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Things to do in Barra da Tijuca

Barra da Tijuca is a soulless expanse of freeways, carparks, megamalls and apartment towers, jutting out of Rio de Janeiro. You'd struggle to tell the difference between it and almost anywhere in the USA. It's certainly not a bad place to live compared to the rest of the city - crime is low, houses are spacious and cheap - but don't expect any kind of Brazilian culture. If you want to live in the 'real' Rio, an apartment in Copacabana or Ipanema will do nicely, but has a good chance of being expensive, small, old, and overlooked. Barra is where the city is expanding; Rio is built in the gap between the sea and the mountains, so there's literally no other direction for it to expand into. It's delimited by the Pedra da Gavea, Rio's tallest mountain, and Recreio, otherwise known as the end of Barra which is yet to be developed. Beyond are some nice secluded beaches. Barra's own beach is quite nice too.

Pedra da Gavea Pedra da Gavea

Avenida das Americanas is the arterial freeway that connects to Sao Conrado at one end, and peters out towards Recreio. Practically all of Barra is accessible from this road. The whole area has been built in the last 30-40 years, so everything is fairly modern.

Downtown

The first megamall is not so much a mall as a gated commercial village, with yellow and orange Disneylandesque buildings. The only serious feature is the cinema, which is always packed at the weekends. There are hundreds of little shops crowded around the village, few of them practical. You'll find lots of arty crafty places, small cafes, and hair salons. There's a large restaurant opposite the cinema called Gourmet, which is an all-you-can-eat buffet place. It's nicely done, and astonishingly cheap for what it is (as is everything in Brazil, except technology) - about USD10 per head. Downtown (it's not 'down' any town - it's called 'Downtown') also features lots of 'LAN' shops, which are basically internet cafes which cater to gamers. The computers are top notch, complete with headsets, and they have all the latest multiplayer games, and of course, are very cheap. Maybe USD5 for several hours?

During the day, Downtown is often deserted, but at night, it comes to life. I went there a few weekends ago, and there were some performance artist people abseiling down a building, stopping, and dancing on the wall, sideways. No charge, just wander past. What few bars and restaurants there are have live music seemingly most nights. The cinema is probably the only thing that makes money, but it draws huge crowds. Finally, there is a hairdresser there called Claudio Miguel, in a salon of the same name, who speaks English, which might be essential if you have complicated hair. He says his dream is to travel to London to go to one of the world famous schools of hair. I doubt there's anything the Brits could teach him.

Barra Point

This place is actually before Downtown, but it's so boring I thought it deserved to come second. There is nothing there I can remember. Maybe a few craft places. Maybe not. It really made zero impression on me. The only reason I'm listing it is because if you go inside, and out the back, and down to the river, there is a little pier. If you go to this, and wave or whistle at the boat ('raft' perhaps), it'll come across and take you to a restaurant on an island, which is amazing. It's run by a friendly German guy, and although the menu is limited (if you're a vegetarian, it's the banana curry or nothing), the setting is perfect. Highly recommended. It's just a shame the big useless Barra Point gets in the way of people seeing it.

Citta America

This is another megamall, probably the newest one, and as a result, the emptiest. There's a Hard Rock cafe, which is only worth going to if you collect the T-Shirts. It's landscaped beautifully inside, even though it looks like a stickle brick from the outside. I went there once, it was rubbish, and I never went back. It's probably improved a lot since then, but I wouldn't know. They say it has a theme park...

Bon Marche, Carrefour and Extra

These are all large supermarkets. Hypermarkets more like. Extra has lots of useful stuff, like a fish food shop in the basement carpark. The other two are just not worth going to when you have...

Pao de Acucar

The name means "Sugar Loaf", after Rio's Sugarloaf mountain, and it's the best of the supermarkets. The only nicer ones are Zona Sul, but they can only be found in the city, and are quite small. This one has nice food and it doesn't stink like the others.

Food

A word about food in Brazil: I'm not impressed, and I think I know why: it's the milk. Now, I'm predisposed to hating milk, since I can't drink it on its own without thinking of words like udders and squeeze and curdle, but the milk in Brazil is of a particularly foul nature, and this corrupts the whole dairy food chain. Chocolate is mostly milk, so Brazilian chocolate is nasty. In fact, sweet things here generally just taste of sugar and nothing else. Cheese, being in itself just rotten milk, is not as bad as you might imagine. Marilia cheese is about as close to Cheddar as you can get, and thus quite nice. Doce de leite, a milk byproduct in the same way radioactive waste is a fission byproduct, tastes like a cross between milk, sugar, toffee and sugar. It is tolerable when hidden in other foodstuffs. Brazilians drink their coffee black. They must wonder why anyone would want to add milk.

