Why Urca Is My Favorite Neighborhood In Rio de Janeiro

Published November 18, 2020

Hi guys, and welcome to Caffeinated Excursions. As you can see, this blog post is dedicated to my loving grandma, Vicki, who passed away too soon due to COVID-19. She was a traveler and an adventurer who supported me and this blog so much. When I quit my 9-to-5 to become an ESL teacher in 2019, Grandma Vicki had my back and believed in me. She never minced words either and held each of her six grandkids to a high standard; our family is all the better for it. She truly made the world a better place and will be missed dearly.

With that in mind, I’d like to dedicate this post to my Grandma Vicki because it will cover my favorite neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro: Urca. Despite being so close to the center of the city, it’s a quiet and calm area. I think she would’ve loved the oceanfront walk, the cool breeze under the shade trees, and the European vibe.

Urca is also home to Rio’s world-famous Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). This distinctive dome-shaped peak made entirely of rock towers over the city’s tallest skyscrapers. It’s so steep that the only way up is by cable car (there is technically a way to climb it, but this should only be attempted by very experienced climbers and the “trail” may not even be open right now due to the pandemic).

Pão de Açúcar on the left (the taller peak) and Morro da Urca (Urca Hill) on the right. This picture was taken from Botafogo Beach.

I’ll be writing a separate blog post soon about how to visit by cable car, since it’s one of Rio’s must-see attractions. This post will feature some of the other things to see and do in this quaint and calm part of an otherwise bustling city.

Urca from above

Highlights of Urca

Defining Features of the Area

Since Urca is located at the foot of a massive stone mountain, the most interesting thing about it is that if you look up, you’ll see these incredibly large walls of rock towering over the houses and apartments. It almost feels like being in a canyon, except there’s always a waterfront within a block or two.

In addition, Urca has a lot of traditional architecture. Although Rio’s downtown has even older colonial structures, this neighborhood appears to have been very upscale back in the day. Many of the houses are grand and regal, and most appear to be in good condition.

Finally, since Urca is surrounded on three sides by water, it’s home to some of my favorite beaches in Rio. They’re a little more out of the way than the more famous Copacabana and Ipanema, so they’re usually less crowded. The next section will highlight the two main beaches.

Beaches

Praia Vermelha

The larger of the two beaches is called Praia Vermelha, which means “Red Beach” and can be found here. What makes this one unique is that it’s surrounded by stone cliffs on both sides. On very clear days, you can even see all the way across the bay to Niterói.

To get to Praia Vermelha, you’ll have to walk through Praça General Tibúrcio (General Tibúrcio Plaza), which feels a lot like a public garden. It’s got a monument and a reflecting pool, and there are a couple of other marble statues nearby.

Praia Vermelha is also where the terminal station is for the cable car. If you want to go to the top of Pão de Açúcar, this is where you should head.

Praia Vermelha in the foreground and Copacabana Beach in the background.

Praia da Urca

The other public beach in the area is Praia da Urca. This tiny white sand beach is only a ten or fifteen minute walk from Praia Vermelha, but it faces inland and offers a stunning view of downtown Rio as well as Christ the Redeemer on a clear day.

Praia da Urca as seen from above

Behind Praia Urca are two historic buildings: the IED Rio, which I believe is home to a cafe, and Predio da antiga TV Tupi, which I think is an abandoned TV broadcasting station.

Mureta da Urca

The word “mureta” means little wall, and it refers to the waterfront pedestrian path that runs all the way along Urca’s shoreline. It is easy to walk and offers a view of both the Sugarloaf Mountain as well as the areas known as Botafogo and Flamengo on the other side of the water.

Like many other scenic walks in Brazil, Mureta da Urca is made of calçada portuguesa, or Portuguese pavement. This distinctive type of pavement is made of square-shaped stones that are often arranged in black and white mosaic patterns.

Street Art

Like many other parts of Rio, Urca and the main road connecting it to the rest of the city boast a lot of impressive street art and murals. Keep an eye out for them as you explore on foot!

