or Downtown Rio, is where the city started to grow. It
concentrates landmark buildings and structures, monuments, parks,
churches cultural attractions. Some areas are mostly business oriented, while others like Lapa, have a good mix of residential, commercial and entertainment. You are about
20-25 minutes from the South Side and the beaches, by taxi or subway.
Regardless of where you are staying. a visit to Old Rio will give you a much better insight into the city. It is too big to master with a single tour. There are good restaurants and cafés. Maybe expore one area in the morning stop for a break and move on in the afternoon. This is where you have the most chances to see a Carioca wearing a suit and tie.
Lodging in Centro is more economical than staying near the beaches. There is a good number of hotels and flats. Some are even located the dance dance clubs and rates tend to be lower on weekends. Lapa is within and Santa Teresa is next to Centro.
To give you a taste of what to expect we are going to guide you on virtual city tours with photos and comments. Our first destination is Cinelandia, that can be reached by subway in minutes. It is surrounded by green parks, museums, cafés and the majestic Theatro Municipal. If you have a few more moments to spare, we are off to Palácio Capanema.
Praça XV (Qunize) is another big reference. Paço Imperial was the first home to the royal family, there's the old cathedral and Arco dos Telles leading to lovely Travessa do Comércio. To cap it off bohemian Lapa, with the famous Archeduct, tram cars, and beyond!
We have added to the map a couple of hotels that are particularly popular. Windsor Astúrias and Hotel Atlântico Business Centro are steps away from all attractions, rates are very attractive and they offer special discounts on weekends. Novotel Rio de Janeiro Santos Dumont is just a bit farhter, and also an excellent choice! Even Cariocas that live in other parts of the city may consider spending a night after a big party or show. Here are more options!
Exploring Centro on Foot
Centro is not fully preserved, you may spot a landmark church squished amidst
skyscrapers. These are contrasts typical to a city in constant
renovation, always recreating itself. As there's simply too much
to see on a single visit, we have developed three walking tours
you may do on your own : Cinelândia and Lapa, Praça XV and surroundings, and Carioca
A good spot to start your tour is Cinelândia.
The subway stop is right in the middle of the square, so you can't
miss it. You are surrounded by palaces. The National
Library, on Av. Rio Branco 219, has a precious collection of
fine books that dates back to the times when Prince Regent Dom
João VI and the Portuguese royalty escaped from Portugal to
Brazil. Next door to the Museum
of Fine Arts (Av. Rio Branco, 199), with a rich collection of
classical Brazilian and international masters.
On the other side of the square is Palácio
Pedro Ernesto, today headquarters of the Municipal Council.
And last but not least is the Municipal
Theater, one of Rio's most cherished buildings. There are also
movie theaters, and a quaint candy store from the turn of the
century. Amarelinho is the
deliciously sleazy street café where everybody gathers for a beer
Across from you, towards Guanabara
Bay, is Passeio Público - a lush green park built in
the late XVIII century with over 30,000 square meters. Stop for a
photo at the bronze gate, in baroque style. Moving on to modern
architecture, Palácio Gustavo
Capanema (Rua da Imprensa 16) is just a couple of blocks away.
This landmark building of 1945 was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and
Lúcio Costa in the school of Le Corbusier. To cap it off the
gardens were designed by Burle Marx. The tiles with sea motifs are
signed by Portinari, one of the most talented Brazilian artists of
Praça XV is a
must-see, as it was stage to a number of important events in the
history of the city. This is where the royal family landed when
they arrived in Rio. There are so many interesting attractions in
the area, that we have developed a special walking tour. Print and
bring along the street map showing the highlights, and take your
time exploring the area.
Lapa is another vibrant area.
The Lapa Arches, originally part of the Carioca aqueduct, are now
used by the only surviving tram line in Rio. You can take it to
the hill of Santa Teresa, yet another historical area of Rio. Fundição Progresso is an active cultural center, and home to
special parties and events. Sala Cecilia Meirelles is the
classical music chamber. The Palácio Maçônico, on Rua do
Lavradio, has been home to Freemasons since 1840.
