Category Archives: Big Cities

20 Things To Do In Atlanta This Summer

As I mentioned yesterday, I’d like to inspire and encourage the “tourist in your own town” mentality this summer. So I’m doing a series of posts about things to do in specific cities with kids this summer. Over the next few weeks I’ll highlight lots of major cities Continue reading 20 Things To Do In Atlanta This Summer

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Most Affordable Cities For Family Travel

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I love stumbling on great articles on affordable family travel. So often I hear people use money as an excuse not to travel. I get it, it’s not cheap. However, if you plan smart, you really can take affordable trips as a family. For suggestions on how to do that, see my post on How To Save Money On Your Travel.

Recently Forbes released a list of the 20 most affordable cities for family travel. I couldn’t wait to dive in and check out the recommendations. I have to admit, though, after reading the article I was left scratching my head. Not only were most of the destinations not THAT awesome for kids, but they didn’t seem all that affordable.

Here is the criteria and background of the assessment: “These are the 20 most affordable cities for family travel according to SmartAsset, a personal finance technology company. SmartAsset looked at the cost of a three-day and three-night trip for a family of four in 48 of the largest American cities. This included the average rates for hotels, daily car rentals, airfare and restaurant meals.”

Scrolling through the list of cities, the average trip costs were between $2,400 and $3,000. From what I could tell, this did not include any of the activities a family would do in the various cities. From our travel experience, activities can be some of the most costly aspects of a trip.

Listed as the number 1 most affordable city to visit- Orlando, FL. Of course it’s inexpensive to travel to and stay there…but what are you planning to do there? Factor in the main activities (theme parks) and Orlando adds up quickly. Likewise, there was no mention in the article for the cities with great free museums or outdoor attractions.

I’m not a huge fan of this list because I think it’s a complete misrepresentation of the reality of traveling with family. Read the full list of cities here.

What do you think? Is this list realistic? What are the most affordable cities you’ve traveled to with family?

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NASCAR Hall of Fame- Charlotte, NC

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In a city known for a variety of things, there is one undeniable superstar. NASCAR, the largest spectator sport in the United States, has a presence in Charlotte, North Carolina like no other industry.

Aside from actually attending a race, visiting the NASCAR Hall of Fame is one of the best ways to enjoy everything the sport has to offer. Located “Uptown”, The Hall of Fame highlights the best of NASCAR history, drivers, equipment, races, and the fans.

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Your experience at The NASCAR Hall of Fame begins the moment you walk into the beautiful 150,000 square foot building. The space is packed with memorabilia and interactive displays.

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Whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, you will quickly find that The Hall of Fame is one of the best places to spend a day. Children (and adults too!) will LOVE all the hands-on opportunities.

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Watching the movie about the history of NASCAR in the “High Octane Theater” is a great place to start your visit. Our family instantly felt more knowledgable and connected to the sport after our viewing.

We all really enjoyed standing out on a replica of a NASCAR track. Having watched races on television, we would never have imagined how steep the banks really are and how it must feel to be driving top speeds at that angle.

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Unquestionably, the pit experience was one of the major highlights of the museum. Our family got to race to jack a car, change the tire and add gas. My children thought this was the greatest experience and loved racing to complete the task. Time and again, we raced each other and the clock. Without a doubt, it’s harder than the real pit crew make it look!

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame designed several areas just for kids to enjoy. My kids loved designing a car on the massive iPad coloring tablet, and playing all of the interactive games.

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Another part of the museum we really enjoyed was the simulated driving experience. Although we all practiced ahead of time in the Qualifying Area, we weren’t quite prepared for the “real thing.” It definitely gave us a whole new respect for the drivers!

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The Hall of Fame contains hundreds of displays with facts and documented history. We loved educating ourselves through hands-on exhibits and well designed showcases.

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If you are planning a trip to Charlotte, The NASCAR Hall of Fame absolutely needs to be on your to-do list! There truly is something for everyone at this museum. It is open Monday through Sunday, 10AM to 6PM (10AM to 5PM during the winter months.)

