Peter Orsel

24 Hours in Rio de Janeiro as a Photographer: This Is What You Should Do

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro taken with a drone.

Rio de Janeiro is an enormous city. Even though it’s not Brazils capital, it’s still the most famous city of the country and a bucket list destination for many people all over the world. It hosts one of the world wonders, Christ the Redeemer, and some of the most incredible city beaches in the world. This blog is created with the expectation that you arrive around 3pm and leave around 3pm as well, but if you’re arriving and leaving in the morning, the program should work as well! If you just have 24 hours in Rio de Janeiro and you want to take some incredible photos, this is what you should do.

In This Post

What to do when you arrive

You will probably arrive in one of the Rio de Janeiro airports (GIG or SDU) or the Novo Rio bus terminal. The best way to get to your accommodation is to take an Uber. This shouldn’t take too long and you can find the pick up spots at the airport from your app. Traffic can be terrible in Rio, but during my time in the city it never took me longer than 30 minutes to get from one place to the other.

Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro?

One thing that’s for sure, you need accommodation for the night. If you’re looking for a hostel, I highly recommend Discovery Hostel. This is a social hostel with an equipped kitchen, breakfast included and some nice showers. The beds are triple bunks, but have privacy curtains so you still have your private space while sleeping! When I walked in, I immediately felt like being at home and at night everyone is gathering together in their beautiful patio. The location can get a bit sketchy at night, that’s why the staff recommends to take the metro or an Uber to get back to the hostel. If you prefer staying in Copacabana, Selina Copacabana is a great option. I’m not the biggest fan of their brand, but this was the best Selina I’ve stayed in. Make sure you include the breakfast, as the view from the restaurant is simply amazing.

Seeing the sunset in Rio de Janeiro

Let’s say you arrive in the afternoon by plane or by bus. You can’t leave Rio without having seen a proper sunset, right? If you want to visit the best spot, you should head to the edge of Ipanema beach. Here you’ll find Pedra do Arpoador. A rock formation giving you magnificent views on the beach, the ocean and the Dois Irmãos mountain peaks.

My most used lens at this spot: Sony FE 70-200 F/4.

Alternative: If you’re keen on seeing the sunset from a higher viewpoint, head to Sugarloaf Mountain! You can get on this mountain by cable car and the views of both Rio and the ocean will be stunning. Unfortunately, I admired the Sugarloaf Mountain only from the ground, and I can only imagine how amazing the views must have been up there.

Dinner: Get a taste of Brazil

If you want to have a culinary experience as well, you should go for some local food. It doesn’t really matter where you get it, but make sure you get the taste of Brazil. The most traditional food is Feijoada, a stewed beans dish with pork or beef. If you’re not into beans, you can try a Churrascaria as well. The people here use a special preparation of meat and the taste of the meat is hard to beat. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there are a lot of great options in Rio as well. Whatever you have for dinner, make sure you get a brigadeiro as the finishing touch. It’s a small piece of chocolate, covered with sprinkles. Don’t underestimate the size, one will surely be enough! Of course you can always bring another for later… I might have done that, hehe. 

Waking up: Sunrise at Mirante Dona Marta

As I’m focusing towards people interested in photography, we wake up early for sunrise. Shooting sunrises is my favourite thing in photography, as it takes effort to get to your spot at a super early time of the day. The sun rises early in Rio de Janeiro. The earliest sunrises in December are at 5:00 am and the latest will be about 6:30am in June. The best place to see the sunrise in Rio de Janeiro is Mirante Dona Marta. You need an Uber to get there, but the views will be incredible. It takes about 20-30 minutes to get to the viewpoint, so make sure you order the Uber at least 45 minutes to an hour before the sun rises. Getting an Uber back can be hard sometimes, as the internet connection isn’t the best at this location.

I had the bad luck that there was an organised photoshoot going on, so it wasn’t too peaceful at the viewpoint. About 50 people gathered all around the small spot, all wearing their most beautiful clothes and make up. Instead of interrupting them, I decided to send my drone to get my shots. The best spot to do this is the helicopter platform of the viewpoint. If you’re brave enough, you can fly all the way to Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer. During the sunset it’s impossible to fly close to Cristo as there are helicopters hovering around all the time, but during sunrise you can!

My most used equipment at this spot: DJI Air 2S

After Sunrise: Breakfast at your accommodation

After sunrise, it’s time to head back to your accommodation to grab some breakfast. If you booked Selina Copacabana or Discovery Hostel, I highly recommend to use them for the breakfast, as they have both been amazing! It will give you some time to refuel your bodies for the last stops of the trip.

Real Gabinete Portugues Da Leitura, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Another sight: Visit one of the most beautiful public libraries in the world

The next stop for some amazing photos is the public library of Rio de Janeiro. It’s called Real Gabinete Portugues Da Leitura, literally translated: the royal Portuguese reading room. It’s opens at 10am and I recommend to be one of the firsts inside, to take some people without crowds in your shot! Somehow I managed to get my photos without people during the day, but it takes some patience. The public area consists just out of one room, but it will surely blow your mind. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen so many books stacked together and I was super happy with all the photos I got! Make sure you have a wide angle lens to capture the place as beautiful as possible.

Last stop: Take a coffee and a snack at Confeitaria Colombo

One of the most beautiful cafes in Rio de Janeiro must be Confeitaria Colombo. They have several locations, but as you’re coming from Real Gabinete Portugues Da Leitura, it’s best to stay close to it and visit the main location. This traditional coffee house opened first in 1894 and you will feel the vibes of more than a century ago. One of their specialties is the Pastéis de Belém and if you’ve ever tried them in Lisbon, you should try them here as well. I loved the different coffee blends they had and it’s the perfect stop after a busy morning! If you’re already fancing lunch or maybe a brunch, this is also the place to be.

If you prefer a beach view, Confeitaria Colombo has a Fort location as well. It’s close on the edge of Copacabana beach and gives a stunning view over the ocean and the beach. You have to pay an entrance fee to get into the fort, where the cafe is located. On Tuesdays the entrance is free.

Heading back to the airport or the bus terminal

After your well deserved break it’s time to your accommodation to grab your bags and head to your next destination. Whether you have to go to GIG, SDU or Novo Rio Bus Terminal, it’s best to take an Uber. You’ve seen some of the greatest spots of Rio in less than 24 hours and a lot of photos to look back on!

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