Sao Paulo is bigger and the capital moved to Brasília 54 years ago, but Rio de Janeiro, with its white beaches, blue ocean and jungle-covered mountains, is still the place that comes to mind when people think of Brazil.
Home to samba and Carnival, bossa nova and modern architecture, imperial palaces and shantytowns, notorious drug gangs and world-renowned telenovellas, the 448-year-old harbour city is a microcosm of Latin America's largest country.
Football fans coming to Rio for the World Cup will be too late for the city's famed Carnival bash, but they'll also miss the energy-sapping Southern Hemisphere summer heat.
Rio's legendary Maracana stadium will host seven World Cup games: Argentina vs Bosnia and Herzegovina; defending champion Spain vs Chile; Belgium vs Russia; Ecuador vs France, a round of 16 match, a quarter-final and the final on July 13.
Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Rio from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
BODIES, BEACHES, JUICE BARS
By all means visit tourist favorites such as Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado, but here are places that locals enjoy, too.
Despite its party reputation, Rio is also a daytime city. Obsessed with health and good looks, many Cariocas, as the locals are known, work hard to keep tan and fit.
Start the day by the sea with a morning walk or jog along the shoreline and its tiled Portuguese stone walkways in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.
Equally good routes can be found along Flamengo and Botafogo's bayside parkways, or on the 7.5-km (4.7-mile) walk around the Lagoa, a lagoon between Ipanema and the mountains. Bike rentals are easy to find.
Quench your thirst with a coconut water or have breakfast at Balada Sumos (Av. Ataulfo de Paiva, No. 620, Leblon).
Balada and the dozens of snack and juice bars along the main shopping streets in Ipanema and Leblon serve tropical juices and "natural" sandwiches. There are also options for the not-so-health-conscious, such as pork-and-pineapple sandwiches, a Rio classic.
The beach is best at late morning and late afternoon. The most popular spots are between Posto 7 and Posto 10 in Ipanema. Each posto is a lifeguard station whose number serves as a beach address.
For a beachside seafood lunch and a caipirinha - the Brazilian cocktail made with fruit and local sugarcane liquor - try Restaurante Azul Marinho (www.cozinhatipica.com.br) in the Arpoador Inn (Av. Francisco Bhering, near Posto 7).
While Ipanema beach has the cleanest water, avoid swimming the day after a heavy rain. Local newspapers print beach conditions daily, and you can ask your hotel for details.
Always bring as little as possible to the beach. Chances of getting robbed are slim, but it's best to tuck cash or a bank card in your shorts or swimsuit. Cariocas keep their hands free.
You can buy everything you need at the beach. Instead of a towel, buy a canga, a colorful shawl-beach blanket to lie on, to dry off and to keep the sun off your shoulders. Rent beach chairs from the drinks tents.