With six million people occupying an area of 1256 square kilometers (485 square miles), Rio is the second largest city in Brazil, after the megalopolis São Paulo. The many neighborhoods of Rio lie in three major zones: the Centro, Sur and Norte or Center, South, and North respectively. The affluent South has the famous beaches, Leblon and Ipanema while the Center contains the historic Santa Teresa and Lapa neighborhoods. The Northern zone contains more suburbs and this is most likely the first stop if traveling by plane since the Galeão airport is located here. The majority of tourist attractions and trendy shopping districts are concentrated in the Center and the South.
The city center is the financial and business district of Rio, however it also contains the most historic buildings in the city. Despite the modernity and skyscrapers, you can still see the National Monument to WWII Soldiers, the Municipal Theater, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern Art and the famous Sambódromo, where the Carnaval parades take place every year.
Santa Teresa & Glória
A quiet district set on a hillside, Santa Teresa is chosen by many artists as a location for their studios, and was also the hideaway of the infamous train robber Ronnie Biggs. It can be reached by car or tram, through the Lapa tramway, and has a few inexpensive restaurants and attractions like the Ruins Park, with one of the best views of the Bay, and the Museu Chácara do Céu. The adjoining district of Glória has one of the most charming churches in Rio, the 18th-century Baroque Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro.
Flamengo & Catete
Highly populated areas, and not too expensive to live in. The Republic Museum is in Catete, the Santos Dumont Airport is at the end of the Aterro do Flamengo, closer to the center.
Laranjeiras & Cosme Velho
Mostly residential, with lots of trees and green areas. These two districts are located between Flamengo, Corcovado and the Rebouças Tunnel. The Guanabara Palace, seat of the state government, is in Laranjeiras, while closer to the entrance of the tunnel, in Cosme Velho, lie the colonial-style houses of the Largo do Boticário and the station to take the train up Corcovado Mountain.
Both a residential and business district, Botafogo is the passage between the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and the Guanabara Bay. The main attractions are the Home of Rui Barbosa, a neo-classical museum, the Indian Museum and the Museu Villa-Lobos.
Strictly residential, quiet and secluded, Urca is one of the most pleasant districts in Rio, set between Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and the 17th century São João Fort. Fishermen are also part of the scenery here, and the district is also home to the Yacht Club.
Copacabana & Leblon
With a large population, high-rises and a world-famous beach, Copacabana, hosts not only the ultra-popular New Year's fireworks display (Réveillon as it is called here), but this is where Rio struts its beautiful self. The beach is always filled with an eclectic mix of people, from soccer players to models and families. In fact Copacabana Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world, alongside its beautiful sister, Leblon. Leblon and Copacabana (including the beautiful enclave of Arpoador) have some of the most eclectic nightlife in Rio, with strip clubs, bars, and elegant restaurants and hotels, such as the Copacabana Palace Hotel. To the west, visitors will find the poverty-stricken Rocinha Favela, however, the life and fervor in these areas is displayed with the culture of a people who embody the spirit of carioca.
The definitive trend-setter in Rio, with elegant shops, restaurants and bars; home of the famous song "Girl from Ipanema", and most say the birthplace of Bossa Nova. Go down Joana Angélica street for shops and diversion, or to Arpoador Beach where you can grab a "chope" (draft beer) and try your hand at surfing.
One of the most beautiful views in Rio, with good restaurants and bars, and a few food stalls. The lake shore is also a large public sports complex with a bicycle and jogging track, tennis courts and football fields and a skateboard and roller-skate bowl. There are also some private clubs and public parks where free open-air shows and concerts are frequently staged.
Gávea and Jardim Botânico
Very sought-after residential districts, with quiet streets and lots of greenery. Gávea is the home of the Planetarium and the Parque da Cidade (City Park) with its City History Museum. The magnificent Jardim Botânico neighborhood not only contains the Botanical Garden itself, but the entire area is a natural wonder, from the Floresta da Tijuca (the world's largest urban rain forest) to the beautiful Rodrigo de Freitas lake, one could literally spend their entire vacation here!
Ensconced below the Rocinha favela and between the wealthy districts of Leblon and Barra da Tijuca, São Conrado is also filled with very expensive flats, despite its location near one of the world's largest slums. São Conrado is also the spot to hang-glide, where daredevils take off from the Pedra da Gávea and land on the beach!
Barra da Tijuca & Recreio dos Bandeirantes
The Brazilian California, with wide avenues and large condos. Barra da Tijuca is the home of the Chico Mendes Park, a protected area for wild animals such as birds and alligators. The largest shopping center in Rio, Barrashopping, is in Barra, as well as the Riocentro Convention Center and the motor racing track, the Autódromo Nelson Piquet, located in the outskirts of Barra, close to Jacarepaguá. The beaches in Barra are the cleanest in Rio, and have areas for surfing and scuba diving.
Floresta da Tijuca
A tropical forest in the middle of Rio. With winding roads that go through the trees and overhang more than a thousand feet, this is where the most spectacular views of the city and the sea can be seen. Besides the awesome landscape, there are some places worth visiting, like the Emperor Table, the Chinese View and the Museu Açude.
North & Suburbs
A series of industrial and residential districts, much less expensive than the South, where the Maracanã Stadium, the Zoo, the Museu Nacional, the International Airport and the Penha Church are located.