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Rio de Janeiro: What to see and do in the next Olympic city, from new attractions to landmarks

Change is afoot in sunny Rio de Janeiro.

Known for its vibrant beaches, undulant skylines and samba, the coastal Brazilian city welcomes a frenzy of new entertainments to mix with its classic charms — just in time for August’s Olympic Games.

Here’s what to see.

The beach

No visit to Rio de Janeiro is complete
Photo Credit: Visit Rio

No visit to Rio de Janeiro is complete without soaking in the sun on the beach. Rio has more than 20 to choose from, but most frequented is Ipanema Beach, which is marked by "posts" where different subcultures stake claim (Post 10 is where locals get sporty -- sand volleyball courts and soccer matches -- while Post 9 is often where the best beach bodies sprawl).

Must-see landmarks

Check out Rio's bucket-list landmarks. The first, Cristo
Photo Credit: Visit Rio

Check out Rio's bucket-list landmarks. The first, Cristo Redentor (better known as Christ the Redeemer), is a 125-foot-tall statue atop one of the city's peaks. It's visible night and day from nearly every part of the city, but most travelers take a train to get a close-up look (tickets must be booked in advance at corcovado.com.br).

Next, visit Sugarloaf Mountain, a nearly 1,300-foot peak at the mouth of Guanabara Bay accessible by a network of cable cars which culminate with panoramic views of the city (purchase tickets at the cable car station, Praia Vermelha).

New destinations are opening in preparation for Olympic travelers, too. On the edge of Pier Maua, a brand-new pedestrian pier, The Museum of Tomorrow (1 - Centro, museudoamanha.org.br), pictured, just opened downtown. Looking like a skeletal spacecraft, the museum houses interactive exhibitions exploring humanity's past, present and future.

In the same area, Aquario Marinho do Rio de Janeiro (aquariomarinhodorio.com.br) is slated to open this month. Visitors will be able to observe more than 8,000 marine animals and swim with sharks at South America's largest marine aquarium.

Classic eats

Brazil's culinary staples blend flavors from Europe, Africa
Photo Credit: iStock

Brazil's culinary staples blend flavors from Europe, Africa and American Indian.

For a taste of the classics, visit Aprazivel (Rue Aprazivel, 62, aprazivel.com.br) in Santa Teresa, perched on a hill with tables set in treehouses. Get the signature grilled palm heart, as well as the Moquequinha do Rio, a fish stew cooked in vegetable gravy and coconut milk.

You can't visit Brazil without sampling feijoada (pictured), a Portuguese slow-cooked stew, heavy with beans and typically made with pork and beef. One place to enjoy the soul food is Casa da Feijoada (Rue Prudente de Moraes, 10, cozinhatipica.com.br), just make sure you bring a friend -- its hefty dishes are usually shared.

Another staple, Rio Scenarium (Rue do Lavradio, 20, rioscenarium.art.br) serves grilled meats and has a dance floor where locals samba.

If you're skipping the classics, Kraft Cafe (Rue Anibal de Mendonca, 55, facebook.com/kraftcafebrasil) just opened in the fashionable Ipanema neighborhood, serving locally roasted Brazilian coffee along with raw and vegan desserts.

Where to stay

For a view of the beach, consider Arena
Photo Credit: Facebook / Hotel Santa Teresa

For a view of the beach, consider Arena Copacabana Hotel (Av. Atlantica, 2064; arenacopacabanahotel.com.br). Overlooking Copacabana Beach, the modern hotel offers sleek and spacious rooms, not to mention a rooftop pool with panoramic views of the buzzing coast.

For a more bohemian and private experience, Hotel Santa Teresa (Rue Almirante Alexandrino, 660, santa-teresa-hotel.com) (pictured) is located in the hilly, cobbled neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The boutique hotel is flanked by the area's historic mansions, which is also home to a rich community of artists and galleries. Colorful lounges and lush surroundings make it a romantic retreat from Rio de Janeiro's bustling downtown.

A note on Zika

Brazil is one of several countries experiencing an
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Nelson Almeida

Brazil is one of several countries experiencing an outbreak of the Zika virus, which is spread primarily via contact with infected mosquitos. It is also possible for the virus to be transmitted sexually from a male partner, as well as from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people infected with Zika won't have symptoms, though they can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. There is no treatment.

To protect yourself from possible infection, the CDC recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to cover exposed skin, using insect repellants and sleeping in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms to prevent mosquito bites. Condoms can also help prevent sexual transmission.

The CDC advises pregnant women to consider postponing travel to any areas where transmission of the Zika virus is ongoing, and that women who are trying to become pregnant talk to their doctor about the risks.

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