To purchase tickets and plan your visit, visit their website.  We are already looking forward to our next time there!

*The NASCAR Hall of Fame hosted our family.*

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10 Tips For Visiting Skydeck Chicago

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Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower is one of the hottest tourist destinations in the city. Not only do people line up for the chance to view Chicago from 103 stories up, but they can’t stop talking about The Ledge.

The 4 glass boxes that literally dangle in the air above the Chicago River bring people flocking for the experience of stepping out onto the ledge.

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Skydeck Chicago is an awesome experience. It’s a destination that needs to be included in your travel.

Here are a few tips for making the most of your Skydeck Chicago experience:

  1. Pre-Purchase Tickets: You will have to stand in line a lot during your experience: to get through security, to ride the elevator up, to take a turn out on the ledge, to ride the elevator down, to use the bathroom, etc. The only line you have the option to easily bypass is the one to purchase tickets.
  2. Fast Pass: If you are visiting on a day with an expected high volume of people, I highly recommend taking advantage of the fast pass ticket option. It is a considerable price increase, but you will gain hours of your day back.
  3. Security: The Willis Tower has a phenomenal security screening. Keep in mind that you will need to pass through it in order to enter. I don’t know the specific rules as to what’s allowed or not, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you have a question, then you probably shouldn’t bring it.
  4. Elevator: You will be packed in pretty tight into the elevator. It’s 60 seconds of your life (well, 120 if you count the ride down too.) Although they tell you to move to the back, most people try to grab space on the sides first. If you are claustrophobic, it’s probably a good idea to stand on the side or front.
  5. Keep Moving: As soon as you get off the elevator, traffic will come to a complete stop. Everyone wants to peak out of the first pane of glass they see. If you move like 5 feet over, your view will be virtually unobstructed. And you’re pretty much seeing the same thing that the people who waited in a line 20 people deep saw.DSC_3134
  6. Gift Shop Warning: You will filter through about 3 different gift shops during your Skydeck experience. It seemed like everything breakable or fun was on the outside edge. Keep an eye on your children and prepare them in advance if you are or aren’t going to make any purchases.
  7. Ledge #4: As you approach the side of the building with the ledges, you will see some very long lines. For whatever reason, most people stand in the first line they see and don’t investigate other options. There are 4 ledges to walk out on and take photographs. I highly recommend that you make your way to the furthest ledge. There is a professional photographer in that area and I believe it discourages people from choosing that one. After snapping a professional picture, the photographer is more than happy to take additional pictures on your personal camera.
  8. Professional Picture: Unless you are traveling with a 10 foot tall person, you will not be able to get the same awesome angle as the professional camera. The camera is mounted on the ceiling, and undoubtedly takes the best group photos. Skydeck Chicago
  9. Check Photo On Spot: You are able to quickly view your photo on a screen up at the Ledge. Take a peek. I guarantee if one of your kids has their eyes closed, you will not be trekking back to the top for a re-shoot. Don’t go home disappointed!
  10. Allow Time To Exit: There will be another line to board the elevators going down. Depending on the crowds, it may take about 15 minutes to leave once you are in line. Then there is another maze of gift shops to wander through before you are officially out of Willis Tower. If you are on a time schedule, make sure to allow plenty of time.

In addition to these helpful hints, make sure to check out the official “How To Get The Most Out Of Your Experience” section on the Skydeck website.

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The Art Institute of Chicago

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If you ever spend any amount of time researching “things to do in Chicago,” one of the overwhelmingly popular places to visit is The Art Institute of Chicago. Known for being one of the oldest, largest and best art collections in the United States, The Art Institute of Chicago draws around 1.5 million visitors every year.

While I was aware of its popularity, I assumed it wasn’t going to be a great place for our young family to visit. Aside from taking pictures with the iconic bronze lions that guard the entrance, I wasn’t sure how much my children (8 and 4) would enjoy.

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Having visited almost every other major Chicago museum and attraction, I felt it was time for my kids to experience The Art Institute. To help make our trip more successful, I did a little preparation for our visit.

