Family travel guide to Brazil

Breathtaking natural wonders, iconic cities and the world's greatest rainforest, Brazil is a holiday destination that takes some beating. It's little wonder the country's popularity has soared over the past decade, with the country ideal for families with older children looking to combine a city break with a jungle adventure.

Direct flights are available from the UK, with wider options available for those willing to take a stop-over in Lisbon en-route. Visas are not required for British nationals and healthcare in major cities is excellent.

Do keep in mind the sheer size of the country – two weeks travelling here is not comparable to a fortnight's road trip through France. If you're combing any city break with a trip to the Amazon you will be covering 1000 of miles and will find yourself combining flights and bus rides, with off road vehicles and a jaunt on a canoe.

Still tempted? Read on for the first instalment of our guide to Brazil looking at three major cities.

Rio de Janeiro

  • Flying time: 11 hours direct from London Heathrow with British Airways and TAM. TAP Portugal offers flights via Lisbon
  • Time difference: GMT -3 hours
  • Best time to visit: Easter, July and August. Avoid the heat of December where temperatures are in the 40s

Samba, carnival, beaches and favelas – Rio is a breathtaking city that contrasts natural beauty and a laidback beach lifestyle with gritty reality. Whilst inequality and poverty remain part of everyday life, much has been done to curb crime and violence over the past few years, although precautions should be taken as you would in any major city.

Where to stay

  • The city is divided by a mountain range into two areas: the North Zone and the South Zone, with the South Zone opening onto the ocean and being home to the majority of the tourist attractions
  • Typically most tourists stop in the South Zone, with popular locations here being Copacabana, Ipanema, and neighbouring Leblon. Both are upmarket areas, with Leblon's beaches attracting a lively surfer crowd
  • For a more authentic stay, airbnb has a vast choice of private rooms or entire apartments available
  • If you are travelling in the warmer months and planning a quick dip to keep everyone cool, it's worth remembering the seas at the city's beaches can be quite rough so, if you can, choose a hotel with a pool

What to do

  • Top up your tan and people watch on the city's famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. All of Rio's beaches are family friendly, although the currents can be strong. Set up camp near the life-guards and pay attention to any signs
  • Ascend Corcovado to stand under Cristo Redentor (Christ The Redeemer) and take in the stunning 360 degree views
  • Take the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain for equally stunning views. Both Corcovado and Sugarloaf are reasonably buggy friendly. A visit to watch the sunset is well worth jostling the crowds for
  • Spend some time in the city's historic centre, with museums, street cafes, markets and the impressive Theatro Municipal
  • Visit the famous Maracana football stadium in the north zone – if you can get tickets for a match you'll be in for a treat
  • Head to Santa Teresa for a wander around some galleries and an al fresco coffee
  • Escape the pace of the city and head for the city's Parque Nacional da Tijuca – a hand-planted rainforest in the city and great place for hiking and monkey spotting
  • Lose yourself in the city's Botanical Gardens
  • Choose a responsible company for a guided tour of a favela. With the rather ethically suspect practice of 'slum tourism' we urge you to choose a responsible company, with guides from the community and revenues invested back into the community. UK-based tour operator Sumak comes highly recommended
  • Take a samba lesson and then dance the night away


São Paulo

  • Flying time: 11.5 hours direct from UK with British Airways and TAM
  • Time difference: GMT -3 hours
  • Best time to visit:  São Paulo has a rather tropical, mild climate, generally with good weather, although the seasons are not well defined. Avoid the heat of the summer months.

São Paulo is big - really big. It's the largest city in Brazil and the 7th largest by population in the world. It's the business heart of Brazil and a city with a rich history, a diverse multi-cultural population, great restaurants and some fascinating museums and galleries. It will be a host city for the 2014 World Cup and is home to the Interlagos F1 Grand Prix circuit.

Where to stay

  • Two popular locations are downtown or in the western region. Downtown is the birthplace of the city and as such home to most of the historical sites. The western district is home to the Government and international businesses.
  • Vila Madalena is a trendy area with a buzzing cafe/bar culture and is a popular choice. Ibirapuera and Jardins are two of the city's most prestigious neighbourhoods with Jardins home to designer stores, fine restaurants, shopping malls and museums

What to do

  • Grab a map and your comfy walking shoes and explore downtown
  • Eat! There are more than 12000 restaurants located in the city and as a real melting pot of nationalities the choice of cuisines is vast
  • Make like cool kids and visit Augusta Street – billing itself as the hippest street in the city, offering bars, clubs, eateries, clothes shops and general vibes
  • Visit the city's zoo which is home to some 3,000 animal species, and also includes a petting zoo area for children
  • Escape the city into Ibirapuera Park. Most Sunday mornings there is a free music concert to enjoy
  • Head to one of the city's museums. The choice is vast with museums covering immigration, sacred art, Japanese history in São Paulo, science, football and image and sound, to name just a few
  • Don't miss the Museu de Arte de São Paulo - MASP – home to perhaps the best collection of modern art in South America, impressionists and Brazilian contemporary artists. Work includes Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Degas and Portinari
  • Trek Pedra Grande in Cantareira State Park, located in the north zone about 20mins from the city centre. The trail is a 9.5km round trip and you'll be rewarded with great views of the city below
  • Head to Interlagos and visit the Formula 1 circuit


  • Flying time: no direct flights – you'll need at least one stop in Lisbon with TAP or if you prefer to fly the longest leg first, fly to Rio/San Paulo and connect
  • Time difference: GMT -3 hours
  • Best time to visit: Brazil's north-west coast is warm year-round with temperatures ranging from upper 20s to mid 30s. June and July can be slightly wetter months.

Salvador is a gorgeous coastal city famed for its numerous outdoor parties and festivals, and was the former capital of the New World colony. Divided into the upper and lower towns (Ciadade Alta and Ciadade Baixa), the brightly-coloured city is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the Porto de Barra. It's also one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup.

Where to stay

  • Consider staying in Barra, which is very near to all the main beaches in the south. It's very popular with tourists and also has plenty of picturesque scenes like the Farol da Barra Lighthouse
  • The Aram Yami hotel in the heart of Salvador's old town – or Cidade Baixa – has plenty for families. If you prefer, the Hotel Casa do Amarelindo is right in the centre of the historic area making it a great base from which to explore the whole of Salvador

What to do

  • Sign up for a private tour with one of the many island tour guides so you can learn the history behind the beautifully-painted streets of the old town
  • Take an excursion by boat and see Salvador from the waves
  • Sign your children up for surfing lessons at the Centro de Terapiaem Surf 
  • Visit the spectacular Sao Francisco Church and Convent, packed with marvellous designs intricately picked out in gold and silver


Last updated: over 1 year ago