If you have a passion for art and architecture head for downtown Rio. The best time to walk around is between April and November, before it gets too hot.
You can started at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (they usually have superb exhibitions there) and just walk to Paço Imperial, stopping along the way at Casa França Brasil and Espaço Cultural dos Correios. There are wonderful restaurants in the area, including the one at Casa França Brasil, the Bistrô Rosário, and Cais do Oriente, to name just a few. The Museu Nacional de Belas Artes reopened in 2011 after extensive renovations and is another top destination for art lovers.
The Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) with its Burle Marx gardens and the gorgeous Museu Histórico Nacional are not too far apart and can be probably combined in one day. The MHN hosts fantastic temporary exhibitions; we saw "The Human Body" and "Darwin" there.
Another great excursion is to catch the bondinho or tram that goes over the old acqueduct and up to Santa Teresa, what a thrill that is! Once there, walk around for the views and all the old homes. We went up there a few times over the years, but took the camera only twice...and regretted it. So many funky places to photograph!
Fantastic restaurants abound, too, such as Bar do Mineiro, Adega do Pimenta, Bar do Arnaudo, Aprazível, Asia, Sobrenatural (which incorporated junked tram parts into its walls), etc. You can visit a beautiful modernist home with gardens by Roberto Burle Marx, now the Museu Chácara do Céu and another historic home whose ruins (after a fire) were transformed into a park and cultural space called the Parque das Ruínas (see below), where you can relax with a wonderful espresso. Of course, at night, Santa is abuzz with music and tons of people sitting outside the bars. It's also home to boutique hotels owned by Europeans.
Don't forget to cross the bay to Niterói to visit the MAC. Isn't this view of the spaceship-like building by Niemeyer enticement enough? Plus, the views of the mountains of Rio are extremely dramatic and totally awesome!
Photo of MAC-Rio at night courtesy of carioca singer Robson Coccaro, who lives nearby.
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