What is it?
One of the first things I like to do when I arrive in a new city is go for a walk – you get to see everyday people going about their lives, take in the sights and smells, stop in at cafés, check out the architecture and breathe in the atmosphere. This is a walk that takes you through the Jardim Botanico neighbourhood, following the route of 2 massive long walls that are home to some of Rio’s best street art and graffiti.
Along the way you will stop in at Parque Lage and Jardim Botanico (Botanic Gardens) – both real highlights of Rio and incredibly beautiful places to take a break and soak up some tranquillity. And because all that walking will make you hungry, you can finish the walk at Braseiro da Gávea for one of the tastiest, juiciest steaks in Rio.
The walking part of this activity will only take 30-45 minutes, but I would allow at least 3 or 4 hours so you have plenty of time to wander round the gardens at a nice, relaxed pace.
Rio’s Metro system does not pass through this area (apart from the ‘Bus Metro’, but in my mind that doesn’t count). I recommend getting a cab to the start – just ask your driver for Parque Lage (sounds like Parkey Lazhe).
Parque Lage is many things – a beautiful building surrounded by serene gardens, a library and also an art school. The gardens themselves are surrounded by a network of paths running through sub-tropical forest. Take some time to wander and explore – dotted among the forest are several ponds and art exhibits and a rather strange aquarium situated in the middle of an artificial cave! The building itself is also stunning – the centrepiece is a pillared courtyard, complete with ornamental pool. This area also includes a small café and there are often works of art on display.
Walk from Parque Lage to Jardim Botanico
When you are finished with Parque Lage, make your way back onto the main road (Rua Jardim Botanico) and turn right. Stay on the right hand side of the road and carry on straight ahead. As you walk, you will see a proliferation of graffiti on the long wall running along the other side of the street. You’ll get a better view from this side – if you cross over you’ll too close to take it all in.
It is a fairly busy road but the street art should keep you interested. There are no turns to make, just keep following the road for 20 or so minutes until you see the unmistakeable avenues of Imperial Palms that line the main walkways of the Jardim Botanico. Follow the railings until you get to the entrance where you can buy your entrance ticket.
Jardim Botanico (sounds like: zhar-JEEM bot-AN-icko) is pretty big – on the offchance that any of you are farmers, I’ll mention that the gardens cover 54 hectares (133 acres). And they cram a lot in! I don’t have space to here to describe everything, but let me list a few of the highlights:
- The very cool Orchid and Bromeliad rooms are stuffed full of amazingly flashy flowers and luscious leaves.
- A Sensory Garden, especially designed for the visually impaired (or you can go round with a blindfold on), full of plants that will stimulate the senses other than sight (think strong fragrances and interesting textures).
- The Palma Filia, the daughter of the first ever Imperial Palm (named Palma Mater – mother palm) to be brought to Rio in 1809. There is a fascinating story behind these two trees which is linked to Brazil’s history and changing society. Click here to read how slaves stole the seeds and freed this coveted palm to spread throughout Brazil.
- Everything else! There is a Museum of the Environment, collections of insectivorous plants and cacti, a Japanese garden and much, much more.
Make sure you pick up a guide so you can find your way around the gardens and choose which things you want to see. This is one of those places where you can spend hours if you feel like it, so don’t freak out if you don’t manage to see everything!
Walk from Jardim Botanico to Braseiro
When you are finished with the Jardim Botanico, head back to the main road again and turn right. Continue walking for around 5 minutes until you notice a green space opening up to your right – this is Praça Santos Dumont. Walk over to the right hand side of the park and you will see one of Rio’s best loved restaurants, Braseiro da Gávea.
Braseiro da Gávea
Popular with locals and tourists alike, Braseiro has a tried and tested formula: excellent food, fair prices and a great location.Situated in the neighbourhood of Baixo Gávea (sounds like BUY-show GA-veeya), Braseiro is one of the fixtures on the Rio eating scene.
It is deservedly popular with the locals, so if you arrive during peak hours (7pm-11pm), you may have to wait 15-20 minutes to get a table, particularly on a weekend.
But ask the waiter for a draft beer (sounds like oom chopp por favor) to sip while you wait and your patience will be rewarded. The best seating is outside, under the canopy to the left (surrounded by plants).
Of course it is up to you what you eat, but I would like to heartily recommend the Picanha ao Braseiro, a huge juicy steak accompanied by broccoli rice, fries and the best farofa de ovo in town. A single order will serve two very hungry people or three normals.
My top tips:
- Ask for your picanha cooked to your liking: Mal passado (rare), Um pouco mal passado (medium-rare), Ao ponto (medium), Quase bem passado (medium-well), Bem passado (well done).
- Try the grilled sausages (linguiça na brasa) that your waiter will bring to your table on a huge skewer that looks more like a sword. They’re a tasty way to stave off hunger as you wait for your main course!
- Ask for batatas à portuguesa instead of fries – these are extremely thin-cut slices of potato – essentially freshly cooked potato chips/crisps and go surprisingly well with picanha and rice.
- Don’t order a main course per person! As with many restaurants in Rio, most dishes are designed to share. If you have any left over it is perfectly normal to ask for the waiter to package it up so you can take it home. Just say “pode embalar pra viagem pra mim?“
- Try to control yourself! The food at Braseiro is delicious, but it isn’t exactly light, so if you’re not careful you may find yourself groaning all the way home…
Parque Lage website (in English): http://www.eavparquelage.rj.gov.br/index_E.asp
Jardim Botanico website: http://www.jbrj.gov.br/
Braseiro da Gávea: Another horrible flash website, but hey, if you want to check it out anyway, here it is: http://www.braseirodagavea.com.br/