The Best Beach Bars in Rio's Buzzing Copacabana

After years suffering from a reputation as Ipanema's seedier neighbor, Rio's Copacabana beach was seriously spruced up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and is now back to its buzzing best. The famous black-and-white swirled promenade throngs with walkers, runners and skateboarders virtually 24/7, and there are drinking and dining opportunities  every step of the way along the five kilometer beachfront.

Kiosks line the promenade, and cover the spectrum from simple plastic-table-and-chairs establishments serving cans of beer and cheap caipirinhas, to smart bars offering French gourmet dishes and chilled Champagne.

There's no wrong time for a drink on Copacabana beach, either. Locals sip beers at any time of day or night, and nobody will look askance if you start your day with a caipirinha - hey, this is Rio, and you're on vacation.

The bars open late into the night, too, making them the perfect place to start and end a night out in city - it's common to spot partiers sipping one last drink as the sun rises over the beach.

Across the busy oceanfront road, there's a wealth of bar-restaurants that will happily serve bar snacks and drinks if you don't feel like a full meal, while Pergula, the chic poolside bar at elegant Copacabana Palace, is the place to come for something super-chic. Nearby, at Arpoador, there are beachfront bars with stunning sunset views.



This traditional bar-restaurant in Rio is famous for its late opening hours and its alcohol-absorbing food as well as its lively atmosphere. Cervantes now has several branches in Rio, but this Copacabana was the first and is still arguably the most appealing for those looking for good food, drink and prices and a lively local atmosphere. At this branch, there's a sit-down restaurant/bar and adjoining stand-up bar, where locals gather to eat, drink and chat until the early hours of the morning. Cervantes is famous above all else for its mammoth sandwiches - to say they are generously filled would be an understatement. The steak, cheese and pineapple version is a long-standing favorite on the menu. All the sandwiches - yes, every one, comes with pineapple. If you really don't like it, let the server know when you place your order.

It might not look like much, but this unassuming hole in the wall bar in Copacabana is one of the top spots in RIo to hear live music. The location on a Copacabana backstreet manages to attract some of the most skilled musicians in town, who come here for impromptu jam sessions, much to the patrons' delight. Laid back and relaxed, this is not the spot for a glamorous night out, but for some quality samba, forro or pagode in intimate surrounds, bip bip is the place. Drinks are limited to self-served beers from the fridge, but the quality of the music makes this well worth a visit.

New Year's at Copacabana
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

There's no better place in Rio to ring in the New Year than Copacabana beach. Millions of happy revelers, magnificent fireworks displays, live bands and music and a sparkling of Rio magic make for a truly memorable night. Tradition dictates that those who head to Copacabana beach do so wearing all white, and with some three-million people descending on the beach each December 31, the sea of white is a sight to behold. The festivities begin with big-name bands taking to the stage on the beach, and when the clock strikes 12 a seriously impressive fireworks display lights up the skies over the beach. Bring a bottle of your favorite tipple, put on your best white clothes, and prepare to ring in the new year in style.

Copacabana Beach
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Copacabana's beach bars have come a long way since the turn of turn of the millennium, when they were little more than a collection of yellow-roofed kiosks serving beer and caipirinhas to tourists lounging on plastic chairs. While these cheap and cheerful options can stull be found should you choose to look for them, there are any number of more sophisticated places to drink and dine too. Take a walk along the promenade and take a peek at the many sleek glass kiosks to be found here, stopping for a cooling drink at whichever spot appeals the most. Hungry visitors can take choose to dine on anything from pizza to traditional Brazilian fish stews, while those who opt for liquid refreshment only will be spoilt for choice too.

For the ultimate indulgent Rio experience, head to the Pergula, the elegant poolside restaurant at the enduringly elegant Copacabana Palace hotel. Less formal than the hotel's fine dining Italian restaurant, Cipriani. at Pergula you can dine in your (suitanbly stylish) swimwear and sarong. Watch beautiful people splash around in the pool as you sip Champagne cocktails and dine on seafood and light pasta dishes, or head here for the famous breakfasts and brunches, which include salmon and even caviar washed down with a spot of bubbly. The likes of the Obamas, Will Smith and Madonna have all dined here, so keep your eyes peeled for A-listers.

This retro-chic bar in front of Ipanema beach maintains a sense of fun while taking its food and drinks seriously. Top foodie picks are the seafood and pasta dishes, while the cocktail list is staggeringly long- there is even a menu entirely dedicated to gin and tonics. Meanwhile, beer drinkers can make themselves comfortable - waitstaff stroll around the bar selling ice-cold, freshly-poured chopp (draught beer) to customers right at their tables. The sidewalk patio is a wonderful place to watch the sun make its dramatic descent over Ipanema beach.

This lively and laid back beachfront restaurant in Copacabana is among the best of the many options on tourist-focused Avenida Atlantica. Don't bother with indoor dining here, the main reason to come is the vast covered deck facing the ocean, where sandy-toed sunbathers linger over late lunches in the afternoon, and a dressier clientele gathers to sip caipirinhas after dark. Along with a fixed-price all-you-can-eat buffet (11.30-4.30 Monday-Friday) there's a mix of traditional Brazilian and Portuguese dishes, with sea food being the star of the show. Burgers, mixed grills and rib eye steaks will gladden carnivores' hearts, while the 'Symphony of the Sea' - which includes lobster, octopus and shrimp alongside saffron rice, is a perfect companion to the sea view. Just add caipirinha or ice cold beer for the perfect post-beach meal.

Seafood, sea views, ice cold beers and a chilled vibe make this one of the most popular of Copacabana's many beach bars. It's located at Posto 3 - lifeguard post three - making it pretty much midway along the beachfront, so it's a good place to stop and refuel if you're taking a stroll along the five kilometer promenade. You don't need to order a full meal, but you may find yourself tempted by some of the fresh seafood on offer here, as well as decent range of cocktails as well as the standard beers and caipirinhas.

This kebab-focused food and drink spot has several branches in Rio, but the one at the Leme end of Copacabana beach is the most appealing, thanks to its stellar location. Tables and chairs are set up in front of the outdoor bar which sits atop a giant rock harboring one end of the beach, allowing drinkers and diners to enjoy a view that takes in the full four-mile sweep of white sand beach. Popular throughout the day and well into the evening, the food focus is mainly on various types of 'meat on a stick', but there are veggie options too - including a tempting palm heart, arugula and sun-dried tomato kebab, and some yummy fruit and chocolate combinations. The drinks list impresses, too - there's a wide range of Brazilian and imported beers, and a cocktail menu that goes way beyond the ubiquitous caipirinhas.

Your afternoon beer or early evening cocktail comes with a refreshing sea breeze and stunning sea views at this al-fresco spot in the grounds of Copacabana Fort. Breakfast is served at several outdoor table and, while service can be a little on the slow side, who's in a rush when you've got a view over Copacabana beach and out to sea? The 'farmhouse breakfast' (R$29) features corn cake, coffee cheese, baskets of bread, fruit and the delicious Brazilian speciality that is pao de quejo - little rolls of manioc flour and cheese. Come here with time to spare and take your time just soaking up the view and enjoying the cooling breezes.


Meet 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.