Rio de Janeiro is a city that knows how to party. From the hedonistic revelry of Carnival to the city's massive New Year's celebrations, Rio loves nothing better than to let its hair down. It is hardly surprising then, that Rio de Janeiro nightclubs are both abundant and lively. What can come as a surprise to visitors, however, is the fact that the city's famous party spirit can actually be a little difficult to uncover.
Take a nocturnal walk through the touristic Zona Sul - the scenic South Zone that takes in such famous destinations as Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon - and one could easily come to the conclusion thatsur nighlife in the city amounts to little more than either strip joints and over-priced pizza restaurants (Copacabana) or ludicriously-priced posing palaces modelling themselves on Western night clubs (Ipanema and Leblon). Scratch the surface, however, and you'll find locals shaking those booties with great abandon in all manner of locations.
Any partier's first stop in Rio de Janeiro should be Lapa, the down town party district that has recently undergone a massive transformation from seedy nocturnal hangout to every clubber's destination of choice. From sultry samba to Bass-heavy hip hop, tinny favela funk to sultry bossa nova, you can heat it played loud - and often live - in Lapa.
Elsewhere in the city, there is smart clubbing and dining in the unlikely setting of a planetarium at Gavea institution 00 (Zero Zero), serious posing taking place on the dance floor at Nuth Lounge in Barra da Tijuca, and hipster happenings at Casa da Matriz, in Botafogo.
New Year´s in Rio sees Copacabana Beach turn into a giant night club, with live bands and DJs taking to the mammoth stage until the small hours, while the week-long celebration of hedonism that is Carnival sees partiers take to the streets from early morning until the dawn of the next day´s partying.
Right at the heart of Copacabana, next to Siqueira Campos metro station, Fosfobox attracts hipsters and musically-minded types of all social demographics to shake their collective stuff on the sticky dancefloor.
The musical action takes place downstairs, where DJs play a mix of underground electronica, vintage rock and roll, hip hop and a dash of pop, with the occasional samba, live music or forro-based night keeping the musical menu eclectic. Things get cramped and hectic on the dancefloor after around 1am, but the upstairs bar and balcony provide a chance to sip a cocktail and chat, away from the pumping basslines. (21 2548 7498)
9 Bar do Copa
The hangout of choice for Rio's 'gente bonita'(beautiful people) this super-chic bar-nightclub at the legendary Copacabana Palace is the place to come if you want to rub shoulders with soap stars, models and footballers. The bar serves all manner of cocktails - many featuring fresh Brazilian fruits, Champagne and imported spirits, while millions of twinkling lights cast a golden glow over the elegant types gliding around the dancefloor. Prices are predictably high, and you�ll need to dress to seriously impress if you want to make it past the door staff, but for a glimpse of Brazilian high society at play, look no further. (21 2548 7070)
8 Nuth Lounge
The affluent, modern suburb of Barra da Tijucas has become known as something of a nocturnal playground for Rio's beautiful people thanks to upscale nightspots such as Nuth.
Elegantly-dressed, immaculately-groomed types groove to electro, house, R&B and hip hop, with visiting DJs keeping the crowd happy.
The club is split into several spaces for lounging, dancing and eating, and the musical policy varies from night to night, making it worth checking listings in advance if you are fussy about what you dance to.
The door policy here can be on the strict side, so dress up for a night at Nuth - think little black dresses for the girls and smart jeans and shoes for the guys. (0055 021 3575 6850)
Located 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. ((21) 2507 5779)
6 Casa da Matriz
if you like your nightlife with an alternative, leftfield edge, Casa da Matriz should be your first port of call. DJs spin an eclectic mix of tunes that takes in everything from 1960s Tropicalia to 1990s hip hop, via punk, funk and soul, and the place throngs with students and other hip young things at weekends. There's even an 'indie karaoke' night where you can sing along to the likes of Joy Division, Nirvana, the Pixies and the Smiths.
For a night out with any number of musical twists and turns, this is a top spot. Dress-wise, think hipster chic rather than sexy sambista. ((21) 2226-6342)
5 00 (Zero Zero)
Brazilians like to combine drinking with dining, and this upscale nightspot, located inside Gavea's famous planetarium, no less takes both activities extremely seriously.
There's a formal dining room as well as a lounge and a dancefloor, and a mezzanine level for those who prefer to nibble on sushi and other sophisticated finger foods while watching the beautiful people glide around the dance floor.
While the crowd is refreshingly wide in age range, from students to older couples, it is almost exclusively upper middle class. Dress is smart by Brazilian standards - n0 shorts or flip flops- and prices are far from cheap. (0055 21 2540 8041)
4 Studio RJ
With an unbeatable location facing the sands at Arpoador - the point where Ipanema meets Copacabana - Studio RJ is a far cry from the posing palaces of swanky Ipanema and a world away from the sleazy strip joints of Copacabana. With a playlist that embraces the best of old and new Brazilian music, from rock and indie to bossa nova and jazz, with a particular emphasis on the latter, this is a fun, funky spot for a night out. The early evening post-beach sessions on Sundays are the perfect way to chill out after a hectic weekend, while Tuesdays' vinyl-only DJ sets attract everybody from die-hard crate diggers to casually curious music fans. Live music and guest DJs complete the musical menu. Check listings in advance for times, line ups and prices. ((21) 2523-1204)
3 Clube dos Democraticos
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. (21 2252 4611)
2 Carioca da Gema
Samba lovers of all ages flock to this downtown dancehouse, where the fleet of foot and supple of rump shimmy and shake around the dancefloor.
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.
A wallflower with two left feet? You can still have a good time here - just pull up a seat, order a caipirinha and watch the expert dancers at work. Who knows? After a couple of drinks you may even pluck up the courage to join them. ((21) 2221-0043)
1 Rio Scenarium
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. (21 3147 9000)
About Lucy Bryson
Lucy is a British freelance writer living in Rio de Janeiro since 2007. While there are some things she misses about her home country, the lure of year-round sunshine has proved too powerful to resist.
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