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As a direct budget flight from London launches this week, our Brazil correspondent picks out favela feasts, samba sessions and seaside cycle rides to savour

Seaside cycling

When Rio introduced a bicycle hire scheme (sponsored by Banco Ita), the bikes were constantly broken and the system frequently froze. It works much better now, with three-gear bikes available across the city with payment plans as cheap as 3 for three days. Seaside cycle paths lead from the Marina da Glria through the leafy Aterro do Flamengo park, with its joggers, families, picnics, rope walks and samba rehearsals, all the way to Urca, the Sugarloaf and Copacabana beach. From there, the beachfront lane goes on to Ipanema and Leblon. And, on Sundays, half of Rios waterfront highway is closed to traffic, making the distinctive orange bikes a quintessentially carioca way to reach the beach. You may need help to register on the Portuguese-only site.

Sidewalk fish bars

Beer and a bite at Bar do Peixe

Cariocas, as Rios laconic, sociable residents are known, adore street life, eating seafood and hanging out in the no-frills streetside bars and food stalls known as p sujo literally, dirty feet. Hence the popularity of the two fish bars on a nondescript street on the edges of raucous nightlife neighbourhood Lapa, where cars pass perilously close to the chairs and tables spilling over the pavement as all human life wanders by, and the beers are always ice-cold. Both Bar do Peixe and Bar Peixe e Cia serve delicious leo veloso seafood soup (2.50) and enormous plates of fried fish, rice, salad and piro, a sort of thickened fish gravy, for two that would feed a small family (around 10).
Bar do Peixe, Rua Andr Cavalcanti 16b, Lapa, open Mon-Sat 11am-midnight, Sun 11am-10pm. Bar Peixe e Cia is next door and a bit cheaper

Craft, food and music fair

A real Brazilian flag-waver at the Feira de So Cristvo. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

In a concrete stadium a 10-minute taxi ride from So Cristvo station, the Feira de So Cristvo is a gloriously trashy smrgsbord of food, music and goods from Brazils north-east. On a recent Friday, a man in a leopard-print vest sang north-eastern pop to a keyboard accompaniment, while children played football, but the fair also hosts major artists. Traditional north-eastern dishes like sun-dried beef (carne de sol) and mocot, a rich and fatty meat soup, dominate the menus. Pink and blue cans of Guaran Jesus a sickly, pink fizzy drink are sold next to slabs of gorgeous rapadura, a sweet made of raw sugar cane, and folk memorabilia. Cariocas also like to cram into one of the karaoke stalls for a rowdy night of singalongs.
Campo de So Cristvo,, open Tue-Thur 10am-6pm, free; Fri 10am-6am, Sat 10am-6am, Sun 10am-8pm, 2

Explore the old port

A mural by Eduardo Kobra in Boulevard do Porto. Photograph: LightRocket/Getty Images

There wasnt much of a legacy from the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the city got one thing right when it revitalised a decaying port area and replaced an ugly flyover with a spacious, pedestrianised square called Praa Mau. Stroll there along Orla Conde (AKA Boulevard Olmpico), the quiet, waterside route from historic Praa XV, where ferries to Niteri dock, passing a naval college and views of colonial Ilha Fiscal. With its street performers and food trucks, the square has a peaceful, family atmosphere. Huge graffiti artworks dominate a wide, pedestrianised avenue of warehouses off it. The futuristic Museu do Amanh (Museum of Tomorrow) on the waterside, is a visually stunning concrete bromeliad, but its interactive scientific displays are probably not worth the hours of queuing.