Traditional Architecture

Compared to the slightly more modern areas further south, much of the architecture in Urca has been preserved and maintained. Perhaps this is because it’s not the most convenient place to live for people who work downtown. Maybe the steep cliffs make it difficult to developers to build high-rises here. Regardless of the reason, I love Urca’s historic vibe because it feels more European than many other parts of Rio.

Food Options

There are a couple of bars and restaurants near both beaches mentioned above. However, Urca doesn’t have a ton of restaurant options seeing as it’s mostly residential. I personally recommend eating before you visit Urca and then grabbing a snack or drink here if you want to.

Fortaleza de São João

If you walk all the way along the mureta, you’ll find yourself at Fortaleza de São João, a large fort occupying the furthest part of the peninsula. There’s a checkpoint to enter, and when I asked if foreigners could visit, they said it was only open to military personnel. There appear to be some extra beaches and a museum here, but they don’t appear to be accessible to tourists.

How to Get to Urca

Urca is a short Uber ride from most parts of Rio. If you want to take public transport, the closest metro stop is Botafogo. From there, you’ll walk about twenty minutes east along Avenida Pasteur. This involves crossing some major roads though, and although there are a series of crosswalks and underpasses, it can be a bit confusing. If you’d rather not deal with that, Uber is probably the easiest choice. You could call the car to bring you to Praia Vermelha and then easily walk to everything else mentioned in this post.

Avenida Pasteur, which connects Botafogo to Urca
Avenida Pasteur, which connects Botafogo to Urca

Please Stay Safe & Healthy, Friends ❤️

I hope you enjoyed reading about Urca and learning about my Grandma Vicki if you don’t know me or her personally. I want to end this post reminding everyone to stay as safe as possible, especially as COVID case numbers seem to be spiking in the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps due to the changing seasons. If you’ve also lost a loved one to this terrible pandemic, I feel your loss.

I want to thank you guys for reading! Be sure to check back soon for my next post, which will be all about the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain. Have a great day, and be sure to remind the people in your life that you love and appreciate them! Until next time.

Extended family vacation to Florida, summer 2011
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This post was published on Nov 18, 2020

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Barb Peterson

    What a beautiful blog, and I am sure she loved you as much or more than you loved her! Treasure your memories

  2. Kailyn Travels

    The neighborhood looks awesome, and the post is a beautiful tribute.

  3. Jamie Italiane

    Kevin, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother. It is beautiful that she passed her love of travel on to you and now you will always have her in your thoughts when you travel. I did not lose my grandmother to COVID, but as complications of dementia a few years ago. I was with my father in Norway when we found out and felt a peace that she will always be with us. I love a view, so can’t wait to hear about the cable car ride.

  4. Delphine Mignon

    My deepest condolences for your loss, Kevin… It’s so nice of you to dedicate a post to your grandma… I’ve had Covid myself and can confirm it’s a serious condition, hopefully a vaccine will be operational soon. I didn’t know the famous Sugarloaf was in Urca but I’ll remember that now. Loved your photos of the street art, I always check that out when I visit a new city!

  5. Eric Gamble

    First of all, my deepest condolences for your loss Kevin. I too lost my biggest supporter of my adventures this year when My Mother died suddenly in March of this year. I hope that your Grandmother Vicki is sitting with my mom, Lili watching both of us explore this amazing world and chatting with all of their friends in heaven on how proud they are of us! You honor her.
    Now as for Urca, I can easily see why this is one of your favorite neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro! I would love riding the gondola up to the top of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain)! But Those beaches are what are really selling me on why this is a bucket list destination for our first trip to Rio for sure! How beautiful! We love exploring Street Art too. Man, Urca has everything!

  6. Umiko

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your grandma. It must be hard, no matter was the cause. I’m sure your grandma will love Urca. A beautiful beach area with giant rocks around and historical buildings to explore. She will be thrilled riding in a cable car.

  7. Emma Todd

    Urca looks so beautiful. I love how no matter where you are, you seem to be admiring the unique rocky mountains that tower over the town. I would definitely have to take the Cable Car ride to Sugarloaf Mountain if I ever find myself in Urca. By the sounds of it, your Grandmother would have loved to have explored the neighbourhood. I’m really sad to hear about your loss.

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