Among all the carnivals in the world, the Rio de Janeiro carnival is definitely the greatest one. During this lively celebration, the city and its streets light up with dances, samba music, street parties, colorful costumes, parades, and much more!
I had the luck to attend this annual event in 2023, and it was just crazy! There are so many things going on during the carnival in Rio that you might get confused about what to do and what to avoid (and it really depends also on your tastes!).
That’s why I decided to write this travel guide about the Carnival in Rio, the Samba city, including information about what to expect from it (music, costumes, traditions), when the event takes place, what to do (parades, parties in the streets, Rio Carnival famous balls), tickets and much more!
Get ready to spend your days and nights enjoying samba dancing, following the popular parades in the street, wearing and seeing the most extravagant costumes, and hearing happy music 24 hours a day.
Excited to have fun discovering the king of all the carnivals on Earth?
Let’s get started!
If you are in a hurry
Here you’ll find a quick summary of what you need to book in advance for the Rio de Janeiro Carnival:
1. When is the Rio Carnival celebrated?
First things first, if you want to take part in the biggest party on Earth, you need to know when they actually celebrate the Carnival in Rio.
Carnival dates are actually not fixed and change every year. Rio Carnival starts on Friday prior to Ash Wednesday (basically 40 days before Easter) and always ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day right before Ash Wednesday, for a total of 5 days, while the Sambadrome parades usually happen on Sunday and Monday.
NOTE: the final parade celebrating the winners of the annual Sambadrome parade competition (the Winners’ Parade) happens on Saturday right after the carnival ends.
To give you a practical example, this year (2023), the carnival celebration took place from the 17th to the 25th of February, with the Carnival Parades happening on the 19th and 20th and the Winners’ Parade on February 25th.
One last thing: remember, Carnival in Rio is 24/7! The “Blocos” street parties are always happening on any corner of Rio streets, and they start in the early mornings or in the afternoon, while the Parades at the Sambadrome start around 10/11 PM at night and end at 6/7 AM.
2. What to expect from Rio Carnival?
Rio Carnival is known for being one of the biggest carnival parties In the world, and it shows in a lot of samba music and dance in the streets from one side, and Rio Samba schools parades at the Sambadrome from the other one, all of this in shining carnival costumes and big smiles!
Brazilian society really embraces the Carnival traditions, so let’s see the main highlights and origins of it before getting to know how you will celebrate it!
As I said before, Rio Carnival kicks off on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, with the crowning of King Momo (“the king of Carnival”, who’s actually Rio’s mayor), who is given the symbolic keys to the city. This is the formal beginning of the celebration.
As King Momo is the Carnival King, there’s also a Rio Carnival Queen, who’s chosen through a series of beauty and dance competitions!
In fact, when King Momo gives the signal, the Rio Carnival officially kicks off, with people throwing confetti and cheering, and from this moment, the city gets lively with daily “blocos”, bands and parades performing in the streets.
Some of the biggest bands include Banda de Ipanema and Cordão da Bola Preta, each one touring the different areas of Rio and attracting a unique crowd dancing in front and behind them, but they’re all about Samba music.
As you might have understood by now, Samba music is the soul of carnival in Rio and a big part of Brazil’s cultural identity, characterized by its rhythmic beats and rhythms and evolved from African slaves.
The thing that I love most about this music and dance is that it brings all types of Brazilians together: poor and rich, young and old people: everyone loves it and feels it!
The other side of the carnival is the famous Sambadrome Parades, but let’s see them in more detail in the following section!
3. What to do during the Rio Carnival?
There are 3 main things you can do to celebrate Rio’s Carnival: attending the famous parades (“desfiles”) at the Sambadrome, enjoying the Blocos street parties, or the Carnival balls at night. Let’s see them one by one:
3.1 Watch the Sambadrome Parades
Hosted at the Sambadrome (in Rio’s downtown), the Rio Samba parades are definitely the highlight of the Rio Carnival, featuring huge floats of 20 m (65 ft), and about 60,000 performers, flag bearers, drummers, dancing the Samba in dazzling costumes, from many samba schools of Rio.
