Squeezed on a curved slice of land at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain and its shorter, wider companion at the other end of the cable car, tiny Urca remains one of Rio’s most unique neighborhoods in that it has retained its intimate feel and close-knit character for decades, despite rapid and unrestrained development in other sections of the city. Facing west across an inlet of Guanabara Bay and overlooking the stately districts of Botafogo and Flamengo, Urca is home to several restaurants and bars that make the trip from other parts of town worthwhile if only for the ambiance.
The site of a Portuguese fort erected in 1565 to fend off the nascent city from French colonial ambitions, Urca developed as a neighborhood much more recently. In the 1920s, the amount of buildable land in the area was expanded with landfill and the first housing developments sprung up. By the end of the decade, the district was a thriving commercial and residential community with its own casino, built to compete against the luxe but barely-accessible Copacabana Palace Hotel. Much of the architecture in the area reflects the development of the 30s and 40s, with a mix of faux Spanish and Tudor-style stucco houses and apartment buildings that render the entire neighborhood a historical treasure.