Rio de Janeiro stretches between white sandy beaches and mountains, with colonial neighbourhoods, modernist architectural styles and the addictive sound of samba tying it all together. Rainforest still covers swathes of the city.
Ipanema gained international fame in the early 1960s with the bossa nova song The Girl from Ipanema. It became the hangout of artists, intellectuals and wealthy liberals, who gathered at the sidewalk cafés. You'll find the same mix of wealthy Cariocas, young and old, at the fine beach.
The exotic Jardim Botânico has more than 5,500 plant varieties and was designed by order of Prince Regent Dom João in 1808. It's serene on weekdays and blossoms with families and live music on weekends (00 55 21 3874 1808; jbrj.gov.br; Rua Jardim Botânico 920; 8am-5pm; £2).
Seen from the peak of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), Rio is arguably the most beautiful city in the world. There are many good times to make the ascent, by taking two cable cars, but sunset on a clear day is the most rewarding (Praça General Tibúrcio, Urca; 8am-8pm; £13).
On a hill overlooking the city, the ageing mansions of Santa Teresa, once a prime 19th-century address, are a vision of bygone days. Ride the historic streetcar up (station at Rua Lélio Gama 65, Centro; every 30 minutes; 20p).
Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) gazes out over Rio. Corcovado mountain, on which he stands, rises to 710m and at night the 38m-high statue is brightly lit. A memorable way up is by cog train (00 55 21 2558 1329; corcovado.org.br; Cog station: Rua Cosme Velho 513, Cosme Velho; 8.30am-6.30pm; £13).
Eat and drink
In recent years flashy new kiosks have appeared on Copacabana Beach, allowing punters to get a decent meal or gourmet snack without leaving the sand. Recanto do Sol at the northeast end serves small plates of sardines and fresh fish, plus caipirinha cocktails (near Praça Julio de Noronha, Copacabana; lunch and dinner; mains £6).
Within the exposed brick and old hardwood ceiling of Sobrenatural queues form for grilled fish and moqueca, seafood stew (00 55 21 2224 1003; Rua Almirante Alexandrino 432, Santa Teresa; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; mains £17-£21).
Candlelit Yorubá features dishes typical of the northern province of Bahia, such as shrimp and coconut milk blended to perfection in bobó de camarão, and excellent moqueca - Bahian fish stew (00 55 21 2541 9387; Rua Arnaldo Quintela 94, Botafogo; dinner Wed-Fri, lunch Sat-Sun; mains £15-£20).
Casa da Feijoada is a Rio institution. Try a complex feijoada: a black bean and salted pork dish served with the orange slices and farofa, toasted manioc flour (00 55 21 2247 2776; Rua Prudente de Morais 10B, Ipanema; lunch and dinner; feijoada £20).
One of Rio's best restaurants, Zuka prepares inventive dishes such as zingy ceviche and rack of lamb with passion fruit. Decor is classic Rio - dove grey with floor-to-ceiling windows (00 55 21 3205 7154; Rua Dias Ferreira 233B, Leblon; dinner Mon, lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains £17-£30).
Cama e Café is a b&b network linking visitors with local residents. There are several dozen colonial houses to choose from, ranging from modest to lavish. The best rooms are antique-filled suites in castle-like mansions with verandas and bountiful gardens (00 55 21 2225 4366; camaecafe.com.br; from £40).
Fuchsia pink Bonita was home to bossa nova legend Tom Jobim from 1962 to 1965. Rooms have tiled floors, brightly painted furniture, and balustraded balconies on the first floor (00 55 21 2227 1703; bonitaipanema. com; Rua Barão da Torre 107, Ipanema; from £60).
In bohemian Santa Teresa, Solar de Santa is a magnificent blue-shuttered colonial mansion with balconies and a deep verandah. The five rooms are impeccably styled with 1950s furnishings, yellow bedspreads and dark hardwood flooring, and the pool has a view. It's Rio's best-value villa (00 55 21 2221 2117; solardesanta.com; Ladeira do Meireles 32; villa from £86 per person, for six sharing).
On the top floor of a high-rise overlooking Copacabana Beach, the modest Rio de Janeiro Guesthouse has rooms with antique furnishings and parquet floors. A sunny patio overlooks the beach (00 55 21 2521 8568; rioguest house.com; Rua Francisco Sá 5, Copacabana; from £130).
Hotel Fasano, designed by Philippe Starck, is Rio's top destination for celebutantes. Self-consciously stylish, it fronts Ipanema beach and has a much-touted seafood restaurant and bar. Indulge by booking an ocean-view room with a kingsized bed (00 55 21 3202 4000; fasano.com.br; Av Viera Souto 80, Ipanema; from £325).
Find your way
Blue-and-yellow taxis are a cheap way to get around - they should be metered and most fares cost less than £10. Radio taxis such as Coopertramo (00 55 21 2209 9292) are more expensive, but more reliable. The metro system works well (from £1; metrorio.com.br).
How to go
British Airways and TAM fly direct to Rio from London Heathrow (from £660; 11½ hours; tam. com.br). Real Auto Bus runs the nine miles from Aeroporto Galeão to the city and Ipanema (£2.50). A radio taxi booked and pre-paid at the airport will cost £30 to Ipanema.
The article 'Mini guide to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.