The Rio de Janeiro coastline
The Rio de Janeiro coastline © Hank LeClair

A small slice of paradise sitting beneath the welcoming arms of the iconic Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro is a party capital famed for its festive street parades and golden beaches. Nicknamed "the Marvellous City", Rio is the country's vibrant culture hub, boasting an incredible skyline and sweeping views thanks to its idyllic location between the mountains and the sea.

The city regularly comes alive with the infectious and rhythmic beat of Brazilian samba, its streets seemingly always filled with street parties and celebrations. The ever-popular annual Carnival is the most popular event on the Brazilian calendar: it draws together all its citizens (Cariocas), from the very rich to the very poor, who to take to the streets for the world's largest samba parade.

Its beaches are its biggest asset though, particularly the famous Ipanema and Copacabana, drawing a constant stream of visitors making the most of the city's exquisite climate. The city also contains Tijuca Forest, the biggest urban forest in the world, which complements the wooded mountains that surround the metropolis.

The 150 districts of Rio are all unique, with the most intriguing, Santa Teresa, a winding maze of streets populated by artists and musicians, which is reached by taking an old tram across an ancient aqueduct called Arcos da Lapa.

In the heart of Rio, history buffs will love the multitude of historic monuments and public buildings such as the Municipal Theatre, the National Museum of Fine Art, the Itamaraty Palace, the National History Museum and the National Library. There are also beautiful examples of religious architecture, such as the Sao Bento Monastery. No matter how long you spend exploring the city, it always seems to keep serving up new surprises.

To the north of the city is the Lakes region, which has more than 62 miles (100km) of beaches and salt-water lagoons, and is the site of the main tourist resorts of Búzios, Cabo Frio, Arraial do Cabo, Rio das Ostras, Marica and Saquarema. Many other stunning natural areas and man-made attractions in Brazil are easily reached from Rio, which makes a fabulous travel base.