Rio de Janeiro
As the crown jewel of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro marks the epicenter of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. For soccer aficionados, this is the holy grail of days in a city whose team has taken home the World Cup crown a record-breaking five times. Resting on the southern shore Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro boasts more than 23 world-famous beaches where bronzed bodies and stunning natural vistas are as beautiful as the city itself.
Brazil officials estimate more than 600,000 people will travel from abroad to be part of the largest soccer event in the world. The finals will take place in Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Undoubtedly, hotels are going to be swamped - all the more reason to choose your own private HomeAway villa or luxury apartment.
It's good news for Brazil fans, as the team is continuously competitive and has a good shot of winning it all in 2014. To add to the homecoming, Brazil is the only team to play in every single one of the 16 World Cup tournaments, which began in 1930.
Best Things to Do
Join the swarm of visitors and locals who flock to this famous beach. On its shores, you'll discover favela kids, soccer zealots shouting their team's anthem and a fair share of older residents. From post to post, street vendors galore make their way between the sunbathers to sell coconut, alcoholic smoothies and miscellaneous goods. Copacabana is a great place to relax, grab a bite to eat and take in the captivating locals. However, keep an eye out for pickpockets, especially around Avenue NS de Copacabana.
The girl from Ipanema will enchant you as much as the gorgeous white sand beach. With cleaner sands and sea than those in Copacabana, Ipananema boasts world-famous shores showcasing an amalgam of different lifestyles, chic boutiques and delicious eateries. The posts along the stretch of sand mark the various subcultures within each area. Posto 9 is where you'll find the most chiseled and tanned bodies in the city, while Posto 10 attracts the sports lovers, with endless soccer, volleyball and frescobol, which is played with racquets and a wooden ball.
First timers should check out Rua Vinicius de Moraes, a strip edged with shops, bars and restaurant, such as the popular Garota de Ipanema Bar. Come nighttime, the southside streets light up with drinking hot spots and cafes.
Museu da Republica
Located in the Palacio do Catete, the Museu da Republica used to be home to the president of Brazil from 1896 until 1954. Today, the museum hosts a solid collection of art and artifacts from the Republican period (hence its name), various presidential memorabilia and furniture. The granite and marble building also has a playroom, cinema, bookstore and restaurant where you can snag a quick bite to eat.
Pao de Acucar
Called "Sugar Loaf Mountain" in Portuguese, the sweeping vista from this peak is as sweet as it gets. Look out over Baia de Guanabara and the curving coastline. Visitors take a glass-walled cable car to the top, which ascends 1,300 feet above Rio. Morro da Urca features its own restaurant, playground, souvenir shops and a helipad for deep-pocketed travelers interested in helicopter tours. Either way, don't think twice about it; Pao de Acucar is a must.
The Maracana is one of the largest and most coveted pitches in the world. Originally built in 1948 and remodeled in 2013, this stadium can seat up to 200,000 people. During the World Cup, it will host seven matches, which is more than any other venue. You can buy tickets at Fifa.com.
Eating and Nightlife
If you're searching for a good samba, look no further. This three-story building is more known for its dancing than the restaurant, but they serve drinks and killer caipirinhas - Brazil's national cocktail, which is comprised of hard liquor made from sugar cane, sugar and lime.
As one of the biggest night bars in Lapa, Leviano reels in fist-pumpers and knockout DJs. There's all sorts of music, dance and eating, but the circus activities might take the cake. You read correctly, acrobats from the Rio de Janeiro Circus do tricks from the ceiling here. Showmanship and unique drinks are expected.
Bar Do Arnaudo
Bar do Arnaudo is a neighborhood favorite, with a delectable northeastern cuisine meant for big appetites. Sun-dried beef is a hit, as well as the queijo coalho, grilled white cheese with brown beans, rice and seasoned farofa.
For an exquisitely exotic meal, head to Aprazivel. A tropical garden complete with monkeys, birds and tropical plants makes this a great place for the whole family. Brace yourself for tasty Brazilian cuisine with a French twist. Outdoor tables afford brow-raising views of the city.