Rio’s downtown draws few visitors beyond those who stream into Lapa for the nightclubs. But “for you to understand the history of Brazil, you have to understand the historic center,” says Márcio Botner, an artist and partner in A Gentil Carioca, a downtown art gallery. Here, his recommended daytime walking route, heavy on art and architecture, starting from the Presidente Vargas subway stop.
1. Shop the Saara (Avenida Presidente Vargas and Rua Regente Feijó), the traditional downtown shopping bazaar with bustling streets and hundreds of shops. “You find everything here: spices, toys, carnival costumes, trophy shops, rope shops. It’s a place where artists like to go to find unusual objects at very cheap prices.”
2. Admire the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (Rua Luís de Camões, 30), a spectacular public library set in a nineteenth-century baroque building and featuring a vast collection of books about Rio and Portuguese-Brazilian links, among other things.
3. Peruse the Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica (Rua Luís de Camões, 68), originally dedicated to the artist of the same name, but now featuring a variety of art exhibitions.
4. Pause at A Gentil Carioca (Rua Gonçalves Ledo, 17), Botner’s gallery, where works from young Brazilian artists line the inside and outside walls of the building, which is handed over to a different artist a few times a year.
5. Skip along Rua da Carioca, one of Rio’s most historic streets, with a stop for beer and sausages at Bar Luiz (Rua da Carioca, 39), a German restaurant founded in 1887, with historic city photos on the walls.
6. Pass through Praça Tiradentes (Tiradentes Square), home to two old-time theaters, the Teatro João Caetano and the Teatro Carlos Gomes.
7. Head toward Cinelândia, the plaza that witnessed the demonstrations in 1984 that helped bring down the military dictatorship and that houses two landmarks: the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) and the Municipal Theater, where President Obama spoke during last month’s trip to Latin America.
8. Stroll through the Aterro do Flamengo, the waterfront park designed by famed landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Finish up with some modern art at the Museu de Arte Moderna at the north end of the park.