Winning tip: Convivial aqueduct
The iconic Carioca aqueduct in the Lapa neighbourhood becomes a hub of activity at night, with locals flocking to start their night on the town. The place turns into a veritable playground of revelry, with stallholders offering cold beers and plenty of socialising. Impromptu samba furthers the party atmosphere, while young Cariocas shake and jive to the frenetic beat. This spontaneous, heady atmosphere epitomises the local spirit; we couldn’t bear to tear ourselves away. Intoxicating.
Visiting a favela
As you will likely be staying in a relatively well-off neighbourhood I strongly recommend seeing how people live in favelas. Santa Marta is the best option for visit, for its safety, colours and funicular (helps a lot!). There are guided tours from Rua São Clemente but I found the timekeeping of the guides erratic, so walked around independently. There are shops at the bottom for water or further up the main street. The views are excellent, people friendly and you’ll get a better understanding of Rio and Brazil.
A farmers’ market and nightspot
By day Cobol do Humaitá (between Botofogo and Lagoa, just off Voluntários da Pátria) is a busy farmers’ market but by night it’s home to a fantastic wealth of lively pop-up restaurants and bars. Visit when the sun goes down for colour, life, amazing food and barely a tourist in sight. Enjoy!
Chug across the bay
Take the boat from Rio to the well-to-do city of Niterói on the opposite side of Guanabara Bay and back for a mini-adventure. The ferry costs little more than £1 each way and departs three times an hour. The views of Rio are tremendous, both of the high-rise and the mountain variety. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and there is a bar on board. Take the metro to Carioca then it’s a 10-minute walk to Praça XV for the ferry terminal.
Get your skates on
Forget football: Rio is all about skateboarding! Miles and miles of coastline and smooth asphalt make it the skating city. Newbies head to the skate school, Guanabara Boards’ Escola de Skate, which offers beginner and intermediate longboard lessons in both Portuguese and English. Music and passion were always the fashion and Ipanema’s cycle path is filled with longboard skaters heading to Copacabana. If speed skating is more your thing, check out the huge circuits at Lagoa and the Maracana Stadium in Tijuca. The sweet, smooth road from Flamengo beach to the Museu de Arte Moderna has enough curves and slopes to keep everyone happy.
Bar in a time-warp
Stroll around the Lapa district and into Bar Brasil and you’ll have a time machine moment that takes you back to the cool, glamorous Rio of 100 years ago before the tourists came. A wooden fridge dispenses beer in the corner, white walls and high ceiling give you space and polite, old-school waiters with bow ties add to the unique ambience. Office workers come by day, and a younger crowd at night to enjoy its dignified, sociable vibe and huge, tasty portions of frango defumado, smoked chicken with chilled beer, for under £10.
• Avenida Mem de Sá 90, +55 21 2509 5943
Saúde to the samba beat
The Pedro do Sal (Rock of Salt) in Saúde offers among the most authentic ways of experiencing samba in Rio. This is a public space, with historical overtones from the slavery era, where people from Rio gather to enjoy life, dance and listen to good music while sipping a cold beer or a caipirinha. There is no entrance fee, just local artists going back to their roots, playing for free and offering people an opportunity to enjoy a nice time. The roda de samba happens mostly on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Mayco Nunes Lima
Soul food at the naval club
Food and people come together with passion in O Navegador restaurant in Centro. The owner buys directly from farmers and artisans across Brazil to make sure they benefit directly, and also campaigns for their rights. A display shows the origins of ingredients mapped across the country, and sustainable sourcing means a wonderful array of local dishes. The old naval club provides a characterful backdrop to a totally feelgood culinary experience.
• Mains from £15, Avenida Rio Branco 180, 6th floor, Clube Naval, +55 21 2262 6037, onavegador.com.br
Liesel van Ast
Rio’s belle époque
It’s not the most popular tourist destination in Rio but if you’re in the Santa Teresa hills, a visit to the Parque das Ruínas is a must. It was the home of heiress Laurinda Santos Lobo, patron of Rio’s belle époque. She once hosted elegant soirées for intellectuals and artists including the likes of composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and dancer Isadora Duncan. Architect Ernani Freire, who revitalised the place, is the lord of the manor: he kept the structure of the ruins and added a contemporary home. I was blown away with the views of the city. Today, the space hosts open-air concerts, theatre and exhibitions.
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Rent a bike
Cycling in Rio at sunset is a pure joy. There are plenty of places on the beaches to rent bikes and you can have a guided ride too: just check the website cyclinrio.com. One great route is around the lake Rodrigo de Freitas. At the end of the ride you can head to Ipanema and get a delicious fresh cajá juice in one of the kiosks at Praça General Osório, which holds a Feira Hippie (alternative market) on Sundays.