The 700-meter-long (2,300 ft) Sambadrome stadium was actually built specifically for Carnival, featuring bleachers on both sides for more than 90,000 spectators, so imagine the energy of the people there!
Every night during Carnival, each samba school presents in a parade and performs in front of a stadium of 90,000 spectators and judges in order to win the competition and be crowned the “Best Rio Samba School”.
The schools will be judged on many elements like dances, costumes, and creativity: what you’ll see is the result of years’ worth of hard work, dedication, and passion!
NOTE: The 5 days of parades are divided into 3 categories: Access Group, Special Group, and Winners Parade. If you want to see the showstopper schools, known as the Special Group, go to the Sambadrome on Sunday and Monday.
The final result of the Special Groups Parades competition will be decided on Ash Wednesday, and the Winner’s Parade will be hosted the following Saturday again at the Sambadrome, where the top 6 teams will perform without competing, only to enjoy themselves!
Now that we know all about the Sambadrome parades, we are only left to know where to buy the tickets for it: the official website to buy tickets to the carnival is the Ticket Rio website.
Take into consideration that prices will change depending on the type of seat you buy and its location along the parade route. The better the view, of course, the more expensive the ticket, with prices going from US$130 to US$700, but they are non-refundable!
If you want to have a better cancellation policy, or if you want to combine a ticket to the Carnival Parade with another plus, like a cocktail, transportation, or a backstage tour, check out the following ticket options below:
- Rio de Janeiro Carnival Samba School Parade Ticket: Watch the Carnival Samba School Parade in the Sambadrome and have access to all sectors for the grandstands, front box, allocated chairs, and VIP boxes for about 8h. Ticket prices start from US$110.
- Premium Rio Carnival Seating With Food, Drinks & Transfer – Experience the music, dances, and colors of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival from a VIP box, including access to an open bar, food buffet, and private performances, as well as the company of a local guide, for US$1015 and about 13h.
- Carnival Show + Shuttle Service: Watch the biggest show on Earth, the Carnival Samba School Parade in Rio’s Sambadrome with the expertise of a professional tour guide, and benefit from pickup and drop-off from your accommodation for US$90.
3.2 Follow the popular Blocos – Rio Carnival Street Parties
You haven’t really experienced Rio’s Carnival if you don’t join one of the countless blocos happening every day (and at any time of the day starting from early morning) in Samba city. You can check out information about meeting points and time schedules here!
Blocos are street parties during which the biggest Samba bands (like Cordão da Bola Preta, Banda de Ipanema, and Monobloco) perform, and big crowds of people follow them dancing, singing, and drinking (you’ll find countless vendors following the blocos).
The energy here is just amazing because you’ll find like-minded people of any age, race, and sexual orientation, all unified by a love for music!
You can find official and unofficial blocos literally at any corner of Rio, but the most popular areas where they are told are Zona Sur – close to the beautiful beaches of Copacabana – Leblon, and Ipanema, a famous neighborhood among the LGBT community.
And the best thing? They are completely free!
What to wear for blocos in Rio Carnival?
You might wonder what is best to wear during the carnival in Rio, and the reality is you can truly wear whatever you want. If you are undecided, just take some inspiration from the people in the street the day before you’re joining a bloco, you’ll see the craziest things!
But I warn you: it is very hot at this time of the year in Rio, so the less, the better!
3.3 Attend Rio’s Carnival Balls
The Carnival Balls are themed and extravagant private parties and balls in Rio, demanding a fancy-dress requirement and happening every night during Carnival (usually late, after midnight), adding an air of exclusivity to this fun celebration.
Contrary to what you might think, Rio’s Carnival Balls are actually a big part of carnival celebrations history, coming from the European origins of carnival in Brazil. Unfortunately, only a few are open to tourists, so it is hard to find info about them or tickets.
Here below, you find the main ones in Rio, which usually repeat every year, and some important info about them. For tickets, you will need to check out the official websites of the buildings where they’re held at Carnival time.
- The Magic Ball: This is the most glamorous, exclusive, and expensive carnival ball in Rio, hosted at the Copacabana Palace, usually hosting only famous and important guests, with tickets costing from US$1,300 to US$2,500.
