The Visitor’s Guide To Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro’s “Little Lisbon”
The Visitor’s Guide To Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro’s “Little Lisbon”
Published January 3, 2020
Did you know that Rio de Janeiro has a little slice of Europe tucked away on one of its suburban hillsides? Santa Teresa is a beautiful area that will make you feel like you’re in Portugal until you come across one of its many scenic lookout spots, reminding you that you’re still in Brazil!
If you’ve already spent some time in Rio enjoying the beaches, visiting Christ the Redeemer, and riding the Pão de Açúcar cable car, you should check out some of the lesser-known parts of the city. Santa Teresa isn’t the only option, but it is a place you definitely won’t regret spending a sunny morning or afternoon. This post will explain how to get there and what to do when you arrive!
Where exactly is Santa Teresa?
This is a question worth asking, and the answer isn’t immediately obvious! Other travel blogs might recommend spending an afternoon in this hilly, upscale neighborhood without explaining where to go. Google Maps isn’t exactly helpful, either: it shows a miles-long, weirdly-shaped area stretching from northeast to southwest. Perhaps these are the official boundaries of Santa Teresa.
The answer is that Santa Teresa is centered at Largo do Guimarães (Guimarães Plaza), located here. Once you arrive, you can explore the surroundings at your own pace, and there is no shortage of interesting things to discover nearby. Listed below are three different ways to get there: on foot, by trolley, or using Uber.
Option 1: Walk from Escadaria Selarón
Escadaria Selarón is a famous alley that was transformed into a massive work of art by Chilean-Brazilian artist Jorge Selarón. It’s another must-see for any visitor to Rio, and will be covered in more depth in a future post about the area where it’s located, Lapa.
If you climb all the way to the top of the stairs, you’ll find yourself on a road called Ladeira de Santa Teresa. Turn left and continue up the hill, and when you come to the T-intersection, turn right. Follow Rua Dias de Barros, which turns into Rua Alm. Alexandrino, and you’ll find yourself at Largo do Guimarães.
Option 2: Take the tram
The old-fashioned yellow tram is a symbol of Santa Teresa and one of the reasons this neighborhood feels so much like Lisbon. Riding the tram is an easy way to get from Centro (Rio’s downtown) to Santa Teresa. It starts at the Estação de Bondes de Santa Teresa, passes over the Carioca Aqueduct, and runs along Rua Joaquim Murtinho, which merges into Rua Alm. Alexandrino at Largo do Curvelo.
The final stop of the tram line is here. After a brief stop, it turns around and goes back towards downtown. I have some more comments about the tram as a tourist attraction at the end of this post, but if you’re using it as a means of transportation, I recommend staying on until it reaches the terminal stop and turns around. You can get off at Largo do Guimarães on the return trip.
Option 3: Use Uber
Uber and other similar apps are the most straightforward way to make it to Largo do Guimarães. However, it’s the least scenic means of transportation.
Points of Interest in Santa Teresa
Now that you know how to get there, let’s take a look at some of the things that make Santa Teresa such an interesting part of Rio de Janeiro.
This area is so reminiscent of Lisbon due to the traditional Portugese architecture and the winding cobblestone streets with trolley tracks. If you look at a map of Largo do Guimarães, the whole thing can end up looking pretty maze-like, so it’s best to just arrive and get a sense of the layout on foot.
In terms of architecture, Santa Teresa has a lot of bright colors, typical red tile rooftops, azulejos (Portuguese ceramic tiles that are often but not always blue and white), as well as the occasional castle motif.
It’s clear that at least in the vicinity of Largo do Guimarães, Santa Teresa is a pretty upscale residential area.
Bars and Restaurants
A quick walk around the neighborhood is all you need to know that a lot of trendy bars and restaurants are clustered near Largo do Guimarães. Here are three that I tried to give you an idea of what’s available.
Café do Alto
I will never turn down cuisine from the Brazilian northeast, so I had to get lunch at Café do Alto when I passed by it. The fish with farofa and mashed plantain I got was amazing! So was the roll cake (bolo de rolo) for dessert, which is a specialty from Pernambuco.
This high-end restaurant connected to the MGallery Santa Teresa Hotel offers a creative, modern menu. I enjoyed the vegan moqeuca I ordered and the pavlova cake served with passion fruit and ice cream for dessert.
This bar with a large outdoor patio had a unique selection of cocktails inspired from Brazil and around the world. Their food menu includes some international dishes, so I’m hoping to go back and see if they make a good nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) or satay chicken. The two drinks I tried were delicious, so I imagine the food would be good, too!
Be sure to take some time while you’re in Santa Teresa to admire the panoramic views of Rio from the neighborhood’s many lookout spots. Here are four that I found, but I’m sure there are others as well.
Mirante do Rato Molhado
This one has a funny name that means “Wet Rat Lookout” in Portuguese, but the view of Niterói to the southeast is amazing, especially with the domestic airport and the area known as Glória in the foreground.
Rua Joaquim Murtinho
Follow the trolley tracks from Largo do Curvelo down the hill a bit to see a relatively close-up view of the city skyline, including a good view of the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião (the cone-shaped cathedral) and the Edifício Sede da Petrobras (a corporate building that has a unique checkerboard design).
Rua Dias de Barros
This quiet little lookout that you’ll pass by if you’re walking up from Escadaria Selarón offers a unique perspective of Botafogo and Pão de Açucar looking directly south.
Rua Alm. Alexandrino
From Largo do Guimarães, this road snakes its way to the southwest along the crest of a hill ridge. It offers some incredible views of downtown Rio and Guanabara Bay to the north. It also will allow you to see some favelas without having to enter them.
I’ve been as far south as the final trolley stop (located here).Walking along this part of the road didn’t feel dangerous, but it was a pretty quiet street. Staying alert is never a bad idea. You could also ride the trolley down to this point and then walk back; below is a bit more information about that.
Review of the Santa Teresa Tram
As mentioned above, the tram is a quick and convenient way to get from Rio’s Centro district up to Santa Teresa. However, you should be aware that it’s not exactly the best tourist attraction, and here’s why. The trolley moves pretty quickly and whisks passengers through the center of Santa Teresa without giving them much time to take anything in. There’s also no tour or narration, so it’s not a great way to learn about anything you’re seeing.
Furthermore, the trolley route starts downtown, ends at a fairly random stop, then returns to the city center along the same route. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll end up exactly where you started! That’s why I recommend getting off at Largo do Guimarães on the return trip. Adventurous travelers who want to enjoy the views along Rua Alm. Alexandrino can alternatively get off at Dois Irmãos trolley stop and walk about half an hour back to Largo do Guimarães.
Is riding the tram a cool thing to do? Yes. Are you missing out on an integral experience if you don’t have time for it? No. From downtown, tickets can be purchased at the station here and cost 20 BRL for a round-trip.
Would you visit Santa Teresa?
Travelers who are only spending a couple days in Rio de Janeiro may not have time to check out Santa Teresa. But if you’re staying for a week or longer, you should absolutely spend an afternoon over there on a clear day. The views are stunning and the bohemian atmosphere is a nice change of pace from the crowded beaches.
What do you think? Does this lesser-known part of Rio interest you? Leave a comment below and let me know! If you are heading that way, enjoy your time at Largo do Guimarães! Thanks for reading!
This post was published on Jan 3, 2021