Saturday, September 5, 2015

Our Favourite Family Things To Do in Rio de Janeiro

Here's the big surprise, apart from the nightlife, pretty much everything is a family friendly activity in Rio de Janeiro. Wherever we've gone and whatever we've done, the kids have been included and welcome. And the best part, there's usually a discount for kids. 

We have also felt very safe the entire time we've been here. Now, to be honest, we've stayed in Ipanema, a well-to-do area with lots of tourists. We don't go out at night when many problems might occur. And the police presence is obvious and in your face during the day. The city clearly doesn't want any bad publicity before the Olympics.

We did more than these things of course, but these are the ones that were most anticipated, most enjoyed, or most talked about afterwards by the kids - who are 7 and 10.

1. Ipanema Beach

We stayed quite close to this beach and went at some point almost every day. Our favourite spot was between Posto 7 and 8, but nearer Posto 8. 

The beach vendors are plentiful, not pushy, and except for one instance, ok to buy from. You can really eat and drink all day.The sand is beautiful and clean. The kids had lots of space to run and good waves to play in. Even on the no-swim red flag days, the kids were still allowed to jump in the waves at the water's edge.  A couple of busy days the temporary rental shop for surf boards and boogie boards were on the beach.

The chairs and umbrellas are plentiful and inexpensive, and these vendors all have coolers full of beer and the ability to make caipirinhas. So, something for the parents too.

We are going to miss this beach.

2. Eat Rio Food Tour

This was a pricey tour, but introduced us to so much food we never would have tried. 

I'm always a bit careful around water and ice and street food given the possibility of getting super sick. Some people have stomachs of iron. I do not. But after reading the Trip Advisor reviews and seeing so many where not one mentioned getting sick, I thought this would be a safe bet. And it was. 

As a result of this tour, we happily ate everything we wanted to while we were here, tried the juice bars, and thoroughly enjoyed our food experience.

Check it out here.

3. Rio Street Art Tour

Rio recently legalized street art (i.e. graffiti). There are some rules, and tagging remains illegal, but as a result of the relaxation, there are many public areas that are filled with fabulous graffiti art. The tour guide spoke fantastic English and was filled with stories about the art and the artists. We saw a handful of artists at various places spots, and now are having such fun finding street art where we definitely recognize the artist that we learned about on the tour. 

Eamon enjoyed this tour he now wants to move to Rio to become a graffiti artist.

You can check out the tour here.

4. Sugar Loaf Mountain

How do you not go up on the two cable cars to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain to get a view of Rio. The view was terrific. I've heard some people say they've never bothered, because they'd already been to Christ the Redeemer, but it's a completely different view. 

The real thrill was walking down to the bottom from the midway point. The walk was a bit steep in places, slippery because of a bit of recent rain, and the trail wasn't marked so very well, but it was good fun. Plus we saw some marmosets (little monkeys).

5. Christ the Redeemer

If I say you need to go up to the top of Sugar Loaf to see the view, of course I'm going to say you have to head up to Christ the Redeemer.

Arrive early at the ticket booth to get tickets for the first tram up. The ride is fun as you wind your way up Corcovado Mountain. The top is crazy busy - even when you're on the first train. Everyone wants their photo in front of Christ, and everyone wants to admire the view. On a clear day the view is spectacular. We struck upon a fabulous day. That blue sky you see in the photo is real. Not a cloud in the sky the day we went. There are not very many places in the world where you can stand high on a mountain and look down to see so much of the city.

And please, try to restrain yourself and not go crazy over the oh-so many annoying selfie sticks. This is the worst place we've encountered them so far.

6. Favela Santa Marta Tour

Safe and ok for kids. 

I dithered the most about this tour because I didn't want to be caught in the middle of a gun battle, but from all I'd read, this favela is safe. With only 6,000 people and 3 police stations, I should hope so. 

It was the first pacified favela and it seems they've managed to keep out the drug top guns. As soon as the favela was pacified, the government added a funicular and some decent concrete steps to the top. A nice gesture, but just a few feet next to that is real life with crowded walkways and raw sewage. Closer to the top new brick buildings painted bright colours give way to the old wooden structures, some of which look on the brink of collapse. 

The tour owner has lived in the favela his whole life. He loves the community and wants to see it improve, but he also recognizes the current problems and is willing to have his guides point them out. Best part of the tour is the stop in his house for a caipirinha, with a kid version for the kids.

Check out his website here.

7. Central Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB)

We hit it lucky - a Picasso exhibit was one. The kids loved the exhibit and were keen to come home and try to paint like him. Eamon was so keen to emulate Picasso, he even removed his shirt to do his art project.

Even without the Picasso exhibit, the building is worth a stop. The multi media art space is found in an old bank with hardly any renovations, so the vaults remain as does the overall bank look. It appears that even without Picasso, there are lots of activities going on and is worth a stop.

Plus, it's free!

8. Comida por kilo or Buffet por kilo

These restaurants are popular in Rio. It's a buffet, but instead of paying some crazy high price, you fill your plate, weigh your plate, and then pay an amount based on the weight with a maximum price charged. 

These restaurants have been our restaurants of choice. Everyone can choose what they want to eat based on what it looks like and how much to take. We've all tried a good variety of food because you can take such small amount of something you're curious about.

Plates of food have been eaten clean and everyone leaves happy and full. Plus, it's a been a great way to get some vegetables into the kids.

9. Match at Maracanã

We went on a Sunday afternoon when Flamengo played São Paulo. I have no idea if an evening game against two Rio teams would be wildly different. I suspect not. Security and police are everywhere. Fans are kept separate. There is no drinking in the stadium and many people use the Metro.

We bought our tickets before the game at the stadium and sat along the sidelines away from the wild fans in the end zone.

The extent of crowd control and security is close to unbelievable, but I'm not complaining because we felt safe and had a great afternoon.

Even though Rio is not a place that jumps to mind for a family holiday, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. There has been a huge police presence wherever we have gone - no doubt in an effort to avoid a bad publicity incident for the World Cup, and now in the months leading up to the summer Olympics next year. I just hope that after the Olympics this vigilance remains and Rio remains a good and safe family holiday destination.


  1. You guys are having an amazing adventure. I'm really enjoying reading about your trip! What an amazing gift you're giving your kids (and your family!). TFS!