Rio’s setting is incomparable: The city is squeezed between the Baía de Guanabara and dramatic mountains covered in native Atlantic forest. Although this tropical metropolis of eight million is both urban and urbane, every street you walk on seems to end in an explosion of towering green or a soothing slice of blue. Swimming, surfing, hang-gliding, and hiking through the Floresta da Tijuca  are some of the most obvious ways of taking advantage of Rio’s natural splendors.
Meanwhile, this 500-year-old city is hardly lacking in impressive architecture. Rio was not only the capital of the Brazilian Empire, but, until 1960, of its republic as well. As a result, its downtown is a treasure trove of baroque churches, imperial palaces (many of which have been converted into cultural centers), and monumental buildings and squares.
History of a more recent variety is present in the Zona Sul neighborhoods of Copacabana , Ipanema , and Leblon ; all three are famed for the stunning white-sand beaches that serve as playgrounds for Cariocas and tourists from all walks of life. It was here that bossa nova was born and the bikini made its mark.
Despite all the beautiful people, Zona Sul retains a relaxed casualness that is typical of Rio. Sip a fresh tropical nectar at a juice bar or enjoy an icy beer at one of many rustic bars known as botequins , and watch as barefoot surfer boys and bikini girls in Havaiianas stroll through the streets lined with designer boutiques and art deco apartments.
While daytime in Rio is languid, nighttime sizzles with possibilities. For dinner, choose from a profusion of world-class restaurants . Then either chill at a swanky Zona Sul lounge, dance, drink, and flirt at a nightclub , or join the pulsating throngs in the historic bairros of Lapa  and Santa Teresa  who flock to listen to live chorinho, forró, and, of course, samba.
Speaking of samba, it’s impossible to mention Rio without alluding to the world-famous extravaganza known as Carnaval . It doesn’t matter whether you take in the parades at the Sambódromo, dance through the streets with a traditional neighborhood bloco (Carnaval group), or merely make it to one of the escola de samba (samba school) rehearsals held throughout the year. The Carnaval spirit is highly contagious. Like Rio itself, it will leave you wanting more.
Most international travelers arrive in Rio by air, although if you’re traveling from another city in Brazil , you’ll arrive by bus or car.
By Air: Rio has two airports. International flights and the majority of domestic flights arrive and depart from the Aeroporto Internacional Tom Jobim (Av. 20 de Janeiro, Ilha do Governador, tel. 21/3398-4527), also known as Galeão, situated in the Zona Norte , around 20 minutes from Centro  and 45–60 minutes from the Zona Sul. Right in Centro, adjacent to the Parque do Flamengo , is Rio’s oldest airport, Aeroporto Santos Dumont (Praça Senador Salgado Filho, Centro, tel. 21/3814-7070), where flights are basically limited to the Rio–São Paulo air shuttle.
Both airports have kiosks for special airport taxis, where you pay your fare in advance based the distance of your destination. These are often more expensive than just hailing one of the white rádio taxis available at the taxi stands. Two major taxi companies are Coopertramo (tel. 21/2560-2022) and Transcoopass (tel. 21/2590-6891). Taxi fare from Galeão is around R$60 to Flamengo , R$70 to Copacabana , and R$80 to Leblon .
From Galeão the Real (tel. 21/2560-7041 or 0800-24-0850) bus company offers regular executivo service for R$6 to Rio. Buses cut through Centro (along Av. Rio Branco) and then stop at Aeroporto Santos Dumont before continuing along the oceanfront avenidas of Flamengo (Av. Beira Mar), Copacabana (Av. Atlântica), Ipanema (Av. Vieira Souto), and Leblon (Av. Delfim Moreira), including stops at all the major hotels along the way. For hotels that are inland, just ask the driver in advance to let you off at the nearest cross street (“Por favor, pode me deixar na Rua. . . ?”). Buses leave the airports daily, at 30-minute intervals between 5:20 a.m. and 11 p.m. To get to the airport, you can grab the same bus (on the reverse route) or ask your hotel to call you a cab and settle on a fixed rate in advance.
By Bus: Rio’s main bus station, Rodoviária Novo Rio (Av. Francisco Bicalho 1, São Cristovão, tel. 21/3213-1800), is a major transportation hub. Buses arrive from and depart to all points of Brazil  and to other South American countries. It is located in a run-down dockside area of Centro on the edge of the Zona Norte. Despite its importance, the station itself is also pretty run-down, which is why a (long overdue) major renovation is underway to transform it into a spankingly modern station filled with shops, restaurants, bookstores, and cafés.
Getting to and from the rodoviária from anywhere in the city is very easy. Just hop on any bus with “Rodoviária” posted as its destination on the front. A taxi will set you back around R$20 to Centro and R$40 to Copacabana.