A priceless masterpiece of artistic and historical value. The entrance is through an elevator on number 40 of the same street. There are masses with Gregorian chants from Monday to Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. The construction went on from 1617 to 1641. This landmark structure is one of the best examples of Baroque style. The interior is richly adorned, with XVII century wood carvings, works by Mestre Valentim and paintings by Frei Ricardo do Pilar. The organ in the altar with an image of Our Lady of Serrat is from late XVII century. Rua Dom Gerardo, 68
This is where the Carnival Samba Parade takes place. The structure is 650 meters long, and big enough to accommodate 50,000. During the year it is used as a school for children with 200 classrooms. There is a Museum of Carnival, with exhibitions changing every 6 months (it could be in better shape). Rua Marquês de Sapucaí, s/n
This are concentrates a number of historical landmarks and buildings including: Chafariz da Pirâmide, Monument to General Osório, Tiradentes Palace, Church of San José, Faculty of Law Cândido Mendes (on the old Carmelitas Convent), Parish of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, Public Oratory, Church of Santa Cruz dos Militares, Church of Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores, Teles Arches, Statue of Dom João VI and Market Tower. Bring an extra roll of film. There antique fair happens on Saturdays. Praça XV de Novembro.
The Carioca Aqueduct, known also as the Lapa Arches, was built in the early XVIII century. It is 270 meters long and surrounded by the Metropolitan Cathedral, Fundição Progresso, Sala Cecília Meirelles, a couple of top samba halls, and other points of interest. The 42 arches linked Santa Teresa and Santo Antonio Hills. Today there is a streetcar linking Lapa to the historical streets of Santa Teresa with several art galleries and other attractions. Lapa
Project and design by A. Guilbert and Francisco de Oliveira Pinto, it opened its doors on July 14, 1909. Paintings by Eliseu Visconti and Rodolfo de Amoedo, and mosaics by Bernardelli are some of the attractions. If you have a chance come for a concert of classical music or ballet and take a look on the inside as you enjoy top quality entertainment. Praça Floriano, s/n.
A project by Francisco Marcelino de Souza in Neoclassical style with Corinthian columns, from 1910. The collection was gathered since the XVIII century. Among the rarities are a Guttenberg Bible from 1462, a 1572 edition of Camões' As Luziadas, the De Angelis collection and the Empress Teresa Cristina's collection, donated by Emperor Dom Pedro II. Av. Rio Branco, 219.
The palace in Neo-Gothic style by Adolfo del Vecchio (1881) occupies 1,000 square meters of the island. It served as headquarters to supervise port operations. The glamorous history includes the last ball of the Imperial Court, hosted by the Viscount of Ouro Preto in November 1889. Artistic stonework in granite, furniture in jacarandá wood and ebony with Cordoba leather, the exquisite parquet flooring, the central clock by Krussman & Co, the Imperial Coat of Arms and a gorgeous view to the mainland are some of the attractions. Visits by appointment only. Access from First Naval District at Praça Barão do Ladário s/n.
Built from 1964 to 1979 the cathedral is 80 meters high and has a diameter of 106 meters. It is big enough for 20,000 people standing. The Sacred Art Museum and the Bank of Providence, a charity institution, are also here. The car ride back from the Cathedral is stunning. As you enter the financial center you start running into landmarks like the glass-cube-with-some-parts-missing building of Petrobrás and the inflated Chippendale's highboy at Rio Branco 1. Signs of the times. Rua dos Arcos, 54.
On top of Santo Antonio Hill, there are two churches in the convent. The church of Santo Antonio is the oldest in Rio, and was built from 1608 to 1620. The Church of San Francisco was built in 1780. The convent has plaid an important role in the history of the city. In 1710, for instance, it served as refuge to locals during the French Invasion. The chapel of Ecce Homo, within the convent, is where you find the tombs of Dom Afonso and Dom Pedro, sons of Dom Pedro II. Largo da Carioca.
Built in Italian Neoclassical style between 1852 and 1853. Occupied by the presidency until 1897. When the government moved on to Palácio do Catete, it became the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Relations until the capital was transferred to Brasilia in 1960. Av. Marechal Floriano, 196.
This green park in the heart of downtown, with birds and small animals. It has a historical value, as here is where Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca proclaimed the Republic, in the year of 1899 after leaving his home, next to the park. Don't miss the Brazilian cotias, harmless and funny looking rodents that roam free in the park. Central do Brasil, Rio's main train station, is right across the street. The building is quite impressive, but in need of a big clean-up. Av. Presidente Vargas by Central Brazil Station.
The museum is lodged in a neoclassical building that was erected in 1922 for the International Exposition celebrating 100 years of independence. Movies and video session, a huge collection of photos, records, books, interviews, and documents about Brazilian music (popular and classical). Praça Rui Barbosa, 1.
The original São José chapel was in the same spot since 1608, but part of the records were lost when French pirate Duguay-Trouin ransacked Rio in 1711. The church was built in 1824, and renovated in 1969. The façade shows a transition of styles typical to the late 19th century, contrasting stone and whitewashed walls. The sound of its carillon, of 1883, is considered the purest in the city. Inside the heavy engraving in late rococo style is by Simeão de Nazaré, a disciple of Mestre Valentim. Av. Presidente Antonio Carlos, corner of Rua São José.
