The perfect 3-day itinerary for Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is one of South America’s most iconic cities.
It is an extremely diverse city that reflects the social distances between poor and wealthy people. It is not only a vibrant city with many entertainment options, but also a stunningly beautiful place with its own rainforest, gorgeous panoramic views, and great beaches.
Rio is huge with a bunch of exciting places to visit, in order to manage to go to all the must-visit places, I would recommend you to stay at least for 3 days.
For the perfect 3 days, you have to be lucky with the weather. Not because of the temperature, because it is always warm there, but because of the rain and the clouds, which determine the scenery of the city.
Christ the Redeemer
Mirante Dona (Santa) Marta
Rio’s Botanical Garden
Pedra do Arpoador
Christ the Redeemer
How to get to Christ the Redeemer from the city: → There are 5 ways to go up:
This is definitely the easiest and cheapest way of going to the Christ the Redeemer ticket office. We chose this option. From the Ipanema beach to Corcovado (ticket office to the Christ) the Uber cost us ~40 Reals which is ~8,7 Euros. It is super convenient, because you don’t have to go to the bus pickup station, or to the tram. So you can easily reach the top of Corcovado in ~30 minutes from your accommodation (if it is not in the outskirts of Rio, and if you are not going in the peak hours).
Same experience as Uber, just more expensive.
3. Shuttle bus service
There are a couple of pickup points for the Shuttle bus both in Rio’s downtown and also near the beaches.
4. Trem do Corcovado
The price for an adult in the low season is 67 Reals, and in high season: 87 Reals. However, this already includes the admission to the statue. For the Trem do Corcovado, it is really advised to purchase the ticket in advance because the waiting time can be even a couple of hours in high season.
If you have only 3 days, I would say that don’t do the hike then, because it is quite long and tiring, and you better save energy for the rest of Rio. However, if you have plenty of time, then hiking in Rio’s own rainforest is a great choice for nature lovers. When to go:
Definitely when the weather is nice and not cloudy! And on the other hand, I would also recommend going in the morning, because then it is less crowded, plus the sun is shining from the optimal direction to capture the best photos. Moreover, another huge advantage of going early, is that you don’t have to wait hours in the queue, for entering the minivans, which take all the visitors up to the Christ statue from the ticket office.
If you decide to purchase the tickets in advance for the best viewpoints: Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain be aware of the fact that the experience is very much depending on the actual weather conditions. As because the Christ the Redeemer is on top of the Corcovado Hill, 709 meters above sea level, it is often cloudy at that height, and then the city can’t be seen from above. However, if the weather is nice, then the view from there is amazing.
We wanted to make sure, that we go there when the weather is nice, so that is why we didn’t purchase the tickets in advance. Plus it is not even easy to purchase it online, because it can only be purchased via intermediaries or tour operators. So because of the reasons above, I would recommend not buying the tickets in advance, but going to the ticket office before the opening time in the morning.
If you finally managed to the top, then just enjoy the beautiful view.
It is incredible what people can do for a good photo. I couldn’t imagine before, that I won’t be able to walk, because people are lying on the floor in front of me to take photos in which the whole Christ fits. It is truly a challenge, because the statue is 38 meters high, but it is still doable without lying on the ground… :)
After the Christ statue, it is a nice bypass (especially if you go with Uber or Taxi) to visit the Mirante Dona (Santa) Marta. This is a very nice viewpoint, from where you can have a nice view not only of the beaches and the city itself but also the Christ statue above Mirante Dona Marta.
After visiting the Corcovado hill, let’s continue at Parque Lage, which is an open garden in the rainforest at the bottom of Corcovado. Bytheway, if you are adventurous, you have a trail between Parque Lage and the Christ. Which is the hike, what I mentioned before, the 5th option how you can reach Christ the Redeemer. Parque Lage is totally worth visiting, and you can see many unique species, hidden caves and tiny fortresses.
If it is not enough of the beauty of nature, then the next place to visit is Rio's Botanical Garden. There is an entrance fee, but it is very low only 10 Real (~1,7 EUR), but if you have a student ID, make sure to have it with you, because students get a 50% discount from the admission.
The Botanical Garden is gorgeous and organized. There are hundreds of different palm trees and a lot of other species like bamboos, tropical trees and flowers.
At the end of the garden, there is an area where you can even see monkeys sometimes. There are also nice lakes, cactuses in the park, and if you are as lucky as we were, you also get to see toucans.
After the super intensive and tiring morning and a lot of nature, it is a good decision to continue the day on the beach and mingle with the locals.
Walking around the Ipanema beach, you can taste the Brazilian lifestyle while eating a bowl of açai. This is a very popular local refreshing snack made of pulped and flash-frozen açai berries that are pureed with other frozen fruit and topped with a variety of fresh fruit, granola, seeds, nuts, peanut butter.
For the sunset, one of the best spots in Rio, is the Pedra do Arpoador cliff between the Ipanema- and the Copacabana beach.
At sunset, the cliff is full of people. Not only with tourists but also with locals, who admire how the Sun goes down next to the Dois Irmãos hills, while eating snacks and drinking some refreshments.
