Itinerary through the center
The old center of Rio de Janeiro, “Centro”, is very different from the beach district of Ipanema and Copacabana. It is best to visit during the week when the streets are filled with merchants and businessmen. It is also safer the week, and obviously we would recommend you to visit during daytime. Remember to be careful with pick-pockets but apart from that we didn’t feel any threat.
The centre is an interesting superposition of colonial buildings and skyscrapers, old monuments and modern offices with some quite interesting architectural choices…
Here is the itinerary we recommend you for a few hours discovering the city center by foot.
Start at the subway station Cinelandia
The best way to access the Centro is by subway and we would recommend you to start from the station Cinelandia. When getting out of the station you will have your first contrast: beautiful old buildings surrounded by skyscrapers!
Have a look to the Mahatma Gandhi place and head North to admire the County Court building on one side, the Câmara Municipal do Rio de Janeiro on the other side. If open you can visit for free the Federal Justice Cultural Center that offers different exhibitions. Just next to it, admire the beautiful Library, Fundação Biblioteca Nacional. You can also enter and visit for free but the access to visitors is actually limited.
Finally you will face one of the most beautiful monument of RJ: the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro. Inspired by the Opera Garnier in Paris, this theatre welcomes ballets and opera since 1909. You can visit it for 20$R or get a ticket for one of the show!
Head to the Largo de Carioca
Go around the Municipal Theatre by the right and cross the Avenida Barroso to check the ongoing exhibitions at the Caixa Cultural Center (free). Then continue towards Carioca and you will arrive on a crowded pedestrian place with merchants of all kind.
Behind you will notice the church Santo Antonio. You can just have a glimpse at this beautiful church or visit it for 10$R. Prepare to be amazed by all the gold (or so we heard). From the front of the church you have a pleasant view over the Largo de Carioca, a good way to observe the busy square from a quieter spot.
Need a break already? Head to the emblematic Confeitaria Colombo for a coffee and a cake!
Calm and unrest
Going out from the Confeitaria, head west to digest calmly in the beautiful Royal Portuguese Reading Room. The institution, founded in 1827 by Portuguese immigrants, is truly astonishing.
Don’t hesitate also to stop have a look in the churches on your way.
Once you are ready to go back to the hectic life of the center, head towards the market district of Saara. Many different stands and shops will appeal to your curiosity. A good way to blending with the cariocas, the name given to the inhabitants of Rio!
Emblematic architecture of Rio center
From Saara, head down South to discover 3 emblematic architectural monuments of RJ.
The first one is unmissable: the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. That you hate it or love it, it lets no-one indifferent! It is something like a pyramid of concrete more or less inspired by Incas pyramids (according to us). Hard to know what to think about it! Apparently it becomes beautiful at night with the colorful lights on…
Continue your way behind the Cathedral to head towards the Carioca Aqueduct (also called Arcos de Lapa, in reference of the neighborhood name: Lapa). Dated from 1750 to bring water from Santa Teresa to Santo Antonio, the aqueduct was a real engineering wonder from the colonial times. In 1896 it was converted into a viaduc for the Santa Teresa tram. This tram was still running up to 2011! That year a fatal accident caused the line to stop and it re-opened only 2015 with a modern imitation of the former tramway.
Finally head in direction of Lapa to discover the famous Escadaria Selaron. Those steps are the long-term work of the artist Jorge Selaron. Living just across, he decided to decorate the steps in front of his house in 1990, and slowly kept going one step by one step, with colorful tiles he would randomly find. First mocked by the local inhabitants, the steps started to attract attention and ended receiving international recognition: you will find many tiles from all over the world given by admirers of his work. He continued working on it until his death in 2013.
Don’t forget to keep an open eye for street art!
Wandering around Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa is a lovely neighborhood located on top of a hill that feels like a charming small village. Once on top of the Escadaria Selaron you can walk there in 10-15 minutes following the road uphill. Otherwise you can take the famous Santa Teresa tramway for 20$R return ticket. The departure station is in the center nearby the Cathedral.
Santa Teresa is only a few streets large with some cute (and sometime fancy) restaurants, bars, shops and art gallery. The main interest though is the charming houses and the eclectic street art! There and there you will also come across with some interesting view points over the city and its favelas.
Santa Teresa was a nice escape to the busy center! If you do not want to take the tram you will need to take a bus or go back downhill by foot to grab the subway at the subway station Gloria. And on the way have yet another glimpse at the busy center life!