Founded in 1837 and build in Manuelino style, it gained status of a landmark building in 1970. The chiseled stone façade was imported from Lisbon. This is where the first sessions of the Brazilian Literary Academy were held. There collection has over 350,000 volumes including many rare editions from XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries. Original manuscripts by Machado de Assis and Gonçalves Dias, and sculptures by Rodolfo Bernardelli and other masters are part of the collection. Rua Luís de Camões, 30
Built in from 1615 to 1726 in Baroque style. This beautiful church has details by Manoel de Brito, and the panel on the ceiling representing the Stigmatization of San Francisco is by José de Oliveira Rosa. Visit also the Convent of Santo Antonio, on the same location. The carpentry and woodwork by Manoel Setúbal is of particular interest. Largo da Carioca, 5.
structure with neoclassical elements built between 1880 an 1906
is a project of Francisco Joaquim Bethencourt da Silva, a
disciple of Grandjean de Montigny. It belonged to the Commercial
Association of Rio de Janeiro, and was originally used as a
Commerce Square. In 1923 it was transferred to Banco do Brasil to
pay a loan. The bank used it as headquarters to the board of
directors until 1960, when the capital was moved to Brasilia. The
building was renovated, four new floors were added, and it lost
most of its original classical style. After 27 years as a branch
of the bank, a major renovation started in 1987, highlighting
some of the original features. In 1989 it opened doors with the
new function of cultural center. It soon conquered the hearts and
minds of Cariocas and visitors with a cafe, shops, two theaters,
a movie theater, video room, and a busy agenda of temporary
displays with eight exhibition halls. The grandeur of the
building is more striking once you enter and see the a huge glass
dome, floor and walls covered in marble, and pillars carved in
Portuguese stone. Rua Primeiro de Março, 66.
Candelária Chapel was built in the early XVII century by
Spaniard Antonio Martins Palma and his wife Leonor Gonçalves, to
thank for the grace of having been saved from a shipwreck. The
chapel was expanded in 1634, but after a few years it was in a
terrible state of disrepair. The project of a new church was
commissioned to Francisco João Roscio in 1775, and consecrated
in 1811 with the presence of Dom João VI. The Brotherhood of
Santíssimo Sacramento promoted a number of renovations along the
XIX century, leaving intact only the façade designed by Roscio.
You will find a mix of several styles, ranging from baroque to
neoclassical. The famous dome in Portuguese limestone that crowns
the church was finished in 1887. It weighs 630 tons, and many
people doubted that the structure could actually stand the
weight. The eight white marble statues around the dome were
sculpted in Portugal by José Cesário de Sales. The beautiful
doorway in bronze by Teixeira Lopes was cast in Bruzy, France,
and first shown in the Paris World Fair of 1889. The interior is
decorated with a rainbow of marble shades, the stained glass
windows are outstanding. The six large ceiling panels by João
Zeferino da Costa depict the origins of the church.
Once the main airport in Rio de Janeiro, today Santos Dumont is used for domestic flights to São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Though most of the airport burned down with a tragic fire in 1998 just before Carnival it has already resumed operations. The square has a number of interesting statues and gorgeous trees. Praça Senador Salgado Filho.
Built in 1894 and renovated in 1912 this landmark building has preserved the charm of Old Rio with its huge Belgian crystal mirrors, straw chairs and wood engravings. The tea service is complete, making it a perfect spot for you to recharge your energies after so much walking around! Rua Gonçalves Dias, 32/36
It is considered
the most important example of neoclassical architecture in Rio de
Janeiro. The structure was designed by French architect Grandjean
de Montigny, who came with the French Artistic Mission of 1816.
It was built under the request of Dom João VI to lodge the
Commercial Park of Rio de Janeiro, and opened doors in 1820. On
the following year, when the Portuguese court was ordered to go
back to Portugal, it was stage to a riot that was repressed by
Dom Pedro I. It reopened in 1824 as a Customs House. In 1944 it
became home to the Second Court Jury. Since it started being used
as a cultural center in 1983, and a number of important temporary
exhibitions were held at the França-Brasil. The building itself
is the main permanent attraction. It is aligned to the cardinal
points, oblivious to the direction of other buildings around it.
The interior features a large cross-shaped space, topped by a
monumental dome. The floor is covered in large blocks, with
carpets of Belgian tiles on the entrance, and underneath the
dome. The roof has a colonial inspiration. Rua Visconde do
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