Rio de Janeiro overview
Rio de Janeiro is beating to the sound of a different drum. It may have always been the promised land of sunshine, beaches and tiny, tiny bikinis, but as Brazil licks its World Cup wounds – and that’s the last we’ll mention on that – and gets busy administering CPR to its mojo in time for the Olympic Games in 2016, the city is honing its sharp new cultural edge.
Millions of dollars’ worth of investments are transforming what was once a proud but insular city into a genuine global force, with all the modern trappings that go with it. A newly renovated, state-of-the-art football stadium (alas), a gradually improving public transport system and greater safety on the streets are just some of the reasons to be cheerful after all.
Many of the hillsides are thriving in their new-found security, now places to be safely explored and their views savoured, not least by the new cable car slicing across the once-notorious Complexo Alemão favela. No longer content with being São Paulo's happy-go-lucky, sun-kissed neighbours, the native cariocas are craving something more substantial than sambas about love and sunshine.
Don’'t say it too loudly – for every forward-thinker you’ll still find a handful of trunk-wearing, beer-swilling ’80s throwbacks on a Copacabana street corner cursing the names of their former footballing heroes – but Rio is undergoing a seismic cultural shift.
Rio de Janeiro museums and attractions
Centro may be the blustering home of Rio big business and the ramshackle Saara – block after block of shops and stalls full of carnival-costume kitsch – but it is also the site of countless cultural riches. The recently renovated Theatro Muncipal stands proudly once more while next door the Odeon cinema is the last vestige of a once thriving cinema scene, stubbornly continuing the tradition as the epicenter of the city’s numerous film festivals.
Dotted throughout the region, dozens of lavishly decorated churches and monasteries rub shoulders with the stark modernism of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
A 15-minute stroll north along Avenida Rio Branco and the cultural revolution is in full swing. Where stereotypically seedy bars and clubs once dominated the port side, the gleaming Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) now stands over Praça Mauá, the flagship project of the Porto Maravilha urban intervention and the city’s first public museum for 70 years. Soon to be joined by the City Museum and the Museum of Tomorrow, film and television studios and artists’ workshops, the port, already host to the annual super-events Fashion Rio and Arte Rio, is taking the first steps towards becoming the city’s own take on London’s South Bank.
The beauty of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches aside, Tijuca Forest is the most glaringly obvious example of the city’s natural bounty, a protected national park boasting 32 square kilometers of mountainous Atlantic rainforest with spectacular city views in all directions. On its eastern edge stands the ever-present statue of Christ the Redeemer, an enjoyably tough two-hour hike from the beautiful Parque Lage for the adventurous (the quaint tram from Cosme Velho offers a less strenuous route up), while the striking flat-topped monolith Pedra da Gávea represents an even stiffer hiking challenge, but rewarded with even more beautiful views along the sweep of the city’s longest beach, Barra da Tijuca. A more casual stroll can be found at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain or along the sculpture trail in Parque Catacumba, but even here, within just 20 minutes you are afforded fine views of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, another stunning natural landmark splitting open the city.
Museums and attractions details
Saara Rua Alfândega (and surrounding blocks), Centro.
Theatro Municipal Praça Marechal Floriano, Centro. +55 21 2332 9191.
Odeon Praça Floriano 7, Centro. +55 21 2240 1093.
Catedral Metropolitana São Sebastião Avenida Chile, Centro. +55 21 2240 2669.
Museu de Arte do Rio Praça Mauá, Centro. +55 21 2203 1235.
Parque Nacional Floresta da Tijuca Estrada da Cascatinha 850, Tijuca. +55 21 2492 2252.
Corcovado Rua Cosme Velho 513, Cosme Velho. +55 21 2558 1329.
Pão de Açúcar Avenida Pasteur 520, Urca. +55 21 2461 2700.
Parque da Catacumba Avenida Epitácio Pessoa 3000, Lagoa. +55 21 2247 9949.