With a reputation as one of the world’s greatest party cities, it would be stating the obvious to say that nightlife in Rio de Janeiro is a lively affair. However, many visitors to the city are surprised to find that the city’s legendary party spirit can be hard to uncover.
Take a walk through Copacabana after dark, for example, and you could easily get the impression that nightlife in Rio is all about strip joints; while anyone taking the same nocturnal stroll through Ipanema could be forgiven for thinking that the city’s famous ‘nightlife’ is little more than a string of tastefully lit bar-restaurants where waiters serve expensive drinks and snacks to a restrained clientele.
Contrary to popular belief, Rio de Janeiro’s party scene does not leap out at you the moment you step off the plane. However, let there be no doubt about it – once you find out where to party, you won’t want to stop until the sun is rising and your feet can dance no more.
Pick Your Party Scene
Where to find the best nightlife in Rio depends on what you are looking for in a night out. To see supernaturally beautiful people swaying elegantly to Western music, you should head for spots such as Melt, in Leblon, and Nuth, in Barra da Tijuca. Be prepared to pay steep prices for entry and drinks for the privilege of rubbing shoulders with Rio de Janeiro’s beautiful elite.
If, on the other hand, you want to dance through the night with a hedonistic crowd of clubbers who don’t care if their hair and makeup are less than pristine at the end of the night, you need to head away from the beaches and to the downtown party district of Lapa.
If you want to hear samba, pagode and forro instead of North American pop, Lapa is the place to head for. Ditto if you want to dance to the down and dirty bass of Carioca Funk (a hip-hop/electro/Miami Bass hybrid that bears no resemblance to funk as we Westerners know it) or shake some hip hop moves.
In short, if you want to find the hedonistic heart of Rio, head to Lapa. This is where to find the city’s greatest concentration of bars and clubs, as well as a legendary Friday and Saturday night street party that sees thousands of locals and tourists converge by the Arcos da Lapa – a whitewashed former aqueduct that is an iconic image of bohemian Rio – to drink potent fruit cocktails bought from the many street sellers; exchange flirtatious glances (and possibly more) and make their way woozily through the throng while trying to decide whether to pay to enter a club and, if so, whether it should be one playing hip hop, electro, samba or a combination of all the above.
Dance All Night
To many people, Rio de Janeiro is synonymous with samba, and in Lapa there is no shortage of opportunity to hear the sultry sound of this most
sensual of rhythms. Spots such as Carioca da Gema and Rio Scenarium feature live bands from Thursday through to Sunday, and hungry revellers can eat their fill at the in-house restaurants before working off those calories on the dance floor.
Be warned, however, that even if you consider yourself to be a king or queen of the dance floor, the locals will likely be able to show you a thing or two about how to dance. Rio moves to a constant musical beat, and the Cariocas (Rio natives) have been dancing for as long as they have been walking. But don’t let that put you off trying a few moves. Sink a couple of caipirinhas (Brazil’s national drink, the caipirinha is a dangerously drinkable concoction of sugar cane rum, crushed ice, lime and sugar) and lose yourself in the music. Even if you have two left feet, nobody will raise an eyebrow – most Brazilians assume that foreigners can’t dance, so you will merely be confirming their suspicions. If the thought of showcasing your dance ‘skills’ against some of the best dancers on the planet doesn’t appeal even after a dozen caipirinhas, just sit back and take in the spectacle as the dancers expertly weave around the floor.
Samba aside, Rio de Janeiro is also famous for its gay nightlife scene, and gay visitors to the city will not be short of clubbing options. The more sedate gay scene is based around the strip of smart bars and restaurants that line Farme do Amoeda, close to the gay section of the beach in Ipanema, while clubs and bars advertising themselves as ‘GLS’ (Gays, Lesbians and Sympathisers) are to be found across the city. The most (in)famous of the city’s gay clubs are Le Boy and La Girl, both in Copacabana, and both feature an electro-heavy playlist and dancing until dawn.
Whatever your clubbing style, Rio de Janeiro has something to suit you – just don’t expect to find party central right next door to your hotel (and for anyone planning to sleep at least some of the time, this is very much a blessing in disguise).
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