Waterside art

Photograph: Marcelo Nacinovic/Getty Images

The six-year-old MAR (Museu de Arte do Rio) is a much smarter option. Visitors enter a former bus station, head up to the roof with its magnificent views across the city, then descend into the colonial mansion beside it. Theres a permanent exhibition of historic paintings and photographs of Rio landmarks, while temporary exhibitions are challenging and expertly curated, often focusing on Brazilian contemporary art tackling prickly themes such as poverty, injustice and the slave trade that for centuries blighted this port.
Praa Mau 5, Closed Mondays. Free on open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm, free on Tue, adult 4, concessions 2

Favela feast

Bar do David

Halfway up a hill at the beginning of the Chapu Mangueira favela and not far from Leme beach, Bar do David is one of Rios favourite restaurants because it has everything cariocas want: the food is excellent, the host is friendly and the late-afternoon atmosphere is relaxed and informal, with plastic chairs and tables on the street. The seafood bean stew (feijoada de frutos de mar, 16.50 for two) is its trademark dish, but theres also carioquinha a dish of beans, sausage, rice and cabbage (6), plus prize-winning starters, such as seafood croquettes, and artisan beers.
Ladeira Ary Barroso 66, Loja 03, Leme,
on Facebook, open Tue-Sun 10am-10pm

Street markets

Held on Sundays, from early morning to mid-afternoon, the Feira da Glria is the biggest street market in Rios Zona Sul or South Zone and it fills the colourful neighbourhood of Glria with noise, food and life. As you amble through the jumble of people, stallholders bellow about their wares, a man called the King of Shit sells manure, and live musicians play sweet chorinho music in an adjacent square. Its not just a Sunday morning routine for many cariocas, its also the cheapest way to buy fruit, vegetables, spices, artisan cheese, household implements even live crabs. And if snacking on tasty, deep-fried pasties and alarmingly sweet sugar cane juice isnt enough, buy some fresh fish, head to the end of the market and pavement restaurant Damasios Galeteria will cook it for 3 while you enjoy the live samba combo in the bar next door.
Damasios Galetaria, Av Augusto Severo 220, +55 21 2221 1125, Sun 8am-2pm, busiest late morning

Forest strolls

Cludio Coutinho trail, Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) and Guanabara Bay. Photograph: Diego Grandi/Alamy

Languidly strolling down the Cludio Coutinho trail, its hard to believe you are on the edge of a metropolis of more than six million people. The paved path hugs the forested base of the Urca hill and Sugarloaf mountain, offering spectacular views of the bay beneath. With cycling and skateboards banned, the noisiest thing in earshot is the chattering monkeys which visitors are asked not to feed. Leading off to the left near its beginning is a steep, 45-minute hike up through the trees to the cable car point on top of Morro da Urca. From there, you can jump on the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf, or ride it back down.
Praa General Tiburcio, 125, Urca, daily 6am-6pm, free,

Botafogo bars

A dish at Ceviche RJ, Botafogo. Photograph: Dantas Jr

Botafogo used to be a busy, grey neighbourhood known for bad traffic and cheap rents. But in recent years, its become Rios Hoxton as new bars, clubs and restaurants have mushroomed and brought a contemporary aesthetic to a city that for years repeated the same old gastronomic formula. Ceviche RJ is a Botafogo favourite, a pavement cafe serving excellent Peruvian food, such as its signature ceviche (5.50) and delicious chicharrnes with fish and squid (7.50). There are artisan beers as well as cheaper brands to wash it down and an excellent salsa soundtrack. Plus its walking distance from Comuna, a hamburger restaurant and bar with DJs and a young, hipster crowd.
Rua Arnaldo Quintela 66b, Botafogo, on Facebook, Weds-Fri noon-11.45pm, Sat 1pm-midnight, Sun 1pm-11pm

Samba sessions

Renascena Club

Its a hike out to Andara for this Monday, late afternoon/early evening samba session at the Renascena Club, but its worth it for the music, the atmosphere and the acaraj, a spicy bean burger with prawns from the state of Bahia (3). This is a traditional samba da roda, in which the crowd gathers around musicians seated at a long table to dance and sing along. At Mondays traditional workers samba or Samba do Trabalhador, Moacyr Luz, a great samba composer, leads a group who play with precision, panache and passion to a crowd who buy metal buckets full of iced beers in a big, white-painted yard.
Renascena Club, Rua Baro de So Francisco 54, Andara,, Mon 4pm-9.30pm, 4

Getting there
Norwegian has this week launched direct flights from Gatwick to Rio from 170 one-way or 340 return.