There is a single exception to the Brazilian Milk Foulness Theorem: a small shop in Ipanema called Torta Torta (in Rua Vinicius de Moraes). They sell a cake called torta alemao which is the human race's finest achievement in the field of cake making. They must import the cream.

Japanese food is popular in Brazil. People talk about Japanese and German people immigrating after WWII... The best type of sushi is the Hot Philadelphia, which is rice, salmon, and cream cheese (hence the name), wrapped in seaweed and deep fried. Yes, deep fried sushi! The best incarnation of these can be found in Take in Sao Conrado.

Barra Shopping

This is less of a megamall, and more of a gigamall. The largest in South America. Remember arcologies from Sim City 2000? It doesn't go up into the air, but sprawls out in a spaghetti bolognese of shops and offices. It has its own internal monorail system. You can work in the offices, shop in the shops, eat in the restaurants, go to the cinemas, cross the road, and sleep in the apartments. It's very nearly a self contained gated mini-city. Valet parking is cheap and necessary, since it's always packed in the evening.

There is a Shiny Things shop called Fast, which sells things like PDAs, iMacs, plasma TVs, and LCD projectors - all for the low low price of Way Too Much. The presentation is good, but it's all Toys For The Boys junk. At the food end of the main building is a Japanese buffet restaurant called Benkei Sushi. All you can eat sushi for ~USD8! Also in the food hall is a kilo bar. These are common across Rio - you walk round a buffet, loading up your plate with whatever you want, then weigh it at the end, and pay accordingly. Of course, the plates are heavy.

New York City Center

This is technically part of Barra Shopping, but it's in a different building, with a scale replica (maybe 1/3?) of the Statue of Liberty outside. Sometimes they dress the statue up in a Coca-Cola vest. Tasteful. Inside is an always-packed cinema, an Outback steakhouse (which serves traditional restaurant steak: cinders on the outside, blood on the inside), and a Gameworks, which is a good restaurant as well as a huge arcade. There's at least one big bookshop too, I think.

On the whole, if you want to see a film, Downtown is better - bigger screens, less manic.

Info Barra

Ahh, computers. Where would we be without them? Brazil, perhaps. The only serious place to buy computers is Info Barra, a small semicircle strip mall of vaguely connected hardware shops. It's terrifying. They sell hard drives in plastic bags, CPUs and motherboards unboxed, and all manner of unbelievably dodgy looking computer miscellany. It works more like a market than a shop - all the stalls have individual names, and thus individual prices. I went to buy a PCMCIA ethernet card recently. About 7 shops had them - all the same model (most likely fell off the same van) - but the highest price was R$250, the lowest R$100. They'll give you a receipt, and it appears to be above board, but the whole place is seedy and scrappy, and you'll get 6-month old technology at 12-month old prices. If you're moving to Brazil, bring a computer with you, import duty be damned.

Update 18/8/2003: how could I forget the far reaches of Recreio?

Rio Design Center

It's huge, and it's far away, but it's got a nice car park, and the best Japanese restaurant in Rio so far - lunchtime buffet in which they'll do you anything you like. I forget the name. The top floor also has a bookshop and a (very) small Cinema. And a Gula Gula, which is quite nice. The rest of the Design Center is what you'd expect: furniture and craft shops. Shiny and dull.

Barra World Shopping

Avoid avoid avoid avoid avoid avoid avoid avoid avoid. This is the place with the fake eiffel tower, fake leaning tower of pisa, fake tower of london and fake absolutely everything else. It's what happens when a person is told to single mindedly create the tackiest thing possible, and then given infinite resources to do it with. Avoid. Avoid.

Comments

  1. Daniel, on Tuesday 11th November 2003, said:

    I think Barra da Tijuca is a beautiful place. It feels very homey and californian to me.

  2. James, on Wednesday 12th November 2003, said:

    Californian I can understand, but homey? It's just a big road. :)

    I suppose the beaches are nice, but on the whole I stand by my use of the word 'soulless'.

  3. Morgan, on Wednesday 10th December 2003, said:

    Barra was ok, but it's no Ipanema. It fits the "soulless" description. Great beach with few vendors nagging you. There's aren't many restaurants or anything along the beach. If you're staying at a hotel (Sheraton Barra), hotel cars (twice cost of Rio taxis) have to take you everywhere...R$15 Barra, R$40 Ipanema. Got a great plate of chicken hearts (!) at a dive place about 3 blocks north, though. Barra Shopping was typical big mall...no need to go. Go to Nuth for some great nightlife, though....get there early (to get in) and stay until the sun comes up. When I go back to Rio, I'll skip Barra completely and stay the entire time in Ipanema.

