Stretching along the Baía de Guanabara from Centro  to the tunnel that leads to Copacabana  are the sprawling and attractive bairros of Flamengo and Botafogo. In the 19th century, both were posh residential neighborhoods.
Many of the wide avenues and tree-lined side streets still conserve an impressive number of elegant apartment buildings and gracious mansions, some of which formerly housed foreign embassies back in the day when Rio  was still Brazil ’s capital.
In the mid-20th century, Rio’s rich and fashionable elite began to abandon the area for the newly minted glamor of the Zona Sul. In their heyday, the lovely white beaches of Flamengo and Botafogo were the equivalent of Copacabana  and Ipanema  today.
Although they remain lovely from an aesthetic viewpoint (and serve as very scenic soccer fields), the pollution factor is such that nobody would dream of swimming in their waters these days.
While you’ll undoubtedly glimpse snatches of Flamengo and Botafogo as you’re careening back and forth between Centro and the Zona Sul, if you have some time to spare it’s worthwhile to wander the area’s streets. Less chaotic than Centro and far less touristy than the Zona Sul, these neighborhoods offer an appealing and colorful slice of Carioca life.