3-Day Itinerary for Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro might not be Brazil’s capital city, but it’s certainly much more popular with tourists. It’s not surprising that this South American beachside city with an endless list of cultural attractions.

One of the seven natural wonders and one of the seven wonders of the modern world welcomes millions of travellers every year. A 3-day itinerary for Rio de Janeiro is all you need to see the highlights of this incredible place.

Beautiful panorama of Rio de Janeiro at twilight, Brazil. Aerial view of Ipanema beach at sunset. Rio de Janeiro

The best time to visit Rio de Janeiro to avoid the busiest and most expensive period is the shoulder season of April – June and September – November.

The weather will still be warm during these months so it’s a win-win. Carnival in later February is when Rio comes alive and is a bucket list event for travellers who love to party.

Rio de Janeiro is a big city so choosing where to stay is an important decision. Most visitors prefer the beachside neighbourhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.

No matter where you stay or what time of year you visit, you’re sure to have an amazing 3 days in Rio.

This 3-day itinerary for Rio de Janeiro covers everything you need including what to do, where to eat and drink, and what tours to book. You won’t need to look anywhere else when planning what to do in Rio de Janeiro in 3 days!

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Day 1 in Rio de Janeiro

Witness the Views from Mirante Dona Marta

Start your 3-day Rio de Janeiro itinerary with one of the best views of not only the city but the coastline too.

Mirante Dona Marta is a cliffside observation deck that allows you to see Sugarloaf Mountain, the Christ the Redeemer monument, the harbour, and many of the city’s most impressive skyscrapers.

View from Mirante Dona Marta of Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf mountain with blue sky and mountains in the background and Atlantic Ocean in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America

Christ the Redeemer

Of course, you cannot visit Rio de Janeiro without visiting the Christ Redeemer monument. It’s one of the most-visited and photographed statues in the world and one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

This 100-year-old 30 m statue of Jesus Christ is accessible via an inclined cogwheel railway. Like Mirante Dona Marte, the views from the statue’s base are incredible. Book your tickets in advance because as you can imagine, it’s a popular thing to do in Rio!

Christ the Redeemer statue on the top of a mountain, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Eat Lunch at Guacamole Jardim Botânico

You’ll be eating a lot of Brazilian food over your three days in Rio de Janeiro, but why not try out another Latin American cuisine too? Guacamole Jardim Botânico is a highly-rated Tex-Mex restaurant with a live mariachi band onsite and colourful decor.

Visit a Favela Santa Marta

Favelas are slums or shantytowns on the outskirts of big cities in Latin America. These are where the poorer populations have built their own towns due to there being no low-income housing for them.

As you can imagine, these are dangerous places but you can visit them on guided tours. It’s essential to see the less flashy parts of Rio away from Copacabana Beach. 

Favela Santa Marta is the most common favela that appears on Rio de Janeiro itineraries because it’s close to the Christ the Redeemer statue and is used to receiving visitors.

Colorful painted buildings of Favela in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Eat Brazilian Tapas at Meza Bar for Dinner

Meza Bar is a gastropub that is a quintessentially Rio restaurant. It has modern decor and serves creative Brazilian dishes in small, tapas-sized plates so you can try a few different options.

Sail on a Sunset Cruise on Guanabara Bay

At the end of your first day in Rio, head to Rio Harbour. It’s the world’s largest natural bay which is why it deserves its accolade as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Figure out what time the sun will set during your trip to Rio and book a sunset cruise so you can see the city and the water at the most beautiful time of day.

Beautiful panorama of Rio de Janeiro at sunset, Brazil.

Day 2 in Rio de Janeiro

Take the Cable Car up Sugarloaf Mountain

Literally named after the similarities between this mountain and concentrated, refined loaves of sugar, Sugarloaf mountain is one of the top things to do in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a 396m-tall peak in Guanabara Bay near the coastline. 

It would be a very difficult mountain to climb but luckily there is a cable car that offers phenomenal views to a visitor’s centre at the top.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Sugar Loaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, view from the top

Walk in the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden

After taking the cable car back down to sea level, head to the Rio Botanical Gardens. This historic park is a maze of over 6,500 species of local Brazilian and foreign plant life and wildlife.