  4. Gail, on Sunday 8th February 2004, said:

    Just came back from Barra de Tijuca. I stayed with a Brasilian friend. We had a wonderful time and I was happy to avoid the tourist areas. We had a lovely dinner at Steak Grill which features Brasilian style pasta on Sunday night. Go have a seat, order a Skol beer and wait for the waiters to bring selections of pizza, lazagne, and pasta to your table. Take what you want, try anything. One price, very cheap. About $30 US for 4 adults. This included several Skols.

    The Mall is a Mall, if you need something you can find it there. Everything is cheap. $4.00 for a bathing suit, $30 for high end Men's leather shoes, prices that cannot be beat anywhere in the US. Best tourist activity is to ride the cable cars up to Sugar Loaf Mountain. This is a 360 degree view that cannot be duplicated anywhere in the world. Well worth the $10 ticket price.

    Souless my ass. The Brasilian people are the friendliest, and most hospitable in the world. Don't get sucked into bad tourism advice. Do not tour the slums. It is a trap to steal from tourists. Be smart!!

    Gail

  5. Priscilla, on Sunday 8th February 2004, said:

    Loved the description of Barra from a tourist's point of view. I'm brazilian and live in Barra, and know practically the whole city. I like Zona Sul (Ipanema, Leblon, etc) but if i had to choose, i'd still want to live in Barra. One more thing, Copacabana totally ruins Zona Sul and it's NOT the true Rio. I think Gail gave the best description of Barra, and i can understand why: she stayed with a brazilian friend. My advice: if you come to Rio, no matter in which area you choose to stay, get yourself a Brazilian friend. You'll certainly see things differently ;)

  6. David, on Monday 16th February 2004, said:

    I go to Brazil often and thoroughly enjoy Barra. The natural beauty of the beach and mountains combined with the wonderful, friendly people make Barra a must-see on my Brazilian travels every year. The beaches (and the energy at the beaches)are incredible, especially at Pepe and a little further down at Prainha. It's an incredibly beautiful beach about 15 minutes beyond Barra. The shopping is fantastic as well, particularly from the perspective of an American. Great clothes are very inexpensive. In addition to Barra Shopping, be sure to check out Fashion Mall in Sao Conrado. (And go hang-gliding while you're there).

    The restaurants are great also. If you know where to go, you will find much better selections than just about anywhere in the U.S. I live in Miami and find the Brazilian restaurants to be much better in many respects. Also, the interiors of many of the restaurants spare no expense. Really beautiful - check out Rio Design Center - great shopping and great restaurants. And go to Vargen Grande to Barreado Restaurant. Very Unique!

    Of course, the other areas of the Zona Sul are more well known, but Barra seems to be much safer. I've spent plenty of time in Ipanema, Leblon, Copacobana (and been mugged there), and Lagoa but always prefer to use Barra as a base. The Sheraton is great and reasonable. But if you really want to save money, check out Royalty Barra. It's very inexpensive but relatively new. About two years.

    Um Beijo David

  7. gisele soares, on Saturday 27th March 2004, said:

    I live in NJ,USA. But, I love Barra. If I move to Brazil again. I'll live in Barra for sure. My parents live in Botafogo, but when I go to Rio, I always go to the beach in Barra. Since I was young, I love to go to that beachand clubing too. there's some nice ones over there. Basically, the beaches I used to go were ipanema and barra. Clubs are in ipanema and Barra as well. So, you should stay in ipanema or Barra. That's the cool part in Rio now. avoid copacabana 100%! My father bought a penthouse in Barrabella and we're renting it temporarily . If you want more info about the place. write me at at_rio@yahoo.com thanks! any advice about Barra,write me too ;)

  8. Luiz Carlos, on Thursday 24th June 2004, said:

    Hello, I'd like to meet some English-speaking guy and talk... improve my English, you know... if you live in Rio and want to meet me, email me at luizcarlos_junior@hotmail.com (I'm 19)

  9. sd, on Monday 26th July 2004, said:

    I'm not sure Barra is so bad either.

    I've lived here for 6 years, and while I'd agree maybe it isn't the 'quintessential' Brazil, you have to remember the quintessential Brazil includes amongst a lot of great things, a lot of street kids, and people with guns.

