How To Visit Ilha Fiscal, Rio de Janeiro’s Fairytale Castle
Published December 22, 2020
The most famous attractions in Rio de Janeiro include Christ the Redeemer, the Pão de Açúcar cable car, Ipanema, and Copacabana. Visitors to the city will want to make sure they see these four things at a minimum. Beyond that, it’s really up to you how you want to spend the rest of your time here. There are so many breathtaking attractions that aren’t world-famous, and this post will focus on one of them: Ilha Fiscal.
Whether you’ve seen it from the waterfront in downtown Rio, passed by it while riding the ferry, or come across it while browsing a map of the city, the castle on Ilha Fiscal (which means Fiscal Island and is pronounced “IL-ya fis-COW”) is undoubtedly eye-catching. Its striking mint color is enough to pique anyone’s curiosity, and this post will explain how to visit.
There’s very little information in English online, so I’m hoping that this breakdown points you in the right direction! The castle tour only lasts about two hours, so it’s a great way to spend half of an afternoon and still have the rest of the day to see other things. I’ll start by explaining how and where to buy tickets, then give a short review of the tour, and end with some closing thoughts and comments.
How and Where to Buy Tickets
If you’ve already done a cursory Google search, you may have come across the official website for Ilha Fiscal, a bare-bones page that is only in Portuguese. If you can read the language or plug it into a translator, you may be able to navigate to an external portal that appears to offer online ticket sales, but I didn’t bother with this. It’s much more straightforward to purchase tickets in person on the day you want to do the tour.
A couple of useful pieces of information from the website include the scheduled tour times (12:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:30 p.m.), their holiday schedule (under “Funcionamento”), prices (36 BRL per adult as of December 2020), and the fact that you’re supposed to check in twenty minutes before your tour is scheduled to start.
If you’d like to buy tickets in person, you’ll need to go to the Navy Cultural Space (Espaço Cultural da Marinha). I recommend going between 11:00 a.m. and noon for the best chance at getting the time slot you want. I would also recommend going on a weekday if you can to avoid crowds.
Paper tickets can be purchased at the booth at the entrance with cash or card. If you arrive a little early, you can wander around the Cultural Space, which has a couple of tanks, helicopters, and other things on display.
There is also a submarine that you can walk through if you have time.
Review of the Tour
Around twenty minutes before your tour begins, they’ll make an announcement over loudspeaker to line up at the main entrance. From here, they’ll bring you over as a group to this pier, where you’ll hand your ticket over and board an old-timey boat that will take you to Fiscal Island.
A look at the map shows that Ilha Fiscal is connected to Ilha das Cobras via a road, which in turn is connected to the mainland by a second bridge. However, visitors cannot access the castle this way as Ilha das Cobras is an active military area that isn’t open to tourists. This is why the only way to visit Ilha Fiscal is by guided tour.
The boat ride is short and sweet (about twenty minutes). There are some great views of the colonial architecture on Ilha das Cobras as well as a view of downtown Rio to the southwest. As you approach the castle and sail around it before docking, have your camera ready! After you disembark, it will be harder to capture the entire structure in one full shot.
Upon arrival, you’ll be split into groups and assigned a tour guide. He or she will show you various rooms inside the castle. The interior decor is elegant, and the stained glass windows are especially stunning.
As far as I’m aware, tours are only offered in Portuguese, not English or Spanish. My Portuguese was good enough to pick up that the island was given its name because it was a customs stop for boats coming into harbor before Brazil declared independence from Portugal. The Ilha Fiscal castle is also famous for the imperial grand balls that were held here.
One of the most stunning parts of the interior is the second floor, which you’ll climb a spiral staircase to get to.
There’s also a portion of the tour where you’ll get to wander outside on one of the balconies. During this time, keep an eye out for planes coming in! That’s because Rio’s domestic airport is a stone’s throw from Ilha Fiscal across a little section of the bay. Even with the pandemic, planes seemed to come in pretty frequently, and I managed to capture this video while we were out there on the roof.
After the organized part of the tour, you’ll be given about half an hour to wander the grounds on your own. This is when you can take pictures if you so choose.
Finally, the boat will bring you back to the same dock where you departed from downtown. From here, you’ll be free to go on your way directly (there’s no need to return to the Navy Cultural Space unless you want to).
I highly recommend this short tour if you have time during your visit to Rio. The fact that they don’t seem to offer English or Spanish tours suggests that Ilha Fiscal might be a better-kept secret than some of the other attractions mentioned at the beginning of this post. That’s all the more reason to go!
Some tourists might steer clear of downtown Rio (Centro) because there isn’t a sandy beach here and parts of it can feel a bit grungy, but I for one highly recommend checking out this part of the city. There are so many other interesting things to see near Ilha Fiscal and the Navy Cultural Space. I’ll be writing about some of them in an upcoming blog post, so keep an eye out for it!
Have you been to Ilha Fiscal before? Did this post help you figure out how to visit? Leave a comment below and let me know! I hope this post is a good resource for anyone interested in seeing this beautiful castle up close. If you’re in Rio right now, enjoy your time in one of the most stunning cities on Earth, and thanks for reading!
This post was published on Dec 22, 2020