Rio de Janeiro, a sleepless, crowded city even during off season, will become even more frantically busy during the Olympics. Sights you would usually consider compulsory, such as glorious Copacabana Beach, will be so packed with sporty spectators and athletes that you may struggle to find a patch of sand big enough to lay down a towel. If you are in Rio to watch one of the greatest sporting spectacles on Earth and want to escape the constant crowds of the city in your downtime, here’s where you should go.
Explore an Elegant Public Park
Wander around the stately grounds of Parque Lage, an old estate that backs onto Tijuca National Park. This scenic spot is, amazingly, still not on the top of tourist itineraries. Relaxation is easy here – take a seat in classically styled cloisters while enjoying a drink from the café or amble through the landscaped gardens. Follow one of the walking trails that lead through the woods and keep your eyes peeled for monkeys and toucans living in the trees. Take a break from the olympics arena.
The park’s mansion is home to the Visual Arts School of Parque Lage. Explore its halls to see paintings and sculptures by the school’s talented students.
Drive to a Hidden Beach
The city beaches of Rio are famous but understandably crowded. Hop in a taxi or drive yourself out of town for just a short distance to Grumari, a glorious stretch of sand hidden in the verdant mountains west of the city centre. Blissfully free of the tourist development of coastal Rio de Janeiro, Grumari feels refreshingly untouched and untamed.
The waves here are popular with surfers, while the golden sand is perfect for sunbathing. There are a few kiosks selling beach essentials and a couple of restaurants nearby. Drive for 20 kilometres past Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood along the shorefront to reach Grumari Beach.
Find Quiet Brazilian Towns
Central Rio is beloved for its non-stop party atmosphere, but if you are craving something a little more low-key, you won’t have to travel far out of the city to reach a sleepy, characterful town. Within Rio itself, the old town of Pedra do Sal – the birthplace of Samba, no less – is worth exploring for its cobbled streets and clifftop views. Head inland on a day trip to the state of Minas Gerais, where a mining boom led to the establishment of several attractive colonial towns. East of Rio is Paraty, which offers a historic centre and picturesque waterfront ensconced between the mountains and the sea.
Put on Your Hiking Boots
One sure-fire way to get away from the masses of people flocking to Rio is to hike out of the city. A day trip trekking up Rio’s mountains and hills will lead to stunning views and tourist-free walking trails. One challenging but rewarding route takes you to the summit of Pedra da Gavea, which offers panoramas of Rio that are arguably better than the views from the Christ the Redeemer statue. For a shorter, easier walk, stroll up Morro da Urca, Sugarloaf Mountain’s less famous neighbour. Remember, it’s going to be hot and tiring going for a trek in Rio, so make sure you take sturdy footwear and plenty of water to drink.
Visit Rio Smaller Museums
Escape from the heat of Rio de Janeiro or the Olympics are amazing by stepping inside the cool halls of one of the city’s less-explored museums (although the popular National Museum is well worth a visit too). The Edison Carneiro Folklore Museum takes a journey through the history, cultures and traditions of Brazil, while the Planetarium’s fascinating museum looks to both the past and future of space travel. The National Library is well worth a visit too. You have to speak Portuguese to read most of the texts here, but the interior, which is lined from floor to ceiling with dark-wood shelves covered in books, is absolutely spectacular.