How to experience the Rio de Janeiro Carnival
By Sarah Gillespie, Jul 2020
Bursting with glitter, feathers and samba beats, Rio de Janeiro's Carnival is one of the greatest shows on Earth. The annual festival's infectious energy washes over the entire city, meaning you can experience Carnival's magic whether you're watching the main event at the Sambadrome or dancing in the city streets at one of the legendary block parties. Here's how to experience everything this incredible festival has to offer.
Parading around Rio
Carnival's central hub is the Sambadrome, a 700-meter corridor flanked by risers. Most of the parades take place there; expect rolling samba drums, bejeweled dancers and astonishing mechanical floats.
There are three types of parades, and they're held across five nights. The second-division Access Group competes on Friday and Saturday to join next year's Special Group competition. The Special Group parades on Sunday and Monday are the main event, where the leading samba schools battle to become champion of the Carnival. After the winner is crowned, the top six schools return the next Saturday for the Champion's Parade.
Colorful samba costumes make the Rio de Janeiro Carnival an amazing spectacle.
For a truly memorable Carnival, join a parade. Choose your samba school, then purchase a costume, which will come with instructions on how to find your school on the day of the parade. You don't need any experience, just follow the dancer in front of you!
There are two types of costumes, and a ground costume lets you dance on the Sambadrome floor. But if you have a head for heights, get a float costume, which gets you on your school's float. This option has the best costumes and the most prestige, but also the most responsibility: Your school will expect you to learn its samba song.
Locations such as Copacabana Beach hold blocos (street parties) that let you enjoy Carnival while relaxing near the beach.
Blocos and balls outside the Sambadrome
The blocos (or street parties) of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival are as legendary as the event itself. Floats dotted with musicians roll down the street, followed by throngs of revelers. Each bloco has its own theme, and many partygoers dress to match it. One of the best-known blocos is the Cordao da Bola Preta, a black-and-white-themed bloco that attracts about 1 million followers every year. Joining a bloco in a beachy area like Copacabana or Ipanema is a great way to have fun while staying cool.
Feeling extravagant? Slip into some formal wear and head to one of Carnival's many balls. The most famous (and priciest) is the Magic Ball at Copacabana Palace, which attracts international celebrities. For a less expensive option, head to one of the nightly themed balls at the Scala Rio nightclub.
Feasting on Carnival food
It's not Carnival without feijoada. The traditional Brazilian stew of slow-cooked beans and meat (usually beef or pork) is as punchy as a samba beat. Some of the best feijoada joints in Rio are the Casa de Feijoada in Ipanema and the Bar do Mineiro in Santa Teresa.
Follow up your hearty meal with a caipirinha, an aperitif made from Cachaca sugar cane rum and fresh lime; it's Brazil's national drink, and you can get one in almost every bar in town. The Bar dos Descasados in Santa Teresa and the Academia da Cachaca in Leblon are rumored to have the best in town.
A kid-friendly Carnival
With its exotic costumes and all-night partying, Carnival may appear to be adults-only. But there are plenty of activities that the whole family can enjoy. In the Children's Parade, held on Carnival Tuesday, participants from competing samba schools create their own routines and costumes, just like they do in the main parade. There's also a special bloco for kids: the Gigantes da Lira in Laranjeiras; it's led by acrobats, clowns and stilt-walkers.
No matter where you are in the city, experiencing the magic of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival is as easy as showing up. Book your trip, strap on that feather headdress and join in the fun.
Ready to celebrate in Brazil? Book your Rio de Janeiro adventure today!