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Rio Carnival - Everything you need to know

The annual Rio de Janeiro Carnival is by far the biggest carnival celebration around the world. Huge numbers of travellers descend on the city each year to enjoy four days of partying. Here, we’ve put together a list of 10 FAQ to help you understand Rio Carnival.

1. When is the Rio de Janeiro Carnival?

This year the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is taking place from February 24th to February 28th.

2. What is the Rio Carnival?

The Rio Carnival is a rambunctious series of parades and parties held 40 days before Easter, just before Lent begins. It’s also one of the most important events in Brazilian culture. Preparations for the Rio Carnival go on for months before the event, and iff you’re lucky enough to be in Rio during Carnival, you can expect spectacular parades put on by the city’s samba schools, along with street parties, live Brazilian music and plenty more.

3. What is the Sambadrome?

Designed by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Sambadrome is Rio’s ‘stadium of samba’. Basically, it’s a permanent parade route lined with concrete spectator stands which can seat around 70,000 people. Each year during Carnival, the Sambadrome is the setting for extravagant parades put on by Rio’s numerous samba schools. Stretching along for 700m (or almost half a mile), the Sambadrome is located along a stretch of Avenida Marquês de Sapucaí between Avenida Presidente Vargas and Rua Frei Caneca. You need to have a ticket to check out the parades at the Sambadrome during carnival; keep in mind that ticket prices vary depending on the location of the seats in the stands.

4. When are the parades held?

Every day during Carnival you’ll find a parade taking place at the Sambadrome, with various different samba schools taking part in the parades each day. There’s a pecking order to the performances, with the top twelve schools marching on the Sunday, February 16th  and Monday, March 17th next year. The parades, which are also a competition between all the different schools, begin each night at 9pm, continuing into the wee hours of the morning. Each samba school has between 70 and 80 minutes to make their way along the parade route.

5. Who takes part in the parades?

All the parades during the Rio Carnival are opened by ‘King Momo’, the King of the Carnival. Each school taking part in the parades chooses a specific theme, the details of which are designed, produced and directed by a ‘Carnavalesco’ (carnival designer). Elaborate floats are manned by large numbers of performers, with many more dancers and musicians accompanying them at street level. A few to keep an eye out for are the Vanguard Commission, a group at the head of each school’s parade. Performing a very important routine, this group of 12-15 dancers doesn’t have to match the overall theme of the school. Some of the most spectacular groups featuring in each parade are the Drummer Groups, providing the samba heartbeat for each procession.

6. What are the Rio Carnival balls?

A celebration of music, dance and colourful Rio Carnival costumes, these balls are another popular part of Carnival and take place at numerous locations around the city. Most cost between R$120 and R$170 to attend, although some of the more lavish celebrations are more expensive, including the famous annual Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace Hotel which regularly attracts a host of VIPs. Other popular balls include the Red and Black Ball, the Ball of the Beer and the Gay Costume Ball. If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable, check out the balls at the Rio Scala nightclub on Avenida Afrânio. On the go for 40 years, the ball here is the perfect mix of live Brazilian music and samba.

7. Where’s the best place to hear street bands during Carnival?

One of the coolest places to go to listen to street bands during the Rio de Janeiro Carnival is Avenida Rio Branco in Centro, the city’s downtown area. Late afternoon is the best time to go as this is when you’ll see processions of street bands making their way along the street playing to large numbers of dancing, drinking revellers. In 2014, over 300 street bands performed throughout the Carnival.

8. What is Samba Land?

Samba Land, or Terreirão do Samba, is an open-air celebration in the Praça Onze area of the city. Here you’ll find a big stage featuring live music, dancing and more. Fifty food and drink stalls are also on-hand to provide party-goers with the fuel to keep the party going all night. There’s a R$15 admission fee on the door and the event runs from 7pm to around 6am the following morning. Samba Land is open for business on February 21-22nd, February 28th- March 4th and March 7th-8th starting at 7pm and finishing at around 6am the following morning.

9. What’s happening in Lapa during Rio Carnival?

A lot! You’ll find plenty to keep you occupied in Lapa, which is one of the most popular neighbourhoods in Rio. Most of the action here is centred on the Arcos de Lapa, otherwise known as the Arches of Lapa. Starting at 8pm and lasting until dawn, celebrations take place every night of Carnival and feature Brazilian music, lots of food and drink (including barbeque stands) and plenty of fun.

10. Is there anything else happening during Rio de Janeiro Carnival?

Street parties are another popular fixture of Carnival and take place all over the city. Although many of these spring up on their own, there are plenty of planned parties, too, such as the street party on Cinelândia Square. Kicking off at 5pm and lasting until 3am, this popular party is held every night of Carnival. It features performances by orchestras, singers and samba dancers. Thanks to a more old-school style of music, this event attracts a slightly older crowd. For something a bit crazier, head to the area around the Sambadrome where people who haven’t gotten in to watch the parades congregate to drink and dance.

So, if you’re planning on heading to Carnival in Rio, hopefully we’ve given you some insight into what you can expect from the Rio Carnival, one of the world’s wildest parties.

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