Where to stay
Acommodation in Rio isnt cheap, particularly near its famous beaches. A stylish exception is the Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel (doubles from 75 B&B, website in Portuguese) between Copacabana and Ipanema. Vila Gal Rio de Janeiro in Lapa (great for nightlife but take a taxi) is also a good deal, with rooms from 60 B&B and theres a lovely swimming pool. recently published a useful list of 20 amazing hostels in Rio.

When to go
Summer in Rio (December-March) is scorching, with temperatures as high as 40C, but its a fun time to be here, with the city gearing up for carnival (21-26 February 2020), with streets parades and parties. Even winter (June-August) is a good time to visit as warm and pleasant as a London summer.

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Five insiders reveal how to run with the locals in the Olympics host city a spectacular tropical metropolis with great beaches, music, views and food

If the Olympic movement is having a hard time of it, consider the year the host city is having. In the build-up to the 2016 Games, Brazil is sinking under a tickertape parade of bad news. Given stories of polluted water, gang and police violence, an economy in freefall, the Zika virus, terror attacks and a president impeached, the reports of unfinished infrastructure for the Games almost pale into insignificance.

The Rio de Janeiro area

Lovely Rio, its easy to imagine, might just think twice given the chance to bid for the Olympics again. And yet, despite everything, the metropolis remains arguably the most beautiful city in the Americas, if not the world: whatever might happen in the sporting arenas, the Olympics has never had a backdrop as stunning as this.

The view over Rio from the Vista Chinesa. Photograph: Alamy

And despite all their worries, most cariocas, as Rios residents are known, are proud of their amazing city. As they prepare to welcome half a million visitors to the Games, we asked five insiders to talk us through the best of their tropical seaside home.

Eating out

Rafael Costa e Silva, chef-proprietor at Lasai, one of the citys five Michelin-starred restaurants

Rafael Costa e Silva Photograph: Claire Rigby

So Paulo has more options than Rio in terms of cuisine, but we outshine them when it comes to avant garde, contemporary local food. As well as Lasai, we have Olympe, owned by the chef who pioneered the fusion of Brazilian and French cuisines; Roberta Sudbrack, with a bistro feel and sophisticated, eight-course tasting menu. Also Oro, which reopened in Leblon recently, is extremely creative.

Were closed on Sundays and Mondays, so those are the nights we can get out to eat. For special occasions, we love Olympe; but we often go to Azumi (on Facebook), a Japanese restaurant in Copacabana. The broths, the udon and the soba there are great (12-21).

Bar Urca looks out over Guanabara Bay.

Bar Urca is a Rio classic highly recommended for visitors. The food isnt the greatest, but you go there for the ambience to meet friends and drink beer sitting on the wall outside, looking out over Guanabara Bay.

Theres a restaurant in Centro, the old commercial heart of Rio, where I dont go as often as Id like, but that I love Escondidinho (on Facebook). My dad used to go when he was young, I go there sometimes, and probably my son will go too. Its a traditional lunchtime restaurant going since the 1940s and known for its beef ribs in broth, with fried cassava and watercress (32, serves two or more). The meat starts to fall off the bone before youve even picked up your knife and fork.

We have a culture of botecos, classic neighbourhood bars where you grab a beer and a snack say a pastel (a small meat or cheese pie) or a coxinha (chicken-and-cassava fritter). Theres a great one in Praa da Bandeira (in north Rio, very near the Maracan stadium, which will stage the Games opening ceremony) called Aconchego Carioca that does all our national dishes and snacks very well indeed.

