Rio de Janeiro is one of the most densely populated places on earth, having more then six million inhabitants. The Cariocas - as the inhabitants are called - thrive on dance, drink, beach, sport and sun. The international tourist crowd take advantage of Rio's ritzy side - there are innumerable opportunities to be decadent. But Rio also has much to offer to budget traveller. There are cheap hotels and restaurants aplenty, and the beach is a free entertainment zone.
The early 1920s to the late 1950s saw Rio's golden age. It became a romantic, exotic destination for Hollywood stars and international high society, which came to enjoy in the city's posh casinos and nightclubs. The city remained the political capital of Brazil until 1960, when the capital was moved to Brasília. During that time, there was a hotel building boom along the beaches that saw the rise of big hotels like the Sheraton and Rio Palace. Rio is filled with things to see. There is a good collection of museums housing everything from 20th-century Brazilian art to information on Brazil's indigenous people; charming old neighbourhoods; exotic parks and gardens, and unforgettable mountain views of the city.
What to see
Among its sculptures, murals and other works of art, the four vivid stained-glass windows, which stretch 60m (196ft) to the ceiling, are the most breathtaking
This lime-green, neogothic palace was designed by engineer Adolfo del Vecchio and completed in 1889. Originally used to supervise port operations, the palace is famous as the location of the last Imperial Ball on 9 November 1889.
This exotic botanical garden, first planted by order of the prince regent Dom João in 1808, has 6000 varieties of plants
Zoo with wide variety of reptiles, mammals and birds.
Museo Carmen Mirando
Carmen Miranda was once the highest-paid entertainer in the USA. She is also the only Brazilian to leave her prints in Hollywood's Walk of Fame. The talented Brazilian singer still has her fans in Rio, and has become a cult icon among the gay community.
Museo de Arte Moderna
After a devastating fire in 1978 that consumed 90% of its collection, this museum is finally back on its feet and now houses 11,000 permanent works, including pieces by Brazilian artist.
Pão de Açúcar
Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) is almost too beautiful to be real. Two cable cars lift you 396m above Rio and the Baía de Guanabara. From here, Rio is the most dazzling city in the world. Sunset on a clear day is the best time to make the ascent; as daylight dims, the city lights start to sparkle down below
Park Nacional da Tijuca
In just 15 minutes you can go from the concrete jungle of Copacabana to the 120-sq-km tropical jungle of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca.