Brazil: Rio de Janeiro in 3 Days

How best to spend three days in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. Guide to attractions and restaurants before the 2016 Olympic Games.


It’s just how I imagined it. Rio’s Copacabana Beach showed off this scene on our first night, directly in front of the hotel with the blue moon looking on. Although it’s winter, the weather is perfect at this time of year, with temperatures hovering around 25°C. As one new Brazilian friend teased, “Winter in Rio was last Wednesday”.

Copacabana beach in Rio

Although we weren’t there at the time of the famous Carnival, we quickly realised how much more there is to Rio than Copacabana. For a start, there’s also Ipanema Beach.

Arriving off our night flight and feeling a bit new in this exciting City we were thankful to have booked an ideal 2-hour “Welcome to Rio” walk with Context Travel. Our lovely and lively guide, Amber, came to meet us and was itching to explain Rio’s different neighbourhoods and help us prepare our visit. Knowing we also love good food, she pointed us around the corner from the Copacabana Palace to show us some typical snacks. It didn’t take us long to taste our way around the bacon popcorn and carts of freshly baked brigadeiros, sweet chocolate fudge truffles made with condensed milk.

Rio de Janeiro with Context Travel

Pao de Queijo – warmed cheese bread balls, were my favourite and became rather addictive during our trip. They’re not unlike Gougères – French style cheese puffs typical of Burgundy, made with choux pastry – but the Brazilian version is more dense and heavier in weight. This is because instead of making them using normal all-purpose flour (as in Gougères), these cheese balls use cassava flour or tapioca flour. We also tried cheese waffles, based on these Pao de Queijo.


Surprisingly, we saw Pao de Queijo on each hotels’ breakfast buffets during the trip along with the most succulent local mango, guava and papaya served with lime wedges. Limes are more popular than lemons and so a must try is the national Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha at one of the many kiosks along the beach (more on that in the next post) or by the pool as a special treat at the famous Copacabana Palace, which opened its Art Deco doors in 1923.

Another Context Tour really helped us get an idea of the City Centre (Centro), Founding Rio, the Marvellous City. Beth walked us through Rio’s fascinating history, starting with the Portuguese sailing into Guanabara Bay in January 1502. Thinking it was a mouth of a river, they called it Rio de Janeiro, or January River.

Brazil Rio architecture

By 1822 Emperor Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence with Portugal and the evidence of old Colonial with new is evident throughout the City, who’s ports served as the Capital for the gold, coffee and diamond trade. It wasn’t until 1960 that the Capital was moved to Brasilia, a more central location. The tour ended here at the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. Finished in 1979, it looks rather like a Mayan pyramid amongst the mix of Colonial and more modern structures.

Rio de Janeiro architecture

A note on security: it wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. Like any big city, you do need to be streetwise: don’t wear a watch or jewellery or walk around with cameras on show, and stay clear of any dodgy areas at night (or darkly lit areas). Take cabs at night! In preparation for the 2016 Olympics, the police have tightened security and gone through a major project to pacify the favelas (shanty towns) and with police presence around the city, we felt safe. Just be practical and in areas in the North East, know where you’re going otherwise take a taxi.

Antoine had to talk sweetly to get me up Sugar Loaf Mountain. With vertigo, you can imagine why I’d be scared just looking at this picture. I still can’t believe I did it! There are two cable cars. The first takes you to the flatter, Urca Mountain, and from there you are whisked up by second cable car (some mountaineers decided to brave it up the only other way) up 400m. My secret was to stay in the middle and not look out of the window. There is a lot more room up there than you think to walk around, believe me!

Sugarloaf mountain Rio

Don’t forget your kids’ IDs in order to qualify for price concessions.  We didn’t cart around our passports (naturally in a big city!) and found ourselves paying full over-21 adult prices for our 12 and 15 year olds. Lucie turned 13 a couple of days later; I know she’s tall but 21? Really.

Sugarloaf mountain cable Rio

The promised sweet talk started with one of the best ice creams in Rio at Felice in Ipanema.  I opted for the passion fruit and chilli dark chocolate.  The pistachio was also delicious – and just the right colour (you know how fussy I am about pistachio colour!).

