By Chloe Mulliner, on September 2, 2015

24-hour guide to Rio de Janeiro

Stuck with a Rio de Janeiro layover? Oh, the joys of travel. In all seriousness, a long layover doesn’t have to put a damper on your grand vacation plans. Instead of sitting around in the terminal wasting precious time, get out and explore “The Marvelous City.” Worship the sun and see the sights, all before boarding your next flight.

Getting to the action

Your flight to Rio de Janeiro will most likely land at Galeao International Airport (GIG), which is located around 12 miles north of the city center. If you’re the type who likes to be in the driver’s seat of your adventure, rent a car in Rio de Janeiro at the airport counters. Prefer to sit back and enjoy the ride? Hop on the city bus or cruise in a cab. The REAL Bus Company offers four bus routes that service the airport, while both pre-paid and metered taxis are available at the terminal, too.

A day in Rio

If it were up to us, we’d spend our entire layover at the beach. The stereotypical mental image of flawless, bronzed beachgoers basking on picturesque Brazilian shores rings true in this city—after all, Ipanema Beach is considered the hot spot that made skimpy bikinis trendy. At the Rio de Janeiro beaches, you’ll find the locals—or cariocas—sipping caipirinhas, starting dance parties, and playing volleyball in the sand.

For a buzzing, vibrant beach scene with an urban vibe, stake a spot at Copacabana, which is fondly referred to as one of the world’s most famous beaches. Craving a sleepier vibe? Praia Vermelha is a peaceful, less mainstream spot for kayaking around the cove. For other stretches of sun-drenched sand, visit Barra da Tijuca Beach, Prainha, and Ipanema Beach.

Viewfinder Tip: The cable cars to Sugarloaf Mountain run until 8:40 p.m., so time it right, and you’ll catch the sunset.

While the shore is lovely, you don’t have to beach bum it during your layover. If you’d rather see some sights, ride the cable cars up to Sugarloaf Mountain. From here, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the city and Guanabara Bay. After seeing the bigger picture, delve deeper into the city and visit the Selaron Steps. Perhaps the most colorful and decorative staircase you’ll ever see, these steps were an art project dedicated to the city by artist Jorge Selaron. In 1990, Selaron began replacing the decrepit steps with mirrors and ceramics. As his project grew, he began receiving donated tiles from around the world, and he continued to evolve the masterpiece until his death in 2013.

If you’re lucky enough to have a layover for 24 hours or more, book a hotel in Rio Janeiro and start exploring outside the city limits. In terms of day trips from Rio De Janeiro, Ilha Grande is the ultimate getaway. Just two-and-a-half hours away, this secluded island offers a quiet retreat with hiking trails and deserted beaches. For another day trip adventure, head north to Petropolis and visit the summer palace of Brazil’s second emperor.

Catch your next flight with sea salt in your hair and snapshots of the famous staircase. However you decide to spend your layover in Rio, trust us, it’ll be better than hanging in the airport lobby.

What other Rio de Janeiro attractions are well worth a visit?