As the sun sets over Rio de Janeiro's beaches, the city's sun-kissed cariocas (locals) head home to wash off the sand and prepare for a night out on the town. Do as the locals do and get ready to party, because Rio's varied nightlife has plenty to offer.
Rio takes an appropriately laid back approach to after-dark activities – the crowds generally hit the streets around 9pm to sip chilled cervejas (beers) and enjoy bar snacks at a botequim (traditional Brazilian bar), before moving on to their chosen dance spot, live music venue or street party.
Night life around the Lapa aqueduct in Rio de Janeiro ©Tim Clayton / Getty Images
Food and drink
In the botequins' patrons enjoy an informal vibe as they share frosty beers and munch away on hot (mostly fried) finger food known as salgados. The most popular include pasteis (pastry pockets filled with cheese, shrimp or meat), bolinhos (croquettes) and torresmo (pork crackling). Pavão Azul in Copacabana, founded in 1957, is the perfect place to start a night out. Hordes of friendly locals crowd the bar and spill out onto the sidewalk, sharing huge bottles of beer and enjoying the excellent pataniscas de bacalhau (Portuguese salt cod fritters).
Enjoyed by cariocas and visitors alike, the caipirinha (a cocktail made from sugar cane spirit mixed with lime and sugar) is a great drink to start the evening’s fun. There’s no better place to experiment with the different varieties of Brazil’s national cocktail than at Academia da Cachaça in Leblon. As the name suggests, the bar’s specialty is cachaça, the native liquor of Brazil, and it stocks over 300 varieties that can be either sipped straight like a good whiskey or mixed up to make a crisp caipirinha.
Rio's nightlife is legendary, and in one visit you'll find out why © Lisa Wiltse / Getty Images
Rio has a vibrant dance culture that has been here for hundreds of years. Samba, the city’s theme tune, was born during the slave era, developed in the late nineteenth century, and still pumps through the veins of Brazil to this day. The best place to experience this passionate music and dance on the weekend is at Trapiche Gamboa close to Praça Mauá. During the week, Carioca de Gema in Lapa is a reliable option. Here you can shuffle the night away to live music played by some of the best samba bands in Brazil. Staying in the Lapa, carnival-themed Baródromo hosts excellent live samba performances and is a great way to soak up some year-round carnival atmosphere.
Forro is samba’s lesser known sibling, originating in the northeast of Brazil. The dance movements are all very much about close encounters – the steps are a little more rigid compared to the fluid moves of samba, but once you get the hang of it, it's just as addictive. On weekends there are non-stop live forro performances on the twin stages of the Feira Nordestina. For a more upscale forro experience, try the forro night at Leviano Bar, close to the Lapa Arches.
Carioca de Gema is a great place to try out your samba moves © Phil Clarke Hill / Getty Images
Cariocas take advantage of their city’s balmy climate to hold regular alfresco gatherings throughout the week. In the south zone, Baixo Gávea holds an informal street party that’s most popular on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Complete with a laid back, bohemian vibe, hundreds of 18-35 year olds start their evenings here before heading to the many nearby bars and restaurants.
Praça São Salvador is another lively option Thursdays to Sundays that draws the masses to fill the usually tranquil, traditional square in Laranjeiras. Free sporadic entertainment is on offer and might include live bands, jugglers, pop-up theatre shows and skateboarders. You can while the entire night away under the stars here, meeting new friends and enjoying the cheap drinks sold by street vendors.
Rio Scenarium is a perennial nightlife favorite © Phil Clarke Hill / Getty Images
Lapa is the most popular area for bar hopping in the whole of Rio de Janeiro. Originally a neighborhood where only artists or the less privileged would venture, it is now the most vibrant part of Rio de Janeiro post-sunset. There are dozens of bars to choose from, mostly within a few blocks of the Lapa Arches. Many of the best bars have an authentic, gritty edge which only adds to their charm – a firm favorite with the locals is ancient hole-in-the-wall Casa da Cachaça where you can choose from more than a hundred different flavored cachaça shots. Those looking for something more upmarket in the area can try ever popular Rio Scenarium.
Another area that is making waves in the Rio bar scene is Botafogo. Conveniently located just a quick taxi or metro ride from the most popular beach neighborhoods of the Zona Sul, Botafogo has seen a number of quirky bars and artisanal beer specialists open in the years following the Olympics. Comuna is the ultimate trendy multipurpose space which combines excellent cocktails and burgers with live DJs sets. Closer to Botafogo metro station, Rua Voluntarias da Pátria and Rua Nelson Mandela are lined with dozens of bars, teaming with a lively mix of students and hipsters.
A samba group plays in the Lapa district of Rio de Janeiro © Douglas Engle / Getty Images
Music is an integral part of everyday life in Rio de Janeiro and a night out is no exception. Cafe Sacrilegio in Lapa creates a perfect warm ambience to enjoy a night of traditional Brazilian music. Whether it’s samba, bossa nova or pagode, the bar draws the local crowds and always plays the right classics to get everyone dancing and singing along.
Fundicão Progresso in Lapa is a diverse cultural center and one of the best places for a unique view of Lapa’s arches. During the day there’s plenty of activity in the dance studios and artsy on-site coffee shop, while at night the building transforms into a dynamic music venue with famous Brazilian artists like Monobloco, Jorge Ben Jor and Nação Zumbi having graced the stage here.
This article was originally written in April 2015 and updated in August 2018 by Tom Le Mesurier.