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Who hasn't always wanted to hop on a plane headed straight for Brazil? It's one of the most beautiful countries in South America, with fantastic weather, gorgeous jungles, waterfalls, colorful architecture... the list doesn't stop!
Not to mention, it's known for being full of beautiful people, and who doesn't love that? Clearly, Rio should be on your bucket list.
But traveling south of the equator can be overwhelming, especially if you don't know what's safe or where you'll have the most fun.
If you have your sights set on those hot Brazil beaches and lively streets, read on to find out exactly which Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods to visit. We'll even throw in some tips on what to do and see in each Rio de Janeiro neighborhood.
How's Rio de Janeiro Split up?
Rio de Janeiro is big. In fact, it's the sixth most populated city in the Americas (yeah, like, all of them). So, before we dive into the finer points, let's go over the basics of Rio neighborhoods.
You might notice that Rio de Janeiro is divided into four districts: Centro (the Central District), Zona Sul (the South Zone), Zona Norte (the North Zone), and Zona Oeste (West Zone).
Rio de Janeiro South Zone
Rio's South Zone is probably the most well-known since it's where most of the major beaches are (and we all know that's why Rio calls).
Rio de Janeiro Central District
The Central District is the business and city center of Rio de Janeiro, so it's a bit less tourist-oriented. Centro has a couple of cool neighborhoods, so it could be worth checking out if you're into architecture and can drag yourself away from the beach for a day. We'll get more into that later.
Rio de Janeiro West Zone
Like the South Zone, the West Zone also has some amazing beaches, where some can only be accessed on foot. If you're up for an adventure and want to maximize your time outdoors, the West Zone has a lot to offer. Beaches like Prainha Beach and Praia de Grumari are super famous and easily accessed by car. Check out places like Recreio Beach for excellent surfing or Barra da Tijuca (also known as Reserve Beach) for crystal clear waters and white sands.
Rio de Janeiro North Zone
The North Zone is the least likely place for a tourist to end up. Although there are some tourist attractions there, like Tijuca Forest, it's mainly a residential area. It has a much higher crime rate than other parts of the city. We'll dig into this a bit more later, but it's best to just avoid the North Zone if you have no itineraries planned there.
What's the nicest part of Rio de Janeiro?
Good question. Rio is such a complex city with so many unique places that it's hard to narrow it down to one spot. Like everything else in Brazil, Rio is massive. So, we're here to help you out.
We compiled info from many places to bring you this list of the absolute best neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. Let's break it down.
The 5 Best Neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro
Originally made famous by the song "The Girl from Ipanema," there's a reason this place has such a reputation. Boasting one of the most gorgeous beaches in Brazil with a backdrop of the iconic Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Peak), Ipanema Beach is the perfect place to catch the sunset, ride the waves, and soak up the Brazilian sun on the sand.
But Ipanema is more than just a beach. Known as one of the safest and most fun neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, Ipanema is home to amazing restaurants, bars, food, hostels, and some luxurious Airbnbs.
Wait… two different Rio neighborhoods have songs written about them? That's reason enough to want to visit, honestly.
Apparently a fave destination of the great Barry Manilow, Copacabana has more to offer than just a beautiful beachfront. With a sprawling boardwalk, fun local spots to hear live music, and open-air markets (or feira livres) dotting the neighborhood streets, Copacabana is easily one of the best neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro to visit and call home for a few days.
Famous for its upscale restaurants, Leblon is the perfect destination for a foodie (especially if money is no object). Leblon has tons of amazing botequins (neighborhood bar-restaurants) where you can enjoy delicious local food at an affordable price(plus maybe some tequila?). If you're a vegetarian, don't miss out on Vegetariano Social Clube, a knockout meat-free restaurant with a glowing reputation even amongst carnivores.
The most famous part of Rio's Urca neighborhood is Sugarloaf Mountain. Located at the mouth of Guanabara Bay, this adorably named peak can be reached by cable car or climbing trails and offers gorgeous views of the city and the bay.
One of the most laid-back spots in Rio, Urca is home to a charming waterfront neighborhood and relaxing happy hour bars on every corner. Northeast of Copacabana, Urca is a bit farther away from the tourist epicenter, making it a little mellower and giving it more of a local feel. In other words: a gem.
Finally, there's Jardim Botânico, home to Rio de Janeiro's most recognizable landmark: Christ the Redeemer. Towering over the city atop Corcovado Mountain, hiking to the statue is a great day trip.
Jardim Botânico, aptly named, is also where you can find Rio's sprawling botanical gardens. Wander through the orchid house, see the giant Amazonian water lilies, and take in the mind-blowing architecture scattered throughout the garden's massive grounds.
Also home to Parque Lage and Tijuca National Park, Jardim Botânico is the best Rio neighborhood for enjoying the city's abundant greenery.
Okay, but what's the safest area in Rio de Janeiro?
All of Rio's neighborhoods mentioned on our list are known for being among the safest places in Rio. Clearly, there's some stiff competition for the overall best place, but here's a good tip to remember: all five of the neighborhoods on our list are in the South Zone.
There are a couple of great neighborhoods in the Central District as well, like Lapa and Saint Teresa, but they pose more risks. The West Zone obviously prides itself on amazing beaches and definitely should not be missed or avoided.
Still, it also has less to offer in terms of places to stay. So, overall, the South Zone is the place to be when it comes to safety, fun, beaches, parks, and all the good things Rio has to offer. There's a reason it's the number one destination for visitors.
Plus, it neighbors Centro and Zona Oeste, so you'll have no problem taking day trips to the western beaches or the happening Central District haunts.
Rio de Janeiro Neighborhoods to Avoid
Unfortunately, despite being such a beautiful city, Rio also has some pretty unsafe places. Like we mentioned before, the entire North Zone is best avoided altogether by tourists. But that isn't hard to do, as it's pretty far removed from the beaches and other attractions.
The Central District is also a place to be wary of, though it shouldn't necessarily be avoided entirely. Based on the info we've gathered, it's best to stick to Centro during the day, as theft and other risks become a lot more pronounced after dark.
Obviously, it would be great if the entire South Zone was a safe haven for travelers, but that's sadly not the case. The Zona Sul neighborhoods best avoided by tourists include Rocinha, Flamengo, Botafogo, Catete, and Gloria.
Final verdict: What's the best?
- Best District: The South Zone
It might seem like an obvious answer by now, but there's really no contest. When it comes to staying safe, being by the beach, and having great places to eat, drink, and sleep in luxury, Zona Sul is the place to be.
- Best Neighborhood: Ipanema
When it comes down to it, it's tough to beat Ipanema. Ipanema just has it all. The breathtaking beach, the cute Airbnbs, and the best hostel in Rio. Ipanema is Rio de Janeiro's wealthiest neighborhood, and it also just so happens to be its most fun.
- Best Place to Stay: Ipanema Beach Hostel
Boasting five-star reviews all over the place, the Ipanema Beach Hostel offers, well, a beachfront hostel in Ipanema. What more could you want? It's perfect for travelers on a budget or who just want to meet as many fellow travelers and beach bums as possible. And if bunk beds aren't your thing, this place even offers private suites, plus planned activities and parties for guests.
Plan your trip to Rio with Pilot!
Well, there you have it! You're all set to plan your trip to Rio now, right?
Before you travel to Rio de Janeiro, you'll need a good travel plan to keep you on track and ensure you hit all the attractions you want to visit. Sounds like a job perfect for Pilot!