You can get lost walking along the alleyways of this sprawling garden or hop in a small electric car to save your energy.

Path between Arcos in the Botanic Garden in Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

Eat Lunch at La Bicyclette

La Bicyclette is a small bakery and café just around the corner from the Botanical Garden. They serve fresh bread and pastries made on-site and their menu has a French twist.

Relax on Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach

It’s time to check out Copacabana beach and Ipanema Beach, two of Rio’s most famous and popular stretches of sand.

Copacabana is the name of the neighbourhood which surrounds the 2.2-mile/3.5 km stretch of soft yellow sand. It’s lively 24/7 and it has a long promenade you can stroll down if you’re not one for sunbathing.

Ipanema Beach is the crescent-shaped beach just south of Copacabana and also has its own neighbourhood. It’s a little more active with football (soccer) and volleyball pitches. Leblon Beach next door is also worth checking out!

Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Copacabana beach is the most famous beach of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Enjoy Dinner at Aprazível Restaurant

After a busy afternoon of relaxing, dine at the upmarket Aprazível Restaurant. They serve artisanal Brazilian cuisine in a lush forest setting.

Watch a Football Game at Maracana Stadium

It’s a close competition, but there’s nowhere that loves football (or soccer, depending on where you are in the world!) more than the Brazilians.

If you’re in town when there’s a home game scheduled at Maracana Stadium, you would be crazy to miss such a cultural experience. 

This stadium is also where the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 summer Olympic games were held. If there isn’t a game on during your stay, you can always take a guided tour instead.

Rio, Brazil -  De Arrascaeta player in match between Flamengo vs Cuiaba by 11th round of Brazilian Championship in Maracana Stadium

Day 3 in Rio de Janeiro

Visit the Museum of Tomorrow

There must be dozens, if not hundreds of museums in Rio de Janeiro. Start your last day in Rio by checking out one of the best, the Museum of Tomorrow.

It’s a science museum on the waterfront with innovative exhibitions explaining future challenges and offering potential solutions.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - The Museum of Tomorrow, a science museum in Rio de Janeiro. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and built next to the waterfront at Pier Maua.

Check out Royal Portuguese Reading Room

Another, totally different exhibition in the same neighbourhood is the Royal Portuguese Reading Room. Whereas the Museum of Tomorrow is futuristic and high-tech, the Reading Room dates back to 1887.

It has a vast collection of important works by Portuguese authors and it’s a beautifully ornate building with dark wooden bookshelves and mosaic floors.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Reading room of the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading. It has the largest and most valuable literary of Portuguese outside Portugal.

Eat Lunch at Rildy Carioca Food

Rildy Carioca Food is a casual eatery serving loaded hotdogs, sandwiches, homemade desserts and fresh fruit smoothie bowls.

It’s the perfect place for lunch if you’ve overspent but are still seeking healthy, fun food in this part of the harbour.

Stroll Around Olympic Boulevard

Brazil hosted the Summer Olympics less than 10 years ago so there is still a lot to see in Rio de Janeiro that relates to the games.

One of the top Olympic attractions in Rio has to be Olympic Boulevard. This is one of the world’s largest murals and it was designed by Eduardo Kobra.

The paintings are of people from indigenous communities all over the world and it stretches over 560 ft/170 m.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Olympic Boulevard in the port area is the famous tourist and visitor spot during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Explore the Santa Teresa Neighbourhood

Just next to the harbour is the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. It’s a winding, colourful hilltop district with trams running through the streets that will make you believe you are in Lisbon or Porto, not Rio de Janeiro.

There are lots of art galleries in this neighbourhood like Museu da Chácara do Céu and Ruins Park as well as many independent shops. Or if you’re not a fan of art, just stroll around for a while.

RIO DE JANEIRO After many years in Rio de Janeiro again have launched a famous tram from Lapa to Santa Teresa district Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Pose for Photos on the Selaron Steps

One attraction you cannot miss in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood is the Selaron Steps which you’ve no doubt seen on Instagram.

