Partiers looking to discover the hedonistic heart of Rio de Janeiro won’t find it by the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon. For the true taste of nightlife in Rio, there’s only one neighborhood to head for, and that’s Lapa. Located at the historic center of Rio’s downtown, this party district has long been synonymous with caipirinha-fueled excess. Today, many of the crumbling mansions have been given a lick of paint and transformed into hip bars and lively nightclubs, as part of an ongoing gentrification that has also seen an increased police presence and an influx of cosmopolitan clubbers from Rio’s affluent Zona Sul. Locals rub shoulders with the ever-growing number of foreign visitors heading here to dance the night away in clubs such as long-standing favorite Scenarium or to exchange chat up lines at the legendary weekend street parties that pack out the area around the iconic Arcos da Lapa. While some mourn the fact that Lapa’s down-and-dirty dive bars are disappearing and being replaced by the new wave of hip hangouts such as Leviano, this remains the destination of choice for those who like to party hard. A few words to the wise – leave valuables at home (pickpockets remain a problem), wear comfy dancing shoes and prepare to party until dawn – things don’t really get going here until after midnight.
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
Visitors looking for the historic heart of Rio won’t find it by the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, but in the heart of downtown Lapa. Rua do Lavradio was one of the first streets to be built in Rio de Janeiro back in the 1770s, and its handsome colonial buildings offer plenty to offer architecture buffs. Fittingly, many of the buildings have been converted into antiques stores, while others now serve as bars and restaurants. On the first Saturday of each month, the street packs with vendors, shoppers and sightseers when the famous Feira do Rio Antigo – an antiques, fashion and arts fair – takes place.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: Rua do Lavradio’s many cafes and bars make it a top spot for bar-hopping in Lapa.
Lucy’s expert tip: Head here on a Friday evening to soak up the post-work feelgood vibes before heading down to the arches.
Rio is synonymous with samba, and the city’s historical downtown district of Lapa should be the first port of call for anybody looking to hear the real thing played live.
At Rio Scenarium, the kooky factor is ramped up to 11 thanks to the fact that this vast venue for samba shows is also a storage space for antiques and film props, so fascinating costumes, masks and other historical artefacts form the backdrop to the dancing, eating and drinking.
Even if you have two left feet it is worth a visit here
just to see the highy skilled locals show how samba dancing should be done, and there’s a restaurant serving sit-down meals for those who just want to take in the show.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: The quality samba, lively atmosphere and unique decor make this an unmissable nightlife experience.
Lucy’s expert tip: Too shy to take to the dancefloor? Sip a caipirinha or two and feel those inhibitions slip away.
A stone’s throw from Lapa’s frenzied street party activity, Febarj is the best spot in the city to find a hip-hop heavy playlist. On Friday and Saturday evenings the three floors of this former colonial home shake to the sound of rap from the United States, with the occasional home-grown tune thrown in too. Cheap entrance fee, a relaxed crowd and a good time vibe make this one a great place for a chilled-yet-lively Friday night out in Lapa, and the balconies are a good place to take a break from the sweaty dancefloor and sip a caipirinha as you watch the revelers on the street below.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: This is one of the funkiest bars in Rio’s historic center.
Lucy’s expert tip: Get down to Lapa around 11pm, grab a drink from one of the many street sellers, and just soak up the atmosphere before heading into Febarj before midnight for free entry.
In the historic heart of Lapa, this reformed colonial mansion home has received a colorful makeover with illuminated artworks on the brick walls, vibrantly-colored cocktails and an equally bright and breezy playlist. An eclectic musical menu takes in electro-heavy club nights, more gentile jazz-fests and live samba sessions, and downstairs dancefloors are packed well into the small hours almost every night of the week. A mezzanine balcony provides ample space for sipping drinks and chatting – should you be able to make yourself heard over the pumping music. Alongside an extensive cocktail list, some tempting finger food. Groups of friends may want to opt for the mixed platter, which includes tasty finger foods such as rosemary and garlic breadsticks, focaccia, sundried tomato paste and little oven-baked pastries.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: Leviano’s funky decor and eclectic musical menu attracts all kinds of clubbers and music lovers.
Lucy’s expert tip: Those who aren’t up for clubbing can head here in the early evening for drinks on the sidewalk patio – ideal for people watching.
In the heart of Lapa but a little off the main drinking and dancing circuit, this lively cafe-bar-cultural center is a top spot for a daytime coffee and cakes or a night time drink and a spin on the artfully-appointed dance floor.
The list of craft beers – including the house-brewed ‘Cerveja da Lapa’ is one of the most extensive in the city, and the cocktails go well beyond the standard caipirinha.
