The Downtown district of Rio is where you will find the Rio of the early 1800s as well as parts of town that are fighting or dancing their way back to the glory days of an earlier age - in a 21st Century fashion. The best museums are here along with baroque style churches, art galleries and dance clubs that attest to Rio’s bohemian culture. You really haven’t visited Rio if you don’t spend some time here.
Both the historical and financial core of Rio de Janeiro, the Centro district is absolutely crammed with worthwhile sights and things to do. Old colonial buildings stand side by side with brand new skyscrapers, and highflying business men are as common place as street vendors. Most of the city’s best churches can be found here, including the Ordem Terceiro do Carmo, the Nossa Senhora de Candelaria and the Santa Cruz dos Militares. There are also some top museums, with some of the best being the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museu Nacional de Belas Artes), the National History Museum (Museu Histórico Nacional), and the Museum of Modern Art (Museu de Arte Moderna).
Other buildings worth taking a visit if only for their architectural splendor include the Brazilian Academy of Letters (Academia Brasileira de Letras), the National Archives (Arquivo Nacional) and the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional). Another highlight is the Passeio Publico - dating from 1779, it is the oldest public park in Brazil, webbed with pathways and noted for its two gorgeous fountains and two striking granite pyramids. Another popular park is Campo de Santana, a green "breath of fresh air" made up of 135,000 m² of landscaped grounds found in the center of downtown Centro. The adjoining Praça da República (Republic Square) is a location made famous by the "Proclamation of Brazil's Independence" from Portugal on September 7, 1822. The park is inhabited by agoutis (a hamster-like rodent) who serve as the Park's "unofficial" mascots.
Centro and Cinelândia (at the southern edge of Centro) is a great place to visit during the day with the "hustle and bustle" of the commercial activity generating tremendous energy. A half-day walking tour of the historic buildings, churches or museums is highly recommended. There are also many fine restaurants and a few good night clubs. However, at night most of the people depart for home and Centro can be a bit intimidating and unsafe for visitors not familiar with the area. Visitors are advised to take a taxi to restaurants or nightclubs in the evening. You will find that the hotels are typically frequented by Brazilian visitors, business people or foreign visitors already familiar with Rio.
Inhabited mainly by middle to upper class residents and affectionately known as the ‘Paris of Rio’, this is a lovely neighborhood, full of pretty, classical buildings, and it affords wonderful views of Guanabara Bay. The main thoroughfare is Rua da Glória, which converges on two great streets – Rua do Catete and Rua da Lapa – which are lined with restaurants and bars. One of the top drawing cards in this neighborhood is the hilltop church of Outeiro da Glória. Widely agreed to be one of Brazil’s most beautiful churches, it was constructed in the 17th Century in the Baroque style and consists of a single whitewashed tower and a limestone doorway adorned with carvings.
Glória is also known as the principal spot to launch boating activities with its beautiful marina - Marina da Glória. From the marina, you can charter a number of different boating excursions including day, sunset and evening cruises. There are tours that provide fishing, scuba diving or sailing adventures -- as well as sightseeing cruises of the Guanabara Bay affording you a wonderful view of the city’s skyline and major sights from a unique perspective.
What this little snippet of a neighborhood lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Lapa is a bohemian paradise, crammed with funky bars, clubs and restaurants, and it’s one of the best places in the city to soak up some traditional Brazilian music – especially samba. It’s always had something of a raucous character, but this shouldn’t put you off - all that translates into is that the neighborhood has one of the best atmospheres in Rio. One of the most popular dance clubs is Rio Scenarium which has sparked a revival in the area which had fallen into neglect when the original wealthy landowners moved south. The buildings and neighborhood still bear the scars of being abandoned but at night, the clubs come alive and throngs of people line up to visit the restaurants and dance clubs.
Historically, the district has been a thriving hub for artists and intellectuals, and many of Brazil’s best creative minds originated here. It is also distinguished by its architecture, with striking colonial buildings aplenty and the iconic, arched landmark of the Carioca Aqueduct, around which Lapa splays. Also known as the Arcos da Lapa (Arches of Lapa), this 17th Century construction originally transported water from the Carioca River to the city’s population and is now one of the best preserved reminders of colonial Rio. The water was replaced in the late 1800s with a tramline (bonde), which still operates and is the last surviving one in the city. And if it is the first Saturday of the month – you are in luck. The Rio Antiques Fair, or as it is officially known, the Feira do Rio Antigo, or "Old Rio Fair" is an open-air market on Rua do Lavradio that should not be missed.
This hilly district, with its winding streets, cobbled lanes and attractive mix of colonial, art deco and modern architecture, is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Rio. Like Lapa, this neighborhood has traditionally been associated with artists and intellectuals, and the close ties between the two are still visible today, most notably in the form of the aforementioned tramway, which connects the two, and a 215-step mosaic stairway that begins at Sala Cecilia Meirelles (a Lapa cultural venue) and leads up to the Santa Theresa Convent. If you decide to travel here using the tram and the experience inspires you to find out more, check out the Museum of Bonde, which traces the history of the tramway since its humble origins, when donkeys rather than electricity were responsible for dragging it uphill.
Due to its high location the views from most places in the neighborhood are impressive, but Parque das Ruinas serves up some of the best. If you’re looking to unwind, head to Largo dos Guimaraes; it’s the busiest part of the neighborhood and has a great selection of restaurants and bars. Perhaps, one of the best times to visit is on the weekend, when a number of impromptu parades, festivals or art shows spring up across the streets of the town. And if you are a serious art admirer, perhaps a half-day tour of Santa Teresa’s galleries combined with a visit to Museu Chácara do Céu, which features modern art is in order.
Check out the Virtual Tour
There are three virtual tours highlighted here. The "skyscrapers in the center of Rio" are located in the historic and commercial downtown, known as Centro. Nearby, you will find the lovely hill town of Santa Teresa, home to Rio’s artsy and bohemian residents. Finally, in the northern most section, you can see the cruise ships that dock at Pier Mauá. Source: AirPano.com
When you launch this virtual tour, open to a full screen, you will then be presented with a map (top right) with multiple Virtual Tour viewing points. To find the tours associated with the Commercial Downtown, Santa Teresa and the Cruise ships, choose the points encircled in red as demonstrated in the picture on the left side of this page. You can scroll over the map points to find the tour of your choice.
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"Not all those who wander are lost" - J. R. R. Tolkien