Samba traces its roots to the Bahia region of Brazil, known for its energetic moves and rapid hip movements. Even in the tourist capital of Rio, you can hear it being played in numerous bars and clubs throughout the city. Since there are a number of options to see live music, I’ve put together some of my favorites below.
And if you’re looking for a guide on Rio, be sure to check out my Rio Hit List.
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO LIVE MUSIC IN RIO DE JANEIRO
BIP BIP - the local’s samba bar
Imagine a small one-room storefront with a table in the center, and a cooler in the back filled with beer - and you’ll be familiar with this local’s bar. What it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in charm, with a rotating cast of band members and an assortment of instruments to keep your hips swaying and feet tapping.
The move here is to grab a beer from the cooler in the back, approach the surly Brazilian “doorman” in the front and give him your name and indicate how many beers you have. He’ll log it in his book, and you’ll pay at the end. Depending on the night, the bar owners may lay out some chairs on the sidewalk but most nights, it’ll be standing room only.
Their live music schedule is as follows: Monday & Tuesday is choro, Wednesdays are for Bossanova and weekends are samba. And their doors are almost always open - I went during the holiday season, and it was even open on Christmas Eve! Make a visit to Bip Bip a priority during your Rio travels to check out some awesome live music!
SAMBA DOS GUIMARES - a hidden spot in Santa Teresa
Want to experience an open air samba concert with gorgeous Rio cariocas? Then make your way to Samba Dos Guimaraes, Guimaraes is a city located in northern Portugual, and is a popular tourist attraction. While taking inspiration from their cultural neighbor, this packed spot in the Santa Teresa neighborhood is a non-stop party.
I was skeptical of the steep 40 Real ticket fee, but after 3 hours of the best samba experience of my life, I couldn’t get myself to leave. This spot hosts regular parties and concerts with different live bands from all over Brazil. Check their Facebook or Instagram page to see if there’s one happening while you’re there.
BAR LEVIANO - a Lapa samba institution
Located right next to the famous Lapa Arches, Bar Leviano will never disappoint in terms of how much fun you can have on a weekend or weeknight. I assumed this was a tourist trap after seeing it on every “Must Visit” Rio list, but I went with a group of Rio natives, and ended up spending 4 hours non-stop dancing to the live band.
Grab a small round table in the back and order buckets of ice cold beer to keep you fueled as you move to the rhythm. Can’t dance samba? Don’t worry, you’ll find a tremendous amount of inspiration all around you.
Note - there was a 10 Real cover charge when I went on a Wednesday night. Cash only.
CARIOCA DE GEMA - a Lapa institution
Carioca de Gema is only a few doors down from Bar Leviano, and equally as fun. Their set up is a bit more formal, with a stage set up in the front so it feels more like a concert than a party. But you’ll still have scores of locals in the middle of the room dancing the night away to the live music.
It’s difficult to get a table here, so my recommendation would be to head upstairs and claim a table right in the front so you can see the band and hear yourself think. Note - there was a 10 Real cover charge.
RIO SCENARIUM - Samba with vintage flair
Rio Scenarium is a bit difficult to describe - yes it has live music, with the band set up on a formal stage. But it also has a unique, vintage charm, with quirky film props everywhere. It’s considered one of the most well known samba places in Rio and has a show almost every night of the week. If you’re in the neighborhood, definitely stop by here to check out some live music.
What’s your favorite live music place in Rio? Let me know in the comments below!