Rio De Janeiro can be a starkly different and unique experience, based on which part of the city you choose to stay in, and how.
From my personal experience of exploring the capital of Samba for over 2 months, here are my top picks in each zone and stay category.
Centro / Lapa
This is the heart of the city, the Connaught Place and the Nariman Point of Rio De Janeiro. A great mix of local life and historical and touristy sites like the Aquaduct, Selaron Stairs, Metropolitan Cathedral and the heritage tramway, this region transforms into the most pulsating nightlife destination of the city on weekends.
Great if you’re a partier, avoidable on weekends if you appreciate a good night’s sleep over nightlife.
Hostel: Selina Lapa Hotel: Selina Lapa
Seriously, don’t look beyond this amazing place. Whether you’re looking for a social vibe or a chilled out private room in the heart of the city, Selina is the best place to stay bang in the heart of the center of the city. The private rooms at the rear are best on weekends since they are quieter, while i’d highly recommend staying in the heritage front building on weekdays for its charming boho vibe with great views of the Carioca aquaduct and the heritage tramway.
Whether it is the artsy bohemian vibe or the architecture that transports you back to a bygone era, Santa Teresa is perhaps the most charming neighborhood in Rio De Janeiro. Although it’s not the yuppie tourist’s favorite, it would make for the perfectly idyllic base for young couples, families and solo travellers who prefer a laid back, relaxed vibe.
Hostel: Terra Brasilis Hostel Hotel: Sant’Martre / Casa Marques Santa Teresa
Similar to Santa Teresa, the Lagoa region is also an underrated, yet beautiful neighborhood that’s located around the Lagoa (lake) Rodrigo De Freitas. Stay here if you prefer to stay a bit away from the touristy crowds, yet central enough to be able to hop to pretty much any area in the city in the quickest time. Mornings and evenings by the lakeside are a delight for walkers, runners and bikers… or even a SUP / paddle boat ride.
Hostel: The Hostel Rio De Janeiro / Gávea BNB Hotel: Pouso Verde / Best View Lagoa
Since the past 5 years, Botafogo has become my preferred choice because of its almost perfect location and local vibe. Along with a host of options for hostellers, Botafogo also has some lovely B&Bs, hotels and guesthouses for all budgets and preferences.
Best for folks in their late 20s / 30s and beyond.
Hostel: Injoy Hostel / Gaia / Do Samba / Hospedaria Rio Hotel: Ibis Botafogo / Ibis Styles / Ibis Budget / Novotel RJ Praia de Botafogo
Definitely the first name that anyone would think of, whenever you think of Rio De Janeiro, Copacabana is definitely the most popular beach in the city. Albeit touristy, it would make for a great hub for anyone who wants to be in the heart of the action in Rio.
Hostel: Solar Hostel Beach Copacabana / Walk On The Beach Hotel: Ibis Budget Copacabana / Windsor Leme / Arena Leme
The home of bossa nova, perfect bronzed bodies and chic boutique stores, restaurants and bars – Ipanema is the avant garde, posh cousin of Copacabana.
Best for: Fashionistas and folks who love to be seen / mingle with the creme de la creme.
Hostel: Lemon Spirit / Che Lagarto Ipanema Hotel: Arena Ipanema
Barra Da Tijuca
Think of Barra as the Vashi / New Mumbai / Greater Noida of Rio De Janeiro. With huge American-style promenades, skyscrapers and urban planning, Barra feels more American than Brazilian. Besides some great beaches and the Olympic Village, i’d personally avoid staying here – especially on the first visit, since it won’t be the best sampling of the city’s soul. Ideal for business travellers and sports tourism only (or budget stays, as long as you’re ok commuting to and from the city center).
Hostel: Ref House / Pousada Hygge Barra Hotel: Ibis Rio De Janeiro / Grand Hyatt / Radisson Rio De Janeiro
Leblon / Vidigal
Hotel: Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Vidigal was my personal favorite neighborhood back in 2008-2009 where i stayed just behind the Sheraton for an entire month. Although the B&B there is gone, i’d highly recommend staying at the Sheraton (or in the Vidigal region) for a dual advantage – exclusive beach views along with a nearly private beach (Vidigal) and walking distance to the most fancy beaches of Rio De Janeiro – Leblon & Ipanema.
There you have it – my roundup of the best places to stay in Rio De Janeiro, based on the nuances of its different zones and stay types. Do let me know if you have any specific questions and i’ll be happy to help you make the most of your stay in Sambaland!
Leading an experimental life as a digital nomad, I started traveling in 2007 while choosing to shuttle between Goa and Mumbai as 'home'. An epic life-changing trip to South America an year later gave birth to this blog, Exotic Gringo.