Brit born but a Rio resident since 2007, writer and mom-of-one Lucy Bryson shares her guide to three perfect days in Rio de Janeiro with children.
"Rio de Janeiro feels like a giant adventure playground for families. Soft sand beaches, towering mountains, tropical jungle, funicular railways and dizzying cable car rides are among the big-hitting attractions. Dining out is a breeze too as locals tend to take the kids with them when they go out to eat or drink, and laid-back restaurateurs welcome even the noisiest of children. Cabs, which are abundant and inexpensive, are the best way of getting around the city without hassle."
Day 1: Beat the Heat on the Beach
Rio’s beaches are world-famous, so tackle jet lag, get bronzed and tick sightseeing boxes at the same time by spending the day on the sands. Make Copacabana your first port of call, stopping along the way at one Rio's ubiquitous juice bars for a fruit salad and cafezinho (small but potent black coffee, served stiff with sugar) and give the kids a natural lift with bowlfuls of energy-boosting acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee).The Amazonian ‘power berry’ is served smoothie-style with ice and sugar, and topped with banana and granola for extra zing.
Don’t bring a beach towel unless you want to stand out like a box-fresh newbie to the city. You need a kanga. These colorful sarongs function as wrap/dress and towel, and vendors sell them on the beachfront for around R$25 (around US$10).
Copacabana's best patch of beach for families is the eastern end, known as Leme. Vendors operating from barracas — beach tents — rent out paddling pools as well as parasols and beach chairs, so kids can splash around without having to brave the crashing waves and undertow. Most barracas also sell super-hydrating coconut water, and the vendor will slice open the green coconut so that you can sip the cool juice through a straw. You won’t even have to leave your lounger for lunch; for a small mark up, most barracas will have somebody run to a nearby beach kiosk for easy eats such as toasted sandwiches or fries.
After lunch, grab a cab — or walk the four-mile beachfront if you have the energy — to Arpoador, the point where Copacabana meets Ipanema. Arpoador has its own stretch of beach, and is famous for a giant rock that juts from the sands into the ocean. Scramble over the rock late-afternoon to catch the sunset.
Spruce up back at the hotel before heading out for dinner - children are welcome at most restaurants in Rio, but keep it fun and informal with a visit to a traditional churrascaria (grilled meat restaurant). A favorite is Porcao Rio’s, where for a set price (R$120, half price for children, kids under five eat free) you can feast on all the top-quality meat you can eat, along with limitless trips to a buffet laden with salads, sushi and other meat-free goodies. Bonus: floor-to-ceiling windows frame dead-on views of Sugar Loaf.
Day 2: Christ, Corcovado and Sugar Loaf
Breakfasts at Rio hotels are a big deal, so tuck into fresh fruit and juices, bread, jams, cheeses, cake and coffee before setting off to meet Rio’s most famous resident: Christ the Redeemer.
Standing with arms outstretched to embrace the city and all its sins from its tallest mountain peak, this Art Deco Christ is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
You can reach the statue by official minivan from in front of Largo do Machado metro station, but it’s more fun to take the cog railway which runs up the jungle-clad sides of Corcovado mountain from the pretty neighborhood of Cosme Velho. Pre-purchase tickets to skip the long line (kids under five go free).
After taking in the sweeping views from the foot of the statue, balance the foodie scales after last night’s meat feast with the best vegetarian lunches in town at Prana Vegetariano. This tiny, low key spot is tucked away just behind the cog railway station. For less virtuous eats, nearby Assis Garrafaria entices local families with its sandwiches, cakes, pastries and a vast array of imported beers, together with a library of kids' books.
After refueling, grab a cab to Urca — home to Sugar Loaf mountain. Take the time to explore this neighborhood as it’s one of the most picturesque and tranquil in the city. Ask your cabbie to drop you at Praia da Urca, nicknamed "baby beach" for its calm, shallow and warm waters.
After a cooling dip, head to Sugar Loaf itself, and revive with a cool coconut water (or a beer for parents, which local tastes dictate should be served "stupidly cold" ) before taking the cable car ride in time to catch sunset over the city.The sense-tingling view is best enjoyed with a caipirinha (or ice cream for the juniors) from the mountaintop bar.
Once you're back at ground level, take the short stroll through this lovely neighborhood to Bar & Restaurante Urca, where you can enjoy a drink propped up against the harbor wall against a backdrop of ocean, mountains and the Christ Statue. Opt for a table indoors to enjoy hearty traditional entrees of meat, fish or chicken served with garlicky rice, black beans and fries.
Day 3: Parks and Parrots
Don’t bring a stroller today as you’ll face cobbles and steep hills — strap little ones into a sling or baby carrier instead. Start at Parque Lage, a park with gorgeous views that remains largely undiscovered by tourists . Delicious breakfasts are served at the park's cafe, which is set in the grounds of a fine arts school. Kids can explore caves and caverns — some of which house small aquariums — before heading next door to the more famous Botanical Gardens. Look out for chattering monkeys and squawking parrots as you stroll around these vast tropical gardens.
Next, take a cab to Rua do Lavradio, the oldest street in Rio, where you should lunch at a pay-by-weight buffet restaurant. These popular lunch spots serve everything from grilled meat to dozens of types of salad, so the perfect pick for families with fussy eaters.
Stroll to the nearby Lapa arches to catch the rattling yellow tram that clatters like a funfair ride over the arches and up to the historic neighborhood of Santa Teresa. (The historic tram is being reinstated in stages after a four-year absence for repairs.) Alight at Largo do Curvelo and follow the signs to Parque das Ruinas. Here, visitors can climb cast iron stairs through the ruins of a former mansion home, before ogling the 360-degree views from the semi-open roof and descending for coffee and cake or a play on the park’s swings and slide.
Follow the tram track past artists' studios and vintage stores to Largo do Guimaraes, the lively square at the heart of Santa Teresa. Right next to the square is Cultivar Brasil, a small organic cafe serving undoubtedly the best pao de queijo (chewy cheese breads made with manioc flour) in Rio. Grab some to go, and eat it across the road at Cafecito, where delicious coffees, cocktails and ice creams are served on a leafy terrace.
Spend a couple of hours strolling the cobbled streets and admiring the colorful colonial mansions of this historic neighborhood, stopping at the bright pink Laurinda Santos Lobo Cultural Center, where kids can play on an antique tram in the gardens.
For dinner, make the climb, or take a cab if little legs are tired, to Aprazivel (reservations necessary and ask for outdoor dining), a French-Brazilian restaurant where meals are served under straw-roofed gazebos in a tropical garden that attracts toucans and monkeys, and enchants children all ages.