About Rio De Janeiro
You needn't stay long in Rio de Janeiro to understand why it's the southern hemisphere's most popular destination – and why it was recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. With endless sandy Atlantic beaches, beautiful people, abundant culture and a thrilling culinary and shopping scene, Brazil's second largest city is a holidaymaker's dream destination. Thanks to an outdoorsy lifestyle, mountains and year-round warm weather, it's also a sport-lover's dream city. Hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics will only boost Rio's appeal.
Get a bird's-eye view of Rio from Corcovado Mountain (www.corcovado.com.br), home to the iconic art deco statue of Cristo Redentor. The city is divided into 'zones'. The historic and financial hub is Centro, with its impressive Biblioteca Nacional (www.bn.br) and Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (www.mnba.gov.br). The tourist-friendly Zona Sul holds Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, packed with sun-seekers, strollers and bodybuilders working out in outdoor gyms. Zona Norte has the giant Maracanã football stadium (www.suderj.rj.gov.br/visitacao_maracana.asp?categ=0), which you can visit if you're as football-mad as the locals. In Zona Oeste lies Barra da Tijuca, an upscale neighbourhood which will host most Olympic venues. Escape to Parque Lage (www.eavparquelage.rj.gov.br), a lush 128-acre park with the beautiful art galleries of Escola de Artes Visuais.
Birthplace of bossa nova, Rio is also the cradle of 'funk carioca', an electronic blend of hip-hop, house and soul. Catch it in the bohemian nightlife district of Lapa at live music venues such as Circo Voador (www.circovoador.com.br). There's always something thumping in trendy club-restaurants like 00 Rio de Janeiro (00riodejaneiro.com.br), inside Rio's planetarium in Gávea. Classical music more to your tune? A night at Theatro Municipal (www.theatromunicipal.rj.gov.br) is like the Opéra Garnier in Paris.
The best – some say worst – time to visit Rio is in February during its annual, world-famous Carnaval (www.rio-carnival.net). With spectacular samba parades in the Sambódromo and blocos de carnaval (street parties) all over the city it's a camera-happy occasion. Compared to carnival, Réveillon on New Year's Eve (www.copacabanareveillon.com) is almost a warm-up: 2 million people on Copacabana beach and fireworks lighting up the sky. Too many crowds? Come for the Festival do Rio film festival (www.festivaldorio.com.br) in September and October.
Cariocas, as Rio de Janeiro's residents call themselves, like to eat well. In simple comida a kilo (pay-by-weight) eateries and unpretentious downtown restaurants such as Amarelinho (www.amarelinhodacinelandia.com.br) you get hearty Brazilian dishes including moqueca de peixe (fish stew with tomato, paprika and coconut). At the other end of the scale, you can dine on magret de canard at Guy (www.guyrestaurante.com.br), or ornate sushi and sashimi at Rio's see-and-be-seen Japanese restaurant, Sushi Leblon (www.sushileblon.com).
Need a quick pick-me-up? Grab a smoothie from one of Rio's juice stalls – the purple açaí super-berry will give you abundant energy for shopping on Ipanema's upscale Rua Visconde de Pirajá . Along here you'll find the irresistible BumBum (www.bumbum.com.br), selling cute bikinis since 1979. Further along is jewellery designer Sobral (www.rsobral.com.br). For unique souvenirs and handmade jewellery that won't burn your holiday budget, browse the Sunday street fair on General Osório Square.