine
Whether you’re traveling to a city abroad or in you’re home country, there is almost always a regional specialty or food you haven’t tried. Even if you have, eating pasta in Italy, barbecue in Brazil and cheese in Wisconsin is a completely different experience than having it at home. For even more points, sample a speciality you’ve never had — and never would unless you were traveling. Guinea pig (cuy) in Ecuador, worms (gusanos) in Mexico and blood sausage (black pudding) in the United Kingdom are just a few of the many adventurous options.
12 Cultural Experiences To Have In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is full of worthwhile activities for travelers. For those who want to delve deeper into the culture, try adding the following experiences to your itinerary.
Visit A Cultural Museum
While there are an endless amount of cultural institutions and museums in Rio, one good place to start is the National Library Of Brazil, where you can learn about the country’s history and heritage. Inaugurated in 1910, visitors can view about 9 million rare artifacts, the country’s first printed newspaper, historical documents and letters written by Princess Isabel, who passed away in 1921. There’s also the Baukurs Cultural Center, which promotes numerous aspects of Brazilian culture, some of which include samba, religion, calligraphy, film, performance, debates and art. Additionally, the Centro Cultural da Justica Federal was the headquarters of the Supreme Court from 1909 to 1960 and features exhibitions on Brazilian art and photography.
Go For A Jog
While jogging may not sound like an activity you want to do on vacation, it’s a big part of the culture of Rio de Janeiro. Locals in the city are very into health and fitness. Head to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a scenic area featuring a beautiful lagoon. It’s one of the less commercialized areas of Rio, and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in a world of parks, squares, trees and mountain views. Additionally, running along one of the many white sandy beaches, like Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Macumba is worthwhile. Near Copacabana you’ll find impressive architecture and creative sand sculptures, while Ipanema and Leblon have a very trendy feel. If you want privacy, Macumba is secluded and quiet.
While acai is served all over the world, you haven’t really had it until you’ve eaten it in Brazil. Acai is cultivated in the north of the country in a place called Para, where you’ll see boats arriving from the Amazon Forest with the fruit in its purest form. Although Brazilians from all over the country love acai, where you’re from will influence how you eat it. In Para, the area is full of laborers who eat acai at room temperature as a side dish to fish, making use of its iron, protein and energy. However, in Rio you’ll find locals, especially athletes, love to eat the food as a frozen pulp with guarana, strawberry, banana, honey and other toppings for a snack or healthy dessert.
Drink A Caiprahina
The Caipirinha is Brazil’s national drink, made with a local sugar cane rum called cachaça, sugar and lime. Even if you didn’t know the drink was the nation’s cocktail of choice it would become apparent as soon as you stepped into any bar, restaurant or party in Rio. Many establishments even put interesting twists on the drink by adding fruit, nuts, coffee and other ingredients. Just be careful, these drinks are strong and can hit you hard.
Check Out Public Art In Lapa And Beyond
In Lapa, you’ll find one of Rio’s most interesting and iconic sites: The Selarón Steps. Created by artist Jorge Selarón, the steps are a tribute to Brazilians. The project began in 1990, when the artist started transforming his house’s eroding steps into colorful masterpieces. Because Selarón considers the project “never complete,” he regularly changes the tiles, most of which are either hand-painted by the artist or donated from other parts of the world.
If you’re interested in graffiti, Rio de Janeiro is a hub of the art. Since 2009, graffiti has been legal in the city as officials realized the popularity and potential of the medium. Whether you’re walking around favelas, lively Lapa or more upscale areas, you’ll see colorful works dotting the streets. Click here to see street art around the city.
Visit Rio’s Oldest Church
While Rio is home to many beautiful and historical churches, the oldest is Candelaria. Its construction spanned from 1775 to the late 19th century, and features a baroque design. While the massive structure was home to many historical events like large-scale protests and the tragic Candelaria Massacre on July 23, 1993, it is also a very sacred space and important to locals.
Take In A Show, And Maybe Even Perform Yourself
Rio is renowned for its love of music and dance, so taking in a show is a worthwhile experience if you’re looking for culture. The Fundição Progresso is a multi-functional space in Lapa where visitors can take in almost anything – Carnival-inspired performances, high-wire circus acts, African, European and Brazilian fusion pieces and even classic Brazilian singers. If you’re interested in learning how to become a performer yourself, the theater offers acrobatic classes during the week.
If you’re looking for something with more dialogue, Teatro Maria Clara Machado puts on progressive, independent monologues and dramas as well as more mainstream shows. And at Teatro Municipal in the city center, visitors will enjoy the city’s art and cultural past through ballets, classics, foreign operas and symphonic orchestras. Build in the 20th century, the building’s design was based on the Paris Opera and features a lavish interior and grand design.
Browse Local Markets
Rio de Janeiro is full of markets and fairs. In Ipanema from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM each Sunday, you can visit the Hippie Fair in General Osório Square. Here you’ll find everything from handicrafts and art to typical Brazilian foods. On the first Saturday of each month you can also check out the Rio Antigo Fair in Lapa, where you can peruse crafts and antiques and watch energetic street performers. Furthermore, each evening except for Sundays from 6:00 PM there is a night market near Copacabana Beach. While smaller than the others, it features clothing, food, handicrafts and souvenirs.
