02/27/2011 03:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Four Must-See Sites in Rio de Janeiro

Hot off the successes of scoring the 2014 World Cup and 2012 Olympics, the beautiful Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro is preparing for its own celebration: Carnival.

Every year, throngs of locals pile into neighborhood samba schools to rehearse elaborate dances. They take pride in every step, from joining the schools to the finished dance, and encourage the community to pile in and enjoy a dance with them. Months later, the dances will include homemade costumes and towering floats, and are entered into Carnival, where the winning samba school scores notoriety and prize money to pour back into their communities.

If you're looking for a way to get to know real Brazilian culture, Carnival is a fantastic time, with many neighborhoods proudly represented and displaying their very best. But, while you're in Rio, take some time to see the sites. Whether you've come for the glitter and pounding samba beats or not, there are still plenty of activities to occupy your time in "The Marvelous City."

Experience the Sights and Sounds of Downtown
In Rio's Paco Imperial, where royalty used to spend their time, you can spend your own time in Arlequin. This quaint shop is packed full of towering bookshelves on Brazilian art and masters, and rows and rows of local music. Sit down for a while at one of the adorable mismatched tables and soak in some Brazilian culture.

Go Shopping in Leblon
Rio is a shopping culture at heart, which is why it's so surprising that their grandest mall was build so recently. Nevertheless, head down to Leblon, skip the surf and sand and pour some money into the high-end shops the Brazilians love. Shopping Leblon, the new favorite mall of locals, is packed with modern shops like Osklen and Maria Bonita. And, of course, it's a great place to pick up that beach-ready bikini.

Soar to New Heights on Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer
Two of Rio's most beautiful attractions are not located in the city center - you'll have to look much higher to find them. Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue both sit high on the Rio de Janeiro skyline on separate sides of the city. To reach Cristo Redentor, one of the seven new wonders of the world, grab a cog train up Corcovado Mountain and through Tijuca Forest National Park and enjoy the ride up to the statue, which is about 20-30 minutes long. Sugar Loaf, or Pao de Acucar as it's called because of it's distinctive shape, is accessible by cable cars that offer riders 360-degree views of the summit. Before you come back down, enjoy a sweet caipirinha, a drink made of mulled fruit and cachaca, at Abencoado, an adorable mountain-top cafe.

Circle the Lagoa on Wheels
Rio is centered by a big, beautiful lagoon where festivals and events regularly take place. Better still, you can rent a bike nearby and tour the body of water and surrounding neighborhoods by bicycle! Stop by the bike rental kiosk and you can enjoy a 8km ride fully around the lagoon, or go part of the way and return your bicycle to a kiosk closer to that point. Since the lagoon is so large, it faces several varied neighborhoods of Rio and is a great way to view life with the locals.