The museum contains over 260,000 pieces of art. My children do not have the attention span (or appreciation) for that big of a collection. I decided we would concentrate on two main areas- The Thorne Room and The American Art Gallery.

The Thorne Room is a collection of 68 miniature rooms. In dollhouse like style, the rooms are decorated and furnished with a million tiny details. Each room represents a different theme, era or culture.

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You are able to view each of the 68 rooms by peering through the display glass. All of the displays have a nice ledge for children to stand on. I really appreciated not having to hold my children up to view!

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My kids absolutely loved this collection! We spent over an hour admiring all of the tiny details. At one point my 4-year old began to get restless so I came up with the idea to play I-Spy with the rooms. It was the perfect way to keep him interested and focused on all of the details.

After a quick bathroom break (there were really nice bathrooms right around the corner from The Thorne Room), we headed off in search of The American Art Gallery.

It was quite a walk and we were able to enjoy other art as we made our way through The Art Institute. I believe it would have been entirely too overwhelming for the kids if we were trying to stop and see everything. I let them pick and choose where we stopped. They were particularly impressed by Chagall’s American Windows.

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By the time we found The American Art Gallery, the children were reaching their limit of good behavior. We did not spend quite as much time in that gallery as I would have anticipated, but I am glad we were able to point out some of the more famous works of art.

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Overall, our visit to The Art Institute of Chicago was much more enjoyable for the children than I imagined. I believe the key was going in with an agenda and low expectations.

I highly recommend visiting The Art Institute of Chicago with your family if you fall into one of these categories:

  1. Children with an interest in art and/or art history.
  2. Children over the age of 10.
  3. If you don’t mind seeing only a tiny portion of the massive collection.
  4. If you have already done most of the other Chicago museums and attractions and are looking for something new.

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Where To Stay In Downtown Chicago

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Deciding where to stay in Chicago can be the trickiest part of planning your visit. At the end of the day, you will be walking a lot. It’s hard to pick a “central” location because there are SO many great things to do!

Generally speaking, our favorite hotel locations are either on The Magnificent Mile (a 1 mile stretch of Michigan Avenue) or close to Buckingham Fountain. That range is a little over 2 miles- north to south. Any hotel within those parameters is, what I would consider, a good location. A block or two east or west of those parameters is also a safe bet.

When selecting a hotel in Downtown Chicago there are several factors to consider:

  • Will you have a car in the city? If you have a car, you will want to make sure to select a hotel with a parking garage or valet. This will cost you around $50-$60 per day extra. Most likely the better the hotel location, the higher the parking fee. Keep in mind though, if you try to save on your hotel parking fee by staying further away, you will most likely spend more on transportation. I highly suggest that you do not move your car. Hourly parking is difficult to find and expensive.
  • What activities are you planning to do? Making a list of your top activities should help you narrow down your hotel location. Staying as close as possible to as many destinations makes the most sense. I like to use Rand McNally ahead of time to visually see all of my destinations mapped out. By entering 4-5 addresses you can get an idea of their locations in relation to each other and the hotels.Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 10.07.07 AM
  • What kind of transportation are you comfortable using? Chicago has phenomenal public transportation. You may decide that you’d like to stay further outside the city and make use of the trains. Additionally, in the city you can hop on a train or bus to easily and quickly change locations.

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At the end of the day, you will need to decide your hotel priorities. Are you looking for value? Location? Accessibility? There are TONS of options so you need to pick what’s best for your needs!

Here are a few of our favorite hotels in Downtown Chicago:

Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile 

Renaissance Blackstone Chicago

Residence Inn Downtown Chicago Magnificent Mile

Where do you like to stay when you visit Chicago?

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Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower

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The Willis Tower is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 8th tallest building in the world. So how would you feel about standing out on a glass ledge on its 103rd floor?

Our crazy family couldn’t wait!

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Skydeck Chicago has been open for over 40 years and attracts roughly 1.7 million visitors each year. To access the Skydeck in Willis Tower, visitors must purchase tickets. The tickets are available for purchase in person, but I highly recommend buying them online in advance to avoid the long lines.

