Rio de Janeiro Classic Architecture Walk (Self Guided), Rio de Janeiro

Rio is home to many places where you can feel the colonial times. Each of these exquisite buildings has its own architectural style, whether it be Colonial, Gothic or Neo-Classic and so on. Nowadays often home to cultural events, the classic buildings on this tour are a must-see for every visitor to Rio de Janeiro.
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Rio de Janeiro Classic Architecture Walk Map

Guide Name: Rio de Janeiro Classic Architecture Walk
Guide Location: Brazil » Rio de Janeiro (See other walking tours in Rio de Janeiro)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.8 Km or 4.2 Miles
Author: gene
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ilha Fiscal Castle
  • Casa França Brasil
  • Paço Imperial (Imperial Palace)
  • São Francisco da Penitência Church
  • Theatro Municipal
  • Biblioteca Nacional (National Library)
  • Arcos da Lapa
  • Santa Teresa
Ilha Fiscal Castle

1) Ilha Fiscal Castle (must see)

This green neo-gothic 19th-century castle, which sits on its own miniature island in the city, was the site of the Last Ball of the Monarchy held in 1889 by the last Emperor of Brazil, Pierre II (a painting in the inside room shows the jet set of that time). Nowadays, the castle forms part of the Cultural Complex of the Brazilian Navy in Rio de Janeiro and has a museum open to the public. Among its attractions, there are permanent and temporary exhibitions that reveal the history of the island and the Navy. You need to plan on around two hours for your visit.

Why You Should Visit:
The island commands an impressive view of the Bay, the Sugarloaf, the Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer on top, and the downtown area.
The fact you get there by boat, through the Guanabara Bay, makes the tour even more magical, because of the impressive scenery. A true win for all ages!

Purchase your ticket at the Museu Naval on the waterfront (a couple of blocks north of Praça XV), which is above average and well worth a visit in itself.
If you don't speak Portuguese, either a separate guide or a booklet to help will be provided at Ilha Fiscal (make sure to be around at the beginning of the visit so you get yours).
Casa França Brasil

2) Casa França Brasil

Built in 1820, the Casa França Brasil is the country's first neo-classical building. Today a French cultural center, it hosts visual arts, photography, print and sculpture exhibitions that reflect the cultural relationship between France and Brazil. It's made all the more attractive to visit by its lack of cover charge and its excellent on-site restaurant.
Paço Imperial (Imperial Palace)

3) Paço Imperial (Imperial Palace) (must see)

One of the oldest buildings in Rio, the Paço Imperial, or Imperial Palace, was built back in the 1700s as a residence for Brazil's viceroys. A cultural centre today, the palace hosts exhibitions and various special cultural events. There is also a visitors' café. Apart from the great cultural events, the palace itself is worth seeing as one of Rio's architectural treasures.

Why You Should Visit:
To explore the seeming contradiction between the super-old building and the decidedly contemporary array of exhibitions – very European!

From the small courtyard, where there is a fairly good "bistrô", take the stairwell to where there are some models showing what the local area looked like over time as well as a large, very modern exhibition area displaying modern art.

Opening Hours:
[Paço Imperial] Tue-Sun: 12-7pm; free admission
[Bistrô do Paço] Mon-Fri: 11am-7:30pm; Sat, Sun, Holidays: 12-7pm
[Arlequim Restaurant] Mon-Fri: 10am-8pm; Sat, Sun, Holidays: 10am-6pm
São Francisco da Penitência Church

4) São Francisco da Penitência Church (must see)

This baroque style church was built back in 1726. Besides its great spiritual heritage, it has marvelous ornaments and decorations, such as the jacaranda wood carved altar or the roof panel depicting St Francis receiving the stigmata. With advance booking, you can take a guided tour of the underground passages under the church which were in use up until 1850.

