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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.