By Nicole Eberhard, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In a city that boasts beaches that are household names around the world and has two hugely iconic landmarks, Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio’s downtown area has to compete for the attention of travelers. Those that can drag themselves away from the big name attractions for long enough to explore the historical center of the city will be pleasantly surprised at how much more the city has to offer.
Downtown Rio is an interesting place. Situated in prime position on the bay, with parts of this busy financial area having beautiful views over to the other side. In other places, the view is largely concrete, lacking the natural beauty that Rio is famous for.
The center is a mixed bag, in more ways than one. The pace of this area is at odds with the laid-back vibe normally associated with Rio. Classical colonial architecture is juxtaposed with modern skyscrapers, including the headquarters of Petrobras, a large concrete building in the brutalist style, which has often made top ten lists for the world’s ugliest building.
But that’s part of the charm of Centro. It’s not polished, or perfectly preserved. It’s a bit rough on the edges. During the day it is full of people, but at night and on weekends it becomes largely deserted, and considerably less safe.
No walk around Centro is complete without visiting Cinelândia. This central plaza’s name recalls a time when the plaza was surrounded by the city’s best cinemas. The plaza is still a cultural center point, with many important buildings lining the square, including the Municipal Theater, National Library, Palacio Pedro Ernesto (Rio’s Council Chamber), the Odeon Theater, and the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart building (known more commonly as Amarelinho). Close by, tucked behind the grand Municipal Theater, is the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (National Museum of the Fine Arts).
Another plaza in the center worth visiting is Praça XV de Novembro, lined by the Paço Imperial. This 18th century palace was once the residential home of the King of Portugal (and later the King of Brazil). On Saturdays there is an extensive flea market on the plaza, with excellent bargains.
From Praça XV, cross under the Arco do Teles, the arch that opens up to the Travessa do Mercado, an old, narrow commercial street. Walk from there to Rua do Ouvidor, another historic street full of interesting cafés and al fresco lunch spots, art galleries and bookstores.
There’s plenty more to see in Centro, depending on your interests. Have a cup of coffee and a sweet treat at the legendary Confeitaria Colombo, visit Rio’s oldest church, Candelária Church, and take in the somewhat bizarre architecture of the massive Metropolitan Cathedral, inspired by Mexico’s Mayan pyramids.
Right next to the busy downtown area is Lapa. A magnet for tourists at night with its street parties and many nightlife options, it’s worth making a stop here during the day to see the Lapa Arches unhindered by thousands of parties, and the famous tiled steps of Escadaria Selarón (Selarón Stairs).
While the city center is easy to navigate independently, thanks to the natural guiding landmarks of the bay and the surrounding mountains, a walking tour of downtown Rio is a better option if you want to fully explore the city’s heritage. There are a number of free walking tours available, but if you want a more personal experience, consider a private walking tour. Accompanied by a local guide, walk around downtown Rio at your own pace as you learn more about this fascinating city that has played an integral role in Brazil’s history.
*This is a sponsored article written by Nicole Eberhard, English Content Editor for RDJ4U.