Some cities need no introduction, and even fewer cities live up to their reputation the way Rio de Janeiro does, in both the best sense—how visitors experience sheer exhilaration being there—and the harsh reality of its social and economic strains. Situated in arguably the world’s most dramatic urban setting, it has apartment complexes that hang on huge granite peaks which rise smack in the middle of the city, and adding to the drama, its stunning beaches seem to stretch forever.
A quick course in Rio: Before arriving, listen to some bossa nova and samba music to get in the swing of things. Second lesson: Practice pronouncing Rio as Hio in order to sound like a native Carioca. After that, it’s all about stopping at corner juice bars to enjoy fresh tropical drinks named for fruit you’ve never even heard of, and indulging in people-watching along the legendary Copacabana and Ipanema boardwalks. For more insight into the city, you might take the plunge into Maracaña Stadium to watch a crazy match between crosstown rivals Flamengo and Fluminense (imagine the Yankees and the Red Sox living in the same city) or jump on a bike to discover some of Rio’s far-flung and vastly diverse districts.