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. I would love to get local insights about my options, so this is my contribution as a Rio’s resident and local expert. You will read about the neighborhoods in Rio, considering that I’ve lived in 7 different ones throughout my life.
Yep, the post is a bit long, but you will find valuable information!
The city is basically divided into South Zone, Downtown, Zona Norte, Zona Oeste and Baixada Fluminense.
South Zone – the region where most of touristic spots are concentrated, such as beaches, waterfalls, Sugar Loaf, Christ 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. Alternative nightlife usually takes place in there! In spite of that, it is way better to stay in South Zone and go to Downtown when needed.
North Zone – The North Zone is huge with several neighborhoods. One of the biggest and best known is the Tijuca, with many subway stations and close to the Maracanã Stadium. However, Tijuca is not a very touristy neighborhood, so you won’t find a good structure on this matter. I current live there, btw, but personally, I don’t think it’s worth staying there, unless it’s a friend’s house, Couchsurfing or a very cheap offer on Airbnb. But still, the ideal is to be at least close to any of the subway stations (Afonso Pena, Saens Peña or Uruguai).
West Zone – There are many beautiful beaches, such as Joatinga, Grumari, and Recreio, but it still lacks tourist structure as well. Now with the line 4 of the subway, transportation has become much easier. However, unless your intention is to do a surf trip or ecotourism, I’d recommend staying in the South Zone.
Baixada Fluminense – Actually, this is an area composed of other cities nearby Rio. But I’ve decided to warn you that, just in case!
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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 increasing options for lodging and entertainment. Oh, and Humaitá is right next to it, but it’s not so close to the subway.
Hospedaria Rio seems a really good option in Botafogo!
Copacabana – the most famous Rio’s neighborhood around the world.
Pros: there are 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 can be difficult to get a local perspective of the city. Also, on weekends it may get a bit chaotic. I would avoid staying at Leme, the first part of the beach. In spite of being the most pleasant point of the neighborhood, there is no subway nearby and there are few bus lines.
Ipanema – famous neighborhood that have been growing in tourist terms. Between Copacabana and Ipanema, I would definitely 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 – right next to Ipanema, with its own subway station (Antero de Quental), making it easy to get around. It is also a beach area, but be aware that its the most upscale (and expensive) neighborhood in Rio. This reflects directly on the prices, from the water you buy to hostels and hotels. If you decide to stay in Leblon, a hostel that I could easily recommend 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 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. I would love it to be different, but Santa Teresa has a very serious issue: transportation. There are very few bus lines, which only connects the neighborhood to Centro and Largo do Machado, and that usually do not run until late. If you go out at night, going back is difficult until you get a taxi/Uber willing to take you there. The neighborhood does not have banks (only one 24/7 ATM), gas stations, and only one supermarket…
Want my advice? Make sure 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 experience, it might be a good place!
Glória – Glória is a neighborhood that I particularly enjoy as it’s not very touristy, so you can get a more local perspective of Rio. There is a metro station there, which means in less than 20 minutes you arrive at the beach. A super-rated hostel in the neighborhood (impressive 9.6 in Hostelworld) is Discovery Hostel.
Laranjeiras – the neighborhood itself is charming. 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, only a few bus lines and the traffic is usually heavy. Some parts of the neighborhood, however, are close to Largo do Machado or Flamengo subway station. In those cases, I think it might be a good choice.
Lagoa, Gávea, Jardim Botânico – all these are noble districts of the South Zone, also well wooded and pleasant. There is no subway and traffic is often heavy. Also, since it’s not practical for tourists, there are not many lodging options other than Airbnb’s.
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.
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