What to do Rio de Janeiro - Suburbs
Rio de Janeiro is a city with many distinctive suburbs, some even world-famous like Copacabana and Ipanema. You will probably stay in one of them but it is interesting to visit at least a few Rio de Janeiro suburbs, in order to get a better idea of the greatness of the Rio de Janeiro vibe.
city of Rio de Janeirois divided in three ‘zones’. Centro, Cinelândia, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Glória and Catete are among others in the Zona Norte. In the Zona Sul of Rio de Janeiro you will find Flamengo, Botafogo, Urca, Copacabana, Jardim Botânico, Lagoa, Ipanema and Leblon.
Finally, the rest of the city (about half of Rio de Janeiro) is in Zona Oeste (Western zone). This zone features upscale parts, basically an extension of the Zona Sul, and very poor parts. Barra da Tijuca is the most prestigious part of the Zona Oeste.
The most famous of all
Rio de Janeiro suburbs, Copacabana, is built along a marvellous 4.5 km / 2.7 miles city beach, which is its main attraction. A village called Copacabana in Bolivia is name giver of this area, because it is believed that from there a shrine was brought to this part of Rio de Janeiro. Until the end of the 19th century, Copacabana was a sleepy fishing village called Sacopenapa, secluded from central Rio de Janeiro by a few morros (the rocky outcrops scattered all over the city).
After the construction of two tunnels in 1892 and 1904 respectively, the Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro residents) got access to this beautiful beach in their backyard and development took off fast, creating a small upscale suburb. However, Copacabana became really an integral part of Rio de Janeiro and a global myth after the inauguration of the famous Copacabana Palace in 1923. This Rio de Janeiro luxury hotel is visited by the rich and famous of our planet until present day...
With its heyday in the 1940s and 50s, the glamour of Copacabana as a whole has somewhat faded these days. The suburb has become an odd mix of a local middleclass crowd, street vendors from the nearby favelas (shanty towns), a few beggars and western tourists, but Copacabana is a compulsory stop for every visitor of Rio de Janeiro.
Hotel Copacabana Palace, still the iconic landmark of the Copacabana beach suburb
At the south end of the beach is a fortress (Forte de Copacabana), from where you have a great panorama over the entire Copacabana coastline. At the north end, the area is officially called Leme. Copacabana Beach is Rio’s focal point at New Year’s Eve (Réveillon).
What a song can do... From 1962,
Ipanemabecame almost as famous as its neighbour Copacabana by the song ‘Girl from Ipanema’.
This Rio de Janeiro suburb is called after the Tupi expression Y-panema, which translates as ‘Rough Water’. After the slight decay of Copacabana, Ipanema took over its status of most prestigious residential beach suburb of Rio de Janeiro. With its boutiques and trendy lounge bars, today
Ipanema has more residences and more style than Copacabana.
Ocean view: Ipanema at the left, Leblon at the right
|Even more exclusive than Ipanema is its western neighbour beach suburb Leblon (named after Frenchman Charles Le Blond, a 19th century landowner).
The two upscale residential suburbs Ipanema and Leblon, including their beaches, are separated by the small park Jardim de Alá and the tiny channel connecting the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake to the Atlantic Ocean.
In general, Ipanema is more cosmopolitan and Leblon is more aimed at a (rich) family lifestyle.
The heart and soul of Rio de Janeiro, this weathered but sprawling inner-city neighbourhood. From the beginning of the 20st century, Lapa has always been the main nightlife area and music centre of Rio de Janeiro. Today,
Lapa is still more happening at night than the southern suburbs of Copacabana and Ipanema.
What Leblon is today, Santa Teresa was two centuries ago: a residential area for the upper-class.
These days Santa Teresa is the bohemian quarter of Rio de Janeiro, just west of the city centre. Its aging mansions, often turned into workshops, studios, cafés and art shops, are built on a hillside with some lovely peeps to the Guanabara Bay.
Santa Teresa has one of the most vibrant vibes of all Rio suburbs. You can go from Centro to Santa Teresa by the picturesque tram (called ‘Bonde’). The terminal is in Rua Lélio Gama, Centro.
Bonde tram over the Lapa Arches
Note: Santa Teresa and Lapa are must-see suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, but take safety precautions.
Flamengo has always been a residential area, although over the centuries it shifted from upmarket to middleclass. However, there are still some very expensive apartments along the beachfront in this part of Rio de Janeiro. Here you also find the landmarks of Flamengo: the large park and the beach (not suitable for swimming).
The heart of Flamengo however, is Largo do Machado (The Axe Square), a lively area with many nice bars and restaurants.
‘Botafogo’ means ‘set on fire’ and derives from the surname of an important colonial landowner. Despite its name, it is one of the more traditional and mellow residential middleclass suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Botafogo's main attractions are the marina and two big shopping malls, Rio Sul and Botafogo Praia Shopping.
Literally overlooked by many visitors is the suburb Urca, at the base of the Sugarloaf. The relatively safe residential neighbourhood is like a tranquil village in a big city. Along the waterline some laidback cafés and eateries are a happy place to spend some lazy time...
Lagoa and Jardim Botânico are the residential neighbours of Ipanema and Leblon at the other side of Lake Rodrigo de Freitas. Both Rio de Janeiro suburbs have a similar history, as they started as plantations. Only after the inauguration of Túnel Reboucas, residential houses started to take over. Jardim Botanico is named so after the excellent Botanical Gardens located here and Lagoa after the lake.
The neverending coastline of beach suburb
Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro
|Sprawling Barra da Tijuca, or just ‘Barra’, is the fastest growing suburb of Rio de Janeiro.
'Tijuca' is a word from the Tupi language and means 'swamp'. The upscale beach community appears as a ‘Brazilian Miami’, with beaches and endless modern residential high-rise buildings.
Barra da Tijuca is a major major nightlife area in Rio de Janeiro with its tons of cinemas, restaurants, bars and clubs.
In Barra da Tijuca is also the largest conference centre of Latin America (the huge RioCentro) and the largest shopping mall of South America (Barra Shopping). The main feature of Barra da Tijuca though, is its gorgeous 18 km/ 11 miles beach, the longest in Rio de Janeiro.