Trying to plan the ultimate 3 days in Rio de Janeiro Itinerary? We’ve got you covered! This comprehensive guide will help you make the most of your time while visiting all the city highlights!
There is no other city in the world like Rio de Janeiro. This amazing city in Brazil is known to have more natural beauty per square inch than any other major city in the world which is really no surprise considering that this huge city is surrounded by both mountains and sea.
There is so much to love about Rio that makes it one of the very best places to visit in Brazil, if not THE best one. This city will give you plenty of opportunities to immerse in the local culture and embrace the picturesque natural scenery. If you are thinking of a beachy and informal vibe for your next destination, Rio won’t disappoint.
I came up with this 3 days in Rio de Janeiro itinerary that you can use as a point of inspiration to experience the best that the city has to offer.
How to Get from the Airport to your Hotel
The Galeao International Airport is located around 10 miles (17 kilometers) from Rio de Janeiro, and there are several options to get to the city.
▶ By Bus: Taking a bus is the cheapest option to get from the airport to Rio de Janeiro. You can take the BRT (Bus Rapid Transport), which has stops in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 arrivals and, since it has its own lanes, it’s pretty fast. The Frescão bus 2145 and 2016 is another alternative. Line 2145 stops on Terminal 1, while line 2016 stops on both terminals.
▶ By Taxi: Taking a taxi is a more comfortable option, since you’ll have space for your luggage and will be taken directly to your hotel. You can expect the ride to cost you around R$80 (15 dollars at the time of writing). You can also get an UBER at the airport.
▶ By Private Transfer: This is probably the most convenient transportation option, as your driver will be waiting for you at the arrivals hall and guide you to your car, ensuring you have a hassle-free transfer all the way to your hotel. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
How to Get Around Rio de Janeiro
Knowing how to get around the city is essential so you can see as many sights as possible during your 3 days in Rio de Janeiro, and though it’s a large and sprawling city, it’s quite easy to get around and you have many choices of public transport.
I’d say getting around by metro is the best option in Rio since it covers almost every area of interest in the city, especially those areas that are not reached by the bus lines. There are two lines: Line 1 which goes north from downtown, and Line 2 which starts at Central Station and heads south.
The metro system, which is safe and efficient, works with a magnetic ticket card that you can get at the station or a machine ticket booth. You have the option to purchase a ticket for a single ride for R$3.70 or opt for the rechargeable ones that you need to add value to.
The metro operates from Monday to Saturday from 5 AM to 12 AM. On Sundays and holidays, the metro runs from 7 AM to 11 PM.
Taking an Uber is another excellent option to get to the main stops of your 3 day itinerary in Rio de Janeiro. Besides offering convenience, they are ideal if you don’t want to ride local taxis as Uber drivers are more trustworthy. Bear in mind that the Uber Black service costs more because they use newer car models.
If you are looking for a fast yet cheap way to get around, taking the bus is also a good option. The ticket cost for the bus is anywhere from R$2.50 to R$4, depending on your route.
DAY 1: THE HIGHLIGHTS
➤ If you’d like to visit Rio de Janeiro’s highlights in one day, you can opt to spend your first day with a Full-Day Tour that takes you to the must-see attractions, from Christ the Redeemer Statue to Sugarloaf Mountain, the Maracanã Stadium, and the Selarón Steps. You’ll also enjoy lunch and roundtrip transportation. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Mirante Dona Marta for the best views in Rio
What better way to spend your first day in Rio than to take in the city views? For that, head to Mirante Dona Marta, which is a popular lookout that gives you views of Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain. It’s very easy to get there because it’s quite close to the city which adds to its popularity.
Mirante Dona Marta is 364 meters high and lets you see some of the most iconic structures of the city. Aside from the ones mentioned above, you can also spot the Maracana Stadium, Guanabara Bay, Copacabana, and Santa Teresa neighborhood.
Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
The Christ the Redeemer statue is another iconic destination worth visiting when you are in Rio.
You’ll have two transportation options to get to this UNESCO World Heritage Site from Rio. The first is the train, and the other is taking the van at the official pick-up points which are at Praca do Lido in Copacabana and at the Citta America in Barra de Tijuca.
The vans leave every 15 minutes and the ticket cost includes the return transport and entrance fee.
Since this is an iconic landmark, it’s swarmed by tourists so you should purchase your ticket in advance as it will save you time while you take the Corcovado Train.
From up here, you can enjoy some incredible views over the city! If it’s foggy and covered, have patience. When I visited, you couldn’t see absolutely anything, but our guide told us to give it some time and a few minutes later this view below appeared.
➤ The Christ the Redeemer Official Cog Train Ticket takes you all the way to the Tijuca National Park, which is the world’s largest urban forest, on a picturesque train ride. Once you get there you’ll be taken right to the foot of the Christ the Redeemer statue to enjoy the views and the visit. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
➤ You can otherwise get the Official Ticket with Van Transport, which offers transportation from either two departure points in strategic locations or pickup from your hotel. You’ll enjoy magnificent views during your journey and get to the top of Corcovado Hill to marvel at the statue from up close. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Lunch at Assador Rio
Head to Assador Rio for lunch if you want to indulge in local Brazilian cuisine. This restaurant is known for its churrasco and barbecue meat with a steakhouse-style interior décor and food that is raved about by locals and tourists alike.
You’ll find all kinds of meats you can imagine – from barbecue beef, chicken, lamb, and more. And there are options for both indoor and al fresco dining with a view of the sea and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Go on a Sunset Cruise through the Guanabara Bay
Going on a sunset cruise should be on any itinerary for Rio de Janeiro, because it allows you to admire the city from a new (and gorgeous!) perspective.
The cruise along Guanabara Bay passes by several monuments which range from very classic to contemporary ones, designed by architects from all over the world. You’ll also get a chance to marvel at the exceptional beauty of the mountain ranges and other landscapes along the coast.
➤ The Rio de Janeiro: Sunset Sailing Tour offers the exclusivity of only taking small groups, so you can enjoy first-row seats to marvel at the sun setting behind the city. An onboard service with snacks and freshly-made drinks is included, as well as hotel roundtrip transportation. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
➤ With the 3-Hour Sailing Trip on Guanabara Bay you’ll get aboard a fully equipped sailboat and discover the iconic Rio de Janeiro landmarks from the water. Your guide will point to the different sights and tell you all about the city’s history. A round of drinks and snacks are included. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Tapas and Drinks at Meza Bar
To cap off the first of your three days in Rio de Janeiro, head to Meza Bar for tapas and drinks. This is known as the see-and-be-seen hotspot in Rio, making it a must for those interested in exploring the vibrant nightlife of the city.
This hotspot is known for its Brazilian tapas, and they also serve a wide range of drinks and cocktails, some of which are exclusively available in this bar.
DAY 2: CARNIVAL, RODIZO & HISTORY
Walk around the Olympic Boulevard
The Olympic Boulevard is the best place to start off the second day of your Rio de Janeiro travel itinerary. This is where you’ll get to discover the legacy of the Olympic Games. You’ll enjoy your time walking around as you stumble upon some of the most modern and animated areas that the city has to offer.
In particular, Olympic Boulevard is home to one of the best street arts in the world – Eduardo Kobra’s 32,300 square-foot graffiti wall. This huge mural is a Guinness World Record holder and leaves behind a legacy of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. By walking around this area, it’s inevitable to get the sense that street art is really celebrated in this city.
If there is one more thing that Rio is famous for, it would be its vibrant and colorful festivals, especially the Carnaval!
