Rio de Janeiro Things to Do Tips by MM212
Rio de Janeiro Things to Do: 1,135 reviews and 1,750 photos
A favela in Zona Norte
Like much of Brazil, Rio is a city of rich and poor. Much of the poor population lives in what is known as favelas (pronounced fa-VEH-las), which are isolated neighbourhoods of often hastily constructed buildings, completely separate from urban Rio, yet within close proximity. These favelas are often mistakenly referred to as slums, but they are real neighbourhoods with buildings, schools, shops and other infrastructure. Notorious for being dangerous, these favelas are in fact quite organised and have little crime within each community, but they lead the illegal drug trade in Brazil. It is said that each favela is headed by a single drug lord and many in the community work in the business (sounds like the Mafia). The dangers occur when different favelas quarrel over the drug trade, resulting in many shootings. Favelas occupy many of the hills around Rio, often with the best views, so they are clearly visible from the city. For those interested, a couple of tourist agencies organise tours of favelas (completely safe).
The beautiful impressive structure, Palácio Tiradentes, is rather confusing. It is named "palace", but resembles an eclectic Beaux-Art style opera house, yet it was originally built to house the Brazilian congress, and meanwhile "Tiradentes" translates to "tooth puller"! In fact, it was completed in 1926 and named after a dentist and a martyr, known as Tiradentes, who lost his life in the fight for independence. The building served as the seat of the Congresso Nacional brasileiro (Brazilian National Congress) until 1960 when Brasilia replaced Rio as the capital of Brazil. Since then, it has housed the Assembléia Legislativa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (legislature for the state of Rio de Janeiro). The interior contains an exhibit on the history of the building itself.
Address: Rua I de Março near Praça 15 de Nov - CENTRO
Pavement Design in Cinelândia
Legacy of a 1930's cinema that is no longer existent, the name Cinelândia refers to both the square and the area where it was located. The square is officially called Praça Marechal Floriano and boasts a collection of beautiful Belle Époque buildings that are a fading reminder of a bygone era, including the Biblioteca Nacional and Museu de Belas Artes. Another notable building is the sumptuous Theatro Municipal, which was unfortunately covered in scaffolding for resoration work during my visit in Dec 2008. Designed to resemble Opéra Garnier in Paris, Teatro Municipal was built in 1908 to become Rio's main opera house. Cinelândia has a distinctive tricolour pavement design with comedy and tragedy masks, a tribute to the opera house dominating the square.
Address: Praça Marechal Floriano, CENTRO
Antiga sede do Tribunal Superior Eleitoral
Unveiled in 2007 after a major restoration project, the old seat of the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE) is back to its former glory. The beautiful eclectic-style edifice was built in 1896 specifically for the TSE, but the restoration work turned into a cultural centre containing an exhibition hall, a library and a small museum. The building is located on Rua Primeiro de Março, not far from Travessa do Comércio in Centro.
Address: Rua Primeiro de Março, CENTRO
Designed by Roberto Gandolfi, the Edíficio Petrobrás was completed in 1972 as the headquarters of the Brazilian oil giant, Petrobrás. The 108-metre building is commonly referred to as the "hanging gardens" because of its multiple planted terraces. Due to its unique architecture, the building is considered one of Rio's most beautiful modern structures and has certainly become a famous landmark. Edíficio Petrobrás is located close to Catedral Metropolitana in Centro.
Address: Avenida República do Chile, CENTRO
Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
Inspired by the Louvre in Paris, the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes was designed by Adolfo Morales de los Rios and built in 1908 to house what is considered Latin America's most important art collection. A large section of the museum is dedicated to Brazilian artwork from the colonial period to modern times. The rest of the museum boasts a collection of 17th and 18th century European art brought to Brazil by King Dom João VI when he fled Portugal in 1808.
Address: Avenida Rio Branco, 199 - Centro (Cinelândia)
Escola de Música
Part of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), the Escola de Música was built in 1922 as a music school. The beautiful building was modelled after the concert hall Salle Gaveau in Paris. It is located in the Lapa area in Centro.
Address: Rua do Passeio, 98 - Lapa, CENTRO
Pão de Açucar
The most recognisable postcard image from Rio, Pão de Açucar, or Sugarloaf Mountain, dominates the centre of Rio and the entrance into Baìa da Guanabara. The steep mountain was called pau-nh-acugua, meaning "pointed peak", by the indigenous people, a name that to Portuguese ears sounded sufficiently close to Pão de Açucar or Sugarloaf, which also accurately describes the shape of the mountain. Since the introduction of the first cable cars in 1912, visits to the top of the mountain have been possible. First the visitor climbs up the smaller mountain, Morro de Urca where there are bars and restaurants and good views over the city. Then a second cable car takes the visitor to the higher peak for even better views over the entire city. Also worthwhile is the 7-minute helicopter ride from Morro de Urca that circles Morro de Corcovado/Cristo Redentor and back, and for those mountain climbers amongst us, climbs of Pão de Açucar are frequently organised.
Address: Avenida Pasteur 520, Praia Vermelha
Centro, seen from Pão de Açucar
Modern skyscrapers mix with colonial and imperial architecture in Centro, the business district of Rio. Centro is also the site of the first settlement of Rio de Janeiro and the old town with its numerous churches. Although much modified in the past century, Centro still preserves a great deal of its original architecture, albeit often left to decay. Tucked between those tower blocks are a few narrow alleys with the original sobrados (old townhouses) that allows the visitor to imagine what Rio must have been like before modernity took over. Rather unfortunate it is that the new aggressively displaced the old, for what is left for us to see are some magnificent Baroque churches and Belle Epoque masterpieces, typical of old Rio de Janeiro. Visitors to Rio rarely make it to Centro as most stay and remain in Copacabana and Ipanema where the beaches are located, but a day or an afternoon touring the centre is essential for a better understanding of the city and its history. Beware of pickpockets though, we were warned, but luckily I saw none.
Travessa do Comércio
One of the last intact remnants of colonial Rio de Janeiro, the Travessa do Comércio is a hidden narrow alley between the towering modern buildings in the heart of Centro. The alley's colonial buildings, known as sobrados have been preserved and illustrate how all of downtown Rio once was. The alley is also famous for once being the home of the well-known Carmen Miranda. Along Travessa do Comércio and its continuation, Rua Visconde de Itaboraí, are numerous bars and restaurants and the area is lively by day and night. Travessa do Comércio runs from Arco de Teles on Praça 15 de Novembro to Rua do Ouvidor.
Address: Travessa do Comércio, Centro
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