Lapa is Rio’s buzzing nightlife hotspot that’s home to lively bars, pumping nightclubs and street parties that continue for days on end. Lapa draws both foreigners and locals week in, week out to sip caipirinhas and bust a move at the wide variety of establishments that call this buzzing neighborhood home. Whilst at night it throbs with activity, daytime Lapa is underground and raw, with jaw-dropping street art decorating the heritage buildings. Check out our list of things to do in one of the coolest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro.
Set in lawned gardens on a quiet back street in Santa Teresa, this mansion house is a short cab ride from central Lapa. It also happens to be the former home of millionaire art collector Raymundo Castro Maya and his collection still hangs in the stately rooms and corridors. You’ll find important pieces by European artists including Modigliani and key Brazilians like Di Cavalcanti, who painted Carioca women and apolitical Rio scenes in the style of Mexico’s Diego Rivera.
It’s all about the view at Aprazível, in Santa Teresa, where alfresco tables dot a tropical garden. In this hillside neighborhood, immediately west of Lapa, late afternoon is the best time to visit, just as the sun sinks behind the mountains. Rio’s lights twinkle from here, illuminating Sugar Loaf mountain, Flamengo beach and glistening Guanabara Bay. The menu of seafood and spicy moqueca stews is good, but the view is the main reason to come here.
Traditional Lapa weekend nights used to begin with an ice-cold beer on Beco do Rato – rat alley – the nickname for the narrow, cobbled streets lined with simple hole-in-the-wall bars around Joaquim Silva street. The area has gone upmarket of late and the bars have become samba clubs, the best of which is Beco do Rato. It takes its name from the alley itself and still serves ice-cold beer together with Brazilian tapas (petiscos) and most nights there’s live samba, chorinho (Brazilian ragtime) or poetry.
The legendary steps of Lapa were created by and take their name from Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who spent 20 years transforming a bland stairway into a vibrant and iconic symbol of Rio. The mosaic of tiles, ceramics and mirrors in mostly reds, greens, blues and yellows cover all 215 steps from Lapa to the adjacent neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Go at night for the lively bustle of casual street drinking and amateur live music.
This fair, otherwise known as Feira Rio Antigo, takes place every first Saturday of the month on Rua do Lavradio and is the spot for timeless antiques, vintage pieces and hidden treasures. A whole street opens its doors and fills up with stalls, presenting anything and everything from clothes and bags to ornaments and furniture. For one-off souvenirs, it’s hard to imagine a better place in Rio.
The place to go for national and international music in Rio is Circo Voador, a cultural space in Lapa where live acts continue throughout the week and weekend. Anything goes here, from rock and metal (AC/DC have performed here in the past) to samba and funk. The outdoor terrace is fringed with palm trees, providing breathing and drinking space from the tent-covered dance floor that usually gets extremely crowded. There are also ongoing workshops in capoeira, acrobatics and languages.
Since the Brazilian government decriminalized street art in 2009, Rio de Janeiro has fostered a flourishing scene with various artists making their mark throughout the city and, indeed, the world. Lapa is home to various artworks that portray aspects of the local culture, with the walls around the Escadaria Selaron and its arches boasting many of Lapa’s finest works.
The white arches of Lapa remain the same as they were when first constructed in the mid-18th century as an aqueduct. Nowadays they are a popular meeting place and serve as an entrance into Lapa’s buzzing nightlife. Some of the best street parties are held here with stalls dishing out mega-sized caipirinhas and other cocktails with generous portions of cachaca. The party is free and anything goes, even after the sun comes up.
Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.
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