Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in particular are more pricey than other countries in South America. It can be frustrating when the malls are stuffed with designer retail and budget options are nowhere to be seen. I paid R$350 for a beginners tennis racket and R$150 for a football in Rio. We’ve never been able to justify the price of a microwave. But what is expensive and what isn’t? Where can you save money in Rio? And what’s worth splashing out on?
With the right approach, it’s possible to enjoy Rio without breaking the bank. By knowing where to save money and where to splurge, you can make the most of your trip to this vibrant city.
In this guide, we’ll help you navigate the high costs and find ways to save. From free activities to affordable food options, we’ve got you covered. And if you do want to splurge, we’ll tell you what’s worth the extra cost.
Don’t let the high prices in Rio put a damper on your travel plans. Read on for our tips on how to save money and have a great time in this beautiful city.
Here’s our highlights on seeing Rio de Janeiro on the cheap.
We also have a post dedicated to 10 Tips to See Brazil on the Cheap!
Hikes and Nature
If there is one reason to live in Rio de Janeiro, it’s the natural bliss. Mountain and rock faces jutting vertically up between the skyscrapers and the constant hum of the sea breeze. There is no excuse to stay indoors and all the reasons to immerse yourself in the subtropical outdoors. A couple of key notes are that Rio is sweltering most of the year. Some outside jaunts offer no solace from the sun, so early risers or late afternoon plans will bide well. Also, don’t head anywhere that is weirdly deserted. Probably you’ll be fine. But Rio has high inequality and you can be perceived as a walking dollar bill.
Stunning Free Walks in the City of Rio de Janeiro
Aterro do Flamengo has a bike lane, a walking lane, and a jogging lane that run from Botafogo Beach to Marina da Glória. In the mornings, Flamengo Beach is filled with fitness classes and volleyball clubs, so you can choose whatever sport you please! Make sure to enter the beach via the most secure underground tunnel/walkway opposite Rua Tucumã and Boteco Belmonte Flamengo. For food, Boteco Belmonte serves a thin-cut steak with sauce poured onto a plate-sized homemade bread (the size of your head). At Marina da Glória, there are high-class restaurants like the Argentinian a la carte steakhouse Corrientes 348 or by the same owners the rodízio (all you can eat) version Assador Rio’s. Assador Rios is parked on the Aterro do Flamengo with arguably the best view of Pão de Açucar. In the marina, you can marvel at some of the largest privately owned yachts in the country, including the one owned by singer Roberto Carlos (it’s the biggest one).
Urca wall walk is located in the peaceful peninsula of Urca that houses the Sugarloaf Mountain. This neighborhood harbours old houses and cobble streets. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful landscape than the view from the wall that envelops this neighbourhood. Christ embraces the city from above, while fishing boats and yachts bob in the waters at your feet. Snack at Bar Urca on Rua Cândido Gaffrèe, 205, where you can dangle your legs above the water and soak in the atmosphere.
Dois Irmãos Hike takes you to the mountain that lurches above Leblon beach. The mountain has two peaks, which gives it the name Two Brothers (Dois Irmãos). To reach this hike take a combi or moto taxi from Vidigal entrance to the top of the community. Ask to be taken to Dois Irmãos. The path up the mountain is fairly easy, but there are plenty of local guided tours, if you fancy the company and peace of mind. You’ll gain 1,073 ft / 327 m in elevation.
Parque Lage sits on Rua Jardim Botânico in a neighborhood that merges into the Tijuca forest. Entrance is free to this public park. You can hike up to Corcovado Mountain, where Christ the Redeemer statue lives, from a trail looping out the back of the property. You’ll still have to pay the entrance fee to the monument, even after such an epic climb.
Leme to Leblon beach front walk. The heartbeat of Rio de Janeiro pulses along the beachfront roads. The Atlantic oceans batters against the edges of the city, where a vibrant life has evolved. There is a bike and jogging lane, as well as a pebble-paved sidewalk dedicated to everyone else. They both run parallel to the ocean. Our Copacabana and Ipanema knockout neighborhood guides list some of the best activities to marvel on this beach walk.
Lagoa de Rodrigo de Freitas is a salt water lagoon that feeds into the ocean and receives fresh water from the Tijuca Forest. The whole walk around the lake is 7.5km. At Christmas a corporate sponsor (usually a bank) mounts a giant Christmas tree of lights. The tree holds a free light and music spectacle throughout December, viewable from anywhere around the lake.
Cheap Way to Enter Trails and Excursions
Jardim Botânico is the city’s botanical garden that was landscaped during Emperor Dom Pedro I’s rule. It is R$60.00 for foreign visitors to enter. Residents or students studying in Brazil will pay R$24.00. You will need to show your student card or a prove of address. Open Tue-Sun 8am-17:00pm and from 12:00 noon on Mondays.
Fort de Leme is R$4.00 to enter. The trail winds up to a military fort with a view to Sugar Loaf on the right and Cristo o Redentor (Christ statue) on the left.
Both hikes above are ideal for spotting monkeys. Read all our suggestions on Where to See Monkeys in Rio in this post.
Ilha de Paquetá is a island with a perimetre of 8km and floats in the Guanabara Bay. To reach it catch a ferry boat from the port in downtown called Praça XV (Quinze) de Novembro. You can walk there from the Mêtro stop Carioca. Although the island’s beaches and water are fairly polluted, the walk around and boat ride can be refreshing. There are no cars on the island, so if you fancy, jump on a horse-drawn wagon for a spin into the colonial past.
Museums and the Arts in Rio de Janeiro on the Cheap
Students and seniors (70+) get half price on everything cultural. The student ID must be from a Brazilian institution though, but with the current exchange rate you can help by pumping some foreign currency into Brazil’s economy.
