The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro is gearing up to host the next Olympics, but how much do we know about this sprawling metropolis nestled between the mountains and the sea? Rio is the sixth largest city in the Americas, and the second most populous in Brazil. Part of the city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and if that wasn’t enough Rio is the hub of Brazil’s mining, telecommunications and oil economy, not to mention boasting its fair share of industries and universities.
The city’s history and landmarks
Rio was founded in 1565 as a domain of the Portuguese Empire. Nearly two centuries later, in the year 1763, it became capital of the State of Brazil, and over the next few decades it continued to advance its position. In 1808 it was the seat of Queen Maria I of Portugal, who went on to make it a kingdom. After 1822 and the War of Brazilian Independence, the city became the capital of the Empire of Brazil and remained so until 1960 when Brasilia took its place.
In addition to boasting a fascinating history, Rio de Janeiro is also home to its fair share of landmarks, both natural and cultural. There are the many exceptional beaches to be found around the capital. These include the world-famous Ipanema and Copacabana. But arguably the most famous landmark associated with Rio is that of Christ the Redeemer, who stands with his arms spread out atop the summit of Corcovado Mountain; this statue has been included in the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Other famous landmarks of the city include the likes of the gargantuan football stadium of Maracaña, and Sugarloaf Mountain with its famous cable car.
Most popular attractions
There are so many interesting places to go and things to do in Rio. For those who wish to reconnect with the natural world, there is the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, a 120-square-kilometre jungle park which boasts towering peaks, lush foliage, and plenty of waterfalls and bubbling creeks. Visitors can have a picnic at Bom Retiro; go on a hiking tour; visit the 19th century chapel of Capela Mayrink; or explore the park’s many caves.
For sunshine, sea and sand, many head to Copacabana Beach, a majestic 4km swathe of sand where all of the locals mingle to play football, relax on the beach, or enjoy some food and fun. Sipping a few caipirinhas and splashing in the surf, or marvelling at the impressive football skills of the favela kids are all experiences to be savoured.
Christ the Redeemer is unsurprisingly one of the city’s most popular attractions. The mountain top can be reached either by red narrow-gauge train or by van.
To learn more about the fascinating history of Brazil, tourists routinely head to the Museo Historico Nacional, which can be found in the 18th century colonial arsenal and is home to a range of historic artefacts and relics. These include stunning oil paintings, the throne which belonged to Dom Pedro II and lavish imperial coaches. The museum also houses the very quill used by Princess Isabel when she signed the document that rid Brazil of slavery.
Rio is a city packed full of delicious eateries, ranging from local outlets from which to grab a snack on the go or world-class restaurants for a gourmet meal.
For a quick bite or a drink while sightseeing, popular choices include a drink of fresh coconut water from a beach bar or the botecos at which visitors can sample empadinhas, tasty pastries stuffed full of chicken, pork, cheese, potato and other fillings.
Fans of caipirinhas will do well to head to the Academia da Cachaca, wherein they can sip a few of these tantalising rum sours, complemented by a meal of shredded beef with cassava cream puree or fillet steak with ginger.
Anyone with a penchant for fresh, perfectly cooked seafood may also wish to book a table at Siri Mole & Cia, the finest Bahian restaurant in the city, which dishes up succulent grilled fish and a seafood stew called moquecas.
Famous sons and daughters
Those who have been born in Rio de Janeiro are known as cariocas. Looking back at the city’s vibrant history, many such cariocas have made important contributions, both to the country and to the world, in a variety of disciplines which have included literature, science and music.
Spend some time studying the list of Rio’s influential cariocas and you will soon encounter Bernardino Machado, who was President of Brazil not just once but twice. You will also find Cartola and Cazuza, both famed singers and composers; Olympic medal-winning swimmer Djan Madruga; Oscar-nominated actress Fernanda Montenegro; FIFA President Joao Havelange; and, of course, world-renowned footballer Ronaldo.