After the sunset, before heading back to the city, take a walk on the Ipanema beach, which is showing its other face during the night. Many merchants are coming to the promenade to sell their merchandise. You can often find groups of people dancing around and you can also find tiny mobile cocktail tables where you can get the Brazilians beloved drink, the Caipirinha for takeaway.
Museum of Tomorrow
Etnias - street of huge graffities
Rio downtown - walking tour
Praia do Flamengo
Praia de Botafogo
Start the day in the downtown bay area, and before the walking tour-start at 10:30, you will still have time to visit the Museum of Tomorrow (at least from outside) which is really a futuristic building.
And make sure, that you don’t miss the Etnias district with its enormous and unbelievable street art. There is an old abandoned building with huge graffiti faces on its outer walls. If you go close you can't really recognize the faces, because you only see one tiny part of the huge painting. But as soon as you go further, the painted shapes and faces are perfectly seen.
If you have 3 days in Rio, then I would recommend going on a walking tour in downtown. I could recommend the Rio Free Walker company. They work on a tip-basis. They offer a big variety of routes: you can choose from the Downtown & Lapa, Copacabana & Ipanema, Olympic Boulevard, and even a pub crawls and food tours.
We went on the Downtown and Lapa tour, which lasts only around 3 hours but it is a great way to get to know Rio’s history in a nutshell, and the tour takes you to the most iconic parts of the downtown like the Imperial Palace, the National Library, the Lapa district, and the Selarón Stairs.
After finishing the tour at the bottom of the Selarón stairs, it is a must-do to search for your own country’s tile. Over the 200 steps, there are tiles from 60+ countries. For some countries, it will be super easy to find the tile, but for others, you really have to pay attention and search insistently, but it is really fun and you can admire the unique art of Selarón at every step.
BUT it is very important that you shouldn’t go beyond the top of the stairs. Our tour guide warned us that it is not recommended to continue your walk after reaching the top of the stairs, but tourists should walk back down, because the area at the top of the stairs is quite dangerous also during the day, and people especially tourists should be afraid of pickpocketing there.
In the afternoon after a nice Brazilian lunch, we headed to the beach area in the bayside. Walking along the Praia do Flamengo and the Praia de Botafogo in the direction of the Sugarloaf Mountain is really nice. And if the weather is nice you can quickly refresh yourself and chill on the beach.
Keep your eyes open, because if you are lucky you can even see green turtles swimming around.
After the long day full of walking, heading to Copacabana beach and drinking a Caipirinha in one of the local beach bars with live music, is definitely the perfect ending of the day.
Dois Irmãos hill
Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon
If you are adventurous and if you want to add a couple of more km to your last two days’ distances, then start your day by climbing the Dois Irmãos hill at the southern end of Leblon beach.
Be aware that if you go after a rainy day it might not be the best decision because of the extra slippery forest path. And disregarding what is the weather like, wear comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers, because slippers are a no-go on that route.
Getting to the beginning of the path is already a unique experience because to reach it you have to go through the Vidigal favela.
If you have decided to visit Rio, you probably read a lot that it is not recommended to go to a favela. We were also concerned if we should go to the Dois Irmãos track, so we asked around and after all, we decided to go. We took an Uber and we hoped that the Uber will take us up to the start of the track, however we had to get off the car at the entrance of Vidigal, because cars normally can’t enter the favelas because of the very narrow streets. So we didn’t really have other option, at the entrance of Vidigal we had to swap to motorbike taxis. It didn’t seem to be dangerous because the police was also there at the favela entrance. The moto-taxi cost around 3 EUR / person.
On the way up (and later the way down) I really had to hold on the bike, because of the winding roads.
Then at the end of the asphalt road, where the motorbike takes you, there is a big sports field, where you have to go along its left side, and there you find the start of the track.
The hike up is really a nature hike, no man-built track, (except the timber stairs in the beginning). The walkway is really nice, leads you through the tropical rainforest, SO don’t forget your mosquito repellent! On the way up, there are a few viewpoints, from where you have a great view of Rio’s biggest favela, the Rocinha favela.
We got very close to the Dois Irmãos peak, however, we couldn’t finish the track, because of the night thunderstorm the ground was too slippery. But except this, it was totally worth visiting the Dois Irmãos track.
This program, especially if you manage to the top, takes at least 2-3 hours, and after this great exercise, it is a great choice to cool yourself down in the ocean at one of the beaches near Dois Irmãos - Leblon or Ipanema.
After chilling a bit on the beach and enjoying the amazing view and the big waves, it is time for the last stop of the Perfect 3-day Rio itinerary, for the Sugarloaf Mountain aka Pão de Açucar.
To go up to the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain, you need to take the cable car, or if you have more time, you can also take the walking trail up to Urca, which is the lower hill below the Sugarloaf Mountain, and also the half-way stop of the cable car. The second part of the trail, up to the Sugarloaf Mountain is only recommended for advanced and professional climbers, so the rest of the tourists should take the cable car at least from Urca to the Sugarloaf.
And last but not least, comes the end of the 3rd day, which means another breathtaking sunset.
If you have already watched the sunset from Pedra do Arpoador from the cliff at the end of the Ipanema beach, then the 2nd best option for the sunset in Rio is the Sugarloaf Mountain. This will definitely put the crown on your Rio de Janeiro visit.
Have a nice day!