For travelers heading to South America, Brazil is one of the more expensive countries on the continent. The popular Rio de Janeiro can be especially difficult to navigate on a budget. To help you plan a worthwhile trip to this beautiful area, here are 10 free things to do.
Although Rio de Janeiro is a city there are also a lot of natural experiences to be had. When I visited, one of my favorite activities I did was hiking Sugarloaf Mountain. There are two mountains encompassed in the walk and while it is not free to hike to the top of the higher mountain, you can trek about an hour up to the top of the smaller one. Keep in mind, it still isn’t “small,” and the hike will provide a beautiful setting as well as a physical challenge. In my opinion, the views from there were just as good as from the tallest point, especially because you could see a view of the bigger mountain (shown above).
You can also hike the trails of Tijuca Forest. One excellent spot to check out while there is the Chinese View. The spot gets its name from its cultural architecture as well as the many Chinese people who lived there in the past. You will be given an excellent view of the South Zone of Rio as well as Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, Sugarloaf Mountain and the iconic Christ statue on top of Corcovado Mountain.Take a Stroll in Downtown Rio
In the downtown area, there are a lot of historic buildings, churches and the City Theater. Likewise, you’ll find the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), the first bank in Brazil, which is now a museum. In 2010, it made the list of most visited museums in the world. Its programming includes exhibitions, theater, cinema and workshops. There is also a library, bookshop and cafe on the premises. Luckily, this museum is free to enter.
Rio de Janeiro is home to many beautiful and worthwhile beaches. The most famous is probably Copacabana Beach, with impressive surrounding architecture, ornate sand art creations and many water activities and beach sports. This is a great beach to go to if you’d like to try stand up paddle boarding or play some beach volleyball. Ipanema Beach and Leblon Beach tend to bring in a more hip crowd, while Macumba Beach is a more secluded beach surrounded by forest. These are just a few of the choices of sand and sea you will have when visiting Rio de Janeiro.
Browse a Local Market
There are numerous markets and fairs to choose from when visiting Rio de Janeiro. First, there is the Hippie Fair in Ipanema, which occurs each Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in General Osório Square. Here you will find everything – handicrafts, souvenirs, art and typical Brazilian foods. There’s also the Rio Antigo Fair in Lapa, which happens on the first Saturday of each month. You can browse antiques, crafts and watch talented street performers. Additionally, each evening (except for Sundays), there is a night market near Copacabana Beach at 6:00 p.m. This market is smaller than the others, but features goods like clothing, souvenirs and art.
While jogging may not sound like the ultimate vacation experience, you’ve never done it around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The area is very scenic and gets its name from its beautiful lagoon. It is one of the less commercialized areas of the city and features many parks, squares, trees and mountain views. Not only that, but locals in Rio are very into health and fitness, and jogging this circuit is a big part of their lives. Therefore, not only will you be doing something good for yourself, you’ll also be doing something cultural.
Visit the House of Rui Barbosa Museum
Located in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio, this building has been open since 1849. The House of Rui Barbosa Museum, which is free to enter on Sundays, is an excellent way to view 19th century architecture and design in the city. Likewise, the museum works hard to preserve the memory of Rui Barbosa, a Brazilian politician, writer and jurist.
This historical and naturally beautiful park resides in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood in Rio. Listed by the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage, it features houses, trails, playgrounds, picnic areas and artificial caves. There is a also a café inside the house where they serve breakfast around the pool on weekends.
Take in the Views at Parque das Ruinas Cultural Center
Located in the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa, the Parque das Ruinas Cultural Center was once the home of Laurinda Santos Lobo, famous Patron of the Arts from the Rio Belle Époque. In her ornate mansion rooms, Laurinda would bring together artists and intellectuals. These rooms, which are one of the projects architect Ernani Freire’s is most proud of, can still be viewed today. The best part of the visit, however, is the observatory. Here you will see views of Guanabara Bay and central Rio. To make the experience even more interesting, you can take a cable car to Santa Teresa from Lapa. While not free, the ticket for this costs less than $1.
If you want to learn about Brazil’s history and heritage, this is the place to go. Inaugurated in 1910, the National Library of Brazil contains an expansive collection of about 9 million rare pieces. Peruse letters written by Princess Isabel, the first newspapers printed in the country and many other historical documents. Outside, you can enjoy the neoclassical building surrounded by Corinthian columns.
Take in the Beautiful Public Art of Lapa
In the Lapa area of Rio, you will find one of the city’s most unique sites: The Selarón Steps. Created by artist Jorge Selarón as a tribute to the locals of Brazil, these steps have become an iconic part of the area. In 1990, the artist began turning the eroding stairs in front of his house into a vibrant and colorful piece of art. Considering the project “never complete,” Selarón is still constantly changing the tiles today, many of which are hand-painted by the artist with an image of a pregnant African woman or donated from various parts of the world. After viewing the steps, make sure to take a look at the nearby Arcos da Lapa. The structure is an 18th century aqueduct that was once used to bring the residents of Rio de Janeiro fresh water. Today, it is used as a tram viaduct. You’ll get to see the 42 impressive double-tiered arches of the site as well as enjoy some history. Additionally, if it is night there is usually live music and entertainment on the streets.