Rio de Janeiro is a city that needs little introduction. Located on the far western part of Brazil’s Atlantic shores, this coastal metropolis is famed for its scenic harbor, mountain peaks, and 38m tall Christ the Redeemer statue that towers atop Mount Corcovado. Carnivals and beaches provide endless entertainment by day, but you might be wondering, what is there to do in Rio at night?
Rio’s unique energy is never more prevalent than at night. This city that never sleeps is jam-packed with evening entertainment, but it can be hard to know where to start. There’s also the question of safety in Rio. The city has earned somewhat of a bad reputation for violent crime, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t feel safe at night and we’re here to show you how.
From sunset viewpoints to seductive dancing, and rooftop cocktails to cooking classes, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Rio come nightfall and this guide looks at just some of the highlights. Let’s get into it.
Watch the sunset at Ipanema
Ipanema, the quieter sister beach of Copacabana located just around the bay, is one of Rio’s most iconic locations. The white sands draw an equally diverse crowd of sunbathers and socializers as rowdy Copacabana but you’ll also find surfers congregating in the waves, while the leafy boulevards of the Ipanema neighborhood are marked by bossa nova bars and high-end boutiques.
Ipanema is well-known for serving up some of the best sunset views in the city. The beach rarely disappoints, but its beauty is magnified even more by the pink and orange skies. The energy of the beach stays well and truly alive after dark with volleyballers basking in the floodlights and locals and tourists alike enjoying Caipirinhas to street music at the many bars in the Posto 9 area.
For the perfect selfie spot, head to Arpoador, the rocky point at the end of the beach, just before the sun completely disappears behind the horizon. You might be able to catch some shots of the surfers riding their last waves against the candy-floss horizon.
Cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf mountain is as much an emblem of Rio de Janeiro as Christ the Redeemer himself. The peak rises from the harbor on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. It gets its name from its conical shape that resembles a traditional mass of refined sugar and it’s a must-see in Rio.
Since the installation of its tramway in 1912, and the subsequent cable car system which was the first in Brazil and third in the world, Sugarloaf has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The journey to the top involves two cable car rides, with the first stopping at Morra da Urca, the 200-meter high point before Sugarloaf where you’ll find a selection of bars and cafes, and even an inside event space where private parties and cultural events are hosted.
We recommend heading straight to Sugarloaf to catch the sunset. The panoramas from the top are unmatched with views over the Tijuca National Park, the historical center, the beaches, the harbor, and Christ the Redeemer. But after the sun has set, head back down to Morra da Urca for a happy hour cocktail as darkness envelops Rio and all the twinkly lights of its suburbs offer different panoramas.
The most popular time to visit Sugarloaf is between 12 pm and 3 pm, so visiting in the evening offers the perfect opportunity to avoid some of the crowds and queues. That said, Sugarloaf is always busy and you can expect full cable cars no matter what time of day you visit. Just don’t miss the last cable car down the mountain which departs from Morra da Urca at 8.40 pm, if there isn’t a special event on.
Watch a match at Maracanã Stadium
Whether you’re a serious football fan or just interested in exploring an important part of Brazilian culture, going to watch a match at Maracanã Stadium is the perfect evening activity. Maracanã is the largest sports venue in the country and all manner of events from the 2016 Olympic Games to Rolling Stones concerts have been hosted within its walls.
Still, catching a football match is one of the best things you can do and local teams like Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense, and Vasco come head to head at the stadium most nights of the week from May to December.
The football matches are a family-friendly affair and you can expect an electric atmosphere with chants, singing, and lots of energy. Leave your inhibitions at home and get involved—regardless of if you know Portuguese or not.
You can buy tickets at the stadium if it is for a friendly game, but you can also grab them through the FutbolCard site. Prices vary but they can start as low as $20 USD and go up to a few hundred if you opt for good seats on a big match day. Students pay half price so bring your ID if this applies to you.
Take an evening cooking class
Brazilian food is reason enough to visit Rio and how better to indulge yourself in the local cuisine than getting your hands dirty? Brazilian food is a melting pot of American-Indian, European, and Asian influences but with its own unique take on things.