Samba is a Brazilain-style dance and music containing African influence that is iconic of Brazil. The dance is energetic and rhythmic, and danced in 2/4 time. For those who want to experience some authentic samba, you can either attend the famous Carnival celebration or go to one of the local samba schools, usually on Saturday nights, between September and February to watch the performers practice. Mangueira Samba School, Unidos da Tijuca and Carnaval Academicos Grande Rio are all top choices. If you’re in Rio during the summer, you can also opt to attend a “feijoada lunch” at one of the samba schools, where you’ll get a lunch of rice, beans and pork and the chance to watch traditional samba. These usually take place once per month. For example, on the first Saturday of the month you can stop by Portela Samba School, while on the second Saturday Mangueira holds theirs. For more information, click here.
Samba and other typical forms of dance and music can also be experienced at some of the cultural centers around Rio. For example, the Centro Cultural Carioca features numerous samba and “chorinho” shows each week.
And for those who want to learn to samba for themselves, Casa de Danca Carlinhos de Jesus offers samba, forró, salsa and hip-hop classes in the evenings. You can also take lessons with Rio Samba Dancer, who gives lessons on samba and forró.
Attend A Cultural Festival Or Event
Of course, most people know about the Samba-focused Carnival, where attendees can watch talented samba performers, as well as attend endless parties and dance the night away. That’s not the only cultural festival in Rio, however. Sporting events like the Rio de Janeiro Marathon and Rio Sports Show showcase the fitness-focus of the locals, while Culture and Science Day on November 5 features numerous cultural offerings throughout the city. Moreover, Folklore Day is on August 22, and celebrates the myths, beliefs and legends comprising Brazilian folklore. In November, the Rio Tango Festival combines film, music, literature and dance like tango, “choro” and ballroom dancing.
For a complete list of festivals and events, click here.
Take A Favela Tour
Experience and learn about a very important aspect of Rio culture by visiting a favela. Many tour companies now offer tours through various favelas located throughout Rio. Often times, the tour guide is a favela resident and can offer an accurate glimpse into their daily lives. You’ll get to learn about the inhabitants of these colorful hillside areas as well as the local culture through food, art, music and dancing.
Learn To Cook Traditional Foods
Learn how to cook traditional Brazilian dishes in Rio. Typical dishes made include seafood moqueca, a seafood stew from Bahia state, peanut molasses brittle, a sweet sticky treat, fried manioc sticks, gooey balls of cheese and cassava, batida de coco, a coconut libation and the national cocktail, the caipirinha.
Every 2,373 years for about one hour before sunrise, Venus, Mercury, and Saturn align with the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. This amazing phenomenon will happen next on December 3, 2012. Truly a once in a lifetime event to witness.
Because Mondays are hard, here is something to make you smile.
Travel Better Tips
- Embrace the idea of being a ‘tourist’ only in the sense that you have no idea where you are going and what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to (politely) ask locals for directions or opinions. While this may result in a few silent stares or not-so-polite responses, you will probably discover a side to the city that you can’t find with your nose buried in a map.
- Throw a small toy in your carryon for the screaming kid that seems to be on everyone’s flight. It could mean the difference between a restful nap and a migraine. Plus, we’re pretty sure the whole flight will thank you.
- Pack a pair of clean socks in your carryon so you can get comfortable and take your shoes off without grossing out fellow passengers.
- Eat like a local: when looking for good local food don’t ask the concierge—they spend their day catering to tourists. Try asking the bartender or housekeeping staff about their favorite restaurant.
- Always bring a pair of headphones (the bigger the better), even if you don’t plan on listening to music. Nothing is better at warding of potential unwanted conversation with talkative travelers.
- Take a picture of your checked bags. If anything gets lost it’s much easier to show a picture than to accurately describe “a big black bag with wheels.”
- Familiarize yourself with tipping customs to avoid potentially embarrassing situations (and dirty glares from angry waiters).
- If you are going somewhere that speaks a different language try to familiarize yourself with a few key phrases before leaving: “Can you help me?” “Do you speak English (or whatever language you speak)?” “How much does this cost?” and “Where is the restroom?” Knowing just a few phrases will help to bridge the language barrier and you’ll feel a bit more comfortable knowing you can always find a place to pee.
- Use racks of postcards at the airport and souvenir stores to figure out which
tourist spotslandmarks you need to see the most.
- While Segway tours make you look super goofy, they are a great way to see the city while saving your feet for the rest of the day’s adventures. (Note: they will probably make you wear a helmet, therefore making you look even goofier than you thought previously possible. Just go with it.)
- If you’re leaving the country and/or traveling for an extended period of time be sure to leave a copy of your passport and credit cards with someone at home (someone you trust verrry much). If anything is stolen they will probably be able to cancel your credit cards from home much faster than you, who may or may not have phone/internet access readily available
- On long trips mail souvenirs or dirty laundry home before returning to avoid potential overweight baggage charges.
- Packing electronics in a single layer in your carryon will allow x-ray scanners to see everything, hopefully preventing a manual bag search.
- Bad with directions? Grab a matchbook from your hotel on your way out for the night. If jet lag-induced amnesia ensues you’ll have a quick way to tell the cab driver (or a helpful local) where you are trying to go.
- Cross pack when traveling with a companion: put at least two days worth of clothes into your buddy’s bag, and vice versa. If someone’s luggage is lost everyone will still have a fresh pair of underpants when they arrive. And after all, isn’t that the foundation of a happy traveler?
- Call your bank before traveling abroad so your credit cards aren’t cancelled.
- Mini bottles of liquor are TSA approved for your carryon and cost much less in liquor stores…just saying.
- Put a small label on electronics. If anything is lost an address may prompt a good samaritan to return it to you.
- Put together a cheap decoy wallet (an old license and just a little bit of cash) if traveling somewhere crowded and/or somewhere that is known to have an issue with pickpocketing. You won’t have to pull out a wallet with all of your money, ID, and credit cards every time you want to buy a coffee.