Popular Rio de Janeiro Shore Excursions
Downtown, there are numerous gorgeous churches dating back to the 17th century. Among those worth seeing is Convento do Santo Antonio (Largo da Carioca 5, open weekdays from 2-5 p.m.), which dates from 1615; don't miss its colonial-era artifacts. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Candelaria (Praca Pio X, weekdays from 7:30 a.m. - noon and 1 - 4:30 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m.) represents Brazil's 18th century. At the Mosteiro de Sao Bento (Rua Dom Gerardo 32, open weekdays only, from 8 - 11 a.m. and 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.) the highlight among many is its intricately wood-carved altar. For those with more contemporary tastes, check out the daring and modern Catedral de Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro (Avenue Republica do Chile 245, open daily from 7 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.), which was built in the early 1960's.
Art museum aficionados should head to Rio's Flamengo neighborhood. Main attractions there include the Museu de Arte Moderna (Avenue Infante Dom Henrique 85, Tuesday - Saturday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.) to see a huge collection of contemporary works. The Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, otherwise known as the National Museum of Fine Arts (Avenue Rio Branco 199, Tuesday - Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., weekends 2 - 6 p.m.) features Brazil's best artists of the 19th and 20th century. And for a fun stop, check out the Museu Carmen Miranda (Avenue Rui Barbosa 560, Tuesday - Friday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., weekends from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.), which memorializes Brazil's most famous bombshell -- not to mention star in the arts of samba, singing, dancing and acting. Another must-see stop on the cultural radar is the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Museu de Arte Contemporarea de Niteroi, a contemporary art museum, where cutting-edge masterworks meet a striking "spaceship" building with unparalleled views of the city (Mirante da Boa Viagem, Niteroi, Tuesday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.).
Corcovado: The Art Deco-style statue of Christ the Redeemer is Rio's most famous and enduring symbol, perched atop the 2,300-foot-high hill of Corcovado. Spectacular views of mountains, bays and beaches await those who take the easy funicular ride; the trains leave Cosme Velho station every 20 minutes.
Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Acugar): The views from the top of this imposing natural wonder amply demonstrate why no other city in the world can compete with Rio's scenic beauty and setting -- a magnificent harbor and impossibly beautiful beaches are nudged tight against dramatic Tijuca National Park, the largest urban expanse of tropical forest and mountains on the planet. To get to Sugarloaf, take a taxi to the cable car station at the base.
The Burle Marx House (Estrada da Barra de Guaratiba 2019, guided visits by appointment at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m.) is a large, expansive estate that has morphed into an art gallery and museum, honoring Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx. The highlight is the elegant landscaping and plants that surround the house.
Take in a "futebol" (soccer) match at Estadio Maracana, Rio's gargantuan stadium (the largest in South America), which holds nearly 89,000 passionate fans.
Some cruise lines plunge headfirst into the celebration (and madness) of Rio's world-famous Carnival celebration by scheduling their port stops around this unique and joyous party. A four-day event, it begins on a Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday); the date changes every year.
The major samba schools begin practicing months before they make their hundreds-person-strong entrances into the famous Rio Sambadrome during Carnival. Some offer behind-the-scenes tours where you can try on one of the elaborate (and heavy) costumes to try to shake your booty Latin style. No one will laugh even if you think you're making a fool of yourself -- except your significant other! Check with your ship's shore excursion desk, as the schedule varies greatly.
Rio Scenarium (Rua do Lavradio, 20 - Centro, 2233-3239) is a large nightclub and restaurant with eclectic decor that's part fun house, part antique store. A rotating selection of local groups plays samba and forro, the accordion music of Brazil's northeast, and everyone eventually gets up to dance the night away.
Beautiful and glamorous beaches are the huge attraction in Rio de Janeiro, and are part of the daily social and recreation fabric of all Cariocas. The two most famous -- Copacabana and Ipanema -- are easily accessible and ideal for day-trippers who want to plunge headlong into this most democratic of activities (look for raucous kids from the favelas, or slums, sitting right next to wealthy, posing locals and hordes of hip gay men from the U.S. and Europe).
Copacabana, a long two-mile stretch, is lined with high-rise hotels and cafes, and attracts more tourists than locals. The mile-long beach at Ipanema, south of Copacabana, is more about "the scene" (the tighter the body, squeezed into the smaller the swimsuit, the better -- you get the picture). But everyone, no matter where they come from or what they look like, feels welcome at Rio's beaches. To better take in the remarkable beauty of the water and beaches (and hone your people-watching skills!), rent bikes and rollerblades and just hang loose as the locals do.