However, for the best Teatime in Rio head to the famous institution reminiscent of the Belle Epoque, the Confeitaria Colombo in the heart of the City.

Colombo Cafe in Rio

It was busy. Apologies for the terrible shot above here but I get excited in places like this, surrounded by Art Nouveau decor and wondering who exactly walked these floors since 1894. Queen Elizabeth II did, apparently.


Needless to say, my choice was for the Pastels de Nata. I even had a savoury one, with cod fish followed by a most exquisite Pastel de Caipirinha (could you guess?). They also had French-inspired éclairs, Napoleon millefeuilles, lemon meringue tarts and chocolate tartlets (recipes in Teatime in Paris!).

Colombo restaurant for the best teatime in Rio

Talking of food, we tried out a number of places for dinner in our 5 days in Rio but here are our best restaurants for a 3 day stay:

  • Ten Kai Japanese restaurant in Ipanema;
  • Zaza Bistro in Ipanema (we ate upstairs, where you take off your shoes and eat at low tables);
  • Aprazivel, Santa Teresa. Some people told us to avoid this at night. For lunch you have spectacular views from the top but at night it’s just as good. (Just ensure that you take a taxi directly there and not walk the hill as you pass a favela). Order the palm hearts for starter.  One between 2 is enough but it’s served cooked from the palm tree.  Absolutely delicious!
  • From Aprizivel we went on to Rio Scenarium in Lapa, a live music club on 4 floors. Take ID with you for the entrance (also a small fee). We were unlucky since we booked in advance but there were no tables left and the 2 bands out of 4 stopped playing after 10 minutes for a break – so it was just recorded music. Hopefully you’ll be more lucky since it’s a must-do here for some Samba dancing!

Rio Scenarium live music

Another essential must-see in Rio is up the Corcovado (Portuguese for “hunchback”) mountain to see the monument of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Rendentor). The most popular transport to get there is by train.  Normally we would have done it early in the morning to avoid the crowds but since this was Winter and the sun was shining with a great view potential, we took a taxi up to Paineiras Road then bought our tickets for the park vans to take us to the top.


Again, like Sugar Loaf Mountain, there is a lot more room at the top than you think for the weaker amongst us. And the view of Rio de Janeiro is incredible – don’t forget a jacket or cardigan, as it is a bit cooler up there.  If it’s misty, however, don’t even bother going.  The whole point is for the view and to see the statue perched on this granite rock of 710m.  On a misty day you won’t see either of them.  We also saw some monkeys on the way down in the Tijuca Forest, which just made Lucie’s 13th birthday!

Christ the Redeemer monument Rio

On our last day we enjoyed our final walking tour with Amber from Context: Bohemian Rio, Santa Teresa and Lapa. Even although we had already seen a bit of Santa Teresa, we would never have seen all the secret parts of it without a guide.

Santa Teresa Rio

Amber showed us the original trolley car, famous in Santa Teresa but which was stopped in 2012 for security reasons following an accident. The area is full of renovation work in anticipation of the Olympics next year but it looks like the trolley will be back in action again soon.

Santa Teresa in Rio Brazil

We loved visiting this traditional bookstore with a difference, where this passionate writer keeps the tradition alive of writing booklets on academic subjects – some of which were in English. There are many flamboyant artists in the area too, finding ingenious ways to recycle abandoned objects, including a Beetle car shell!

As we walked on the typical mosaic tiled pavements in Rio – originally brought from Portugal and replaced by gold on the way back – our tour with Amber finished with a hidden viewpoint in the heart of the city to watch the most magnificent sunset.

Views of Rio from Santa Teresa

For music lovers, the home of Bossa Nova calls and the end of our trip finished on a high note at the Vinicius Bar in Ipanema with Gloria Ettari. I couldn’t recommend this enough!

Vinicius Bar in Rio

Stay tuned for the next post where we stop off at two destinations north and south of Rio, Buzios and Paraty, for a taste of the lazy beach life and islands plus the local Cachaça.

