Here are five incredible day trips from Rio de Janeiro, three of which can be done by public transportation and two by car.
Rio de Janeiro’s undulating landscape is dotted with wilderness-backed beaches, ancient sites, and fascinating smaller-scale urban hubs.
But the truth is that public transportation outside of the city is inefficient. Trips to seemingly close destinations, such as the cobbled streets of Paraty or the island charms of Ilha Grande, could easily take the majority of the day, necessitating at least a night’s stopover.
1. Visit Ilha de Paquetá for an island getaway
1 hour and 10 minutes travel time
While strolling the sandy simplicity of peaceful Ilha de Paquetá, it can be difficult to believe you were only an hour or so ago in central Rio. This small island of fruit trees, pastel-colored buildings, and golden sand is only an hour’s ferry ride from the city center’s Praça XV. The island is gloriously car-free, and the most popular mode of transportation is by bike, which can be easily rented from the main street in front of the ferry terminal.
Parque de Darke de Mattos, a leafy public park with trails leading to viewpoints such as Mirante Boa Vista, from which you can see Sugarloaf Mountain, is a short bike ride from the ferry. The streets erupt with samba once a month, with the rhythmic festivities lasting well into the night. One visit to Ilha de Paqueta is one of best Rio de Janeiro Day Trips.
How to get from Rio de Janeiro to Ilha de Paquetá:
From around 7 a.m., ferries leave every 90 minutes from near Praça XV (Quinze) de Novembro in Centro.
2. Ride the waves at Prainha
1 hour travel time
As you travel west from Rio, the unfurling shoreline becomes wilder and more secluded. If you have the time, there are endless stretches of rustic coast to explore, but if you want to get out of Rio for a quick taste of tropical beachlife, Prainha beach is one of the more accessible options.
Its dramatic backdrop, a wedge of white sand hugged by lush ascending greenery, is matched by some seriously powerful waves. Prainha is a popular hangout for more experienced surfers in Rio, and its beauty is well known; on weekends and holidays, the cove fills with cariocas seeking a break from the city. Because of the large rock formations and strong currents, only the most confident swimmers should venture out of their depth; there are no lifeguards here. A smattering of rustic eateries serve simple fare.
How to get from Rio de Janeiro to Prainha:
Take the orange “surf bus” through Copacabana and Ipanema. or take a cab The beach is also reachable by bicycle.
3. Dine on super-fresh seafood in Niterói
Time to travel: 10 minutes
Rio and its little sister city Niterói are linked by a 14km (8.7 mile) bridge. It’s a quick day trip, taking only 10 minutes by bus or 20 minutes by ferry.
Many of Rio’s top chefs source their menus at the locally renowned fish market Mercado Sao Pedro on Av Visconde do Rio Branco, which is just a few blocks from the ferry dock. Several small restaurants upstairs serve affordable seafood; for an agreed-upon price, chefs here will also prepare fish purchased at the market.
Hiring a bike is a pleasant option in Niterói, and the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói is a 15-minute cycle from the market. The famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer designed this looming flying saucer of a museum; the contemporary exhibits are interesting, but go for the sweeping architecture and panoramic views of Guanabara Bay.
How to get from Rio de Janeiro to Niterói:
From the Novo Rio Bus Terminal, take a bus (Av Francisco Bicalho). The boats depart from the Praça XV ferry terminal.
4. Visit Petrópolis to learn about Brazilian history
1 hour and 10 minutes travel time
Petrópolis is located a little more than an hour’s drive north of Rio (traffic permitting) at a cool elevation of 838m (2749ft). Petrópolis, also known as the Imperial City, is a stately reminder of Brazil’s imperial days. The city was founded on the orders of Emperor Dom Pedro II and designed by German engineer Jlio Frederico Koeler. It was initially populated by German immigrants.
Don Pedro’s massive pink-and-white palace now houses the Museu Imperial, which houses a collection of objects from his reign. Take a walk around the glass-and-iron Palácio de Cristal for some period architecture. Cervejaria Bohemia, Brazil‘s oldest brewery, is just down the road; stop by for a brewery tour and a swig (plus a limonada for the designated driver).
How to get from Rio de Janeiro to Petrópolis:
Take the Elevado Professor Engenheiro Rufino de Almeida Pizarro in So Cristóvo from Av Pres. Vargas and continue on the expressway Via Expressa Pres. Joo Goulart/Linha Vermelha and BR-040 to Av Ayrton Senna in Petrópolis.
5. Discover your ideal beach in Cabo Frio
2 hours 30 minutes travel time
Cabo Frio, a small coastal city with beaches, is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) east. The intricately woven shoreline means that stunning strands abound, each with its own personality. Praia do Forte and Praia das Conchas are popular for their bright blonde sand and smooth turquoise waters, while Praia do Peró and Praia das Dunas are popular for surfing and other water sports.
Ilha do Japonês (Japanese Island) is a short and shallow boat ride away, where paddleboarders and kayakers glide over shoals of colorful fish. Go less than an hour up the coast to the resort of Bzios for a longer road trip with a heavy dose of glitz. This idyllic fishing village has been liberally infused with cosmopolitan chic; swanky cocktails and sunset dining are plentiful.
How to get from Rio de Janeiro to Cabo Frio:
From Tnel Rio 450 Anos and Via Binário do Porto, take Via Elevado da Perimetral in Caju. BR-101, Via Lagos, and RJ-140 will lead you to Rua Alex Novelino in Ville Blanche, Cabo Frio. Follow Rua Alex Novelino straight.