All the Carnival parades are held in downtown Rio at the Sambadrome, a long avenue flanked by large spectator stands where the city’s samba schools show off their meticulously prepared parades. Each performance lasts 75 minutes with the goal of impressing the judges enough to be crowned the winning samba school of 2018. There are two groups to watch out for—Grupo Especial (Special Group) and Série A (Series A). While the Special Group is made up of the best samba schools in Rio and the ones competing to win, Series A schools compete to enter the Special Group in 2019.
Watching the parades is a unique experience and one that reflects the passion, fun and history of Brazilian culture. The Special Group will perform on Sunday, February 11, and Monday, February 12, with performances starting at 9:15pm (the parades continue all night until the early hours of the morning). Series A will perform on Friday, February 9, and Saturday, February 10, at 10 pm. We recommend that you buy tickets in advance, though it is possible to buy them at the door if you don’t care which section your seats are in.
The Carnival’s street parties are known as blocos and are centred around a large truck or van rigged with a sound system and a stage for live singers and dancers. These trucks crawl through the streets of Rio along a designated path with thousands—sometimes millions—of people following along behind, dancing to the endless renditions of samba classics. It’s a time of fancy dress, mingling, drinking and living in the moment. Many people skip the parades and just attend the street parties; what you do purely depends on your preferences, though it’s possible to do both.
The official street parties begin on the first day of the parades, although the excitement becomes too much for some locals who create street parties before and after Carnival too. Here are some of the best official street parties to go to.
Friday, February 9
Friday kicks of with Carmelitas, a bloco that begins at 3 pm in Santa Teresa. It is one of Rio’s most beloved blocos and based on the story of a nun from a local convent that became so overcome with the Carnival spirit that she jumped over the convent’s wall and joined in with the festivities. Since then, it is common to see people wearing veils during this street party as part of their costume dress.
Saturday, February 10
The day starts again with a bloco in Santa Teresa, this time with Céu na Terra at 8 am (yes, the party starts early in Rio!), one of the most popular with locals featuring large puppets carried through the crowds in brightly-coloured, traditional costumes. It’s a fun, vibrant bloco and definitely worth waking up early to be a part of. Later on at 9:30 am, Cordão da Bola Preta is the Carnival’s official opening street party in downtown Rio and also the biggest with an average of one million people attending (although that pales in comparison to 2011 when a whopping 2.1 million people attended this bloco, many dressed in black and white polka dots which are the street party’s official colours). In Copacabana at 10 am, the Bloco da Favorita plays funk music inspired by funk Carioca, a genre of music that originated in Rio’s favelas. Later on in the day, you can check out the Banda de Ipanema bloco in Ipanema, one of the most liberal and LGBT-friendly street parties in Rio complete with flamboyant drag queens.
Sunday, February 11
There is a bit of a pattern emerging as, once again, the best way to start the day is to go to Santa Teresa at 9 am for the Cordão do Boitatá bloco, a traditional Carnival street party that is popular among locals. Later in the day at 2 pm, the Que Merda É Essa bloco plays in Ipanema followed by Simpatia é Quase Amor at 4 pm, both widely popular street parties that course along Rio’s extraordinary beaches.
Monday, February 12
If you want to take a break from samba, Monday is the day to do it. At 10 am, the Afroreggae bloco takes place in Rio’s city centre and is a street party dedicated to reggae music, offering a fun yet relaxed atmosphere. Later in Rio’s downtown at 2 pm, the Dinossauros Nacionais bloco plays only rock music from the 1980s. However, the most popular bloco of the day is Sargento Pimenta in Flamengo Park at 10 am which attracts thousands of locals and tourists. It plays Beatles songs with some samba fusions mixed in for a unique Brazilian twist on the rock classics.
Tuesday, February 13
In case you missed Carmelitas on Friday, it is held again at 10 am in the Santa Teresa neighborhood on Tuesday, February 13. At 5:30 pm, the Banda de Ipanema bloco is also held again along the streets and beachside of Ipanema.
These are the most attended and popular street parties in Rio de Janeiro during the Carnival days. However, there are hundreds more and many that take place before and after the Carnival’s official dates, all guaranteed to be fun and worth checking out. The best ones tend to be in the south zone of the city in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, yet some of the most popular are also found in Santa Teresa and Centro. For a complete list of bloco dates and times, check out this guide here.