Rio de Janeiro CNN  — 

A visit to Rio can be blissful, packed with beach sunsets, ice-cold cocktails and jaunts around the city.

But crime and traffic can complicate things, so it helps to have a good idea of what you want to see before you arrive.

With 500,000 international visitors expected in Rio for the Olympics, CNN asked locals for tips for travelers seeking the inside track on authentic experiences.

Pagoda with a view

Taxi driver Carlos Cardinale recommends taking a trip to the Vista Chinesa, a little Chinese pagoda that provides some stunning views of the city.

You can look out over broad expanses of Rio, including the city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue. The pagoda dates back to the early 20th century and was built as a tribute to Chinese immigrants to Brazil.

Making the most of a visit to the Vista Chinesa means spending some time in the lush surrounds of Tijuca forest, a national park smack in the middle of Rio.

This tropical rainforest has hiking, biking and climbing trails and a number of waterfalls.

‘Classic postcard views’

Sugarloaf Mountain, the Atlantic Ocean, Guanabara Bay and Copacabana beach are all visible from Mirante Dona Marta.

Nicole Casares, 26, a blogger and Instragrammer, recommends the Mirante Dona Marta lookout for incredible views of both Rio’s famed Sugarloaf Mountain and the equally celebrated Christ statue.

“You get both of the classic postcard views in one place,” she says.

Another must-see?

Arpoador, the area between Copacabana and Ipanema, where you can get a view of all of Ipanema and Leblon beaches and the mountains. It’s the Instagram cliche you can’t miss.

The traffic in Rio is horrible, so Casares recommends taking the metro. But try to avoid rush hour because it gets very crowded. Another great way to get around is by bike.

For classic Brazilian food, she suggests trying Braseiro da Gavea. Broccoli rice, with picanha (a cut of steak) cooked rare, egg farofa and french fries is a combination she describes as a very typical Rio meal.

Architecture and design

Bruno Caiado, head concierge at Copacabana Palace hotel, tells his guests to visit the Moreira Salles Institute.

Founded to develop and promote cultural programs, the Rio center occupies founder Walther Moreira Salles’ former residence, an arresting 1951 house designed by Olavo Redig de Campos.

It’s not just an attractive structure. The institute houses photography, movie and literature collections and is surrounded by 11,000 square meters of gardens designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

Caiado also recommends visiting Sergio Rodrigues’ design shop (Rua Conde Irajá, 63 Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro). This legend of Brazilian interior design passed away in 2014.

“Rodrigues sums up Brazil’s personality, from buildings to furniture – a master of design,” Caiado says.

Music and markets

Blogger Julia Michaels’ top tip: If you’re going to fun places to do fun things, get a Brazilian to go with you.

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A to Z guide to Brazil
01:35 - Source: CNN

Since that’s not always possible, so she does have few more recommendations.

Music is a very important part of experiencing Rio, and it’s all over the place – from bars and clubs to street corners.

At Cadeg market, in the north of the city, there’s Samba music and dancing in addition to a range of wares.

During the week it caters to Brazilians buying flowers, but on the weekends restaurants line the corridors with tables packed with food and locals.

“It’s not touristy at all,” says Michaels.

Anywhere you go in Rio, leave the jewelry at home, especially gold chains easily snatched off your neck. And keep a close eye on your mobile phone.