If you’ve followed our adventures for a while, you’ll know that although we like to travel slowly, we also like to break up our time in a city into stays in different areas so that we get a broader feel of a place. There are several cities in South America that will give you a totally new vibe if you dare to leave the area that all tourists are recommended to find accommodation in, so we say that even if you only have time to rest your head in one of the below best neighbourhoods to stay in Rio de Janeiro, that you at least take to time to get out and explore other areas. They’re totally worth it!
Though we didn’t always feel 100% safe in Rio de Janeiro, it remains firmly in our list of favourite cities we’ve visited in South America. It’s really got an energy like no other. If you’re heading to the city soon, make sure you’ve also checked out our 14 unmissable things to do in Rio de Janeiro, and if you haven’t worked out the route you’re going to take on your trip yet, our ideal 2-week South Brazil itinerary may just come in handy.
The wealthiest of all the neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro. This is where the actors, doctors and lawyers buy swanky apartments overlooking the beautiful long beach. Despite the wealth, there are actually a fair few options for cheap food and drinks in Leblon, and there are a few really cool bars on the beachfront. In the mornings, the beachfront comes alive with joggers, dog-walkers and volleyball players, and the beach starts to fill up all the way up to the beginning of the Vidigal favela.
Where to stay in Leblon
We stayed at the Lemon Spirit Hostel for the sake of price, but probably wouldn’t recommend it. Even for a party hostel, it was on the rank side, with grim mattresses and the most awful dust clogged up around any shelves and air con units (which are only turned on during the night). You’re guaranteed zero sleep, as even on the evenings when hostel guests arrange to party at another bar or at the beach, the Lemon Spirit bar is open to the public all night long. Nope. Instead, we’d suggest checking out The LightHouse if you’d prefer a quieter budget option.
Of course, there are lots and lots of hotels with higher price points in the Leblon area. If you’re in the market to spend a little more during your stay in Leblon, JANEIRO Hotel has one of the most beautiful designs we’ve ever seen.
Ipanema is just a short walk from Leblon, so while the beach has a similar quality. However, it’s a little more lively than Leblon, and you’ll find a lot of nice, more fairly-priced restaurants in Ipanema. It’s also home to the Lord Jim Irish Bar, which is a popular hang-out for international expats and definitely your best chance of finding European football league matches playing live on TV. Ipanema beach is a hotspot for surfers, and is a perfect place to learn how to catch waves with one of the surf instructors there.
Where to stay in Ipanema
If you’re looking to party with other travellers in this neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, Che Lagarto Ipanema is the most frequently recommended by passing travellers, though as always with a party hostels just remind yourself that you will generally compromise quality for vibe. El Misti is another party hostel just down the road, and is a tad cheaper than Che Lagarto for a private room.
The one everyone’s already heard of. Copacabana beach has made this area of Rio de Janeiro extremely famous, and it’s with good reason, The beach stretches for miles in a beautiful bay, with a rocky finish on either side. Copacabana is one of the best neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro for touristing, with lots of swanky hotels and restaurants to make your stay comfortable. Things are a little pricier here, mainly because locals know they can take advantage of whistle-stopping tourists, but it’s still not eye-wateringly expensive for the most part.
Keep an eye on your things here; Copacabana Beach is known for petty theft. It’s the only place we had anything stolen during 3 months in Brazil, with poor Andy having to walk home barefoot.
Where to stay in Copacabana
Hands down, stay with Tatiana in her apartments on Rua Pompeu. We found this Copacabana suite on booking.com, but it felt more like an AirBnB from the quality, the welcome and long chats we had with Tatiana. The apartment itself is of perfect size for 2 people and the bed is crazy-comfy. When we first booked it, we were a little worried that the area might be a little rough because it was on the furthest street from the beach, close to the mountains, but it turned out to be in a quiet, gated street that felt quiet and extremely safe. Highly recommend this apartment for any couple who want a nice mix of beachy excitement and peaceful rest!
However, we understand that some of our readers are going to want to splash a little more cash to be right on Copacabana beachfront, in which case the Windsor California Hotel is a real banger.
Now, Lapa has a very different vibe to Copacabana and Leblon, and this will be obvious from the moment you step out your taxi. Lapa is comparable to La Candelaria in Bogotá, in that the old town colonial architecture is stunning, the small, intimate bars are decent at the weekends and it’s full of people either high on drugs or begging for their next fix. Sorry, not sorry. While you do need to exercise greater caution in Lapa (that’s not to say that muggings and pick-pocketing doesn’t happen in posher neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro), it’s still absolutely worth a visit.