Aconchego Carioca in Praa da Bandeira

A more rustic, classic boteco is Bar da Gema in Andara. They do fried polenta with oxtail stew on top (10), and you eat it with your hands. Its amazing. They also serve pastel de feijo gordo (1.50), little pies filled with feijoada black-bean stew, our national dish. They are so good I could eat about 10 of them.

Brazil isnt so strong on street food, but the Saturday morning farmers market in Jardim Botnico, on Rua Frei Leandro, opposite Olympe restaurant, does a great tapioca, a kind of cassava pancake. It serves up a version with cheese, tomato, onions and oregano, using a cheese called queijo minas meia-cura, whichmelts perfectly when it hits the griddle.

Bars and nightlife

Alice Guedes, bartender at Brigites, a bistro in Leblon. She has twice finished in the top 10 in Brazils best bartender competition

Alice Guedes at Brigites. Photograph: Claire Rigby

Musically, Rio is incredibly rich its often music that gets people out at night. Monday is outdoor samba night at Pedra do Sal, in Largo Joo da Baiana, 10 minutes walk from the new Museum of Tomorrow (which is definitely worth a visit). Musicians go straight there to play after they get off work, from about 7pm. They play old-school, very traditional samba. Take a taxi if you dont know this area.

Samba dancers at Pedra do Sal. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

And on Wednesday nights at Praa Tiradentes theres a jazz scene in the middle of the square, just people hanging out and playing and listening to jazz. Its free. They just turn up and start playing, and if you get there at about 9pm, its generally in full swing. Cariocas are experts at making something happen out of nothing.

Praa So Salvador in Laranjeiras is another one: on Friday nights, the square gets packed with hundreds of people getting together in the open air, and guys selling beer from ice boxes. Everyone loves it.

Mixing is a kind of speakeasy in Rio Comprido, between Centro and Tijuca. During the day its a school of mixology, but on certain nights it transforms into a bar. Youd never guess it was there from the outside you go through a garage, up some stairs and along a corridor and there it is.

Traditionally, Rio has always been about caipirinhas and chope (light draft beer) but theres a growing cocktail culture. The challenge for Rio bartenders is to convince cariocas to go for drier, more complex drinks as they tend to veer towards sweetness. Bar DHotel, inside Marina All-Suites, has one of the best drinks menus in Rio; another is the new Bar Astor inside the Astor hotel, on the Ipanema seafront. Theyve brought high-level So Paulo-style mixology to Rio, which I love.

In Rio, music on the street is enough to get the party started. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP

The new Atlntico Rio de Janeiro in Barra da Tijuca is one of the most Rio-spirited bars I can think of, though its owner isnt even Brazilian. Tato Giovannoni came from Buenos Aires, where he owns the bar Floreria Atlntico, and just did something different created a really good beach bar with amazing cocktails and fresh seafood.

He makes a dry martini with a tincture of sea salt, right there on the beach, and serves oysters at about 1 each. Theyre also doing a pop-up bar during the Olympics, at Clubhouse Rio.

For me, the best saideira (nightcap) is at Galeto Sats , open till late in Copacabana. Lots of bartenders and chefs go there after work for beer and grilled chicken. Its a tiny, old-fashioned joint where people spill on to the pavement. My order is a shot of good cachaa and a plate of grilled chicken hearts.

History and culture

Luiza Mello, art producer, Automatica, which produces the annual art event Travessias in the Complexo da Mar favela in north Rio

Luiza Mello. Photograph: Claire Rigby

A place I love to take visitors is Instituto Moreira Salles. Its a wonderful example of modernist Brazilian architecture, with gardens by Roberto Burle Marx and a beautiful panel by Cndido Portinari, facing the pond. It was once the home of a very wealthy family, but today its a cultural institution with an impeccable programme they hold great exhibitions, plus theres a photo collection, a music collection and a photography magazine.

Parque Lage is always good another very beautiful place, home to the EAV School of Visual Arts, with an interesting gallery in the former stables, called Galeria das Cavalarias.

