10 of the best hotels in Rio de Janeiro, from party houses to beach boltholes

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This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK). 

Few cities are as naturally spectacular as Rio. Flanked by the Atlantic and Guanabara Bay, backed by jungle-furred peaks and strung together with miles of creamy sand, this is a place of singular beauty. The beachside neighbourhoods are the obvious areas to stay: legendary Copacabana, quieter Leme and trendier Ipanema, the gateway to Rio’s western beaches. Don’t write off inland, though — over the past decade, a new, boutique-style hotel scene has emerged. High above the historic centre, Santa Teresa is Rio’s boho bastion. Directly below is nightlife-central Lapa. 

Best for: boho style
When Amy Winehouse picked a hotel for her Rio stay, she passed up the city’s super-luxe beachfront properties for this coffee farm-turned-relaxed retreat in arty Santa Teresa. Sacks of coffee beans sit in the corridors, trees brush against the windows and in the simple bedrooms, cow hides cover the floorboards. In a garden bursting with tropical greenery, you’ll find a pool and a bar terrace overlooking Rio’s historic centre and Guanabara Bay. The hotel spills down the hillside, and one level below is pan-South American restaurant Térèze and the atmospheric Bar dos Descasados. Here, banquettes shelter behind a rustic stone colonnade and guests enjoy live comedy, jazz and Brazilian music. Note that there are no lifts. ROOMS: From R$1,670 (£265), B&B.

Best for: beach
The streets and sands of lovely Leme are in far less demand than those of neighbouring Copacabana, meaning better value when it comes to hotels. This glass tower block, which opened in 2015, is a brilliant midrange choice. Most of its elegant rooms have panoramic images of the Rio landscape spread out behind each bed, as well as peerless views of the real thing. It’s situated at the eastern end of the neighbourhood, which means it’s further from the heart of the beach scene but you’ll have fewer people to share the sand with. And if it ever gets crowded outside, there’s a rooftop pool terrace to retreat to.ROOMS: From R$700 (£110).

interior of bedroom, bright colours with distant mountains beyond the balcony

Sugarloaf Mountain, named after its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar, can be spotted from the Fairmont.

Photograph by Romulo Fialdini

Best for: views
Unquestionably the best digs on Copacabana, the Fairmont opened in 2019, turning the former Sofitel — two conjoined beehive-like tower blocks — into a world-class hotel. All 375 rooms have balconies, and even the entry level ‘city view’ categories snatch glimpses of the ocean. Rooms are classic discreet luxury, with polished wood floors, a mid-century feel to the furniture, and a few marine accents in the headboards or armchairs, echoing the view. Breakfast is served poolside, looking across the curve of Copacabana towards Sugarloaf Mountain. In addition to the two pools, there’s a beach club just across the street, where the quietest and cleanest part of Copacabana meets Ipanema. Upgrading to a Fairmont Gold room (from around £50) nets you access to a VIP lounge with free evening food and drink. ROOMS: From R$1,680 (£270), B&B.

Best for: party fiends
Bang in the middle of party neighbourhood Lapa, just below Santa Teresa, the Selina has its own radio station — the sound of samba greets you when you enter the lobby — and even a cinema. This ‘poshtel’ (posh hostel) combines dorms and snug but smart en suite rooms, with clashing colours on the walls, murals galore and record players in the ‘private plus’ rooms. Suites and ‘large suites’ are gorgeous, with antique shutters doubling as headboards, high-arched windows and the odd exposed-brick wall. Come sunset, DJs take to the rooftop bar, with its views of Lapa and Rio’s UFO-like cathedral. You’ll find the Selina’s colourful sister hotel on Copacabana.ROOMS: From $70 (£55), B&B.

reflective image of terrace pool at hotel with visitors

Arena Leme’s rooftop pool terrace is a retreat from the nearby beaches, including Copacabana.

Photograph by Jean-Jacques

Best home-from-home
Laurent Gelis fell in love with Rio on his first visit from France and, in 2006, he converted a Santa Teresa gingerbread house. Built in 1904, it’s now an atmospheric hotel, its seven rooms squeezed into turrets and eaves. Behind its yellow facade, original elements get a contemporary makeover, from antique armchairs clad in paint-spattered textiles to colour-doused beams and patterned bedspreads. Outside, there’s a pool and small garden. ROOMS: From €90 (£77), B&B.

6. Jo&Joe Rio de Janeiro Largo do Boticário 

Best for: budget 
On a quiet, cobbled cul-de-sac at the foot of Corcovado, with Christ the Redeemer looking down from on high, this is another poshtel that does Rio cool on a budget. As well as dormitories, there are en suite doubles, twins and quadruple rooms, which are perfect for families. Everything feels brand new — French group Accor renovated the 1830s mansion in 2022 — and you’ll find murals behind the beds and tropical canopy views through the huge windows. Downstairs is a stylish restaurant, where sofas and banquettes surround long tables, while outside is a compact pool bar.ROOMS: From R$220 (£36), B&B.

The colourful exterior of Jo & Joe Rio de Janeiro Largo do Boticário

The alluring pastel walls of Jo & Joe Rio de Janeiro Largo do Boticário are located at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain.

Photograph by Dhani Borges

Best for: history
A sprawling 19th-century pink villa in heritage-rich Lapa channels Argentina’s presidential palace from the front, and the mansions of New Orleans at the back, with its frilly wrought-iron balconies. Together with a 13-floor tower block, it forms the whopping 292-room Vila Galé. Poolside ‘Preserved’ rooms in the original villa have an old-school feel with high ceilings, lots of wood and classic window shutters, while standard rooms in the newer tower block, away from the road, pick up antique touches.ROOMS: From R$550 (£87), B&B. 

Best for: design buffs
Facing Ipanema’s sands, the Fasano became an instant classic when it opened in 2007, with 1950s-style interiors designed by Philippe Starck and owner Gero Fasano. Walls are clad in pau ferro, a non-endangered wood from the Amazon; Gaetano Pesce’s voluptuous Up armchairs sit in the corridors; and rooms have furniture and feature walls carved from Brazilian timber. All 89 rooms have balconies — choose one with an ocean view. Italian restaurant Gero has an outdoor patio, and the rooftop pool has views across Ipanema. ROOMS: From R$2,880 (£460). 

upper terrace bar with sleek chairs and ocean views

Fasano’s eighth-floor pool bar has views of the neighbouring peaks Corcovado and Dois Irmãos.

Photograph by Daniel Pinheiro

Best for: art lovers
Cantilevered over the coast, a beautiful mansion in the hills between Ipanema and Barra da Tijuca has been converted into eight super-luxe suites. Each is named and themed by colour, from the sexy Red suite with its whirlpool bath to the Black, whose walls of glass overlook the sea and the peaks of Dois Irmãos. While the original Warhol lithographs, contemporary sculptures and mid-century furniture from Brazilian designers are all bound to impress, the pool area is the real-jaw dropper. ROOMS: From R$931 (£150), B&B. 

Best for: sustainability
Owner Daniel Gorin’s grandparents opened this place in 1976, and in June 2023, the hotel became the first in Rio to be certified as zero-waste. Organic matter is composted and used in its bountiful planters, empty wine bottles become restaurant beakers, old linen is used to make toiletry bags — even the bins are made from recycled toothpaste tubes. And there’s no single-use plastic in sight. A block back from Ipanema Beach, it has light-filled rooms upstairs and a lobby that blends into the Quitéria Café downstairs.ROOMS: From R$750 (£120), B&B.  

Published in the October 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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