Driving can be slow and/or scary: have a go if you think you're tough enough (the main thoroughfare isn't called Avenida Ayrton Senna for nothing). Traffic lights are often ignored. Buses are cheap, and fine for daytime trips.
The international hub is Antonio Carlos Jobim airport, aka Galeão, 20km north of the city centre. The 40-minute taxi ride to the Zona Sul area should cost R$80.
The metro system serves a limited area, north through the centre from Copacabana.The metro system serves a limited area: Linha 1 runs through the centre down to Copacabana; Linha 2 goes to Zona Norte. Santa Teresa has trams (bondinhos) to hop on.
Country code for Brazil: 55. Rio de Janeiro: 21.
A Death in Brazil: a Book of Omissions by Peter Robb, an insightful, tightly written analysis of modern Brazil; funny and instructive, The Scorpion's Sweet Venom: Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl by Bruna Surfistinha is a suitably raunchy beach read; Priscilla Ann Goslin's How to Be a Carioca is a tongue-in-cheek guide to the city's people.
Do go / Don't Go
December to February is summer (high season), when the city buzzes with excitement during the Carnival build-up, and long days on the beach give way to party nights. Winter is cooler and calmer - but only just.
Hard-partying Cariocas like their rocket fuel: strong, sweet coffee, plus exotic smoothies made with power-packed ingredients such as açaí, goji berries or guarana, which are ubiquitous and inexpensive. The main menu staples are rice and beans, and stews, such as feijoada and moqueca; fresh fish is good, as are churrasco steaks, straight off the southern plains. There are plenty of contemporary and international restaurants in the Zona Sul, or you can share tapas (petiscos) at traditional botequins. Our favourite Brazilian export is cachaça, the sugar-cane spirit that puts the kick in your caipirinhas.
Affordable and plentiful. Unless you speak Portuguese, write down the address, and don't worry if the driver asks a fellow cabbie for directions. Make sure the meter is on.
In restaurants, 10 per cent is usually added to bills. Apart from that, gratuities aren't the norm, though cab drivers and waiting staff will appreciate any gesture.
The Brazilian real (plural: reais). At today's exchange rate, you get R$3.40 to £1 sterling.
Bring: teeny-weeny bikinis, dancing shoes, Carioca attitude, Astrud Gilberto CDs. If you're a hungry bug's dream come true, bring insect repellent as well. Leave behind: your best jewellery, inhibitions.
Among Rio's state-funded theatres, the Teatro Nelson Rodrigues (2262 5483) is home to the brilliant Intrépida Trupe dance company. The Instituto Moreira Salles (www.ims.com.br) is among the city's most vital cultural centres, with excellent visual arts, music and film. There are countless venues where you can experience samba, that essential expression of Brazilian joie de vivre: in Lapa, try Carioca da Gema (www.barcariocadagema.com.br) for live music and sexy sambistas, or Clube dos Democráticos (2252 4611) on Rua do Riachuelo for Carnival pleasures in a 19th-century ballroom.
The streets of Leblon and Ipanema are studded with scores of appealing shops; the best womenswear boutiques are on Rua Maria Quiteria and Rua Garcia d'Avila. In the Centro, the teeming Saara market, near Uruguaiana metro, is open for business every day except Sunday, with anything and everything for sale; even more enticing is the nearby Camelódromo market, a labyrinth of little stalls selling baile funk CDs, designer knock-offs and much more. Rua do Lavradio in Lapa is home to both antiques shops and contemporary furniture showrooms.
Take a cable-car ride up to the granite dome of Sugar Loaf Mountain, 369m above Rio, to see a dazzling vista of the whole city and Guanabara Bay. Or, for the ultimate view, take a helicopter ride along the coast and around Christ the Redeemer (www.helisight.com.br).
The Centro Cultural Parque das Ruinas (2252 0112), a cultural centre in a neoclassical mansion in Santa Teresa, has live jazz shows on Thursday nights. And, hey, a day on the beach costs nada. Don't go home without… buying half a dozen pairs of Havaiana flip-flops, dancing all night to bossa nova beats and competing fiercely at beach football.
January Dia de São Sebastiao on the 20th sees a procession and a huge concert on Copacabana beach. February Carnival! Rio hosts the world's biggest party, no contest (www.rio-carnival.net). June Fiery, folkloric fun across the city for the Festas Juninas. July Arte de Portas Abertas, when the artists of Santa Teresa open their doors to the public (www.chavemestra.com.br). September-October Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival (www.festivaldorio.com.br), aka Festival do Rio, the most prominent movie mash-up in South America. December Reveillon: two million people dressed in white hit Copacabana beach for fireworks and New Year's Eve fun.