Related Article: Visits outside Rio de Janiero: Buzios & Paraty, Brazil


(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, August 2016)

From the kitchen

14 responses to “Brazil: Rio de Janeiro in 3 Days”

  1. Context Travel is obviously the way to be guided to see the hidden places you might miss. Makes me want to go to all of these exciting places Jill, even the scary ones.

    • Even the scary ones Thomasina? Well I’m thrilled you liked it. Thanks for popping by.

  2. You made me feel much better about my lengthy NYC post that I published yesterday! We are two birds of a feather, aren’t we?!

    LOVED this post! Since I’ve never been to South America, it’s so interesting to see the different places and especially the food. Charging you over 21 for two teens sounds like Italy to me, hmmm… not nice to do that to tourists, is it? If only they’d realize they’re shooting themselves in the foot!

    The Context Walking Tours sound great! I love to walk around cities, but sometimes I walk right past something not knowing its significance, only to learn about it later and then I want to kick myself! Have had this happen too many times.

    Looking forward to the next post! 🙂

    • Thanks for the inspiring comment, Christina. Yes, two birdies, two peas …
      When it comes to the City trips, these tours make the whole experience come alive. We actually thought we’d already “seen” Santa Teresa already but when we did the tour we realised just how much of the secret side we would have missed. Must check out your NYC post. So much to share and post! Look forward to seeing you soon!

  3. What an amazing holiday! You’ve been traveling a lot this summer—so much fun to do as a family!

    • Thanks, Liz. Yes, we’ve been on the move constantly this summer but now back at home for a week before another wee trip. It’s time I caught up with blogging, popping by my favourite blogs too and er, laundry! 😀

  4. What a wonderful trip to Brazil! The cheese bread balls look delicious!
    Thanks for sharing!!

    I wanted to make a small comment about your recipe index in your website.
    Sometimes, it’s a little bit hard to go through the index, because the name of the recipe is hidden.
    (I’m inserting a photo of how it shows in our devices.) I humbly suggest placing a photo of the
    final product instead. I honestly think it would be so much easier for all of us, to find a new and
    delicious recipe.

    Thank you so much for your time. I send you lots of regards from Mexico City. And congratulations
    Jill, I always enjoy reading your newsletters!

    • Lovely to hear from you Betty. Thanks also so much for the feedback on the site as we don’t often know what it looks like on other screens.
      It’s really strange, since there ARE photos already for each recipe and I can see them well from here. Thanks for telling us, as I’ll pass this on to the web wizard Cédric who put this together and see what he says. Hopefully we have a solution.

      Thanks again, J x

      • Reply from Betty: Nice to be in touch, Jill! I usually use my ipad, since it is so handy to take it to the kitchen……but you are so right. I opened your site in my desktop as well as my laptop..and indeed, you can actually see the pictures of each recipe!!!
        I really love the section where you can choose the number of yolks you have left, and choose a recipe to create a marvelous dessert! I guess only when we use tablets, we are unable to see the pictures of the index and instead, we can only see part of the text of the recipe.

        Whenever I open a recipe in my ipad, the complete recipe appears with all the photos you posted in le blog, as well as the photos of your wonderful books on the right hand side of your post. All the photos are nice and clear.

        I guess the only difference between the desktops, laptops and tablets, is that ONLY with the tablets, we can’t enjoy the photos of each recipe.

        Thank you so much for your time Jill. And have a wonderful week!

        Regards from Mexico City!

  5. Dear Jill, we’re so happy that you were able to do a few walks in Rio and meet some fellow docents! It looks like you had a lovely time and I’m glad the walks added to your Rio experience!

    • The walks certainly did add to our wonderful Rio experience, Lily. Merci !

  6. This gives me such saudagi do Brasil!’
    I hope you had fresh coconut juice drunk out of the shell and the wonderful things they peddle on the beach…can’ t remember any names of course. IPANIMA!!!
    What’s not to love? Looks FAB.

    • Yes, the fresh coconut juice in the shell was in there too – I forgot to mention this! So much to talk about… Thanks, Carol. So, you’re the Girl from Ipanema 😉