Going to a Lapa street party on a Friday is one of the unmissable things to do in Rio de Janeiro, and in fairness this is probably the safest time to go to Lapa as police presence gets ramped up significantly in anticipation of all the party-goers coming from other parts of the city. On other days, there are many bars and restaurants to choose from, notably the intersection of Avenida Gomes Freire and Avenida Mem de Sá with its cheap beer and pavement tables, and Botequim Vaca Atolada, a den-like cave of a bar famous for its live samba music.
Lapa is a short walk from the historical centre of town, and is home to the Escaderias Selaron, which you’ll know from this Snoop Dog music video for Beautiful in 2002. If you’d like to take a guided tour of Lapa and our next area, Santa Teresa – probably the two most exciting neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro – have a look at the tour availability here.
Where to stay in Lapa
The most famous place to stay in Lapa is Books Hostel, which is one of the most lively party hostels in Rio de Janiero. However, rumour has it that the hostel itself is a little grim, and you don’t need to stay there to turn up for the parties.
Instead, we whole-heartedly recommend staying at Selina Lapa, which has a more boutique feel despite being large, and is built into the old Grand Hotel with views of the Lapa arches – in fact, it’s the big yellow building in the below picture. It hosts its own (fairly hipster) events, offers a co-working space and has a swanky-but-cheap-enough bar both at ground level and on the roof.
Santa Teresa is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro, and used to be home to the richest families in the city before it fell into relative ruin with the gradual decrease in global prices for coffee, and the fear of crime from the encroaching favelas that were growing exponentially at Santa Teresa’s edges. It’s now in the process of re-gentrification, with hipster bars, cafés and trendily over-priced second-hand clothes shops popping up to take advantage of the beautiful spaces. There are several points of interest up here, such as the Santa Teresa convent, the mansion once belonging to the heiress Laurinda Santos Lobo at Parque das Ruínas, and the top of the Selaron Steps, right on the border with Lapa. Despite all this tourist-attracting activity, Santa Teresa is still a pretty chilled out place, and a lovely part of the city to stay in if you prefer wine with a view to nightclubs.
A taxi will do just fine getting from the rest of the city into the Santa Teresa centre – though it isn’t an official centre, but the heart of the action is generally considered to be up around Largo do Guimarães. However, if you fancy the experience of going over the Lapa arches in a rickety tram, you can also take the Bondinho over the Aqueduct (i.e. Lapa arches) from calle Lélio Gama, close to the Carioca metro station. To do so, you have to buy a return ticket for 20Rs; there are no singles available. The trams leave every 20 minutes until 5pm Monday-Saturday and 4:30pm on a Sunday.
Where to stay in Santa Teresa
Casa da Gente is a little out of the assumed centre, right next to Parque das Ruínas in Santa Teresa, but MY GOD the views are insane from this hostel. Closer to the action is Casa Rosa, a basic but very cost-effective option.
Readers with a little more cash to lay down on their stay in Santa Teresa are going to want to check out the premium rooms at Gerthrude’s B&B or Casa Geranio.
Most people will only visit the Centro neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro for the walking tour, but there’s actually quite a nice vibe in this area. If you’re into districts steeped in royal history, jam-packed with epic churches and filled with the sweet aroma of colonial bakeries, you should certainly consider the historical centre as a place to rest your head. If you’re lucky, you may be able to grab yourself tickets to the opera or ballet at the Teatro Municipal when a performance company is in town.
Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro Centro
Most of the people staying in the historical centre of Rio are there for business purposes rather than tourism, so the quality of accommodation tends to be of higher quality but less vibrant atmosphere. A lot of the cheaper places are either very low-rated or seem pretty seedy (avoid the ones that advertise as ‘adult-only’, those are Love Hotels). However, Belga Hotel manages to smash it on both the pricing and the reviews, so it’s definitely worth considering!
So there you have it! The best neighbourhoods to stay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Wherever you end up staying, it’s hard to have a bad time in Rio, but you of course always need to be aware of your surroundings, even (or especially) in the most upscale areas of the city. Hope you have the most amazing Carioca experience!
Been here before? Let us know your favourite neighbourhood to stay in Rio de Janeiro in the comments 🙂
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