17 Free (Or Nearly Free) Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It is no secret that Brazil is not a cheap travel destination. Yet, backpackers need not worry. We’re here to give you tips on how to keep your money in your pocket in Rio and make sure that you don’t miss out on exploring one of the most fascinating destinations in the world!

All the following cheap things to do in Rio will either cost a few reais or better still, be completely free. Grab a pen and paper and start taking notes – we’re about to dive into the most budget-friendly things to do in Rio de Janeiro. 

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17 Cheap/Free Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro

According to the 2020 Global Wealth and Lifestyle Report, Rio de Janeiro is the world’s most expensive metropolis in five out of 18 categories. Put simply, you’ll need to be money savvy if your dollar is going to stretch in this city!

Luckily for shoestring travellers, there are few free and cheap things to do in this expensive city. Here are a few ideas:

1. Hike Sugarloaf Mountain

Also known as Pão de Açúcar, Sugarloaf Mountain is one of Rio’s iconic sights. Although it will cost you to hike to the higher mountain, trekking to the top of the smaller mountain is free and offers amazing views over the city. 

Take the trail halfway up to Morro de Urca. This hiking trail is generally very safe and is often taken by local runners. Once you reach the top, you can either descend the way you came or take the cable car the rest of the way up. Bear in mind that the cable car comes with a charge which will transform this budget-friendly activity into a not-so-budget-friendly one! 

2. Play Volleyball on Ipanema Beach

People on beach in Rio
Do as the locals do and get stuck in with a game of beach volleyball!

Ipanema Beach is the home of beach volleyball. All along the coast of Rio, there are volleyball courts available for public use, however, they often fill up quickly. If you’re not shy about getting involved, why not ask a group of locals if you can join in their game? After all, when in Rio!

3. Visit the National Library of Brazil 

For all culture vultures, this is the place to go to learn about Brazil’s history and heritage. It is the largest library in the whole of Latin America and the seventh largest in the entire world. Since an official decree in 1907, Brazilian publishers are required by law to send one copy of any release to this library. This will ensure that it continues to grow over the years. 

4. Walk up the Famous Escadaria Selarón

Also known as the Selaron Steps, this famous staircase was designed as a ‘tribute to the Brazilian people’ by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. Made up of 215 steps, all of which are covered by colourful tiles, this iconic staircase is a popular Instagram spot! 

5. Explore the Botanical Gardens

Jardim Botanico do rio
Visiting Rio’s botanical gardens is a budget-friendly activity!

Located in the southern zone of the city, Rio’s beautiful Botanical Gardens are a great activity for those on a tight budget. Home to over 6,500 species of plants, these gardens make for a relaxing escape from the city. This activity used to be better value for money but the price has recently been hiked up. The entrance fee is now 60 reais for foreigners which comes in at around $11USD per person. Not too bad in this expensive city! 

6. Trek in Tijuca Forest

Known as the lungs of Rio, the forest represents 7% of the city’s territory and offers nature; waterfalls, monkeys and an escape from the hubbub. Tijuca is the largest urban rainforest in the world and it is reachable in around an hour from downtown Rio. 

As well as an incredible network of hiking paths, there are also epic mountains and waterfalls hidden in the park. And the best thing? Entrance is free for all. 

7. Top Up Your Tan at Abricó Beach

Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Beach might be the first two you think of but Rio de Janeiro is actually home to a wealth of wonderful sands. For those of you wanting to top up your tan (without tan lines), head to Abricó Beach, Rio de Janeiro’s only nudist beach. 

8. Check Out Rio’s Street Art

Rio street art
Rio is flourishing city among street artists.

Rio de Janeiro has long been a hub of art and culture. As such, it comes as little surprise that many of the city streets are adorned with brightly coloured murals. Street art can reveal a lot about a city, from political tensions to the cultural heritage of the area. 

In 2009, the Mayor of Rio legalised street art, allowing this urban artform to flourish across the city. Head to the neighbourhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa to see some of the best. 

9. Browse the Local Markets

I know what you’re thinking… sending me to a market won’t save me money! But, we never said you have to buy anything! 