Why You Should Visit:
Overwhelming and beautiful, this church wows visitors with its elaborate architecture, magnificent statues, dazzling relics and impressive paintings.
What is more, the church exudes a rather serene feel, making it a perfect stop for anyone who needs a quick break.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-6pm; Sat: 8-11am
Theatro Municipal

5) Theatro Municipal (must see)

One of the most beautiful buildings in Rio, the Theatro Municipal is the country's main music hall and one of the most important such venues in all of South America. Opened on Bastille Day 1909, its design was inspired by the Paris Opera House. Its architectural style is mostly classic, although the profound decorations remind us of the baroque. There is much to admire with the exterior and interior of the building, to say nothing of the exquisite opera, ballet and classical music performances.

Why You Should Visit:
Quite overwhelming with every room, light fixture, mirror, carpet, furniture, window, set of stairs – pretty much everything – in its original version.
Often overlooked for more 'exciting' nightlife options available in the city, this theatre will take your breath away if you give it enough time.

Guided multilingual tours lasting 45 mins are offered Tue-Fri (12pm/2:30pm/4pm) and on Sat (11am/12pm/1pm/4pm). Call ahead to confirm availability of an English-speaking guide.
If you want to take the guided tour, try to get there at 10am sharp. Even if you want the 1pm tour, tickets get sold out pretty fast, since the place only supports up to 50 people.
If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a rehearsal during the tour – but if not, go for a performance! Whatever your acquired taste, the theatre will almost certainly cater to it.
Biblioteca Nacional (National Library)

6) Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) (must see)

The National Library holds the documentary heritage of Brazil and is considered to be the largest of its kind in South America. Constructed in 1910, the building is truly a masterpiece of the eclectic style, with an architecture that blends modern and neoclassical trends. Visit the Biblioteca Nacional and enjoy the guided tours on history, architecture and the works housed by the library.

Why You Should Visit:
The guided tour takes only 30-40 mins and allows to visit rooms that aren't normally open to the public, giving a good idea of what the Library does besides storing/restoring books and documents. Most of the original furniture came from the UK as well as some of the ironwork. The only drawback is that you can't actually go inside many of the rooms – just look in from the outside.

You can go here before or after the Santa Teresa area (a MUST go if you visit Rio).

Opening Hours:
[Library] Mon-Fri: 9am-7pm; Sat: 10:30am-3pm
[Reading Rooms] Mon-Fri: 10am-6pm
Free admission

Free Guided Tours:
Mon-Fri: 2pm (English/Spanish)
Visitors are required to show a document with photo (original or photocopy), at the guided visit reception, located in the Main Hall.
Arcos da Lapa

7) Arcos da Lapa (must see)

Come find the true Rio at Arcos da Lapa, also called Aqueduto da Carioca. Built in 1750, it first served as a means to carry water from a nearby river. Its 42 arcs are stretched to serve Rio's oldest tram line, which connects the Santa Theresa area with downtown. The ancient Roman style is wonderfully complemented by new architecture, with many restaurants, bars, and dance clubs in the area. Lapa is truly worth the visit whether you are looking for historic sights or just want to experience Rio's nightlife.

Why You Should Visit:
This is the place to go at night on the weekends! Lots of fun, lots and lots of performers, dancers, vendors and bars, and a great atmosphere. Worth checking out at least once.

There are some great happening bars with amazing local music; check out specific days to catch attractions like Samba nights.
Also make sure you visit the Escadaria Selarón ('Selaron Steps'), which are very pretty and just a 10-minute walk away.
Santa Teresa

8) Santa Teresa (must see)

The Santa Teresa neighborhood is like a town of its own inside historic Rio. The district occupies a hill in the heart of the city and opens to a magnificent view over Rio. For decades it has preserved its old architecture from colonial Portugal and retains a bit of history on every corner.

The neighborhood came to be around the Santa Teresa Convent, built in the 1750s, on the Desterro hill. At the end of the 19th century, it became an area for the upper class, covered by its numerous mansions, many of which are still standing on the hill. Its narrow, winding streets are also home to the old trams – the only ones still running in Brazil, which give the neighborhood an added peculiar attraction.

Why You Should Visit:
Ideal if you're looking for a village-feel experience! Historic mansions and street art are the highlight but you will also find good restaurants, a few cafés, and crafts shops.

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