When I travel, by the time I need to choose where to stay, my main criteria is always the location and of course the value for money. So I had to write this post here about the neighborhoods in Rio and my opinion about them, in order to help you on this very important choice. I’ve lived in 7 different neighborhoods in Rio during my life, so I know the weaknesses and strengths of many of them. The post is a bit long, but it has valuable information!
First, let’s look at the city map and I’ll explain a few things.
The city is basically divided into South Zone, Downtown, Zona Norte, Zona Oeste and Baixada Fluminense.
South Zone – the region where the largest number of tourist points are concentrated, such as beaches, waterfalls, Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, etc. It includes the neighborhoods: Leme, Copacabana, Arpoador, Ipanema, Leblon, Gávea, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden), Humaitá, Botafogo, Urca, Flamengo, Catete, Laranjeiras, Cosme Velho, Santa Teresa and Glória.
Downtown – by day, it is the place where most of the locals work, with great skyscrapers and much movement. It has many points of interest, mainly historical and cultural: churches, museums, cultural centers and historical sites. But at night and on the weekends, it is very deserted and not the best place to stay. The famous neighborhood of Lapa is also within this region, as well as Santo Cristo, Gamboa, Saúde, etc.
North Zone – The North Zone is huge and has several neighborhoods. One of the biggest and best known is the Tijuca, which has several subway stations and is close to the Maracanã Stadium. But the Tijuca is not a very touristy neighborhood, so it does not have much structure to that question. I do not think it’s worth much, unless, of course, it’s a friend’s house, Couchsurfing or a very good offer on Airbnb. But still, the ideal is to be at least close to some subway station in the neighborhood (Afonso Pena, Saens Peña or Uruguay).
West Zone – There are many beautiful beaches, such as Joatinga, Grumari, and Recreio, but the tourist structure is still lacking. Now with the subway line 4, transportation has become much easier. But, unless your intention is to do a surf trip or ecotourism, I recommend staying in the South Zone.
Baixada Fluminense – is composed of other cities, in fact. But I’ve decided to warn you that, just in case!
OK, Zona Sul is the best option. But which neighborhood should I choose?
Botafogo – Botafogo has a subway station, is close to the main sights, has several bucolic streets and a lively and fun nightlife. It is considered the “hipster” neighborhood of Rio, also called Botasoho. The neighborhood is in full development, with more and more options for lodging and entertainment. Oh, and Humaitá is right next to it, but it’s not so close to the subway.
Copacabana – a classic, the most famous Rio neighborhood in the world.
Pros: it has several subway stations (Cardeal Arcoverde, Siqueira Campos, Cantagalo and exit D of General Osório), is close to many tourist attractions and has an overall good structure, such as currency exchange, souvenirs and places to eat.
Cons: because it is very touristy, it is more difficult to have a local perspective of the city. Also, on weekends it gets very chaotic. In spite of being the most pleasant point of the neighborhood, I would avoid staying at Leme, the first area of the beach, because there is no subway nearby and there are very few bus lines.
Ipanema – famous neighborhood that has grown more and more in tourist terms. Between Copacabana and Ipanema, I would choose to stay in Ipanema. The beach is better, and the neighborhood is more organized. The downside is that things are more expensive, and there is less service structure.
Leblon – the following neighborhood next to Ipanema, which now has subway (Antero de Quental station), making it much easier to get around. It is also a beach area, but its the most upscale (and expensive) neighborhood in Rio. So this reflects on all prices, from the water you buy to the price of hostels and hotels. But if you decide to stay there, one hostel that I could easily recommend in Leblon is Lemon Spirit Hostel, one block away from the beach. I’ve been there twice for meetings related to my another job as a writer, and everyone was really nice. The structure is really good, as well as the atmosphere.
Santa Teresa – it does not lack any charm, but it does in convenience. I’m struggling to write this, because I lived there for a few years and studied for over 10 years. I would love it to be different, but Santa Teresa has a very serious issue: transportation. There are very few bus lines, which connects the neighborhood practically only to Centro and Largo do Machado, and that usually do not work until late. If you go out at night, going back is difficult until you get a taxi/Uber willing to take you there If you plan on renting a car, it’s better but still… The neighborhood does not have: banks (only one 24/7 ATM), gas stations, only one supermarket… Want my advice? Make sure that you include a day in the neighborhood in your route, as I suggest in this post, but I honestly don’t think it’s worth staying there.
Lapa – Lapa has some good lodging options, but at night, on working days, it can get a bit deserted and slightly dangerous. It is where the best party hostel in the city is located, Books Hostel. So if you are looking for this kind of things, it might be a good place!
Glória – Glória is a neighborhood that I particularly like and is not very touristy, where you can get a more local view of the city, if that is your intention. It has a metro station and in 20 minutes you arrive at the beach. A super-rated hostel in the neighborhood (impressive 9.6 in Hostelworld) is the Discovery Hostel.
Laranjeiras – the neighborhood itself is a charm. Well wooded, not very touristy, although really close to Cosme Velho, where the station to climb to Corcovado (Christ Redeemer) is located. The downside is that there is no subway, there are few bus lines and the traffic is usually heavy. Some points of the neighborhood, however, are close to Largo do Machado or Flamengo subway station. In those cases, I think it may be a good choice.
Lagoa, Gávea, Jardim Botânico – all these are noble districts of the South Zone, also well wooded and pleasant. But they are not practical for tourists. There is no subway and traffic jam is also heavy.
There is no better neighborhood, but the one that best suits your needs. So this will depend on your travel style, budget, etc. My intention with this post was to give my opinion as a resident of Rio to help you choose. Any further questions, you can ask in the comments or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attention: this post contains affiliates links. You do not pay anything more for this and the blog earns a commission to continue! And I could win the same commission indicating any hostel on the platform. The ones I suggest here is because I truly believe that are good choices!