What are the must-sees when in Rio? Your itinerary in Rio de Janeiro should of course include Christ the Redeemer, the immense Jesus statue on top of the Corcovado Mountain in Brazil. You can visit either by cog train or by the steep hairpin roads leading to the very top. A trip to Rio is really not complete without a visit to the remarkable and iconic monument!
The impressive Art Deco statue was raised in 1931 in Brazil on the summit of the mountain way above the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The mountain peak is 704 metres high (2,310 feet) and the Rio de Janeiro Jesus statue is 30 metres (98 feet) tall – and likely to overwhelm most visitors to Brazil both by its size and appearance.
Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro? Windsor Plaza Hotel rooftop swimming pool & airport shuttle, Hotel Atlântico Rio outdoor pool & free breakfast, Belmond Copacabana Palace iconic 5-star beachfront hotel.
The Jesus statue in Rio was designed by the Polish-French monument sculptor Paul Landowski and subsequently built by the civil engineer, designer and constructor Heitor da Silva Costa from Brazil, in collaboration with the French engineer Albert Caquot and the Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida.
In addition to the famous statue, there are a number of other fabulous attractions and cultural sights in Rio de Janeiro, that can easily be included in your sightseeing itinerary here – whether on a guided tour or a self-guided visit to the vibrant metropolis in this part of Brazil.
Start at the Maracanã Stadium, officially called Estádio Mário Filho, built for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. The outcome of the final match was not quite what the successful football nation Brazil had hoped for, since they most unexpectedly lost to Uruguay!
It was at the time of construction intended to be the largest stadium in the world. Actually, around 200,000 spectators watched the World Cup match on it. However, in the 1990s its capacity was greatly reduced due to new safety measures. Up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup it again underwent significant changes which amounted to 500 million dollars.
Outside the impressive building persevering street vendors try to catch the visitors’ attention with their abundant knick-knacks, including Brazilian football merchandise-like items.
Not everything is the picture-postcard impression of the stadium, that people often come for and the guides sometimes try to give you. In recent years there have been downsides as well.
What is tragic to the football universe in Brazil is the state of the stadium subsequent to the World Cup. The stadium wasn’t returned in acceptable conditions, or even at all maintained after the Cup. It was left with seats torn out and broken inventory here and there. Within a few months it turned from a glorious stadium into a dangerous site with risks of robbery and other safety concerns. The green pitch turned brown due to an invasion of worms and the power was cut off leaving the stadium in complete darkness. The state of Rio de Janeiro, which owns the stadium, was left in a financial disastrous position. All in all, Maracanã was shockingly soon light years from its splendour and recent heyday.
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Next, you will visit Rio’s world-famous Sambadrome.
The Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí is built for the annual carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It is here that samba schools parade in their colourful carnival costumes, with dancers and drums, as well as with their splendid parade props during the famous Rio Carnival.
Impressive as it is, the Sambadrome was designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer and completed in 1984. It was one of the architect’s two works that were carried out, when he returned from his exile during the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985). Artists who were suppressed by the regime, were given more freedom to perform their art after the democratic election of regional governors in 1982.
When the Rio Carnival takes place (just before Lent), the events go on for four consecutive nights. The various samba school parade one after another, and it all culminates with the spectacular Special Group performing. This is always what draws the biggest attention worldwide!
If you visit outside carnival season, there is, probably a bit disappointing, just the sheer concrete sambadrome behind an iron fence. You cannot enter it, but only view it through the grid. Anyway, you will definitely remember this as a point of reference when watching the carnival parade on TV the next time!
Half an hour later you may stand in front of the modern Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro (or in Portuguese: Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião). Strikingly, it is significantly different from other cathedrals in the world. It was constructed during the years 1964 – 1979 and dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro.
The internal diameter of the iconic and extraordinary structure is 106 metres (348 feet), and its height is 96 metres (315 feet). Four massive stained glass windows from floor to ceiling play with the sun light and the ambiance inside the colossal church room. They unite into a cross at the top of the cathedral, forming the roof as a place of worship.
The cathedral is unusually eye-catching for a concrete building, but the interaction of the glass, the light and the lines makes it remarkably unique. It is one of Rio’s more recent landmarks.
Although it doesn’t quite reach the capacity of the original Maracanã Stadium, it is still a tenth! With a standing-room capacity of 20,000 people, it is absolutely impressive!
All close to the Cathedral, you will find the old colonial Carioca Aqueduct from the 18th century. Right since the 1600s it had been attempted to build a canal system to bring fresh water from the Carioca River to the residents of Rio de Janeiro. It never became a success, and instead an aqueduct was considered. Construction of the first aqueduct was completed in 1723, but already in 1744 the governor Gomes Freire de Andrade undertook the building of a new, larger two-storey structure, spanning 270 metres and having a height of 17.6 metres. This resulted in the new the Carioca Aqueduct, which was inaugurated in 1750.
