Photographer: Cultura Travel/JAG IMAGES/Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive

The Three-Minute Travel Guide to Rio de Janeiro

Whether or not you will be in town for the Olympics, here are the essential details for this global capital of fun.

Rio de Janiero, the most visited city in South America, is happily known for its year-round beaches, spectacular views and infectious samba music. What Brazil's original capital—and cultural heartland—is not famous for, however, is its food.

People gather at the opening day of the Museum of Tomorrow, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, in 2015.
People gather at the opening day of the Museum of Tomorrow, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, in 2015.
Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rio's appeal has condemned it to being a city whose restaurants tend to have a resort mentality, and that's rarely a good thing. Still, there are good meals to be had if you know where to look. Start with lunch: The city is a major business hub, so Rio's old downtown, where the banking and shipping businesses congregate, is the best place to get authentic Brazilian food. Just follow the suits. In Leblon, Rio's most affluent beachside neighborhood, the midday meal provides the best chance to taste local ingredients like cassava and fresh fruit paired with sweet and savory fish or pork.

At night, head to the rapidly gentrifying Ipanema Beach looking past Leblon toward Pedra da Gavea area of Botafogo or up into the hills of artsy Santa Teresa. Just remember, Cariocas lunch heavy because they are out late. Tourists get the 7:30 p.m. reservation. If you adjust to the vibe, you'll be eating dinner at 10 p.m. and still partying after midnight.

Top Restaurants:

CT Boucherie: France's Troisgros family has blended into Brazil. Their bistro is beef heavy but with hints of the tropics.

Lasai: Chic modernist take on Brazilian indigenous foods like cassava and fruits without going crazy. Number 1 for foodies.

Roberta Sudbrack: Rio's top chef rocks it at her eponymous spot in Lagoa, though I prefer her now permanent SudTruck.

Bar Do Mineiro.
Bar Do Mineiro.
Source: Bar Do Mineiro

Bar do Mineiro: Simple, serious, funky and the best feijoada, a stew of beans with beef and pork. Artists appear around 2 a.m.

Antiquarius: Rio's most famous, most expensive, most traditional Portuguese. It's a solid safe bet.

Nova Capela: Superb Portuguese across the street from Carioca da Gema, the best place for live samba. Do as a pair.

Sushi Leblon: If you want to see the Rio scene and get good sushi, this is the place. Like Nobu and Sushisamba in one.

La Bicyclette: In the stunning botanical gardens, this is a great place for a late breakfast or very long lunch.

Insider Tips

Getting Around: Taxis are plentiful; just be sure to write down the exact address unless your Portuguese is fluent. Uber or local taxi app 99Taxi are best for getting familiar with areas that seem daunting like Santa Teresa (and they wait for you.)

A dish served at Lasai.
A dish served at Lasai.
Photographer: Tomas Rangel

Safety: While security has been beefed up ahead of the Olympic Games, this is still a city where you want to keep a watchful eye. Just like you would in any resort area, if you bring it to the beach, be prepared to lose it.

Beaches: Copacabana or Ipanema? The former is more classic, urban and puts you closer to the old city, while the latter is closer to residential area of Leblon and more Miami-like. Further afield and less urban are Joatinga and Prainha. And if you really want to feel like a local, skip all those and head to the miles of beaches on Barra da Tijuca, which feels like Florida's east coast.

Museums: It's worth going to the key museums because they'll pull you toward Rio's historical center and remind you Brazil didn't start on a beach. Santiago Calatrava's brand new Museu do Amanha at the foot of the harbor is worth seeing if you can avoid the lines. Better to go to the Museu de Artes next door and see it and the reshaped downtown from Maua, the restaurant on top. The Museu de Arte Moderna is a splendid brutalist structure that is a mecca for its Roberto Burle Marx gardens. The restaurant at MaM, Laguiole, is also top notch. The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil collection is also worth a visit.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 edition of Reserve, a Bloomberg Brief publication.

Copacabana Beach.
Copacabana Beach.
Photographer: Peter Elliot/Bloomberg
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