There are many Brazilian chefs that host evening cookery classes in English in Rio, some even lasting up to four hours long, giving you a unique way to take your dinner and the chance to learn up to seven recipes at a time.
You could whip up a classic black bean Feijoada or mix the perfect Caipirinha. An evening cooking class could also be a great way to meet like-minded foodies if you’re traveling alone.
Visit the Selaron Staircase
La Escadaria Selarón, or the ‘Selaron Steps’, is a world-famous staircase located in Lapa, Rio’s edgiest central neighborhood. Lapa itself is a mandatory stop for anyone who wants to get a feel for Rio’s heady and electric nightlife, but the Selaron Staircase is the perfect place to start.
The colorful steps are the work of Chilean-born artist, Jorge Selarón, who declared them his tribute to the people of Brazil. The stairs ascend 125 meters from Joaquim Silva on the edge of Lapa with 215 individual steps.
The stairs are one of Rio’s best-loved attractions and they’re an emblem of the city. Selarón started decorating the steps with multicolored tiles in 1990 and completed his great artwork in the early 2000s. Since then, the steps have appeared in countless magazines and are featured in the music videos of pop legends like Snoop Dogg and U2.
The steps are always busy with tourists lining up to take photos, but visiting at night offers a different light in which to see the steps when they become a meeting point for locals and visitors alike. Grab a drink from one of the trendy bars and eateries at the bottom of the stairs where punters pour out onto the streets, and perch on one of the many tiled ledges to soak up the energy of Lapa.
Forget the selfie moments for a second and enjoy the Selarón Staircase as it was meant to be enjoyed. Atmospheric street lamps light up the steps as it turns dusk so don’t worry about missing any of the unique beauty of this landmark after dark.
Pub crawl in Lapa
Once you’ve enjoyed a sundowner at the Selarón steps, you can’t stop there. Lapa is the throbbing heart piece of Rio and no trip to the city is complete without experiencing more of this bohemian neighborhood at night. From the open-air samba jams that take place beneath the Romanesque arches of the Lapa aqueduct to the pumping rooftop bars and underground clubs, there’s something for everyone.
Rio has developed somewhat of a bad reputation over the years for its high levels of violent crime and it goes without saying that you need to keep your wits about you wherever you go in this city. Lapa isn’t one of the safest neighborhoods and we don’t recommend walking around alone at night, especially if you’ve been drinking. Still, that’s why a Lapa pub crawl, organized by one of the many tour operators and traveler hostels is one of the best ways to safely enjoy the vibrant district and its nightlife.
Most pub crawls will include free welcome drinks and any entry fees, and better yet, you’ll get to enjoy the tour with like-minded party-goers. We especially recommend an organized pub crawl for solo travelers and wouldn’t suggest experiencing Rio’s nightlife any other way.
Wander the night market at Copacabana
If safety is something you’re worried about, Copacabana is one of the places that will put you at ease. Rio is a busy city and there’s risk wherever you go, but the neighborhood around this sprawling beach is one of the least crime-riddled and there’s plenty to do come nightfall.
Restaurants with live music and dance performances line the sands along with street artists and food vendors. You’ll also find the Fiera de Copacabana, a vibrant night market that runs along Avenida Atlantica from Rua Bolivar to Rua Sa Ferreira in postal 4 and 5. The market is open daily from 6 pm to midnight every night of the week, excluding Sundays. You can find everything from locally curated artwork to touristy nik-naks, flip-flops, football shirts, and even garden decor like hammocks.
Don’t buy your souvenirs in the gift shops, head to the night markets instead. Copacabana’s is one of the safest if you’re worried about pickpockets and money scams which can be a problem in Rio, especially at some of the more gritty local bazaars in Lapa.
Take a Samba class
Samba is Brazil’s lively native dance. Although popularized in western Europe and the states in the early 1940s, Samba is well and truly rooted in Afro-Brazilian culture. Partaking in a class will give you a different taste of the lifestyle in Rio and the sensual moves are a skill you’ll be happy to take home.