Arts and Entertainment in Rio
Live Music in Rio de Janeiro
Vivo Rio has bargain show prices with world-class Brazilian musicians. The concert hall is set up in tables, like a fancy gala dinner. You can order food and drinks to your table.
Circo Voador is an outdoor venue in Lapa. They host all genres and with lower prices than the large arenas. For top national artists tickets can be R$160 (US$30). Often Circo Voador sell promotional tickets, granting half-price tickets with a 1KG donation of non-perishable food.
Fundição Progresso is based in a renovated casting and welding factory in Lapa. They hold concerts as well as cultural events like discussion panels, workshops and independent cinema nights.
Cantinho Cearense, Quiosque Globo or Skol 360 Copacabana kiosk on the Copacabana beach regularly conscript some local musicians to entertain guests. The small cover charge of R$10.00-R$20.00 will be added to your bill.
Pedra do Sal has free live music and dancing. The most badalada (livley in Portuguese) day is Monday, but you’ll find music on Friday and Saturday too. Located on Rua Argemiro Bulcão, 1 – Saúde.
The cost to enter many clubs in Lapa is reasonable, even those that offer live music. Enter Carioca da Gema for as little as R$25.00.
Other entertainment choices for cheap in Rio de Janeiro
Many cinemas in Rio are affiliated with banks or entertainment corporations. In Botafogo Estação Net cinema offers discounts to those who bring a Net bill with their name on. On Praia de Botafogo Espaço Itaú de Cinema also give discounts for clients with a Itaú card. As a tourist you probably won’t be able to access these deals, but expats will definitely find their bank or internet offers cheap tickets somewhere in the city.
Rio Jockey Club on a Sunday holds weekly horse racing contests. Though the restaurants are not cheap, you can just get a drink inside the main building and watch the races for free. They are fussy about shorts, so wear trousers!
Cheap Museums in Rio de Janeiro
Palácio de Catete is a museum set in the old Presidential Palace when Rio de Janeiro was the capital. On the top floor you can see the pajamas with the bullet hole where President Gertúlio Vargas shot himself in the heart.
Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil is a free museum in downtown, Rua Primeiro de Março, 66 – Centro.
Museu do Amanhã was built just before the Rio Olympics in the newly renovated Old Port called Praça Mauá. At the moment the museum is offering free entrance, but you must book online due to COVID-19 regulations. The museum has various scientific and nature exhibitions aimed at educating on what the future holds in store.
Cheap Rio Sporting Events
Depending on the team playing, football matches can be a low-cost sport to watch in Rio. We saw Botafogo in Maracanã for R$10.00.
Rio Jockey Club has free entrance to watch the horse riding every Sunday. The club is located in the Jardim Botânico neighbourhood.
Head to the bars, restaurants and kiosks on the beachfront in Barra to watch the surfing competitions and kite surfing. Kite surfing activities happen on Praia Pepe at the beginning of Barra.
Transportation in Rio de Janeiro on the Cheap
Airport Transport: There is a coach style blue bus (called Ônibus Especial) connecting the Rio Galeão International Airport to Rio Downtown, Zona Sul and Santos Dumont Airport. However, this is not advisable at night. The taxi into Zona Sul is actually only R$60.00. So with luggage and lack of internet, it’s probably the best option.
Bus costs: R$4.05 per journey or multiple buses within 90 mins.
Metro costs: R$5.00 per journey (you can switch lines if you don’t leave the station barrier).
For public transport for Rio residents you want to buy the Bilhete Único Carioca, which let’s you use as many buses, underground mêtro, or VLT as you need in a 150 minute period. It costs R$3.00 per journey. You can purchase on the bus, at stations and booths by certain stops and can top up the card with any value you want to use in the future.
Bargain Food in Rio de Janeiro
Go for the Executive Lunch Menu, which translates as the lunch Set Menu. You will get a balanced meal for a fraction of the A La Carte menu.
Eat in the kilo restaurants. The food is set up in a buffet style and your plate is weighed. You pay for the weight of the food you chose. The trick is not mixing too many flavours and not getting carried away. It’s by the kilo, not an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Eat feijoada, a bean and pork stew on a Saturday or Friday. Available around the city.
We have a list of 6 Restaurants for Traditional Brazilian Cuisine that have both cheap and more pricey menus.
Remember that by drinking local you will avoid the 100% tax added on imported booze. The national alcohol is cachaça, drank as shots or in caipirinhas or Smirnoff Vodka for fruit caipiroskas.
Saara Market in Uruguai is a labyrinth of market stalls and cheap shops. Get cangas (beach sarongs), havaianas, souvenirs and memorabilia for cheaper than in Zona Sul. You’ll get lost in the maze of shops, the streets are packed like sardines in a can. The name Saara stands for Sociedade de Amigos das Adjacências da Rua da Alfândega and you can find it at Rua da Alfândega, s/n – Centro by taking the Mêtro to Uruguai.
Largo do Machado Galeria Condor is a small mall hidden inside a building on the square of this tiny neighbourhood. They have some shops with memorabilia and a cheap supermarket called Extra. Read our Largo do Machado guide for more details on shopping here.
Santa Teresa boutiques offers some custom designed clothes at a better price than the Brazilian designers like Cantão, Farm and Animal. You will find a bargain tucked away in this bohemian district. Reach Santa Teresa by taking a Mêtro to Cinelândia, walking up the Lapa Stairs and continuing up the hill. Or you can take the shuttle tram called the Santa Teresa Bonde costing R$20.00.
The cheapest supermarket is Extra that only accepts cash and national debit card. Your foreign debit card is actually recognised as a credit card for some reason. Princess supermarkets, though few and far, are also cheap cheap cheap.
For household extras go to Casa e Video or Lojas Americanas.