The Carioca Aqueduct is also known as Arcos da Lapa, since it is located in the Lapa neighbourhood. For over 100 years the aqueduct has served as a tram bridge for a tram connecting central Rio with the Santa Teresa neighbourhood, a popular artists’ quarter.
10 minutes later you will be at the iconic Selarón Stairs, located on the border between the two neighbourhoods Lapa and Santa Teresa. It is a colourful piece of art, designed and built by the Chilean ceramist artist Jorge Selarón. In 1990 he began to renovate the stairs in front of his house with blue, yellow or green coloured ceramic tiles – representing Brazil’s flag. The tiles were actually used as a tribute to the Brazilians for the FIFA World Cup.
Red is also a dominant colour along the steps, this being a tribute to his Chilean background and the Chilean flag. Little by little visitors started bringing him tiles from their home countries, and a recent count arrives at 2000 tiles from around 60 countries! This resulted in the famous vivid steps of worldwide origin!
It is a favoured place for photo shoots and other activities – you may even be lucky to see a group of Brazilians samba dancing Brazilians on the steps. However, do be careful – the situation is awful for the people living here, and it could be very dangerous to go too far away from the tourist groups due to the risk of robbery – and even murder! Anyway, from the foot of the stairs everything probably looks peaceful!
Climbing the hairpin bends of the Corcovado Mountain and the lush rainforest around Rio de Janeiro with a chance to spot a monkey or two, you will be on your way to the top sight, the outstanding Christ the Redeemer Jesus statue in Brazil. You may ascend the mountain by cog train, taxi or minivan. The last bit is done on foot, using the elevator/escalator for the last metres before reaching the monument, the colossal Christ the Redeemer statue standing with his arms over the city of Rio in a both protecting and exalted position.
A less known and pretty demanding option is to hike all the way to the top. The trail starts at Parque Lage and continues through the lush rain forest. The second half of it is the most requiring including a real climb with a rope to hold on to. Nevertheless, the experience and views are very rewarding when approaching the top. Anyone who opts for the hike, should be aware of the risk of robbery which is substantial. It is not rare that hikers report robberies on this stretch of the trail.
Already in 1824 a path was opened through the previously inaccessible forest to reach the summit of the steep mountain overlooking Rio. In 1884, a railroad followed, inaugurated by Emperor Peter II of Brazil. However, it was not until around 1922 that a monument was decided for the celebration of Brazil’s centenary of independence. The sculpture was chosen through a competition, won by the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa. His statue was a huge Christ bearing a cross and holding a celestial globe.
Several locations were discussed for the erection of the Rio de Janeiro statue, among others Sugar Loaf Mountain, Santo Antonio and Corcovado. The latter was finally chosen due to being the highest! Funding was obtained from the Catholic public! However, the project was redesigned due to various reasons. Christ himself would be the cross and the material would not be bronze, but reinforced concrete which had begun to be popular for constructions. The French sculptor Paul Landowski had the special knowledge of this technique and was therefore chosen as the responsible for the vast statue Christ the Redeemer, to be visible from central Rio!
From the monument and the summit the 360-degree views of Rio de Janeiro are gorgeous. From this angle you can easily spot the other Rio attractions: the Maracanã Stadium, the Sambadrome, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Botanical Garden, the Sugar Loaf Mountain and, of course, the beaches. Also a corner of the biggest favela, Rocinha, is well within sight.
From the Christ the Redeemer Jesus statue on the Corcovado Mountain, continue to another famous mountain in both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese). It is located 396 m (1,299 ft) above the sea and bears the name of the well-known shape of concentrated, refined loaf sugar.
Sugarloaf is one the main attractions in Rio due to its panoramic views from the summit. Moreover, it is linked to the city centre by its awesome cableway, a teleférico, which is actually two different cable cars with bubble-shaped cars. The first one ascends the Morro da Urca, which is ‘only’ 220 m (722 ft) high, and the second one continues from there to the Sugarloaf.
The original cable car dates back to 1912, and precisely a hundred years later, in 2012, the Sugarloaf Mountain became a World Heritage Site!
Take a cable car ride yourself and enjoy the most magnificent views of the surrounding city!
At the end of the afternoon, you will find your way to Copacabana Beach, which is probably the most famous beach among the Rio beaches.
Copacabana is located in the South Zone of Rio and is at the same time a neighbourhood featuring a vast number of hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.
Copacabana Beach covers a 4 km (2.5 miles) stretch of sandy area spanning from Watchtower Two to Watchtower Six. It is the beach for tourists, locals, people who want to have fun and a drink, and maybe play some beach volleyball.
Other popular beaches in the Brazilian metropolis count the upscale Ipanema Beach with an iconic promenade, the long Barra da Tijuca Beach for both families and surfers, the beautiful Prainha Beach and the Leblon Beach attracting both families, surfers and volleyball players.
View hotels at Copacabana Beach.
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