- The Red and Black Ball: This ball is actually a tribute to Rio’s beloved football team Flamengo (if you want to enter, you’ll need to wear red and black, the team’s colors) and is hosted by the Scala Club. get ready to see professional samba shows and dance the night away until 6 am!
- The Gala Gay ball: This is the most famous Gay Gala and one of the wildest and most extravagant balls at Rio Carnival, held at the Scala Club on Shrove Tuesday.
- Cinelandia Street Ball: This ball is a locals’ favorite (attracting an older crowd and the working class of Rio), so it is perfect if you want to have a more authentic experience. The ball is held in Cinelandia Square, in downtown Rio, most nights of the Carnival (from 11 PM to 5 AM), and it is completely free!
3.4 Join some Carnival-themed activities!
Apart from all the activities mentioned before, there are some other cool tours and experiences you can take part in during the Carnival in Rio that will complement your Carnival experience. I gathered the best ones here below, check them out:
- Rio Carnival Backstage Tour at Samba City with Cocktail – Follow your guide on this 4-hour walking tour of the inner workings of Rio’s Carnival parade, take a picture wearing wild costumes, dance in a Samba workshop, and have a cocktail for only US$20. You can take this tour at any time of year, and you can choose more tour options after you select your dates, including transportation and private group visits.
- Samba Class and Samba Night Tour – If you want to enjoy carnival to the fullest, you should know at least the basic samba steps. If you agree with me, join this Samba lesson and a night tour right after with a live samba band for US$70 and 4h in total!
- Ginga Tropical Brazilian Roots Shows – Enjoy a 2-hour multicultural show filled with joyful music and energy, gathering on stage various cultural dances of Brazil for US$90, with an optional barbecue dinner for US$220.
4. Where to stay during Rio Carnival
If you want to stay close to the Carnival action during your stay, the best areas to stay in Rio are Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon, where most of the popular blocos are held.
In order to help you, I’ve already collected below the top 3 accommodations in these areas or nearby.
Luxury (US$400 and up)
Copacabana Palace – If you want to splurge during your holiday, the elegant 5-star Copacabana Palace is for you, offering luxurious rooms with marble bathrooms and panoramic ocean views, located in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beachfront.
Mid Range (US$200 – US$400)
Hotel Arpoador – Located in Ipanema, a few steps from Ipanema’s beach, this hotel offers a rich breakfast every morning, a restaurant with a stunning view of Rio de Janeiro’s coastline, and rooms with free Wi-Fi.
Budget (up to US$150)
Injoy Suites – Located within walking distance from Botafogo Beach and the metro station, this hostel features spacious rooms with a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, and reading light for very reasonable prices!
FAQs about Rio de Janeiro Carnival
🎊 What to expect from Carnival in Rio de Janeiro?
From the Carnival celebration in Rio, you can expect a lot of samba dancing, street parties (blocos), parades from the best samba schools and dancers performing at the Sambadrome, and the exclusive Rio Carnival Balls.
🌎 What is the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro called?
The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is called and known as the biggest carnival party in the world, hosting about 2 million people per day on the streets.
🗓️ When is the Rio de Janeiro Carnival party celebrated?
The Rio de Janeiro Carnival party starts on Friday prior to Ash Wednesday (basically 40 days before Easter) and always ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day right before Ash Wednesday, so its dates are actually not fixed and change every year.
💃🏼 What to do during Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival?
During Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, you can enjoy samba music at the blocos street parties, attend Sambadrome parades with dancers from the best samba schools, and end your days with the Rio Carnival Balls exclusive events.
Can you believe it? You are at the end of this extensive travel guide about the Rio Carnival, one of the biggest parties in the whole world!
We went through everything you need to know about this amazing celebration: information about what to expect from it (music, carnival costumes, traditions), when the event takes place, what to do (parades, parties in the streets, Rio Carnival balls), tickets and much more!
I hope this post made you enter the carnival spirit, and if you are for sure going to Samba City for this special event, check out also our post about the top areas to stay in Rio!
And if you have any questions about what I’ve written or you want to share your experience, please do so in the comments below.
Have a lot of fun!
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