➤ With the Carnaval Experience you’ll have the chance to take a behind-the-scenes peek at Rio’s famous carnival as you tour the Carnival Factory. You’ll visit the dressing rooms, try on some costumes, and learn about the history and production of Rio’s samba and carnival. You’ll end the tour with an incredibly fun samba class. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
If carnival parades are not your cup of tea, a good alternative is visiting the Museum of Tomorrow. This science museum in the city of Rio was designed by a neo-futuristic architect from Spain – Santiago Calatrava.
You’ll find it next to the waterfront at Pier Maua, this museum is divided into 5 different exhibits that showcase science and innovative design.
Explore the Santa Teresa Neighborhood
The Santa Teresa neighborhood is a great destination in Rio de Janeiro that you’ll find on top of Santa Teresa hill. What is so appealing about this neighborhood is its narrow and winding streets that are frequented by tourists and artists.
The neighborhood is named after the 18th-century Santa Teresa Convent, which by the 19th to 20th century was transformed into an upper-class borough that is home to many opulent villas.
Today, this fashionable neighborhood is a stylish hotspot filled with art studios and galleries. Of course, you can also find many restaurants and bars offering different delicacies and drinks.
➤ You can explore the neighborhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa with a Tram Ride that will take you across the famous Arcos da Lapa aqueduct. You’ll explore Santa Teresa’s landmarks and walk down the popular Selarón Steps as you make your way to Lapa, where you’ll get to discover its main attractions. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Lunch at Aprazivel Restaurant
When it’s time for lunch, the Aprazivel Restaurant is the best place to go to break up your exploration of Santa Teresa and its sights without leaving the area.
This restaurant specializes in artisan Brazilian cuisine and cachaca. You’ll see how it’s located in a country-home setting so the ambiance in itself is an attraction where you can enjoy dishes made with organic produce from sustainable farming and local ingredients.
If you are seeking vibrant nightlife, there is no better place to head to than the bohemian neighborhood of Lapa. This area is famous for its dance halls, music bars, clubs, and open-air samba jams. This really is the perfect place to go if you want to enjoy live music with the Roman-style Arcos de Lapa aqueduct as your backdrop.
While known as a nightlife hub, the Selaron steps (or the Escadaria Selaron) are one of the main attractions in this neighborhood. The legendary steps are named after the Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who devoted 20 years of his life to transforming this stairway into a work of art, which has now become one of the iconic symbols of the city of Rio.
The 215 colorful steps are covered with a mosaic of small ceramic vibrant tiles in red, green, yellow, and blue, and it’s a must-visit in any 3 days itinerary in Rio de Janeiro (or 1 or 10-day itineraries!)
Night at Rio Scenarium
To end your second day in Rio, why not party the night away at Rio Scenarium?
This nightclub is a favorite spot for tourists because of the antiques and chandeliers that adorn every corner of the club’s three floors. You could say that when it comes to decorations, this nightclub is definitely one that wants to make a big impression.
The long queue outside the bar is proof of its popularity, so don’t be discouraged by it. When you come here during the weekends, you get to enjoy a live samba band, but there’s also one floor that is primarily playing international dance or pop music.
➤ Tickets to Rio Scenarium can be bought for just the show or including dinner. Both options grant you entrance to the club as well as pick up and drop-off at your hotel. ➥ BUY YOUR TICKET HERE
DAY 3: SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN + THE BEACHES
A trip to Rio’s sweetest attraction should be the first on your agenda for day three of your itinerary – Sugarloaf Mountain. The particular name comes from the similarity of the mountain’s shape to that of the loaves of sugar. In fact, the sugar cane industry was booming in Brazil during the 16th century, so that might have also influenced the name.
This mountain made of granite measures 1300 feet (396 meters) which, of course, makes it another lookout point for breathtaking views of the Rio cityscape.
You can get to the mountain via cable car, which is an experience worth enjoying in itself. Nestled in Guanabara Bay, the view from the summit includes the sparkling blue ocean, the rainforest in Rio, and the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches directly below the mountain.
Due to the popularity of this tourist attraction, there is understandably a long line to get to ride the cable car, so I recommend buying your tickets in advance.
