On 1 January 1502, the Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos brought his ship into a bay on the Brazilian coast, which is now called Guanabara Bay. Mistakenly confusing the bay with the mouth of a river, he named it Rio de Janeiro - literally translated as the January River.

The city of Rio de Janeiro itself was founded on 1 March 1565 by Estacio de Sa, and was the seat of Brazilian politics from 1764 until 1960, when it was replaced by Brasilia. Nonetheless, Rio remains Brazil's most popular tourist destination and cultural hotspot, besides being the country's second most populous metropolis with just over 6 million residents.

As well as its incomparable natural beauty, Rio's rich history and the cariocas' contagious joie de vivre have all contributed to making the city known and loved across the globe. The highlights of the Rio calendar include the New Year's Eve celebrations and world-famous Carnival. This bustling metropolis, located between a tropical forest and a series of magnificent beaches, is an ideal base for exploring either, while the Cidade Maravilhosa has everything fans of modern urban life could wish for.

Rio de Janeiro is without doubt a city packed with contrasts: its striking colonial architecture recalling a bygone era while its imposing modern buildings represent a bright future. Perhaps the two most iconic sights are the Sugarloaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which sits atop the Corcovado Mountain, these images winging their way around the world on the front of millions of postcards.

Football
Rio de Janeiro is the very depiction of Brazilian football with all forms of kick abouts taking on its streets, public parks and vast beaches. It comes as no surprise, then, that the city is the birthplace of such world-renowned footballers as Jairzinho, Zico, Ronaldo and Romario, to name but a few.

Four of Brazil's biggest and most popular clubs are based in the Cidade Maravilhosa: Botafogo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama and Flamengo, the club with the country's biggest fan base, of over 30 million aficionados.

Football is like a religion for the cariocas, and its temple is undoubtedly the mythical state-owned Maracana, arguably the most famous and once the largest stadium in the world. Officially named Mario Filho Stadium, after a famous sports journalist, the Maracana was inaugurated shortly before the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and hosted five of the home country's six matches in that competition, including the fateful 1-2 loss to Uruguay in the final match of the tournament. The resounding defeat on 16 July 1950 - dubbed Maracanazo by world champions Uruguay - was to be forever remembered as a national disaster in Brazil.

The Maracana has been completely renewed for the FIFA World Cup, in order to offer absolute comfort while still being the largest stadium in Brazil as a 75,117-seater.

The Engenhão, which was built as a venue for the Pan-American Games in 2007 and will be used in the 2016 Olympic Games, is the home ground of Botafogo. Vasco owns the São Januário, a stadium built in the 1920s that was the largest in the country before the Maracanã was opened.