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Cidade maravilhosa, Rio de Janeiro

Nalynn Dolan Caine |
The city famous for 'Big Guy', Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf, Copacabana and Ipanema, attractions that scarcely need an introduction, is also a place where you can enjoy the ride on the oldest operating electric tramway in the world, and admire breath-taking views of the city famous landmarks from the longest bridge in the southern hemisphere.

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With its white sandy beaches, stunning colonial churches, soaring mountains, picturesque harbor and some of the best sights by land and sea, Rio de Janeiro is on the radar of many travelers. Known as the "cidade maravilhosa" or marvelous city, Rio is also famous for its favelas that border the city's toniest areas and beaches and vary greatly in size. Some of these "towns" are so large that they have its own cable television, banks, medicine stores, schools and even a bus transportation system with Vidigal being the most popular among tourists and Rocinha the largest.

The moment you touch the ground you will find yourself in North Zone where the Galeao International Airport is situated. This area is home to the iconic Maracana stadium, many bars and restaurants and the samba schools of Rio de Janeiro. The most popular samba school in the country comes from favelas of Rio. Mangueira and Salgueiro are the largest and the most well-known schools in Rio and since they welcome visitors to their practice halls all year round a chance is that you will visit this area more than once or twice.

A pedestrians-only lively cobblestone street in downtown Rio de Janeiro with its small shops and upscale shopping alike, its bars and cozy eateries make this area like a huge colorful playground. Here you will find the largest assortment of the city's notable churches, museums, squares, and Passeio Público, the 18th century public garden. Search the area further to see imposing arches of the Carioca Aqueduct built in the middle of the 18th century to solve the problem of water shortage in the city.

And after you found it, there you are, in Lapa, also known as "Montmartre of the Tropics", a funky little neighborhood famous for some lovely old colonial buildings, its many restaurants, bars, clubs and great party nightlife. Everybody loves Lapa! Artists and politicians equally. It is the cultural heart of Rio, ground zero for street culture movements and a set of world-famous "Selaron Steps", city's most distinctive landmarks and a great picture spot. Stroll the popular neighborhood to absorb its bohemian ambience and admire the architecture of the old Rio.

If you like Lapa, you would like Santa Teresa too, by far the city's most colorful area nestled in the hills of central Rio with some terrific views over the city thanks to its lofty location. It is best known for its numerous galleries, art studios and some of the best restaurants in Rio. Trolley tracks run through its cobblestone streets with a number of sights, a great way to get the inside of this lovely neighborhood and see its beautiful Art Deco buildings. For more Art Deco don't miss Flamengo neighborhood next to downtown Rio that houses Flamengo Park, the largest city park in the country.

Rio has a number of forts and fortresses all around and more than 74km (46 miles) of bicycle pathways, most stretching alongside the beaches. Oh yes, beaches! For many years Copacabana was inhabited only by fishermen. Today it hosts one of the world most spectacular New Year's Eve parties, glamorous Copacabana Palace Hotel and afternoon football tournaments. People watching at its best! Visiting the beaches in Copacabana, along the iconic Ipanema/Leblon seafront is fun in part because of sidewalks of mosaic pavement and kiosks selling coconut water, caipirinhas, a national cocktail, and snacks.

For more hedonism there is Leblon, the most upscale neighborhood and Lagoa, the third-most expensive neighborhood in all of South America. If you are planning to shop, then Shopping Leblon with more than 200 stores is one of the best malls in the city. Or, visit Botafogo. Two of the largest shopping malls Rio Sul and Botafogo Praia Shopping are located there. There you will also find some great museums, more than 20 movie rooms, bars, restaurants and whatnot. Keep in mind that Rio is one of the largest Catholic communities so most stores are closed on Sunday.

To escape the busyness of Rio, visit tropical Tijuca Forest or Jardim Botanico, one of the greatest tropical botanical gardens and arboretums of the world and its spectacular Avenue of Royal Palms, a 750m line of 134 palms leading from the entrance into the gardens. Before you go home take pictures of the "Big Guy", Rio's dazzling landscape and one of the highest, tallest, longest and oldest bridges in the world, Rio Niteroi Bridge.

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