Lisa Owen

There’s a lot to see in the vibrant city of Rio De Janeiro. The city is bursting with colour, history and creativity.

So where do you start your explorations of this South American city? Here’s my guide to my favourite locations in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.

Selaron Stairs

What better way to kick off your trip to Rio than with stairs the colour of the Brazilian flag?

The Selaron Stairs (Escaderia Selaron) lead up to the Santa Teresa Convent from Rua Joaquim Silva. A Chilean artist started the project in 1990. As news of the project reached the ears of people across the world, tiles were sent to him for the project. Take a good look at the tiles lining the walls and steps to see their origin – I found five from Australia.

Selaron Stairs


Fun fact. The Selaron Stairs gained popularity in recent years after Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams filmed their ‘Beautiful’ music video here, and they have also featured in a number of ads and documentaries.

The Selaron Steps links the Lapa neighbourhood with the Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. Lapa is known for its nightlife but during the day, the colourful buildings and the brilliant white aqueduct spanning the road are worth a look.

The Santa Teresa neighbourhood was built up around the convent and is made up of narrow, winding and hilly streets. It’s considered one of Rio’s most bohemian neighbourhoods and is home to many artists.

Lapa Aqueduct

Sugarloaf Mountain

While touristy, 396 metre Sugarloaf Mountain is a must see. Take the cable car up for good views of the surrounding mountains, Guanabara Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Spend some time walking around the lookout points, as well as learning about the history of the mountain’s cable car.

Sugarloaf Mountain Cable Cars

Rio’s Favelas

Favelas are the name for Rio’s slums – overcrowded urban neighbourhoods cascading down steep hillsides. Rio’s largest favela is Rochinha and is the one most tourists will see. Favela tours are run by a number of operators that will safely take you into the favela.

It’s not recommended to go right into the heart of the favelas on your own due to safety concerns.

At the base of the Rochinha favela, there’s a market selling a whole range of goods and a number of restaurants including several typical Brazilian BBQ and buffet restaurants.

Yes, these are people’s homes but you gain an insight into local life and you can support the neighbourhood by grabbing lunch there or buying market wares.

If you don’t want to head into the favela, there’s also various points around the city where you can see the favelas in their entirety as they flow down the hillside.

Rio Favelas

Parque Lage

Another ‘Beautiful’ music video location is the 1920s Parque Lage mansion. The Christ the Redeemer statue sits above the mansion on Corcovado Mountain and you should be able to catch glimpses of it from here. At the time I visited, there was an art show on inside the mansion and various activities feature at the picturesque location throughout the year.

Parque Lage


Next door to the mansion is the Botanic Gardens. Walk through the towering palms and wander through the manmade fishponds and grottoes. This is a relaxing spot to end your day in Rio and wind down.

Rio’s Beaches

It wouldn’t be a trip to Rio without heading to the beach. Beach attractions include simply just sunbaking, watching the beautiful people play beach volleyball, picking out a colourful bikini from the many vendors, and wandering beachside stalls.

Don’t miss the sunset at Ipanema Beach from the Arpoador Rock. It’s popular for a reason as the sun sets behind the mountains. Get there about half an hour before sunset for the best spots.

Sunset from Arpoador Rock


It’s easy to walk the length of Ipanema and Copacabana beach either on the sand or along the promenade. Walking the length of these beaches will take you about an hour one way.

There’s lots of bars and cafes also set up along the beach so you can cool off with a drink or even try the bizarre pizza in a cone.

Things You Should Know:

  • Watch out for pickpocketers at key tourist spots such as Selaron Stairs and particularly in the favela. Take a few simple precautions so you don’t stand out. Don’t wear any expensive jewellery such as rings and watches when out and about and keep cameras and phones out of sight.
  • If you want to go right into the favela, it’s best to hire a tour guide. It’s not recommended to venture into the favelas alone.
  • One piece of advice I received from a Rio local (carioca) is if you’re the only person on a street at night, you’re not meant to be there and should get out of there. It’s best not to walk around by yourself at night.

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors.

Instagram: @_thelittleadventurer; Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.