Rio de Janeiro is home to more than its fair share of scene-stealing sights – from Christ the Redeemer on his mountain-top perch to the peak of Sugar Loaf and, of course, the beautiful beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
But while visitors to Rio de Janeiro would be foolish to miss out on these “must-see” attractions, it is also well worth taking the time to seek out some of the city’s less celebrated spots. You won’t have to venture too far off the tourist trail to discover Rio’s alternative tourist attractions, either. Jump on board a bus or Metro from the hotel hotspots of Copacabana and Ipanema, and you can soon be exploring the kooky, slightly down-at-heel charms of Lapa, the historic centre of the city as well as the heart of Rio’s nightlife action.
Take a stroll down Rua do Lavradio to see some of the finest examples of colonial architecture to be found anywhere in the city, stopping off at one of the many pavement cafes for an icy cold beer or a refreshing fruit juice. If you’re lucky enough to be in Rio on the first Saturday of any month, you’ll catch the famous ‘Feira do Rio Antigo’, a lively street market that brings together antiques and collectables, vintage fashion and modern jewelry and trinkets for the home.
Rua do Lavradio has been given a major makeover in recent years, and the surrounding area is becoming increasingly gentrified too, but many of Lapa’s historic buildings continue to crumble, and parts of this most notorious of districts remain a favoured haunt of petty thieves, so do take care when picking your way through the area’s many offbeat attractions.
Don’t dawdle on your way, but do make a point of visiting the iconic Arcos da Lapa, or Lapa Arches as they are often known. This vast one-time aqueduct now sees Rio de Janeiro’s last remaining streetcar rattle across on its way up to the pretty hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, and has recently been given a much-needed lick of paint that has transformed it from dull grey to gleaming white.
Nearby, the Escadaria do Selaron, or ‘Lapa Steps’, are a postcard image of Bohemian Rio. Famously featured in the video of Snoop Dogg and Pharell’s hip-hop classic Beautiful, this colourful stairway has also hosted countless fashion shoots and really does make for a terrific photo opportunity.
The long, steep stairway links Lapa with Santa Teresa, and is an ongoing labour of love by offbeat Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who began his ‘tribute to the Brazilian people’ in 1990. Since then, he has painstakingly covered the stairs in ceramic tiles from across the globe, along with his own eye-catching artworks. The artist himself, instantly recognisable due to his long, curled moustache and trademark red clothes, can usually be found at work on the steps, and is generally happy to post for pictures (he’s also happy to accept interesting tiles which can be added to his ever-evolving masterpiece).
Do be careful in the area around the steps – keep cameras hidden when not being used, and don’t head here after dark. If in doubt, go in a group as part of an organised tour, but don’t miss out on this most kooky of Rio de Janeiro attractions.