Best day trips from Rio de Janeiro

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The hilly landscape that surrounds it Rio de Janeiro is dotted with wild beaches, ancient sites and fascinating smaller-scale urban centers.

But the fact is that public transport outside the city is inefficient. Journeys to destinations that, on paper, seem potentially close – like the cobbled streets of Paraty or the island charms of Ilha Grande – could well take up most of the day, realistically requiring at least an overnight layover.

With that in mind, here are five amazing day trips from Rio de Janeiro — three achievable by public transport, plus two for those with their own set of wheels.

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1. Head to Ilha de Paquetá for an island getaway

Travel time: 1h10

Stroll in the sandy simplicity of peace Ilha de Paqueta, it can be hard to believe that just an hour or two ago you were in the center of Rio. This small island of fruit trees, pastel-hued buildings and golden sands is just an hour by ferry from Praça XV in the city center. The island is beautifully car-free and cycling is the most popular way to get around. easily hire one on the main street opposite the ferry terminal.

A short cycle from the ferry is Parque de Darke de Mattos, a leafy public park whose trails lead to viewpoints such as Mirante Boa Vista, from which you can gaze back at Sugarloaf Mountain. One Sunday a month, the streets erupt with samba, the rhythmic festivities continuing late into the night.

How to get to Ilha de Paquetá from Rio de Janeiro:

Ferries depart every 90 minutes from Praça XV (Quinze) de Novembro to Centro from around 7:00 am.

Prainha Beach is one of the most accessible coastal options from Rio © Getty Images / iStockphoto

2. Catch a wave in Prainha

Travel time: 1 hour

To the west of Rio, the unfolding coastline becomes wilder and increasingly isolated. Those with time on their hands have endless stretches of rustic coastline to explore, but if you’re looking to get out of Rio for a quick slice of tropical beach life, Prainha the beach is one of the most accessible options.

A wedge of white sand hugged by lush ascending vegetation, its dramatic backdrop is matched by very powerful waves. Prainha is a regular hangout for Rio’s more experienced surfers and its beauty is no secret – weekends and holidays see the cove fill with cariocas taking a break from the city. Large rock formations and strong currents mean that only the most confident swimmers are advised to venture beyond their depth; there are no lifeguards here. A scattering of rustic restaurants offer simple refreshment.

How to get to Prainha from Rio de Janeiro:

Take the orange “surf bus” which goes through Copacabana and Ipanema. or take a taxi. The beach is also accessible by bicycle.

3. Eat ultra-fresh seafood in Niterói

Travel time: 10 minutes

A 14 km long (8.7 miles) bridge connects Rio to its smaller sister city Niterói. Just 10 minutes by bus or 20 by ferry, it makes for an easy day trip.

The locally famous Mercado Sao Pedro fish market on Visconde do Rio Branco Avenue is a few blocks from the ferry dock and is frequented by many of Rio’s top chefs stocking up on menus. Upstairs, several small restaurants serve affordable seafood; for an agreed price, the chefs will also prepare the fish you have bought at the market.

Renting a bike is a nice option in Niterói, and a 15-minute bike ride from the market is the futuristic Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art. This museum looming flying saucer was designed by famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer; contemporary exhibits can be interesting, but opt ​​for the radical architecture and sweeping views of Guanabara Bay.

How to get to Niterói from Rio de Janeiro:

Take a bus from the Novo Rio bus station (Av Francisco Bicalho). The boats depart from the Praça XV ferry terminal.

Praca da Liberdade Square and St. Peter of Alcantara Cathedral in Petropolis - Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Known as the Imperial City, Petrópolis was designed by a German engineer and initially populated by German immigrants © Shutterstock / Diego Grandi

4. Explore Brazilian history in Petrópolis

Travel time: 1h10

Just over an hour’s drive north of Rio (traffic permitting), at a refreshing elevation of 838m (2,749ft), lies the city of Petropolis. Known as the Imperial City, Petrópolis is a majestic reminder of the days of the Brazilian Empire. Created under the direction of Emperor Dom Pedro II and designed by German engineer Júlio Frederico Koeler, the city was first populated by German immigrants.

The grand pink and white palace of Don Pedro now houses the Imperial Museum, where a collection of objects from its rule are exposed. For contrasting architecture from the era, take a tour around glass and iron Crystal Palace. Down the street is the oldest brewery in Brazil, Cervejaria Bohemia – pass for a tour of the brewery and a sip (plus a lemonade for the designated driver).

How to get to Petrópolis from Rio de Janeiro:

Take Elevado Professor Engenheiro Rufino de Almeida Pizarro in São Cristóvão from Av Pres. Vargas and follow the Via Expressa Pres highway. João Goulart/Linha Vermelha and BR-040 to Av Ayrton Senna to Petrópolis.

A surfer rides through the foamy waves of the Atlantic Ocean in Cabo Frio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazi
Cabo Frio has stunning beaches galore, each with its own personality © Getty Images / iStockphoto

5. Find your perfect beach in Cabo Frio

Travel time: 2h30

About 150 km (93 miles) to the east is the small coastal town of Cabo Frio – and, more importantly, its beaches. The intricately woven coastline means that stunning strands are plentiful, each with their own personality. Favorites include Praia do Forte and Praia das Conchas for their shiny blond sand and soft turquoise waters; surfers and other water sports enthusiasts flock to Praia do Peró and Praia das Dunas.

A short, shallow boat trip is Ilha do Japonês (Japanese Island), around which paddleboarders and kayakers glide over schools of colorful fish. For a longer road trip with a healthy dose of glitz, drive less than an hour further up the coast to the resort town of Buzios. This idyllic fishing village has been generously injected with cosmopolitan chic; you won’t want fancy cocktail parties and sunset dinners.

How to get to Cabo Frio from Rio de Janeiro:

Take Via Elevado da Perimetral to Caju from Túnel Rio 450 Anos and Via Binário do Porto. Follow BR-101, Via Lagos and RJ-140 to Rua Alex Novelino in Ville Blanche, Cabo Frio. Go straight on Rua Alex Novelino.

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