Top Tips to Enjoy Rio on a Budget

Let’s face it: Travelling ain’t cheap, and visiting Rio can be expensive… especially if you’re not familiar with the city and it’s your first time in the area.

Of course the cost of visiting Rio truly depends on what time of the year you visit: During touristy seasons accommodation prices hike up by at least 30%, especially during the summer months (or between December and February). And let’s not forget that the cost of everything nearly triples during holidays and festivals like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter and Carnival (for obvious reasons).

But if you’re looking for a few tricks to try in order to save a few Brazilian Reals (or more!) and cut down on your daily travel spending, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Research which museums offer free admission on certain days

Although there are a ton of free landmarks and attractions to check out in Rio (such as The Escadaria Selarón, the National Library and the Metropolitan Cathedral, just to name a few), unfortunately the most popular museums in Rio charge admission to visitors… but not every day of the week. So if you really want to see as many museums as humanly possible during your trip to Rio but you don’t feel like paying an arm and a leg to do so, find out which museums offer free admission on what days, and then organize your visits around that.

Here is a list of Rio’s top museums which are free to visit on specific days:

  • The Museum of Tomorrow (on Tuesdays)
  • The Rio Art Museum (on Tuesdays)
  • The National Museum of Fine Arts (on Sundays)
  • The Museum of Modern Art (on Wednesdays)
  • The Museum of the Republic (on Wednesdays and Sundays)

Know when to eat and/or stick to the “Por Kilo” restaurants

In case you weren’t already aware, Brazilian culture is kind of big on snacks. Because of this, you can easily wander around Rio and find a budget snack bar offering dishes like Aipim Fritos, Bolinhos de Bacalhaus or Coxinhas that will fill you up for hours on end.

But if you’re looking for something a little more filling, the best way to save some money on food would be to eat during lunchtime (especially between 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.), as many restaurants in the city offer budgeted lunches to all the local office employees heading out during their lunchbreak.

These lunch dishes (which are normally called “pratos feitos,” “pratos executivos” or sometimes simply just “executivos”) usually consist of a set plate of beans, rice and selected meat with vegetables or a small salad, and are a great way to fill up on food instead of dishing out a ton of money for an expensive dinner at a restaurant.

If you do decide to have a hearty meal for dinner, however, stick to Rio’s famous “Por Kilo” restaurants (or buffet restaurants) where you can pay for the weight of your food that’s put on your plate. These restaurants are scattered all around the city so you won’t have to look very hard to find them, and they usually charge around $3.50 to $4 for every 100 grams of food. (Be aware that these restaurants do charge more for sushi and churrasco, however, and desserts are usually more expensive than the salads and entrées).

Party it up in the streets and avoid the bar entry fees altogether

Given that Rio is famous all around the world for being one of the most happening party cities on the planet, heading out for a night on the town in Rio is an obvious must. But be forewarned that some of the most popular bars and nightclubs charge pretty hefty entry fees, (not to mention the drinks can be quite expensive as well).

One way to avoid spending a large chunk of your savings in a bar or nightclub is to avoid them altogether, and stick to the streets instead (just as the locals do). If you head to places like Pedra do Sal or São Salvador Square, you can mingle amongst the locals who are out enjoying some beers and listening to live music in the streets. (Pedra do Sal, for example, is famous for its free samba circles which usually take place around 7 p.m. between Monday and Friday).

And don’t forget that Lapa is famous for its lively street parties, which is where the locals normally go to before heading to a bar or nightclub later on in the night. Here you will often find barracas (or kiosks) offering snacks and cheap caipirinhas to customers, and who knows, you might stumble upon a hardcore samba dancing session as well!

Take advantage of the natural (and free!) attractions

As if there was any point in stating the obvious, but Rio is kind of famous for being a city filled with wondrous natural beauty: With the pristine beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, the massive summits of Sugarloaf and Corcovado… Rio is the type of city that has a perfect combination of a bustling metropolis and stunning natural attractions.

From the tons of greenery in Parque Lage (where you can even follow the trail for three hours up to the Christ the Redeemer statue) or the magnificent Horto waterfall (located just 15 minutes from the city centre), you can literally wander from one natural attraction to the other without having to pay a Real. (Plus you could always shop for food in a local supermarket and have a super-cheap picnic in any of Rio’s parks as well).

If you’re looking for free picnic spots that offer dazzling views of the city as well as Rio’s top attractions, head to Botafogo beach for unspoiled views of Sugarloaf Mountain, or the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon where you can easily spot sites like the Pedra da Gávea and the Christ the Redeemer Statue.

You could even check out the Pista Cláudio Coutinho (which has a picturesque walking trail leading to Morro da Urca, or the first platform of Sugarloaf Mountain), and from here you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Rio as the sun sets.

Want to check out Rio’s best spots for a super cheap price? Join us on our Free Rio de Janeiro Tour.