Once tickets have been purchased you begin your journey to the top. The elevator ride to the 103rd floor takes exactly 60 seconds. There is a television inside the elevator with cool graphics that illustrate your ride and facts about how high up you are riding.

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As the elevator doors open, you are immediately able to see that you are exactly 1,353 feet up in the air!

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As you tower over the city of Chicago, the views are absolutely breathtaking in every direction!

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From this vantage point, you are able to see for 50 miles in all directions. This includes views of 4 states!

Foot traffic flows around the Skydeck in a counter-clockwise circle starting at the elevator. People are constantly moving so you will only have to be patient for a few minutes before gaining a front row view. Also, most people stop just outside of the elevator; however, stepping over just a few feet will free up the congestion.

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As you make your way to the final side of the Willis Tower, you will see 4 glass ledges. All of the ledges are suspended over Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. I highly recommend bypassing the first few ledges and opting for the last one.

There is a professional photographer in the Ledge to the far left. After posing for the professional picture (the picture at the top of this post- totally worth paying for!), the photographer was happy to snap a few pictures on my camera.

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He even suggested to my kids that they lay down and enjoy their few minutes out on the ledge!

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The glass is extremely durable (obviously!) However, I did observe MANY children and adults who were not nearly as comfortable as my crazy family.  If you have your heart set on some amazing pictures, you may want to scale back your expectations if you have any cautious family members.

Another advantage of going to the ledge with the professional photographer is that he was more than willing to talk people through their fears. He was patient and allowed the individuals time to “warm up” to the experience.

Skydeck Chicago allows you to spend as much time as you want walking around and taking pictures. Once you are ready to descend, you take the same elevator back to the ground floor of the Willis Tower.

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We loved our time on The Skydeck– and specifically on The Ledge. This is a must-do experience in Chicago!

*The Skydeck Chicago hosted our family*

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Navy Pier Centennial Wheel- Chicago

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At first glance, the Chicago skyline appears unchanged.  The massive skyscrapers with the iconic Navy Pier ferris wheel make for a picturesque lakefront view. However, those familiar with Navy Pier realize that A LOT has actually changed.

The new “Centennial Wheel” recently opened and is already drawing large crowds. Standing 48 feet taller than the wheel it replaced, the Centennial Wheel is much more modern. It also goes faster, and has climate controlled cars.

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The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier has, in the past, been one of our favorite Chicago attractions. We were all so excited to experience the new one!

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The boarding process is very organized. We were assigned a spot and conveniently and safely boarded a stopped wheel. The wheel travels around 1 time with stops for boarding. After completing the process, the wheel then travels around 2 more full times without stops.

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The views of both the city and Lake Michigan are breathtaking!

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There are 8 very spacious seats in each car. Here is a description from the Chicago Tribune on the various ride options:

“The new ride, for which tickets are already being sold online, charges $15 for an adult journey in one of 41 eight-person standard gondolas. (Off-season rates will be cheaper, and free riding is being offered in four two-hour, morning time windows this summer.) But because this is contemporary tourism, there are upgrade options that allow the well-heeled to trade extra cash for less wait time or a more exclusive experience: For $25, riders can join the Centennial Wheel’s equivalent of Transportation Security Administration PreCheck, the “Fast Pass” line. For $50, people can ride in the VIP gondola, which features a glass bottom and just four riders.

There’s also a new $35 day pass, which includes all you can handle of the Ferris wheel, the carousel, the Pepsi Wave Swinger, the Light Tower and the new climbing wall, which replaces the old minigolf course that gave way to support structures for the new wheel.”

In addition to the Ferris Wheel, Navy Pier offers a wide variety of other activities including: dining, shopping, boat tours, a Children’s Museum, an IMAX theatre, and several other rides in Pier Park.

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Navy Pier also does an incredible fireworks display on Wednesday and Saturday nights throughout the summer.

