What do the aurora borealis, Michoacan Mexico, Arizona, the northern coast of Australia, Nepal, the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Rio de Janeiro all have in common? They are all home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. While some places like Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Grand Canyon are unsurprisingly on the list, other spots are perhaps not as familiar — one of which is the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro. Known also as Guanabara Bay, much of the heartbeat of Rio stems from the bay. Here are our top things to do at the harbor:
Christ the Redeemer
While not technically located directly on the harbor, but rather on top of Corcovado Mountain, Christ the Redeemer is a staple of any visit to Rio. The statue makes the list for the best things to do in Rio’s harbor is because of the view. There are few sights better than the one at the feet of the sculpture overlooking the entirety of the bay, making it some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
One of the most iconic beaches in the world, which gained international fame from the bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema”, Ipanema Beach rests just outside the mouth of Rio de Janeiro’s harbor. Often competing with its counterpart Copacabana, Ipanema has been called “The Sexiest Beach in the World” for its plethora of attractive locals. Now one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in the city, the area maintains some kitschy charm as it hosts the Feira Hippie (Hippie Market) every Sunday.
Often considered the hub of activity in and around Rio and its harbor, Copacabana Beach is a must-see spot. Whether you want to stroll the promenade, which is designed to look like a wave, sunbathe, sip a Brazilian cocktail or swim, the area is incredibly entertaining. While on the sand, grab a soccer ball and try to keep it off the ground by passing from one friend to another — be warned this will attract Brazilian attention and have locals asking to join. There is also a 98% chance that any Brazilian is going to be much better than you; after all, Copacabana is the home of the Beach Soccer World Cup and the beautiful game runs in Brazilian blood.
Aquario Marinho do Rio de Janeiro
The Aquario Marinho do Rio de Janeiro, affectionately known as ‘AquaRio’ for short, is an impressive aquarium right on the water’s edge. With 4.5 million liters of water, AquaRio is officially the largest aquarium in South America. Guests love the tropical fish and the long, underwater observation tunnel. The aquarium also houses a small surf museum, which entertains all those looking for a history lesson on Brazil’s waves.
Museu do Amanha
Literally translated to ‘The Museum of Tomorrow’, this science museum, aside from being highly entertaining, is a striking addition to the skyline of Rio’s waterfront. The museum is divided into five sections: Cosmos, Anthropocene, Tomorrow, Earth, and Us. The museum takes an intriguing look into how science can contribute to urban design for sustainable cities.
Museu de Arte do Rio
Neighboring AquaRio and The Museum of Tomorrow, Museu de Arte do Rio is Rio’s Museum of Art. Divided into galleries for art of the past, present, and future, art-lovers cherish this museum for its diverse range of pieces on display. The building itself is award-winning as architects joined an old colonial building with a modern glass structure, complete with a plaza that pays tribute to the harbor.
The street where Museu do Amanha and Museu de Arte do Rio are located is a destination in itself. The boulevard is home to one of the strongest examples of revitalization efforts seen in the city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. While those patrolling the promenade head to the museums, many of the streets are lined with incredibly intricate and colorful graffiti — definitely worth a picture.
Parque do Flamengo
Situated along Guanabara Bay, Flamengo Park is the largest public park and recreation area in the entirety of Rio. The nearly 300 acres of land is the perfect place to spend the day riding a bike, reading a book or enjoying a picnic. The gardens within the park are impeccable as landscape designers meticulously crafted the entire area.
Niteroi and the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum
Niteroi is the city best known for being across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Away from the zeitgeist of the modern traveler, Niteroi, despite its proximity, feels like its own separate getaway. Also known as ‘The City of Smiles’, Niteroi is well worth the drive across the bridge that connects it to Rio. Those wanting to explore the city further need to make their way to Niteroi City Park, as it is one of the best places in the world to see the sunset dip into the waters of Rio’s harbor.
The city’s contemporary art museum is easily its most recognizable landmark. Perched on a bluff above the bay, the building appears to have jumped off the pages of a chic futuristic magazine. Complete with a flying saucer and what appears to be a red carpet walkway, the museum is a great place to marvel at the architecture in the foreground of some amazing views.
Ilha de Paqueta, or just Paqueta for short, is an island in Rio’s harbor. The island is the perfect opportunity to step back in time and explore old Brazil, as the island’s nature hasn’t been taken over by city life, and a law outlaws any automobiles on the island. Transportation here is instead limited to bikes and horse-drawn buggies. Home to a quaint town, beautiful beaches, and the unique baobab trees, the island is the location of the Municipal Natural Park Darke de Mattos, a wild area with plenty of spots to explore.
We begin and end this list with beautiful aerial vantage points of Rio de Janiero’s harbor. Sugarloaf Mountain, the most recognizable natural feature in the country, from its peak, has stunning views of the city, Niteroi, Guanabara Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. Those hoping to reach the summit can take the cable cars that ascend the monolith.