    So, for me it's just right. The beach is clean, and safe. You are about 5 miles from Prainha and Grumari (spelling?) which has to be some of the most stunning scenery in the world, and if you want to get native, it's half an hour to Ipanema or Copacabana.

    Maybe I'm just a wimp, but I still enjoy being able to have the Brazilian experience, but keep the ability to say 'stop the ride, I want to get off' and go back to my safe clean house in Barra! The fact I have a 5 bedroom house, with nice garden, pool and security for just over a thousand bucks per month is a plus too.

    By the way - very bad news. The internal monorail at Barra shopping has been dismantled, which isn't such a surprise - I think there was limited appeal in having a means to travel from one end of a shopping center to the other without being able to look in the shops, especially as they charged you for the pleasure!

    Rockon with your goodselves.

    sd@blart.com

  10. Nadja, on Saturday 27th November 2004, said:

    Of course, I totally disagree with some comments (James's) in this site. I think before standing some opinions about places that are not our own, we should be careful if "we" are not beeing prejudiced. Looking from outside " Brazil can be always so different, amazing and sometimes bizarre. That does not mean "worse than some developed others". In this site there are lots of UNTRUE statements.

  11. jonnyD, on Monday 3rd January 2005, said:

    Who is looking from outside? Most of the comments are from people who have lived or are still living here.

  12. sd, on Monday 3rd January 2005, said:

    Updates.

    Fast shop in Barra shopping have not put a single item of new stock in the store for a year. If you want a 32mb thumbdrive for about $200, go there, now. You can also enjoy the sight of 2,500 square feet of stock being artfully arranged into 10,000 square feet of shop.

    Fortunately FNAC, at the other end is taking up the slack. It is still 12 month old tech though.

    Gameworks shut down, which is a tragedy. The contradiction of having 6 beers then going and playing video games on a Sunday afternoon is irreplaceable.

    Info Barra is still a POS, but is now a dying POS. The downstairs is almost empty now, and the 50 or so shops left on the other 2 floors have approximately 11 different items between them. You want a 40gb hard disk for $150, go there now.

    By the way, there is a restaurant right by info Barra called Mignon Barra, who do a pretty good steak + trimmings for about $10, delivered. May they thrive forever.

  13. keiran, on Friday 28th January 2005, said:

    LOVED BARRA,SPENT NINE MONTHS LIVING NEAR PALACE2![IT COLLAPSED IF YOU DIDNT KNOW] I FOUND THE BEACH AMAZING AND THE PEOPLE VERY SPECIAL,MY FAVOOURITE EAT OUT WAS "LOFT" WICH WAS RIGHT NEAR THE FOOTBRIDGE AS YOU ENTER BARRA. I CANT SAY ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT THE AREA EVEN BARRA SHOPPING WAS COOL! I USED TO LOVE GOING DOWN TO THE BEACH IN THE EVENINGS AND DRINKING COLD LAGER AT THOSE LITTLE BEACH HUT THINGYS,THEY WERE SPACED EVERY 100 YARDS SO YOU CUOLD DO A PRETTY GOOD "BEACH BAR CRAWL" GO THERE-TOU WONT BE DISAPOINTED!

  14. mike, on Friday 12th October 2007, said:

    I lived in the Barra for about nine months and truly loved it. It is definitely one of the safest places to live in Rio and it's beautiful. Barra Shopping is a great AMERICANIZED mall. One thing I recommend doing during your stay is climbing Pedra the Gavea! It takes about four hours round trip, but it's the best view of Rio you'll ever see. Also, the Cristo Redentor is a good time. I suggest walking it. But don't get robbed on your way up. Dress like a bum and never carry too much cash on your person. Brazilians are great people, but if you look American, they'll steal your shit. Have a blast. PS-Get a Whopper shake at Bobs. They're delicious!

  15. Phil, on Thursday 17th January 2008, said:

    I have lived in Barra two years and its fantastic..........I spent one year in Leblon and Ipanema but I wouldnt move back there if you gave me one million dollars.......Barra is stunning,friendly,relaxing,tropical with really wonderful people.......dont be put off by ignorant tourists or JEALOUS Brazillians who cant afford to live in Barra and try and make themselves feel better by pretending the old slum areas are better.

