The Centro refers to Rio’s historic downtown commercial district. Narrow cobblestoned alleys, grand baroque churches, turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian-inspired avenues and architecture, and the ubiquitous high-rises and urban chaos of a 21st-century megalopolis make up a bewildering if often fascinating patchwork.
Although some areas are sorely neglected, as part of an effort to revitalize the area over the last few years many museums and cultural centers have opened or have been revamped.
Meanwhile, stylish bistros have joined some of the city’s most traditional bars and cafés. As an antidote to the upscale beach culture of Zona Sul (Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon), pockets of the Centro are quite interesting, particularly if you want to get a sense of Rio’s rich past.
Despite the traffic, navigating the area is quite easy on foot. Centro is also well-served by buses from Zona Sul and Zona Norte (take anything marked “Centro,” “Praça XV,” or “Praça Mauá”) and by Metrô (the most convenient stations are Cinelândia, Carioca, Urugaiana, Presidente Vargas, and Praça Onze).
Although during the day and into the early evening Centro is usually jam-packed, at night and on weekends the area is as quiet as a ghost town and quite unsafe to stroll around. If you’re thinking of taking in an exhibition or performance during these times, it’s best to take a taxi.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition