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An aerial view of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro/Flickr/Christian Haugen

Whether it’s dancing at a samba school, shopping at South America’s largest mall, or sipping a caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) at the beach, there’s always something more to do in Rio de Janeiro. So, what if your time in the Marvelous City is very limited? Here’s what you can do in 48 hours.

Day 1

Check into your hotel. Thanks to August’s Summer Olympics, a trove of new hotels have opened throughout the city, forcing more competition and lower prices. But do some research before booking. Hotels in the Barra Da Tijuca, for example, are far from popular attractions like Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain — and not connected to the rest of the city by subway, meaning you need to have your own wheels.


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First-time Rio visitors should prioritize a visit to the 125-foot-tall Christ the Redeemer statue. Tram is by far the most popular way to get to the Art Deco landmark, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Tickets, which start from $56 Brazilian real (approximately $14-$18 USD) often sell out onsite, so secure your seat by purchasing tickets online.

Another option for an incredible view of the city is Pão de Aҫúcar, also known as Sugarloaf Mountain. You’ll have to purchase tickets (R$71) directly from the ticket office when you get there for the cable cars to the top. Plan to visit late in the afternoon to avoid the cruise ship crowds — and to catch the incredible sunset over the ocean.

You probably won’t have time to do both Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf in one day, so pick one or the other. Pro tip: Skip the statue and mountain if it’s cloudy. You won’t be able to see the city views below, and you may not be able to see the statue’s head, either.

Spend the rest of your time exploring Copacabana and its famous beach, which is also a great place to score a cheap lunch and caipirinha from a vendor or beachside kiosk. But be sure to save room for dinner. Brazil is known for its barbecue; waiters will serve you as much of a variety of meats as you care to eat. One of Rio’s best eateries, Churrascaria Palace, is located just steps from the famous Copacabana Hotel — though it’s a splurge at R$110 per person. If you can still move after your carnivorous feast, catch a taxi to Lapa for samba dancing. We recommend Rio Scenarium, considered by many as one of the best bars not only in Rio, but the world.

 

Catedral de São Sebastião in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Catedral de São Sebastião/Flickr/Cyro A. Silva

Day 2

Explore downtown Rio. If you’re comfortable with subways, the Rio system is easy enough to navigate. Get off at the Cinelândia, Carioca, or Uruguaiana stations, or take a taxi.

Downtown highlights include Theatro Municipal (R$20) for performing arts, ornate colonial church Mosteiro de São Bento, Catedral de São Sebastião — a pyramid-shaped cathedral with four floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows — and the Museo de Arte do Rio (R$10).

For lunch, try Confeitaria Colombo, a coffeehouse dating back to the late 1800s. You can enjoy small dishes and desserts (around R$9) downstairs or go upstairs to Cristóvão for the buffet, which features traditional Brazilian dishes.

Then, head to the recently opened Museu do Amanha, or Museum of Tomorrow (R$10). The museum is impressive, but be aware that it focuses on topics such as evolution, overpopulation, and the destruction of the environment — not technology and innovation.

No visit to Rio is complete with sampling feijoada, a local signature stew featuring black beans simmered with meat and served with rice, kale, and other accompaniments. Although it’s typically served on Saturdays, Casa de Feijoada serves it every day of the week.

Wrap up your 48 hours in Rio on a high note with a post-dinner visit to Bar Do Oswaldo, known for its batidas — which is traditionally a mixture of fruit juices and cachaҫa, although the bar now uses vodka for a less stringent alcohol taste.

 

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