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Rio de Janeiro History

Rio has got it all: the latitude of the tropics, the swing of Africa and the European flavour of half a century of mix and match with the Old World.

After clapping eyes on the natural port of the Baía de Guanabara (Guanabara Bay), Rio was settled by the Portuguese in 1502, and founded in 1565.

French and Portuguese expeditions fought over Rio for until 1567, when the Portuguese governor, Mem de Sá, expelled the French.

More settlers arrived from Portugal and they gradually integrated with the indigenous people. Over the next 200 years, Rio developed as a major port, fighting off successive military incursions from French and other European invaders.

By 1769, when it took over from Salvador as the Brazilian capital, Rio had 50,000 inhabitants. The coffee boom brought great wealth to the city, with huge plantations spreading deep into Rio state.

Fleeing the Napoleonic wars in Europe, the Portuguese royal family moved to Rio in 1808, triggering the transformation of a simple colony into the capital of the Brazilian Empire.

Important new institutions were founded, the Brazilian railway was inaugurated here in 1858, and the first steamship service crossed the bay to Niterói in 1862.

By 1920, Rio had 1 million inhabitants; and yet more came in the 1930s and 40s. Rio lost its status as Brazilian capital to Brasilia in 1960, and was surpassed as the biggest city in Brazil by its arch rival, São Paulo.

When tourism began to boom in the 1920s however, Rio blossomed as one of the world's favourite holiday destinations.

Rio’s future clout on the world economic stage is sealed as a shining metropolis of Brazil, a member of the BRIC gang of four. And post the drama of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, Rio is enjoying its newfound status as major global player.

Did you know?
• Sailing into Guanabara Bay in January, Portuguese navigators named the city Rio de Janeiro (January River), mistakenly thinking it was an enormous river mouth.
• The Christ the Redeemer statue is the largest art deco statue in the world.
• Rod Stewart played to an estimated 3.5 million people on Copacabana beach in 1994, one of the largest concert audiences ever witnessed.

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City Highlight: Rio de Janeiro

Vibrant, exciting and dazzling are words synonymous with Rio de Janeiro, one of the world’s favourite party cities

Featured Hotels


Windsor Barra Hotel

Windsor Barr Hotel is a good choice for exploring Rio's western suburbs and beaches, particularly for surfers and for those planning to attend the 2016 Olympics. This modern, high-rise hotel facing Barra da Tijuca beach has 338 comfortable if not luxurious rooms with all mod-cons. It also has a restaurant, bar, two swimming pools, fitness centre, sauna, and airport shuttle bus.

Fasano Rio

Still the coolest luxury hotel in Rio de Janeiro, Fasano Rio is a place where both Brazilian and global celebrities come to see and to be seen. Overlooking Ipanema Beach, this stylish designer hotel brings a modern concept of hospitality, elegance and sophistication. The interiors are a joint venture of renowned architect Philippe Stark and the restaurateur and hotelier Rogério Fasano. The décor combines dark tropical woods with light and airy drapes and furnishings. All 79 rooms and 10 suites have a balcony and most with a sea view. Its rooftop terrace and pool gives a superb view over the beach to the Dois Irmãos mountains, stunning at sunset. The restaurant, Fasano Al Mare, is under the capable hands of three-Michelin-star chef Luca Gozzani.

San Marco Hotel

Located right in the heart of Ipanema, San Marco Hotel is the perfect choice for holidaymakers on a budget who want to take full advantage of the nearby beach – two blocks away - without missing out on Rio’s exciting nightlife. The small modern hotel has 56 tidy and functional rooms, all en-suite with TVs and air conditioning, and is in the thick of Ipanema’s trendy bars, shops, restaurants and clubs (ask for a room on an upper floor if on the street side). Its friendly bilingual staff, wireless internet connection, and competitive rates make this one of the few good-value budget hotels in Ipanema.

Ritz Plaza Hotel Leblon

Located in the heart of Leblon, Rio's most expensive square metre, Ritz Plaza Hotel Leblon offers quality services at affordable prices. Its rooms are well furnished if not huge, with modern décor. A generous buffet breakfast is included and the hotel has up-to-date facilities, including spa and a small pool. It's a couple of blocks in from the beach and close to cinemas, theatres, shops, restaurants and the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon.


This no-frills but clean and well-run hotel is highly rated among regular visitors to Rio. It's in a handy location between downtown and the Zona Sul, in an historic, up-and-coming district. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the buffet breakfast is excellent, and facilities include a spa, gym and small roof terrace. In all, the Regina is one of the best budget hotels in the city.

Rio Hostel

This hostel in an old colonial building in Santa Teresa has basic dorms as well as three- and four-bed rooms, which are ideal for families. With its hillside location, Rio Hostel offers great city views and it also has a tiny swimming pool. Facilities include laundry service, tour information, Wi-Fi connectivity and air conditioning in some rooms. The staff are friendly, some are multilingual, and they serve a decent buffet breakfast.