Rio de Janeiro

Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Snapshot: Rio is a place of contradictions, as the city's poorest neighbourhoods are located side by side with its wealthiest. Against the backdrop of a beautiful natural setting, the grand ambition of the 2016 Olympics clashes with a chaotic day-to-day infrastructure and congested traffic. The beaches, tourist attractions and nightlife make Rio the New York of Brazil, at least in terms of urban energy. At the same time, as in many big Brazilian cities, crime and urban violence are often high, and though mostly concentrated in the favelas and periferia, can spill over into more affluent neighbourhoods.

Getting there: The Maracana is a well-connected, if not central, stadium that is accessible by metro, train, bus or taxi. Rio's traffic can be heavy, so if travelling by road, leave plenty of time -- taking the metro or train to the stations that are both conveniently named "Maracana" makes sense.

Where/what to eat: About a 15-minute walk from the stadium is Na Brasa Columbia, on the corner of Rua Haddock Lobo and Rua Afonso Pena, where you can drink beer and devour their succulent spit-roasted chicken.

Away from the stadium, be sure to try one of the city's famous Churrascarias (barbecue restaurants), such as Porcao -- which has various locations -- where meat lovers will be well catered for.

For a little bit of history, visit Cafe Lamas (Marques de Abrantes, 18), which has been open since 1874, or the more expensive Porcao Rio's in Flamengo (Av. Infante Dom Henrique s/n | Aterro do Flamengo).

Where/what to drink: The central neighbourhood of Lapa is a warren of bars, clubs and restaurants. Carioca da Gema (Av Mem de Sa 79) offers live music, while Rio Scenarium (Rua do Lavradio, 20) and Casa Rosa (Laranjeiras | Rua Alice, 550), among many others, also offer an atmosphere that may tempt even the shyest tourists out of their chairs and onto the dance floor.

If you're in Leblon, Jobi (Avenida Ataufo de Paiva, 1166) is a diminutive boteco (Brazilian bar) that serves draught beer, which can be complemented by their excellent cod balls (bolinhos de bacalhau).

Where to stay: Copacabana will lure many in, despite the neighbourhood having a reputation for being deteriorated and not particularly safe at night, meaning travel by taxi is advised. There are better options to be found elsewhere, including the neighbourhoods of Ipanema and Leblon which are calmer than Copacabana and less touristy (although no less expensive), while their counterparts like Gavea and Jardim Botanico are also easily accessible.

Area trivia: Legendary duo Zico and Romario were both born in Rio, although the pair have not always seen eye-to-eye. They fell out in 1998, when it was alleged that Zico influenced manager Mario Zagallo to leave Romario out of the World Cup squad. It's said they have since buried the hatchet.

Speaking of Romario, he has a restaurant called Cafe do Gol, where the doors of the men's toilets are decorated with caricatures of Zico and Zagallo.

Sightseeing: Christ the Redeemer, while very much an obvious attraction, is a must-see ($20 per adult). The views from Corcovado mountain over the city below are stunning -- it is advised you head there before midday to avoid the crowds. Tickets can be booked online. Sugar Loaf mountain, accessed via a cable car, is a little more expensive ($23 per adult), but, like the former, comes highly recommended. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket office -- expect queues.

The popular Copacabana is best avoided at night. If you are travelling in the area after sunset then a taxi ride is advised. Rio's beaches have their positives and negatives, with your time spent lounging on a deckchair admiring footvolley specialists interrupted by hawkers. Keep an eye on your personal belongings no matter how relaxed you become.

For those with a little more time on their hands, there are a wealth of historic towns within a day's travel of Rio itself. Paraty, a coastal town accessible by bus, was once a key port for Brazil's gold industry in the 17th and 18th centuries. Inland, Petropolis -- which, like Paraty, is considered a largely safe place to visit -- was once the sometime home of Brazilian emperors and is home to the Imperial Museum of Brazil.

Maracana Stadium opened: 1950

Matches to be played at Maracana: Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina (June 15), Spain vs. Chile (June 18), Belgium vs. Russia (June 22), Ecuador vs. France (June 25). The stadium will also host the final.

Capacity: 75,117

Cost to build: Reportedly 1 billion reals (00 million; 322 million pounds)

Stadium history: Built for the 1950 World Cup, the Maracana -- infamously, so far as the home nation is concerned -- hosted Brazil's 2-1 defeat to South American rivals Uruguay in the final. The stadium -- which during less regulated times was said to reach capacities of more than 200,000 -- was also the venue for Pele's 1,000th career goal, for Santos against Vasco in 1969.

Stadium trivia: The famous stadium has undergone a substantial refurbishment, with all of the seats replaced and a new roof constructed -- although the changes have been met with a mixed reception from those who savoured its predecessor's history. The first game played at the newly developed Maracana, despite the ground not being fully completed, was a 2-2 draw between Brazil and England in June 2013. Regarding one of the venue's "assets," for those not afraid of heights, FIFA boasts: "Visitors to the stadium could watch work unfold from the Torre de Vidro [Glass Tower]."

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