  16. Bruno, on Wednesday 19th March 2008, said:

    Man, I work in Barra da Tijuca for 6 years now and have gone everywhere through the neighborhood. Barra is seemingly a place for the ones that love places like Miami. I have been talking to some north american people that are originally from Miami and they always tell me they loved Barra because it reminds them home. Personally I could truly live without Barra, but that's nice, 'cause most of the people that love Barra are typically boring to my lifestyle, so it always a good idea to have a place for them to concentrate so I can easily skip this kind of people by skipping the entire neighborhood in my leisure times. That's why I love Barra so much!!! Cheers.

  17. ha-Y N, on Thursday 20th March 2008, said:

    eh how much da houses cost there?

  18. Sean, on Tuesday 21st October 2008, said:

    How well do you have to speak Portuguese to get by? I'm moving to Barra in January of 2009 and I have been practicing but I'm a little worried I'll be struggling at first.

  19. James, on Thursday 23rd October 2008, said:

    (This article is horribly out of date and embarrassing, but that's life...)

    You can survive in Rio (and Barra especially) speaking only English but you won't exactly thrive. You will learn Portuguese at 10000x the classroom rate once you're actually living there and being exposed to the language on a daily basis. Yes, it's a struggle at first, but that's what genuine learning feels like :)

  20. Tanya, on Wednesday 29th October 2008, said:

    Its nice to read all of your advice, even if you do bag each other and the places out occassionally.

    Thanks to James and Gail who have given me a few nice ideas for my Trip (I especially like the idea of the German restaurant on the island and really hope its still going - do you know the name?).

    I'm an Aussie setting off for Barra in 2 weeks and i guess one of the lucky ones cause i'm travelling and staying with locals. I previously lived in Brazil for 4 years but never actually made it to Rio, so i'm looking forward to the change! Can anyone give me tips on any shows we can see while we are there or how i can find out? I'll be staying 4 months... so need to fill in a few nights!!

    I guess i'll drop back towards the end of my trip and add in my favourite places also...

    Cheers again for the advice.

    um grande abraco!

  21. Grosse Fatigue, on Tuesday 2nd December 2008, said:

    I lived in Rio in 1967-68 when it was still the capital. I was a kid going to the Lycee Francais. I was a member of the Country Club and I would always go to Ipanema (I hated Copacaba but I use to do laps in the swimming pool of the Palace) but it was a real treat to go Barra with a girl friend because at that time it was unbuilt and you could speed and you had the beach for yourself. It was exhilarating to go to Barra. It was a place to take your girl friend to be alone. I loved Barra like I loved Gavea, Parati and Teresopolis. I never understood why they moved the capital to Brasilia, a soulless communist looking town. The heart of Brazil is and will always be in Rio.

  22. Rod, on Friday 16th January 2009, said:

    Hey all, I've lived in Barra since 1984 when I was about 6 years old (I'm 31 today), then in 1995 I moved to Houston, TX, then I came back to Barra in 2004. I love the place and can't imagine living anywhere else in Rio.

    The article is a bit dated, but still pretty nice. Gameworks closed shop a long time ago, there's no monorail at Barrashopping (I never heard of it ever having one), and Citta America has a kick ass gym.

    If anyone (girls!) wants to do some sightseeing (Carnival coming up!!!!), going to the beach, and the best night clubs, eating some nice food (oh, I hate milk too), and have lots of fun, let me know. rodrigorajao @ g m a i l .com

    I'm no tourist guide, though, just a guy trying to enjoy life and have some fun!!!!!!

  23. Kamsar, on Sunday 25th January 2009, said:

    How is the residential real estate doing down there? How expensive (or cheap) is it right now? Does anyone think Rio will get the 2016 Olympics? Anyone think this would b a boom for Barra?

  24. Celso, on Saturday 7th February 2009, said:

    Hi Friends !

    The oficial Barra da Tijuca guide http://www.barradatijuca.com.br

    Welcome !

  25. sarah, on Wednesday 4th March 2009, said:

    hi barra is realy good i like the beaches its really hot im there right now cant wait till next day :)

  26. marco, on Friday 6th March 2009, said:

    Barra is a great place to live!! bottom line!!!

  27. Lisa, on Friday 13th March 2009, said:

    hahaha, this is the funniest, most accurate description of Barra ever. And the Barra World description is truly priceless.

  28. MO, on Thursday 26th March 2009, said:

    What about the girls/ where are those beautiful Brazilian girls you see in the movies? anyone?

  29. Jiu Jitsu, on Monday 30th March 2009, said:

    Where can i find info about apartments????

  30. James, on Tuesday 21st April 2009, said:

    I'm going to close comments on this post. It is old and outdated, and does not reflect my current attitude. Feel free to email me privately if there is anything more to say.

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