This public stairway was decorated with thousands of small tiles by Jorge Selarón and today it’s a popular photo spot.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Enjoy Dinner at Assador Rio’s

Located right on the harbour with beautiful views over the water, Assador Rio’s is one of the city’s best steakhouses. It’s an upscale all-you-can-eat meat buffet which might be dangerous when the food is so good.

Dance at the Rio Scenarium Nightclub

Finish off your last night in Rio de Janeiro with an activity that Brazilians love. Dancing! Rio Scenarium is one of Rio’s most popular clubs with vintage decor and live bands as well as DJs.

Try not to be put off by the long lines outside because it’s a huge, multilevel club with more than enough room for everyone.

Tours in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding or Paragliding

Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer monument, Rio’s harbour… There’s a lot to see in Rio de Janeiro that you can only appreciate if you’re able to see it from above.

Add a hang gliding or paragliding experience to your Rio de Janeiro travel itinerary. The views will be worth any apprehension about the experience and you’ll be so pleased you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone.

Paragliding in Rio de Janeiro Above Beautiful Coast of the City

Lapa District Pub Crawl

If you’re on a budget and want to experience Rio’s nightlife, then the Lapa District is where it’s at. On this pub crawl, you’ll be able to make like-minded travel friends and have an amazing, wild night out for a fraction of the price in other Rio neighbourhoods.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -  Famous Lavradio street is decorated with country flags during the World Cup 2018.

Brazilian Cooking Class

Brazilian cuisine is underrated and it’s also hard to find good Brazilian cuisine outside of the country. Join a Brazilian cooking class during your trip to Rio so you can make it yourself at home! This cooking class will teach you how to make seven different dishes including caipirinha cocktails.

Wooden spatula stirring frango com quiabo (Portuguese for "chicken with okra") Brazilian dish cooking in saute pan on stove

Tijuca National Park

Brazil has 72 national parks and Tijuca National Park is just outside of Rio de Janeiro. If you have four days to spend in Rio or prefer to spend more time in nature rather than hopping from museum to museum, book this half-day trip to Tijuca.

You’ll be able to explore caves, hike through the forest and swim in the waterfalls pools.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -  Beautiful waterfall called "Cascatinha Taunayon" on green nature in the Atlantic Rainforest, Tijuca Forest National Park

FAQs for 3 Days in Rio de Janeiro

Is 3 days enough in Rio? 

One of the top questions that travellers ask themselves when planning a trip to Brazil is, “how many days do you need in Rio de Janeiro?” So, is 3 days in Rio enough?

Yes, 3 days in Rio is definitely enough to see the key landmarks, museums, neighbourhoods, and attractions.

Sure, you could easily find yourself more and more things to do in Rio to last a lifetime. 3 days Rio de Janeiro is the perfect amount for a first-time trip.

What to do in Rio de Janeiro in 3 Days?

You can pack a lot into 3 days in Rio de Janeiro. Read through this guide to find out exactly how to spend three full days in Brazil’s seaside metropolis.

Is it dangerous to visit Rio de Janeiro?

Rio is definitely not the safest place that tourists can visit, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can do to stay safe.

Don’t carry a lot of expensive items, valuables, or cash to limit the chances of mugging or pickpocketing.

You should also be careful about which parts of Rio de Janeiro you visit and when. Only visit favelas on a guided tour and don’t hang around the Santa Teresa neighbourhood by yourself at night.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Aerial view of Yup Star (Rio Star) ferris wheel and large industrial cargo ship.

3-Day Itinerary for Rio de Janeiro Wrap Up

If you follow this 3-day itinerary Rio de Janeiro, you’ll hit all of Rio’s top attractions, eat some fantastic local food, and have a super fun trip.

You will have gained an insight into Rio’s culture and you’ll no doubt be planning a return trip to spend three more days here!

Botafogo Neighborhood Aerial View With the Sugarloaf Mountain View, Rio de Janeiro

Recommended tours in Rio de Janeiro

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Author

  • Samantha King

    Sam, a seasoned traveler across four continents and 49 countries, is a leading authority in travel planning. Her website, Travelling King, offers tailored itineraries and expert guides for seamless trips. Sam's expertise in luxury travel, fast travel, and destination guides keeps her at the forefront of the travel community.

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