Rio de Janeiro has pretty much something for everyone. Looking for beach days? Or forest trails for hiking through a huge urban rainforest? How about nights of caipirinha-fuelled nights and dancing ‘til dawn to the drum-filled air of live samba bands? The adventurous can check out sprawling favelas whilst the culture-vultures can browse through enlightening museums and elegant art galleries. Amazing as Rio is, sometimes its hustle and bustle leaves you searching for a calming getaway that offers a different perspective of Brazil. Luckily, a quiet retreat is never far away with several nearby getaway options from colonial towns to tropical beachside paradises. Here are some of our favourite places:

Petrópolis

Just 69 km outside of Rio lies Petropolis, a colonial city dating back to the imperial era in Brazil. It was once the home to the last Emperor of Brazil, Pedro II whose remains are buried in the Cathedral of St. Peter of Alcantara. His once summer palace is now the Imperial Museum which is open to the public. To keep the former glory of the palace, visitors have to wear slippers over their shoes to protect the ancient floor and regal artifacts such as the huge gold crown are strictly for observing only (no photos, guys). The surrounding land of Petropolis is filled with forest trails and nature walks.

Highlights:

  • Palacio Quitandinha – This is a former luxury resort hotel that sits in well-manicured lawns and still preserves the former glory of its striking facade. Choose to either explore inside or simply chill out in the surrounding gardens.
  • Casa de Santos Dumont – The former home of Alberto Santos Dumont, the Brazilian inventor of the aeroplane (still to this day in dispute against the Wright Brothers), is open to the public to peek a glimpse into his past life.
  • Cervejaria Bohemia – This is the official brewery of the Brazilian beer Bohemia. The factory includes a tour of the beer production (half self-guided, half supervised), beer sampling, and finally a store to purchase some of the beers on offer. There you can pay to have your name on a label (between R$14 and R$20) and even buy a beer kit so you can make beer yourself at home. The two restaurants are worth popping into for good food washed down with chilled locally-made beer and accompanied by live samba music.
Day trips from Rio de Janeiro

Buzios

Buzios is the luxury beachside retreat for Cariocas (those born in Rio) and visitors will be spoilt for choice with 23 stunning beaches to sunbathe on, a thriving nightlife scene, and plenty of great restaurants to wine and dine at. The main street in Buzios is Rua das Pedras where the bulk of the bars and eateries are so if you want to be in the hub of it all, make sure to stay around this area. For watersports such as surfing, bodyboarding, and windsurfing, head to Gerba beach, which is renowned for its big waves and great surfing conditions. Wildlife lovers shouldn’t leave Tartaruga beach off their list – this is the best spot to see a turtle.

Highlights:

  • Seafood – Buzios proximity to the clean, wildlife-rich ocean has been the inspiration for the dozens of great seafood restaurants in the area. For fresh fish and meaty seafood, then Restaurante Mistico, Rocka Beach Lounge, O Barco, Restaurante do David, and Bistro da Baiana have wonderful menu options.
  • Scuba diving – Nearby fisherman village, Arraial do Cabo, has definitely got the top-spot for scuba diving with its fertile seas and calm surf. Yet Buzios is almost as good and there are plenty of dive schools for beginners or more experienced divers.
  • Privilege Buzios – those looking to party hard to great music and a young, beautiful crowd should head to Privilege Buzios, a nightclub under the same ownership as Privilege Ibiza. The entrance fee is pretty high at around R$100 yet it promises to be an unforgettable night.
day trips from Rio de Janeiro

Paraty

With its cobbled streets and whitewashed houses with their vibrant-coloured door and window frames, Paraty is as tranquil as Rio is intoxicating. The well-preserved architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries reflect the wealth of Paraty’s colonial heydays when it was the state’s major gold port. The fact the historical centre is closed off to motor vehicles is one of the town’s greatest charms and makes it an ideal place to aimlessly mooch around.

Highlights:

  • The historical centre with its uneven cobbled streets and colonial buildings, the city centre is like a snapshot from the past. The streets are peppered with Baroque churches such as the Chapel of Santa Rita and the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, historical monuments, and charming buildings and are the motives behind the region being listed as a historical UNESCO Heritage Site.
  • Boat trips – wildlife and nature lovers will be in their element with over 65 islands nearby to explore, some of which are uninhabited. The boats slowly amble through waters, stopping off at popular, stunning islands so visitors can chill out on the shores or snorkel with the colourful, tropical fish who are more concerned with picking up bits of strategically thrown bread than care for the human observers.
  • Cachaça Tasting – A guided tour is a great way to experience this national liquor and there are multiple tour options that combine cachaça tasting with a jungle jeep tour.

    Restaurante Do Quilombo Campinho – Quilombos are communities founded by fugitive slaves and the Quilombo do Campinho is located near to Paraty and is one of the several that still exist in Brazil today. Head to their restaurant that comes highly-recommended on places such as Trip Advisor for delicious, homely food.

Recreio

Still considered within the city of Rio de Janeiro, Recreio is a neighbourhood in the west zone of the city. With its lack of subway routes and long distance from more visited-places such as Copacabana and Ipanema, Recreio remains very much off the beaten track. Yet this is its blessing – kilometres of white, empty beaches, untouched nature reserves and excellent surf spots are what awaits those willing to put in the effort to go there.

Highlights:

  • Prainha Beach – a quiet crescent-moon shaped beach surrounded by rainforest-covered mountains to one side and a surfer-haven ocean to the other. Feeling hungry? Prainha has a number of kiosks sprinkled along the shoreline or you can head to Bar e Restaurant Mirante da Prainha for some delicious and fresh seafood accompanied by a stunning view.
  • Praia Secreto – the small secret beach (translation) is hidden between Macumba Beach and Prainha. It’s actually a natural pool of water surrounded by rocks. Swimming in Praia do Secreto depends on the tide, so it’s best to check if the tide is too high or too low, because in either case, the pool disappears. Thanks to how shallow the pool is, the water is generally pleasantly warm and makes a wonderful place to chill and laze a couple of hours away.
  • Hike Pedra do Pontal – this small island lies between Recreio dos Bandeirantes Beach and Macumba Beach. A narrow strip of sand connects this lone island to the mainland and disappears when the tide is high. The trail is relatively easy, but the final part requires some arm strength to lift yourself on the supporting ropes.

Niteroi

Just across the bay from Rio de Janeiro is Niteroi, Rio’s sister city. The age-old saying goes that the best thing about Niterói is its view over to Rio, which isn’t very fair – the view is indeed flawless, yet Niterói has enty to offer in its own right. It is home to Itacoatiara, a local beach spot, located 32 kilometres from Rio’s city centre. The beach stretches out for 700m with a large rock jutting out in the middle, splitting the beach into two separate characteristics. One-half is known as a surfer paradise for its excellent surf conditions while the other, smaller half is protected from the waves, making it ideal for a leisurely swim. The beach is surrounded by the Serra da Tiririca State Park, an environmental protected area known for its hiking trails with breathtaking oceanic views from the park’s viewpoints.

Highlights:

  • Parque da Cidade – Take a taxi up to the Parque da Cidade to take in the picturesque view of Niterói, the bay and over to Rio de Janeiro. It’s one of the best places to watch the sun set over Sugarloaf.
  • Beaches – Along with Itacoatiara, the city is home to many beaches including: Piratininga, Praia da Barra Camboinhas and Itapu beaches, all of which are just a bus trip away.
  • Museu de Arte Contemporanea – The saucer-shaped building is one of Niterói’s most impressive landmarks and was developed by the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. It’s inspiring architecture draws in as many people as the collection of modern art inside.
  • Fortaleza de Santa Cruz – the historical fortress stretched out into the sea and was once the main defense against potential naval attacks during the imperial and colonial era. Nowadays, it is open to the public and offers oceanic views over to the Sugarloaf.
  • São Francisco – Locals of Niteroi tend to prefer heading over to Rio for all night parties and heaving nightclubs, given that Niteroi is somewhat lacking on the full-on party scene. However, it still has several spots for lively bars and diverse restaurants. The best neighbourhood to eat and drink is São Francisco where visitors will be spoilt for choice for drinking and eating options.
day trips from Rio de Janeiro

Image credits: Diego Rego Monteiro/WikiCommons

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day trips from Rio de Janeiro

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