Watch: All you need to know about Rio de Janeiro, the Olympics 2016 host city
Rio de Janeiro: The 2016 Olympics in Rio is starting in less than a month, but before you head to the Brazilian city, check out the most important landmarks of the city and fun facts surrounding this fascinating city.
To really experience the soul of Rio de Janeiro, beyond visiting tourist sites like the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain or Copacabana Beach, you need to venture out onto key urban and natural spots.
The following is a list of 16 places you should not miss, including some classics and a few alternative sites, if you want to feel the real Rio during the Olympics:
Up on a mountain top, this is one of the most Bohemian neighbourhoods in Rio, a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets and old houses, with art as its symbol. In Santa Teresa, you can enjoy varied local cuisine in restaurants that almost feel like art galleries, with a relaxed atmosphere where you can have your beer standing inside the premises, in the middle of the street or sitting on the kerb. In this perfect mix of colonial architecture and cosmopolitan culture, live music persists until the sun rises over Rio's mountains.
Turning the half-destroyed stairs opposite his home in Rio into a masterpiece: that was the goal of the late Chilean artist Jorge Selaron when he tackled this piece of street art that is now a tourist landmark. With 215 colourful steps, covered in an original collage of mosaics brought in from several places around the world, the steps link Santa Teresa with another of Rio's Bohemian neighbourhoods, Lapa.
RUINS PARK (PARQUE DAS RUINAS)
Hidden in the bustle of central Santa Teresa, the park holds an old mansion that was turned into a museum and shows memorabilia from the time when Rio was Brazil's capital. With a lookout point that offers breathtaking views of the city, the mansion once hosted, in its heyday at the end of the 19th century, personalities like dancer Isadora Duncan and author Anatole France.
FORTE DO LEME
Located in the upper tip of the half-moon formed by Copacabana Beach, the Duque do Caxias Fort, also known as the Forte do Leme, combines history and wildlife. The path that climbs up to the top of Leme mountain is an ecological walk where plants and animals show off their sounds and colours to make visitors forget how close they are to the busy Copacabana neighbourhood. Built as a bunker in the late 18th century, the fort is now a museum for the military technology of the time, complete with two huge cannons.
BIP BIP BAR
"Samba is at home there," that is what locals say to define the tiny bar run by Alfredo Melo, "Alfredinho," in the Copacabana neighbourhood. Every night, musicians play the city's trademark "samba raiz" at the bar. Among the eccentric things that make this a striking place, some are hardly conducive to comfort, but they add to the flair. The audience stands outside the premises, and they help themselves to drinks. With a pencil in hand, Alfredinho will only charge customers for what each of them says they had, keeping the bills in a pile of plates. You are not allowed to clap. At the end of the long, moving sambas and "choros," the audience will snap their fingers. The Bip Bip's walls are full of antiques and old photos to prove why it is one of the most popular spots in Rio's nightlife.
Really carioca, that is how the Baixo Gavea neighbourhood, often known simply as "BG," can be defined. Located in the area around iconic sports club Flamengo, the neighbourhood brings together the most local Bohemian life, without tourists or pretence: people who go down to the pub in their slippers or while they walk the dog and spend all night there, with plenty of live music, food stalls and hundreds of people everywhere.
This central Rio neighbourhood, spread over 13 streets, is vibrant at night and only barely rests during the day. Located next to Santa Teresa and the city centre, it often appears on postcards through the famous 42 arches of the old Carioca Aqueduct, one of the most important architectural works of the city's colonial age.
LAPA 40 GRADOS NIGHTCLUB
Located in Lapa, this huge, four-floor colonial mansion has been decorated to combine the most contemporary, cosmopolitan entertainment with classic Rio. Stages that alternate between different music genres, several bars, a nightclub proper, VIP areas, pool tables and good food attract hundreds of people, particularly youngsters. This is a required stop for fun-seeking foreigners visiting the city.
RODRIGO DE FREITAS LAGOON
The venue for rowing and sprint canoeing events during Rio 2016 is the dominant setting for anyone wanting to enjoy an outdoor experience within the city. Set against an amazing backdrop, with views of tourist landmarks like the statue of Christ the Redeemer, it is perfect for rides on bicycles, quads or paddle boats, and also for picnics and easy walks to lookout points where you can take stunning photos.
MUSEO DA MARE
"A place to remember. A place to meet." That is the slogan for this cultural centre, a special site beyond the peculiarities of being located at the heart of one of Rio's most violent "favelas" (slums). Its cultural offering highlights locals' history of sacrifice, hard work and resistance. The visit is a unique experience, almost a must for anyone who wants to see the real Rio.
MERCADON DO MADUREIRA
With a history that spans over more than 400 years, the northern Rio neighbourhood of Madureira is the birthplace of two carioca traditions: carnival and large markets. Home to renowned samba schools, the heart of the neighbourhood is the so-called Mercadon do Madureira, a chaotic space that almost 100,000 people go through every day, looking for anything and everything: from carnival costumes to spices from remote areas of Brazil, from handicrafts to useful objects for the home, from professional manicures to exotic sweets.
PARQUE NACIONAL DA TIJUCA
It may be easier to say what you cannot do at Tijuca National Park than to explain all the things that are on offer there. Close to Barra da Tijuca, which hosts the Olympic Park and the Olympic Village, this huge environmentally protected area is like paradise for nature and sports. Hiking paths, amazing waterfalls that you can bathe in, rock climbing, cycling, abseiling, hand gliding and birdwatching are only a few of the activities you can do there, surrounded by lush vegetation, fascinating animals and spectacular landscapes.
This is a separate walk within Tijuca National Park. It is one of the best lookouts in Rio, where you can see virtually the whole city. From the top of the mountain, a Chinese-style structure that emulates bamboo allows visitors to see the city at their feet. You can climb up to the top of the Alto da Boa Vista mountain on foot, on a bike (with suitable training) or by car or taxi.
CAVERNA (Rock Bar)
The Caverna proves that there is more to Rio than just samba. With loud rock 'n' roll, a creative decor and original food, this bar in the Botafogo neighbourhood serves tasty, gourmet burgers along with craft beer, special drinks and a few street dishes typical of other places around the world.
MUSEUM OF TOMORROW
With a name that sounds contradictory, the Museum of Tomorrow brings together classic questions about the origin of the universe with answers that are based on science but prompt further questions. Its futuristic design, the work of renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is Rio's latest postcard-worthy site. Located in the harbour area, the museum seeks to show what science has contributed to our lives so far and to propose hypotheses about what is to come. By the time they leave, the only thing visitors know for sure is that all possible futures will depend on our actions as human beings.
About one hour's boat ride away from the busy central Rio, Paqueta island is an eight-shaped paradise that seems to be lost in time. Located in the north-east of Guanabara Bay, the island has a population of about 4,500. Motor vehicles are not allowed on the island, which features beautiful beaches, hills and rides on horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. Flowers, fireflies and birds add to the quiet landscape of this peculiar "neighbourhood," a must when you visit Rio de Janeiro.
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