Samba is characterized by a simple forward and backward step to music in 4/4 time with syncopated rhythm, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. The art of Samba is feeling it in your whole body and your moves have to be accompanied by rocking hips and tilting shoulders.
The only way you can guarantee to pick it up is by learning from a trained professional and there are plenty of Samba classes you can sign up for online but you’ll also likely be handed leaflets for them wherever you go in the city.
Pedro do Sal is widely recognized as the modern birthplace of Samba. The site, located on Conceição Hill in the Saúde neighborhood, is steeped in religious and historic significance, but every Monday and Friday night you’ll find a free-open air Samba party that springs the neighborhood into action.
You’ll find more authentic Samba than you will in any Brazilian nightclub and the best Brazilian music to practice your moves to while dancers doused in feathers and colorful outfits put on the real show.
Staying Safe in Rio at Night: Our Top Tips
- Avoid unlit areas, including the beach – Walking around alone at night is something you should avoid in most cities, but this is even more important in Rio. Many neighborhoods have a high tendency for crime, and even safer districts like Copacabana can come with their risks. Stay away from the shorelines of all the beaches since you’re less safe when away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets.
- Don’t withdraw money from ATMs – You should always be careful when withdrawing money, but we recommend only doing so during the day in Rio. Also, be careful to only withdraw from inside banks and malls rather than random ATM machines on quiet streets since you never know who could be lurking.
- Leave the bling at home – Wearing expensive jewelry and designer labels is a surefire way to make yourself a target to thieves in Rio. Leave the bling at home and never flash your cash in public at night. Only bring out the money that you need and pay for taxis before leaving the cab.
- Be extra careful with your mobile phone – Mobile phones are one of the easiest things for smash-and-grab robbers to swipe. Criminal gangs often operate on motorcycles in Rio, and a simple act like checking your maps could succumb you to a street robbery. Check your routes beforehand and keep your phone hidden away.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers – This goes without saying wherever you’re traveling, but you need to be especially careful in Rio since incidents of spiking and, in extreme cases, human trafficking, isn’t unheard of. Never leave your drinks unattended and always be picky about who you socialize with.
- Take prebooked taxis – Taxis are the safest way to get around Rio and they can be relatively inexpensive, although you can never put a price on personal security. Taxis congregate outside hotels and in touristy areas, but the best way to make sure you won’t get scammed is to ask your hotel or restaurant to book one for you. If you are hailing one on the street, make sure it is licensed and you can clearly see the driver’s registration number. Always make sure the driver is running the meter or agreeing on a price beforehand. Still, taxis are always a better option than walking around at night.
- Learn the emergency numbers – This should be one of the first things you do in any foreign country. Calling 911 won’t help you in Brazil, the number to contact the police in Rio is 190 and you can use it to report a crime in progress or if you or someone else is in immediate danger.
Is Rio de Janeiro safe at night?
Rio de Janeiro has a reputation for violence and this is still true for some neighborhoods. The favelas and surrounding areas are hotbeds for criminal activity and we don’t recommend visiting these zones if you’re a tourist, but the violence is decreasing, and Rio is safe, for the most part, in the South Zone which includes Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon.
Is Rio safe for solo female travelers?
Rio is by no means off-limits for solo females, but there are precautions you should take if you’re heading to the city alone. We don’t recommend walking alone at night anywhere in the city, and some areas are even best avoided by day if you’re a solo female because harassment is rife. Any visitor to Rio needs to stay vigilant at all times, but this is especially true for females and we don’t recommend partying unless you’re with people you can trust.
When is the best time to visit Rio de Janeiro?
December to March is one of the best times to visit Rio, especially if you want to visit the beaches, with daily highs of 84 degrees Fahrenheit, blue skies, and plenty happening in the city. You can expect warm weather and a seductive Samba beat echoing through the city at any time of year, and March to September is a lot cooler if you aren’t keen on the heat, but come February, and Rio is awakened by the annual carnival—a bucket list experience for any world traveler.