Top tips for exploring Rio de Janeiro

How much to tip? What's the easiest way to get around Rio? And how should I spend one weekend there? Here's how to get the most out of your trip to Rio de Janeiro
Tourists and locals enjoying the summer at famous Ipanema beach
Tourists and locals enjoying the summer at famous Ipanema beach. Photo: Shutterstock

Tourists and locals enjoying the summer at famous Ipanema beach. Photo: Shutterstock

Rio de Janeiro is one of South America's most visited cities and it's easy to see why. Whether you're stopping by on a city break or taking a holiday for Rio 2016, here are some tips for making the most of your visit 

Rio covers some 485 sq miles (780 sq km), and has everything from iconic monuments and art galleries to spectacular views,world-class food to a beach for everybody. It's also one of the most entertaining cities in the world, with a vibrant music and nightlife scene. But it's a little difficult to get to grips with all of this on a short stay, if you're taking the trip for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, for example. We've shared our top tips to exploring the city at your own pace. 

Advance booking

For the winter and fall months, it’s possible to get away without booking too far in advance. However, during Rio’s summer (Dec–Feb) and for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games it’s best to plan ahead. As well as this, Carnival and New Year’s Eve are unforgiving to those who arrive without a reservation. Book as far in advance as possible.


It’s customary to tip 10% in restaurants, although many eateries both large and small include this service charge in the bill. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips, but rounding up the change to make it an even fare is common.

Getting around

Because petty criminals often work the bus routes, it’s recommended to take taxis when travelling throughout the city. That said, those arriving at the international airport will want to consider taking one of the blue frescão buses into town, as it is a much cheaper alternative. Also, they have air-conditioning, reclining seats and Wi-Fi.

Taking a trip to Rio? Don't forget your Insight Guides: Explore Rio de Janeiro for the city's best routes, with practical maps and the best places to eat and drink along the way. Available as both an app or an eBook.

Rio de Janeiro. Photo: ShutterstockRio de Janeiro. Photo: Shutterstock


For tickets to the top samba school parades (which for visitors will range from about $150 to more than $1,000) you should check with travel agents and tour operators in your home country as they are able to reserve space through authorised Brazilian ground agents. Trying to purchase a ticket in Rio on arrival can be considerably more difficult and often more expensive. Even at the last minute, however, your hotel concierge should be able to score you a ticket – but at a price.

Restaurant reservations

Want a table at that exclusive restaurant in Copacabana Palace? That’s going to require a reservation (which usually can be made online). However, any restaurant boasting fewer than four stars should be relaxed enough to accommodate walk-ins. Brazil's food scene is rich and varied; from churrasco to farinha, here's the best Brazilian food to try. Wondering where to dine? We've got it covered: 27 places to eat in Rio de Janeiro.

How to spend a weekend in Rio

On Friday, visit the Sugarloaf and then head to the Zona Sur for a stroll along the Forte de Copacabana. Spend Saturday lazing at Posto 8 in Ipanema beach and shopping in the city, then head to Santa Teresa for dinner and party ‘til dawn at Lapa. On Sunday, brave the crowds at Christ the Redeemer and then stuff yourself silly at a rodízio churrascaria for dinner.

Let Insight Guides take you to Brazil and beyond. Tell us where you want to travel and we'll do the rest

Samba school parade Padre Miguel during the 2016 carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: ShutterstockSamba school parade Padre Miguel during the 2016 carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Shutterstock

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