If you are coming to Brazil and planning your visit to Rio de Janeiro, you have probably added the Sugarloaf Mountain, the Christ the Redeemer statue, and Copacabana Beach to your list of things to do and see in Rio. However, if you have a couple of days to spare and are looking for different experiences and new places to visit, you might know that are great smaller towns close to Rio that are worth the trip.
Niterói is a small town just across the Bay of Guanabara, 15km away from Rio. With beautiful beaches, amazing viewpoints, and an informal vibe, there are many things to do and see in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro.
Niterói, Rio de Janeiro
Even though Niterói is a much smaller city than Rio, it is still a big city. Niterói has an estimated population of over 500,000 in a 129.38 km² of area. It is the fifth most populous city in the state.
As part of the Rio de Janeiro City Metropolitan Area, a big part of the population of Niterói commutes to Rio de Janeiro every day to study or work. During rush hours, the Rio-Niterói bridge gets very heavy traffic jams.
As you may have read before in our blog post 15 Interesting Facts About Rio de Janeiro, the land in which is now Niterói was given to the Temiminós indigenous tribe as a gift for helping the Portuguese crown to defeat the French invasion in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-seventeenth century.
People from Niterói call it Nikity. The city is also nicknamed the Smile City (Cidade Sorriso).
Things to do in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro
1. Parque da Cidade
Parque da Cidade is a public park surrounded by nature, 270 meters above sea level. There are two ramps there where people do paragliding and hang gliding. There is also a café where you can enjoy some breakfast or snacks while appreciating the view.
It has definitely one of the most beautiful views of Rio. You can see most of Rio’s landmarks from the top of the park.
Try to visit Parque da Cidade around in the afternoon and stay there to watch the sunset. You won’t regret it.
2. Fortaleza de Santa Cruz
A guided tour is offered and you will learn about the French Invasion in Rio de Janeiro during the seventeenth century, the colonial era, and different stories surrounding the Bay of Guanabara. Unfortunately, the tour is only available in Portuguese.
The place also provides a spectacular view of Rio de Janeiro, including the Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Bonus tip: The Santa Cruz fortress is located in the Jurujuba neighborhood, one of the best places to eat seafood in Niterói. Visit the fortress in the morning and stop for a nice lunch in one of the restaurants in the fishing village afterward.
3. Itacoatiara Beach
The neighborhood in which the beach is located is also protected by the government, so there are no tall buildings and not much traffic there. Nature rules and the beach is surrounded by mountains and forest.
The main mountain beside the beach, Costão de Itacoatiara, is a great spot for hiking in Rio de Janeiro. If you are looking for things to do and see in Niterói, do not hesitate to visit Itacoatiara Beach.
4. Contemporary Art Museum
The Contemporary Art Museum of Niterói (Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, aka MAC) is the most well-known landmark in Niterói. It was designed by famous archited Oscar Niemeyer in 1996.
The museum holds a permanent collection of 1,217 works from art collector João Sattamini. Truth be told, the exhibitions in the museum are not so popular among tourists. People usually visit the museum because of its architecture, location, and scenery. The museum is set on a cliffside, overviewing Icaraí Beach and the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
There is a sophisticated bistro underneath the museum if you are looking to spend some quality time enjoying the view while eating some quality food.
5. Fish Market
Rio de Janeiro is a huge coastal city, but the funny thing is there is no fish market in Rio. The best fish market around is Mercado São Pedro, located in Niterói’s city center region. It is the best place to buy the freshest fish and seafood, such as lobster, oysters, shrimps, and crabs.
Built in the 19th century, Mercado São Pedro is a tourist and gastronomic reference. It is the largest fish market in whole the State of Rio de Janeiro.
The market also has a few great restaurants on the second floor where you can bring the fish of your choice for them to cook it for you.
6. Ferry Boat Ride
Yes, there is a bridge connecting the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Niterói. However, this bridge was only built in 1985. Before that, the easiest way to cross the Bay of Guanara was to take the ferry boat. Until today, the ferry boat is the most popular way for workers, students, and tourists to commute between the two cities.
It is a pleasant trip for sightseeing and enjoying the breeze while experiencing the ride.
The boats travel between Praça XV in Rio and Niterói. Departures are frequent on weekdays and every 30 minutes to one hour on the weekends.
7. Icaraí Beach
Icaraí is probably the most popular neighborhood in Niterói. It can be compared to Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro: no houses, only tall buildings, lots of residents, lots of business, bars, restaurants, parks, and a lively promenade. Still, it is much calmer than the busy life in Copacabana.
Even though Icaraí Beach is not suitable for swimming, due to the pollution in the Bay of Guanabara, it is still a nice place for a walk. Walking along the promenade offers you nice scenery while enjoying the informal and quieter vibe of Niterói.
It is a great place to enjoy the afternoon drinking fresh coconut water, playing beach football, volleyball, or riding a bike.
How to get to Niterói, Rio de Janeiro
Coming from Rio de Janeiro, there are a few options to get to Niterói. However, these are the two easiest ways to visit the city across the Bay of Guanabara:
As we have mentioned before, the ferry boat is a popular way to get to Niterói. The ferry line connects Rio’s city center to Niterói’s city center. It is a 15-minute trip and you also get to enjoy the view of the bay, the Rio-Niterói bridge, and the coast. The one-way ticket costs R$6,50 as of March 2021.
The 740 bus line connects Ipanema and Charitas, a neighborhood in Niterói. It is a great option to choose from if you want to experience going through the Rio-Niterói bridge, the second-longest bridge in Latin America and the 48th longest in the world.
This bus leaves Praça General Osório in Ipanema and goes through Copacabana, Santos Dumont airport, Rio’s city centre, Niterói’s city Centre, Icaraí, São Francisco, and Charitas neighborhoods. It costs R$8.65 and works from 5 am to 9 pm.