10 Best Nightlife Spots for Music-Lovers in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is a city that lives and breathes live music, and you don't even need to love samba to have a good time here. While this sultry musical style does indeed provide the musical backdrop to many nights out in the city, there is ample opportunity to strut your stuff to electronica and hip hop, nod your head in appreciation at experimental jazz nights, or try your hand at mastering some forro moves. 

Being able to dance is not a prerequisite at Rio's live music, and top samba spots such as Carioca da Gema and Rio Scenarium are worth a visit for the sheer spectacle of seeing fleet-footed locals shake their impressive stuff, and after a couple of caipirinhas you may well have built up the courage to join them on the dancefloor. 

For a diverse, hipster-friendly mix of indie, rock, jazz, hip hop and MPB (classic Brazilian pop), Studio RJ is the place. Bonus points for its location in front of the beach at Arpoadaor - the point at which Ipanema and Copacabana beaches meet. 

For a sophisticated, but not stuffy, live music session, Zero Zero in Gavea comes up trumps, while the weekend street parties in Lapa regularly see impromptu performances from local groups.  


Largo do Guimaraes
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

This picturesque public square at the heart of Santa Teresa is the social heart of the bohemian neighborhood, and the setting for many a lively street party. The square itself if flanked by bars and restaurants, and this is the best place to jump off the bus on a visit to the famously bohemian neighborhood. A wealth of eating, drinking and shopping opportunities can be found within just a few minutes' walk of Largo do Guimaraes and this is the starting point for many memorable, if hazily recalled, nights out. The famous Santa Teresa 'bonde' , or street car, is out of action until 2014, but the bonde stop at Largo do Guimares remains a key reference point for finding your bearings in Santa Teresa.

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.

Bar do Bonde
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Take just a slight detour from Santa Teresa´s main tourist trail and you´ll be one of the few out-of-towners to find one of the neighborhood´s best bar-restaurants. Located just a few minutes´ walk (follow the tram line uphill from the main square at Largo do Guimaraes), this laid-back little bar offers an excellent range of bar snacks and main meals, along with a decent cocktail list and a seriously well-mixed caipirinha. Saturday nights see live samba, jazz and bossa nova bands draw a lively, largely local, crowd. Aim to get there before 8pm to grab one of the few sidewalk tables here.


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. Live musical performances see bands take the stage to perform everything from hip hop and covers of international hits to classic samba and MPB, while DJs keep the dancefloor lively with sets that range from rave and electronica to reggae and jazz.

if you like your nightlife with an alternative, leftfield edge, Casa da Matriz should be your first port of call when looking for a night out in Rio. DJs at Casa Matriz 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 and the Smiths. Live performers sometimes get a look in too, and run the gamut from samba to punk.

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 too harshly.

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.

Clube dos Democraticos
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.

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.

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.


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.