The extensive space inside a refurbished colonial mansion also houses a gallery showcasing the works of talented local artists, and regular live music events span a varied musical spectrum that attracts a mixed-age, mixed-nationality crowd. The vibe is laid back and cool without being pretentious, and feels a little less manic than many Lapa hangouts – it closes early by local standards, too, making this a good place to start the night.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: Lapa Cafe has become known as a unique space for chilled out nights with a cool cultural edge.
Lucy’s expert tip: The beer menu spans several pages and takes in over 300 imported and local varieties – perfect accompanied by some of the tasty bar snacks on offer.
Along with the beaches, the Christ statue and Sugar Loaf mountain, another postcard-perfect image of Rio are the mammoth white arches that stand in city’s historic center.
At night, revelers gather below the arches as a huge street party unfurls – head here on a Friday night to see Rio’s party spirit at its liveliest. The area around the arches is taken over by hundreds of stalls selling all manner of tempting treats to eat and drink, from fresh-baked pizzas and beers to Northeastern acaraje and fruity-but-potent cocktails. Surrounded by bars and clubs pumping out everything from hip hop and favela funk to samba and pagode, the Arcos da Lapa are the starting point for many a memorable night out in Rio.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: Lapa’s whitewashed arches are the backdrop for the liveliest street party in the city.
Lucy’s expert tip: Keep valuables hidden and don’t bring cameras here at night – while safety has improved in recent years, Lapa’s street party continues to attract petty thieves.
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
An eye-catching – if somewhat weather-beaten – art deco building is the setting for some of the longest-standing samba parties in Rio at this much-loved venue. Clube dos Democraticos was founded over a century ago as a carnival society uniting musicians, dancers and others imbued with carnival spirit. Today, the club continues to attract live music lovers, with regular samba sessions packing out the vast dancefloor. For a change of musical scene, it’s worth checking out the Wednesday night Forro sessions – this popular weekly event is a great place to get aquainted with this sultry musical style from Brazil’s northeast. And if you can’t dance a step, don’t worry – the fleet-footed locals will be happy to show you a move or two.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: Clube dos Democraticos is one of the best-loved live music venues in Rio.
Lucy’s expert tip: Can’t dance, won’t dance? Just sip a caipirinha and sit back and admire the dancers’ skills as they whirl their partners around the floor.
Samba lovers of all ages flock to this downtown dance house, where the fleet of foot and supple of rump shimmy and shake around the dance floor.
The club is housed in a tall and handsome colonial building, with a balcony overlooking the crowded streets of Lapa – perfect for people-watching and catching a breath of fresh air before you carry on your dance-athon. If you don’t feel confident to take to the floor yourself, just admire the locals’ skill and sip on a caipirinha until the Dutch courage kicks in. It is largely assumed that foreigners can’t dance, so nobody will judge harshly.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: This is one of the best places in Rio to dance (or watch other people dance) samba
Lucy’s expert tip: Carioca da Gema also run a very good pizzeria right next door – perfect for refuelling as the evening wears on.
The biggest – literally – nightlife option in Lapa is a four-floor behemoth offering live music, restaurant dining, several bars and pool tables.
The Lapa hotspot (the name is a reference to the city’s searing summer temperatures) celebrates its 10 year anniversary in 2017, and has been a huge hit with well-to-do locals since its inception. An old mansion home close to the Lapa arches has been transformed into a nightclub, pool hall, restaurant and live music venue, spread over four floors and open until 5am.
While there are several bars, stages for rock and pop shows, live samba and DJs, Lapa 40 Graus first made its name as an upmarket place to come and shoot ‘Sinuca’ – Brazilian snooker. Pool, and even billiards, are options for those who don’t fancy trying their hand at the Brazilian game.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: Lapa 40 Graus packs a lot into one building – a good option on rainy evenings when bar-hopping loses its appeal
Lucy’s expert tip: Queues stretch along the street on Friday and Saturday evenings – come here early if you want to avoid the long lines
Much more than a concert venue, this multi-functional spot in the heart of Lapa hosts hip local bands and international visitors, as well as holding some of the most popular regular club nights in the city. In addition, dance and percussion workshops and nocturnal art exhibitions make this a truly unique venue, frequented by a young, largely middle-class crowd. Prices are less prohibitively-high than some larger music arenas in Rio, making this an affordable place to catch big Brazilian names such as Jorge Ben Jor, or visiting bands – Scottish indie heroes Primal Scream and Belle and Sebastian are among the recent acts to have performed here.
Recommended for Lapa’s Best Nightlife because: There’s always a great vibe at this unique music venue, and it hosts some interesting Brazilian and international acts
Lucy’s expert tip: If you’re here for a weekend gig, the always-lively Lapa street party makes the perfect place for a post-show drink.