While the world knows Rio de Janeiro—Brazil’s second-largest city and Instagram darling—simply as Rio, Brazilians prefer another name: Cidade Maravilhosa, the Marvelous City. Indeed, this city of over six million people sparkles with unmatched marvels. From picturesque beaches to steep green peaks and rounded verdant isles, all under the gaze of that iconic and sacred white-stone statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado mountain, there is never a dull scene.
But though it shines in sunlight, it pulses under the moon. From warehouse-size nightclubs to underground samba shows to dive bars overflowing with cachaça, a Brazilian rum, there is no dearth of nighttime bustle in the Marvelous City. “The easy-going way of life is what makes the culture of Rio nightlife,” says Marcello Romero of Bossa Nova Sotheby's International Realty. “The pubs and restaurants on the boardwalk overlooking the ocean are always very lively and great places to be.” One just needs to know where to look.
Carioca da Gema
Go to this nightclub, built inside a former mansion, for some old Rio vibes and impressive samba bands. It is located in the always-hopping Lapa neighborhood, a formerly rundown area transformed into a lively nightlife hub. Paving the way for the influx of clubs and bars, Carioca de Gema was one of the first to open there, in 2000. That it continues to flourish today in the face of lots of competition is a true testament.
Armazém São Thiago
Set in a 1920s-style warehouse, this institution of a bar (founded circa 1919) features some mean caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail of cachaça, sugar, and lime. Considered a botequo, a neighborhood bar, it is in Santa Teresa, Rio’s bohemian neighborhood. Their cold chopp, or draft beer, goes a long way in combating that infamous Rio heat.
Rio Scenarium Pavilhão da Cultura
This multilevel dance club, featuring live bands playing various kinds of Brazilian music, from samba to forró to sertanejo, might be the king of high-energy nightlife in Rio. Housed in an old-fashioned mansion in Rio’s historic center—with stone floors, giant columns, chandeliers, and lots of strange antiques and knick-knacks adorning the walls—there is no lack of character at Scenarium. Get there early for a table and a meal. Patrons can easily spend their whole night here (and much of the morning as well).
For something more low-key, check out this partially open-air spot in Botafogo, a hipster area known for quirky drinking holes. Featuring a sprawling wooden table between walls of ancient-looking brick and very high ceilings, and partial to chill indie tunes, Coordenadas is a place for boisterous conversation over well-crafted snacks. Make sure to sample the home-brewed beer.