With nearly 7 million people calling Rio home, it is unsurprising that there is a market on practically every corner. While markets can be a great place to grab a bargain, you’ll have plenty of fun just perusing what is on offer. 

Make sure to check out Feira Hippie de Ipanema for locally made arts and crafts and Feira de São Cristóvão for the food. After all, even backpackers on a budget have got to eat! 😉

10. Head Out on a Free Walking Tour

Despite being the only activity on our list to have the word free in its name, free walking tours aren’t actually free. Instead, they work on a donation-based system where there is no set price for the tour. Instead, you pay what you think it was worth.

We love city walking tours as they are a great way to get your bearings in a new city and get local recommendations. There are loads of operators offering free walking tours in Rio so make sure that you check reviews before choosing one! 

11. Stroll Along Lagoa Rodrigo De Freitas

Located in a less commercialised part of the city, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, commonly abbreviated to Lagoa, features many parks, squares, trees and mountain views. It is a favourite spot with local joggers and also a great place to see wildlife without having to travel out of the city. Bonus points if you can spot the world’s largest rodent, the capybara!

12. Relax in Lage Park

Lage Park
Lage Park is like a small jungle in the middle of the city!

Nestled at the bottom of the Corcovado Mountain which Christ the Redeemer sits atop, this beautiful park is a wonderful spot for a picnic. Many visitors liken it to the jungle but in the middle of the city, namely because of its wild residents that include monkeys and koi fish. 

Does Lage Park look familiar? The eagle-eyed of you may recognise it from the music video for ‘Beautiful’, a 2003 track by hip hop legend Snoop Dogg. 

YouTube video

12. Get Lost in Real Gabinete Português De Leitura

Calling all bibliophiles! The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading is one of the world’s most beautiful libraries. Built in 1837 in Portuguese Manueline style, this epic library has to be seen to be believed. Characterised by wooden arches, vibrant stained-glass and pretty gold trim, this bibliotheca holds over 350,000 titles and is the biggest collection of Portuguese literature anywhere outside the country. 

14. Bathe at Cachoeira do Horto

Situated in Tijuca Forest, Cachoeira do Horto is a hidden natural gem. Little visited by international tourists, it is instead a favourite spot of the locals who flock there on weekends for a day of relaxation and fun. If you want to experience it without the crowds, head there during the week! 

15. Sample Some Samba

Samba dancing carnival
The Brazilians know how to party!

The local’s love for gaudy celebrations means that this is one country that sure knows how to party! The festivities aren’t just reserved for Rio Carnival either, music and dance are the lifeblood of Brazil, meaning it is always a good time to celebrate. 

If you’re looking to sample a bit of traditional Samba but don’t want to splash out on a class before you’ve had a taster, check out the following webpage run by Cariocas. It’s got loads of information detailing where you can catch some dance for free around the city. 

Also read: Top Places to Celebrate Carnival in South America and South American Dances.

16. Take In the Views Atop Pedra De Gavea

Topping out at 844 metres, Pedra de Gavea is an impressive mountain which sits in Tijuca Forest. The hike up to the top is said to be one of the most challenging that you can do in and around Rio but if you’re brave enough to tackle it, the views are absolutely breathtaking. 

Be warned, this is more than just a hike. There are a couple of short sections where those on the quest to the summit will need to tackle a very intense scramble that looks pretty scary in places. It will be a daunting feat for many, especially those who don’t like heights! 😱 

17. Get Active at Flamengo Park

Flamengo Park, Rio
Flamengo Park is the place to get moving!

Spanning 300 acres, this urban park was designed by the renowned Brazilian landscaper Burle Marx. It is a popular hangout of Cariocas who flock here to get involved in all things sweat-inducing (get your mind out of the gutter – not that!). 

Tennis, foot volleyball, soccer, paddle ball, rollerblading and skateboarding are just a few of the activities you’ll see people getting involved in here. It might not be the Rio that you see on the postcards but it is surely one of the most authentic spots that you’ll visit on any trip to the city!

Do you know of any other free activities in Rio de Janeiro that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments! 

Nikki Scott Bio Pic
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker. At age 23, she left the UK on a solo backpacking trip and never returned. After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine about backpacking in Asia. The rest is history.

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