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If you’re considering travelling to Rio for the World Cup or Olympics, or if you just want to finally see the ‘cidade maravilhosa’ (marvellous city) for yourself, discover the five most unmissable things to see and do while in Brazil’s most famous city.

1. Ascend Sugar Loaf Mountain

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The astounding views go both ways: the Sugar Loaf looks right back towards the city and offers a panorama equally impressive as that from Corcovado. If you can, visit in time for sunset (aim to arrive at the top around 4pm) to watch thousands of twinkling city lights flicker to life, with the illuminated figure of Christ the Redeemer up on high like the star on the top of a Christmas tree. To make the ascent most visitors choose to simply take the cable car system, which famously appeared in Moonraker, but it’s possible and very safe to walk from the bottom in the neighbourhood of Urca up to the intermediate cable car station, and you can even mountain climb right to the top. No matter how you get there, the views are utterly breath-taking.

2. Go Out on the Tiles in Lapa

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Lapa’s most famous sight is the Escadaria Selarón, a set of steps which have become an extraordinary labour of love for a Chilean artist who has been tiling and retiling them since 1990. However the main reason to visit Lapa is not to see anything in particular but rather to enjoy the unparalleled nightlife. Once considered a dicey area, this is now a resurgent neighbourhood whose gorgeously dilapidated mansions set a scene reminiscent of Havana, and with all the musicality to match. By night live samba music abounds and the bars are heaving with locals keen to demonstrate their mind-boggling footwork.

3. People-Watch on Ipanema Beach

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Ipanema is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful city beaches, its golden sands and glassy waves overlooked by the distinctive twin peaks of the Dois Irmãos. However it’s not just the neighbourhood’s natural endowments that make it extraordinary: this is the place for well-to-do Cariocas to come to parade bronzed (and often surgically enhanced) bodies and designer bikinis, and a weekend afternoon here will give you an instant insight into Rio’s cult of the body beautiful. Just hire a beach chair, grab an ice-cold green coconut and a freshly barbecued king prawn skewer or two from the passing merchants and take in the quintessential Rio scene.

4. Stroll in Santa Teresa

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Time for something a little more cultured: Santa Teresa is Rio’s most artistic, bohemian and intellectual quarter and its winding cobblestoned streets with a gallery or atmospheric bar around every corner are a delight to wander. Of particular note is the Museu da Chácara do Ceu which hosts an impressive art collection, but just ambling around admiring the crumbling belle époque mansions will give you a good sense of the neighbourhood. At the time of writing, the famous streetcar which usually provides a hair-raising ride from central Rio is temporarily out of action, but don’t let that put you off visiting – Santa Teresa offers a perspective far from the typical stereotype of the city.

5. Visit Christ the Redeemer

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In a city as staggeringly beautiful as Rio, it should come as no surprise that many of the top tourist attractions involve taking in the views. The statue of Christ the Redeemer surveys the majestic Rio cityscape from atop Corcovado mountain, and you can share his divine vantage point by taking the electric railway from the base in Cosme Velho then finishing the ascent by foot (we can also arrange jeep tours). While the statue itself is one of the city’s most famous icons, the views really are the scene-stealer – facing out towards the Sugar Loaf, you are confronted with a sweeping vista of almost unbelievable beauty: monolithic peaks of smooth granite rise from the ocean bordering a city that seems to have been seamlessly poured into the heavenly bay. Visit early in the morning for the clearest views and a chance to beat the heavy crowds.

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