Young people contemplate leaping into the sea by the Museum of Tomorrow Photograph: Alamy

Culturally, Rios downtown area, Centro, just gets more and more interesting. There is a great area around Praa XV, with art galleries, cinema and theatre in the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil ; the former imperial palace Pao Imperial, which is one of the citys most historic buildings and now a cultural centre; and the Casa Frana-Brasil, a contemporary art space in Rios oldest neoclassical building. The Candelria and Carmo churches are also both worth seeing.

An exhibition by veteran Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Centro has another cultural hub now: Porto Maravilha, Rios regenerated port district, with the MAR Museum of Art and theMuseum of Tomorrow. Close to that but less well-known is Cais do Valongo, the archaeological site of Rios former shipping wharf, where hundreds of thousands of the slaves brought to Brazil came ashore. Theres also the Galeria dos Pretos Novos, an art gallery, and part of a memorial complex on the site of an ancient slave cemetery.

Pao Imperial on the Praca Quinze de Novembro. Photograph: Alamy

Pedra do Sal is another historic site in the area, where there was once a quilombo, a community of former slaves and their descendants. Its just behind the MAR, and a very interesting place to visit.

Beaches and nature

Nicole Casares, blogger, Cariocando no Rio. She runs tours of some of her favourite places, booked via her site

Nicole Casares at Parque Lage. Photograph: Camila Neves

Rio is full of quiet spots from which to observe the citys curves, the contours of the hills and the green vegetation against the ocean. There are lovely parks, such as Parque Lage and the Jardim Botnico, and even the gigantic tropical rainforest, Floresta da Tijuca invades the city limits. Or just being in the sea is a peaceful experience.

Palm tree avenue at the Jardim Botnico Photograph: Alamy

If you only go to one beach, Id recommend Ipanema, at Posto 10 (postos are the beaches demarcation points and come every kilometre). Its one of the safest parts of the beach, and it attracts a lot of young, cool people. Theres a good place just across the road for lunch called Balada Mix, with great sandwiches and juices, including aai. Arpoador, a headland between Copacabana and Ipanema, is special too you have to see it at sunset, when people climb on to the rocks to look right down Ipanema beach to the sun setting behind the Dois Irmos peaks.

Surfers on Prainha beach, Barra da Tijuca. Photograph: Alamy

I also like the long beaches to the west: at Barra da Tijuca and also Praia da Joatinga, where the water is a beautiful green colour and there are no crowds. To reach it, you follow a steep trail down on to the sand. Some of Rios very best beaches are even further west, on the very edge of the city, like Praia do Secreto and Prainha.

Because of all the mountains dotted around, Rio must have the most spectacular views of any city in the world. My all-time favourite view is from Mirante Dona Marta. Its breathtaking you can see Sugarloaf Mountain below, with the sea all around it, the boats in Botafogo harbour and all the way across Guanabara Bay to Niteri. And in the other direction you can see Christ the Redeemer close up.

Rio must have the most spectacular views of any city in the world. This view is of Sao Conrado beach and the Rocinha favela. Photograph: Alamy

This unique topography means you can also hike and climb within the city. Of Rios best-known hikes, Dois Irmos is light to moderate, about 45 minutes climb from the top of Vidigal favela (which is safe to visit). You can take a van to the foot of the trail, or a motorbike taxi. Or inside Parque Nacional da Tijuca, Pedra Bonita is a nice, easy walk, about 40-45 minutes. Its steep, but if you take it slowly, its fine, and the view are similar to those from the top of Pedra da Gvea, which is a far harder climb.

One of my favourite, lesser-known trails is the Trilha do Morro da Babilnia. Its really easy only 30 or 40 minutes and has great views of Praia Vermelha beach and Po de Aucar. You start at Ladeira Ary Barroso in Leme, and walk up into Chapu Mangueira favela. Guides from Coop Babilnia, a residents cooperative, will take you up the trail for about 14. Its best to go early in the day, and make sure to be out of the community before evening.