Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In the pantheon of cities like Paris, New York, and London, Rio needs no introduction. I’ll give one anyway — it’s not the capital of Brazil. (That’s Brasília. Rio used to be, and even briefly served as the capital of Portugal for a time, the only time in history a colony held the seat of power of an empire.) It sure feels like the cultural capital though.

Songs, books, movies… So much popular culture has been inspired by the city. What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

The name exudes glamour. There’s the world’s most famous beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, photogenic and full of photogenic people, lined with barracas selling caipirinhas. Football-crazy folks invented futevôlei (volleyball, but played with a soccer ball and no hands) just so they could play something resembling football on the beach. Then there’s the iconic mountains: Corcovado, with the giant Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer, built in 1931) perched atop, visible from virtually every point of the city, a simultaneous symbol of triumph and of a seemingly watchful eye over a still-heavily Catholic country. Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), perched right over the water, provides a dramatic view both from the ground and from the top. The Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) overlook Ipanema. These aren’t just symbols of Rio, they’ve become symbols of Brazil.
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