Dirty Dancing: Samba Spots of Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

7 places

Doni Clemons

Samba is one of the most traditional and soulful types of music and dance that originated in Brazil. The genre is so prevalent that it has become the pulse of Rio, beating from the favelas all the way to Rio's larger-than-life Carnival celebrations in Sambódromo. These are some of the best spots to find the most authentic samba (and cold beer and cachaça to go with it).

Arcos da Lapa

The Arcos da Lapa are one of the few remaining architectural giants in Rio from the colonial era. It's a mammoth structure 42 arches stretching 270 meters (885.83 feet) in length. In its early days, it served as an aqueduct to bring water from the Carioca river to Largo da Carioca, to combat water shortage in the city. Now the landmark serves as a popular meeting spot for a night of Lapa debauchery. On any given night, you may find drummers, samba circles, hip hop ciphers, rockers, skaters, and crowds of partiers, all hanging around the arches. On Thursday through Sunday drink vendors selling juicy and budget-friendly caipirinhas and food vendors selling items like brazilian hot dogs and burgers set up their tents near the arches. The popularity of the area also attracts pickpockets so be cautious while walking around even during the day.


The Sambadrome ("Sambódromo" in Portuguese) is the site of one of the biggest parties on the planet. If you've already seen a samba parade in pictures, then you've likely seen the Sambadrome. It's stadium that is built like a giant catwalk for a fashion show, 700 m of Marquês de Sapucaí street was converted into a permanent parade ground with bleachers built on either side for spectators.
The venue was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in 1984. The official Carnival parades take place just before the start of Lent. Outside the Carnival season, Apotheosis Square is occasionally used as a major concert venue in Rio de Janeiro. People like Bon Jovi, David Bowie, the Black Eyed Peas, Pearl Jam, Elton John, Coldplay, and Whitney Houston have performed here.

Clube dos Democráticos

Created in 1867, Democráticos is the oldest dance club in Lapa and home to the oldest carnival societies in all of Brazil. It started as a clubhouse for a group of Bohemians that called themselves Group XX. They were all about promoting their Samba balls and other types of entertainment and established a good report within the community. The dance hall has operated continuously since then and today is one of the most romantic places to spend an evening dancing. Although, Democráticos is a little less fancy than it was in it’s younger days, it’s still just as fun. The vibe is more for partnered dancing, and for single peeps, it’s easy to find a partner there and not be harassed after the song is over. From Wednesday through Saturday, Democráticos offers live bands playing forró, samba, MPB, and choro. Forró nights are generally the most popular.

Feira de São Cristóvão

The São Cristóvão fair (Feira de São Cristóvão) started in 1945, with Northeastern immigrants who congregated in front of the pavilion as a community. Often the immigrants brought food and music to their gatherings, these gatherings grew to be the Feira de São Cristóvão. Now the fair is held in the Luiz Gonzaga Municipal Center and it is massive! Visitors can browse over 700 stalls offering a diverse range of products from the northeast of Brazil. The stalls offer a wide variety of crafts, like hammocks and handmade decorative items. As well as, food items like Goiabada, doe de leech and spices. The fair attracts over 300,000 people every month. The most popular time to go is on weekends, when you can see live bands and cultural productions on the two large stages. The fair has about 35 restaurants serving authentic Northeastern cuisine. Try escondidinho at Asa Branca, it's an unforgettable dish made wtih cured meat at the bottom and potato and cheese at the top.

Roda de samba da Pedra do Sal

Located in an area dubbed Little Africa for being a community formed by slaves and former slaves from the continent, this Samba circle is probably the most soulful that the city has to offer. The area is credited by many as being the birthplace of Carioca Samba. There were Samba parties in peoples homes with impromptu bands playing makeshift instruments using household items like plates, knives, palm, and gourds. These days the Samba circle has grown exponentially, it is still free, and the band is still composed of individual musicians coming together for an impromptu jam session, but now it's outdoors and the audience is a lot bigger. Now people from all over the world come to grab a beer or caipirinha, and acarajé from street vendors, and move their feet to Samba tunes. The gatherings are Mondays and Fridays from 20h-00 unless there is heavy rain. And the location is very close to Praça Mauá. Most taxi drivers know Praça Mauá, but not necessarily the exact location of Pedra do Sal, so a good alternative is to have them take you to Praça Mauá and walk a few streets to Pedra do Sal.

Feijoada da Tia Surica

Samba and feijoada are cherished pillars of Carioca life. And for almost a decade now, Tia Surica has been serving home-style feijao alongside the most heart-felt live Samba music in Rio. Feijoada completa is comprised of black beans slow cooked with smoked meats and accompanied by farofa (toasted manioc flour, similar in texture to cornmeal), couve (thinly sliced, garlicky green vegetable) and sweet cool orange slices on the side. If you are looking for authentic,Tia Surica is the answer. Tia Surica was born in Madureira, a neighborhood in Rio’s North zone and home to Portela. Portela is one of the most prominent and most traditional Samba schools, and Tia Surica has performed with them since she was four. Now her feijoadas are located in the city’s center, housed in the Teatro Rival Petrobras on the last Saturday every month. These days Tia Surica always has invited guests play as musicians in the Samba circles, and if you are lucky, you will catch Tia Surica on stage singing and joking herself. Short of eating at the table of Tia Surica in her private home, you will be hard pressed to find a more authentic and joyful feijoada. The meal is than worth the $18, and Tia Surica makes the experience priceless.

Rio Scenarium

Tourists and locals of all ages find common ground at this gigantic, multi-level space in Lapa where live Samba, MPB, chorro and forró bands are given prominence on Rio Scenarium’s various stages. It’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in the dancing here. Similar to the music selection, Rio Scenarium also showcases lots of variety on it’s menu. After selecting a table, diners can choose between seafoods, meats, pastas and a good mix of appetizers. The festive ambience is refined by waist high antique vases, vintage phones, and gigantic whimsical chandeliers. The self-dubbed culture hall was once an antiques shop and later a film/opera house. Arrive around 9pm for a table. Just an hour later and the place is packed, by 11pm the line is out the door.


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