➤ The Sugarloaf Cable Car Official Ticket grants you a roundtrip panoramic ride in the cable car and unlimited time to spend at the summit, where you’ll witness stunning views of the coastline and probably take a zillion pictures. ➥ BUY YOUR TICKET HERE
➤ To avoid the queues and get directly on the cable car, get the Sugarloaf Mountain Fast-Pass Ticket that includes a guided tour. You’ll enjoy a 1-hour tour with a specialized guide and spend as much time as you want at the mountain afterward. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Stroll Down Copacabana Beach
You’ll find Copacabana Beach within the Zona Sul district of Rio de Janeiro. You should definitely include this iconic beach in your itinerary: it’s undeniably one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, and also among the most famous!
Copacabana Beach is 2.5 miles (4 km) long and is filled with several beach bars where you can stop for some food and drinks or, why not, coconut water or juice served straight from the coconut!
Another thing you’ll notice is that there are many sports activities to do here. Volleyball is one of them but you can also find football courts, and there are also many places near the beach with training equipment to work out.
To get to Copacabana Beach, you can take Line 1 on the subway or one of the public buses.
Aside from Copacabana, there is another popular area in Rio that is known for its air of hip sophistication and many attractions that will keep you busy for the day.
You can start exploring Ipanema by heading down to the long stretch of beach that faces the neighborhoods in the area. Pamper your feet with the feel of the soft sand as you see the joggers, bikers, and skaters that pass you by from the wide esplanade.
Don’t forget to drop by one of the beachfront bars or botecos that offer snacks and cold drinks to soothe you from the heat, and don’t miss the opportunity to try the local delicacy – salgadinho – which is a kind of fried dough that comes with a savory filling.
Away from the beach, Ipanema has plenty more to offer. It’s a paradise for shoppers because you can find luxury shops, shopping malls, and independent retailers along with boutiques selling local handicrafts.
You can walk down Rua Visconde de Piraja and Rua Garcia d’Avila to find these different shops to get your retail therapy. In addition, there are also plenty of cultural attractions at the Ipanema Art Gallery and Amsterdam Sauer Museum.
Obligatory stop at Gilsons Martins
There’s no better way to end your 3-day tour of Rio de Janeiro than going shopping. Make sure you pick up a few souvenirs to take home, and one of the best places to do so is one of the many Gilson Martins stores throughout the city that offer unique and stylish signature items displaying Brazilian pride while also being sustainable.
The works of Gilson Martins are a showcase of the quality workmanship and artistic side of the city and they are sold at affordable prices so there’s really no excuse not to take some of his pieces with you as you head home! If you are looking for authentic Brazilian items, his creations are the perfect fit.
Once your souvenirs are tucked away in your luggage, it’s time to enjoy your last night in Rio.
➤ Take a 1-Hour Samba Lesson to experience this intrinsic part of Brazilian culture and showcase your newly acquired skills when you get home. Choose the type of Samba you want to learn and enjoy this crash course in which you’ll have plenty of fun! You’ll also get a CD with the music to continue your dances after the trip. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
➤ Take your Samba lessons to another level by combining the Samba class with a night out in Rio. You’ll enjoy a 1-hour dance class to get the hang of it, and then head out to explore Rio de Janeiro’s nightlife and show your Samba moves at a local club. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Attempting to see Rio in 3 days is not an easy task, but hopefully this itinerary will help you organize your time and visit the most spectacular landmarks, all the while enjoying the city’s nightlife, cuisine, and striking landscapes.
Rio de Janeiro Itinerary FAQ
To enjoy Rio de Janeiro you need a minimum of 2 full days, although the more the better, as there is so much to see and do!
Tourists visiting Brazil need to exercise increased caution and be watchful of their surroundings and personal belongings. Rio is a very touristy city, however, so if you stick to the main tourist areas and pay attention you should be fine.
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