*Navy Pier hosted our family during our visit*

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Maggie Daley Park- Chicago

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Chicago has always been one of my favorite cities to visit. I absolutely adore everything about the city (except for the winter weather!) It’s been a few years since our family has visited. Maggie Daley Park is a new addition to downtown and more than anything else, I was looking forward to spending time there.

Located between the skyscrapers and the lakefront, Maggie Daley Park is easily one of the nicest public parks we’ve ever visited. Not to mention, it’s killer location! The grounds are absolutely stunning and meticulously maintained.

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The park has many different areas to accommodate various activities. The sections are clearly marked and include suggested age ranges. Additionally, the rules are posted in several locations throughout the park. We found the whole area to be very clean, well monitored and safe.

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My children were initially drawn to the unique play structures. The design of the playground features are like a child’s dream. They are colorful, cool and architecturally one of a kind.

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There are several slides built into the astroturf hills. Despite their length and slope, I felt that my children were extremely safe because they couldn’t really fall off of the slides. My children could have stayed on the slides all day!

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Our other favorite part of the park was the mini-golf course. Unlike most of the rest of the park, there was a charge to play. At first I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth it, but I’m SO glad we decided to play. All of the holes were distinctive and most were specific to Chicago.

Mini Golf general admission is $10 per person, but there are discounts for military and educators. Also, children under 4 are free. We felt like the experience was absolutely worth the money!

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In addition to the playgrounds, mini-golf, and the beautiful open areas, there is also an ice skating rink during winter months, a climbing wall, tennis courts, and areas that can be rented out for events.

Although I only planned to spend about 2-hours in Maggie Daley Park (there are SO many awesome things to do in Chicago so I was trying to cram in A LOT!),  it was impossible to drag my family away in less than 3-hours. We easily could have spent an entire day exploring!

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I highly recommend adding Maggie Daley Park to your Chicago itinerary! For more ideas on what to do in Chicago, check out my  post: Chicago In A Weekend.

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All About Rio, Home of The 2016 Olympics

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This summer the world will gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympics. Eyes around the globe will get a 2-week glimpse into the culture of one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere.

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A beautiful city built on the coast of the Atlantic, Rio is known for its beaches, shopping, food and unique culture. The official language is Portuguese  and the weather is most often hot.

Although the Summer Olympics will be hosted in the month of August, Brazil will actually be at the end of winter. Because of this, temperatures are expected to be mild (in the 70’s.)

Despite being a popular tourist destination, Rio has a notably low inventory of hotel rooms. Because of this, most people visiting for the Olympics will be hosted in privately owned apartments or homes. Hotel rooms come at a premium and are already completely booked for the games.

Typically visitors to Brazil need travel visas, the requirements are being waived for a few countries (including the US) in the time period surrounding the Olympics and Paralympics.

Worth noting, there is currently a Level 2 Travel Advisory issued by the CDC. Read the full information on the Zika Virus and the CDC recommendations here.

For more information on visiting Rio for the Olympics, visit this site:

Olympic Visitor Information From The US Department of State

If you are like me, you have no plans to attend the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. However, I am sure I will fall in love with Rio while watching all the TV coverage.

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Here are 5 fun/interesting facts:

  1. When the city was discovered in January 1502, the explorer mistook the bay for a mouth of a river. Thus, naming the city “Rio de Janeiro” (River of January.) Ironically, there is no river.
  2. The 2016 Summer Olympics hosted in Rio will be the first Olympics ever held in South America.
  3. Street art is legal. Graffiti artists are allowed to decorate any public space as long as it’s not designated as historical.
  4. Brazil boasts a 91% literacy rate!
  5. Rio is home to Brazil’s most famous landmark, The Christ Redeemer Statue that overlooks the city. The statue gets struck by lightning 3-4 times per year. Although lightning rods were added to preserve the statue, in 2014 a lightning strike caused one of the thumbs to fall off.

Here are a few great sites I found for planning an amazing trip:

Official City Website

7 Awesome Things To Do

How To Spend 1 Week in Rio De Janeiro

Do you have any recommendations on things not to miss on a trip to Rio, Brazil? 

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