Carnaval Balls in Rio de Janeiro
In addition to the Samba Parade, and all the fun in the streets, Rio offers a selection of Carnival balls that you really should not miss. You won't have to spend a fortune to have a great time. Tickets to most balls are quite affordable. If you are coming with a group, you may reserve a table, or even a box.
Carnaval balls in Rio have a tradition of live music, and percussion bands from Samba Schools often participate. The traditional soundtrack includes marchinhas, sambas, frevos, and other Brazilian beats. Many prominent Blocos promote balls, sometimes with a guest vocalist or group. They are very popular, and help to fund the costs of the free street events.
There are also a host of Carnaval parties with dance music, where local and international DJs play their latest sets. If you have an issue with people in costumes or samba they may be your best bet.
If you're looking specifically for information about this year's events a good first stop is our Carnaval Party Planner. We select the best events and list them neatly by dates, from Pre-Carnaval to the Champions Parade.
This page is more dedicated to the history and curiosities about Carnaval Balls in Rio de Janeiro, from the colonial period to the present day. We have noticed that some websites use our original content as reference, so we try to keep up.
Carnaval Balls in Colonial Rio
The first big Carnaval ball in Rio happened in 1846 when they were also popular in Europe. It was promoted by the Italian wife of the owner of a hotel. Clara Delmastro missed the glamour of the Venetian Balls. Over 1,000 people showed up at the party, held at Teatro São Januário. Luxury costumes or black ties, just like you see in the paintings from the 19th century.
It was a way for aristocrats to celebrate in a protected environment. Ordinary people participated in Entrudo, where squirting water on other people was the idea. Dom Pedro I, who would eventually become our first Emperor, joined the event. Allegedly he squirted the wrong person, and was reprimanded.
Carnaval Balls in the 20s
Jumping to the Roaring Twenties, the luxury hotel Copacabana Palace opened its doors in 1924. It was built in the tradition of grand hotels of the French Riviera. The palace brought glamour and international attention to Rio. Their Carnaval balls stayed in history.
Jorginho Guinle, the “playboy” son of the owner, had close connections to old Hollywood. among the beauties who were guests: Dolores Del Rio, Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner, and Marlene Dietrich. Jorginho Guinle hosted fabulous Carnaval Balls until 1973!
Another ball that became an institution was the Official City Gala Ball at the historic Theatro Municipal. The first edition in 1932 had 4,000 patrons – including then President Getúlio Vargas. The balls went on until 1975 when experts concluded that all the thumping was damaging the structures of the historic palace.
Carnaval Balls in the 70s & 80s
While luxury balls continued to happen at the Copacabana Palace and Hotel Glória, the cultural changes in the seventies also changed the way people partied. The Yacht Club came up with the first Carnaval pool party. There were fabulous balls at Clube Sírio e Libanês, Monte Líbano, and Canecão. People were free, scantily clad, on a different vibe. Photos of these events, which included local celebrities, were published in glossy magazines that sold like hotcakes.
In the 80s balls became even wilder. Everybody remembers the legendary parties that Guilherme Araújo promoted at Morro da Urca. Live music with the best Carnaval songs, performers, and special guests. There were spaces indoors and outdoors, beautiful people from all around the world, and a view that wouldn’t quit.
Cross-dressing has always been part of Carnaval. Baile dos Enxutos was the pioneer. Gala Gay eventually became the main event on Carnaval Tuesday. First at Canecão, and later at Club Scala. Drag queens in luxury costumes, local and international celebrities, and curious people, it was a fabulous mix.
Reporters from magazines ‘O Cruzeiro’ and ‘Manchete’ were always there to capture images for their Carnaval editions. Eventually the entrance was broadcast live on open TV, and it was a riot!
Carnaval parties with world-famous DJs playing their sets started in the 90s. They have evolved and now they are one of the big attractions. It is considered an honor to be invited to play at a major party, some cater to thousands of people. As they do not play anything related to the date, though, many people consider this Off-Carnaval. I like the term.
Where’s the party?
Cutting to the chase, the best contemporary Carnaval balls are powered by the most popular Blocos. Each one has a loyal following, and patrons attend both street events and balls. The Jockey Club, Circo Voador, Fundição Progresso, and other large clubs feature different parties every night. Other spaces pop up in Centro, Flamengo Park, and Marina da Glória, it’s hard to keep up.
The easiest way to find out what’s happening is by joining a social network and snooping around. You may join a group of Brazilians who love Carnaval. Invitations to parties are often published, with instructions on how to buy tickets. Leaving it for the last minute or trying to buy them the door may not be the best approach. Try to plan before you arrive, and hopefully make friends online to meet in person when you are here.
If this is not the way you like to go, don’t worry. We hand-pick every year what we consider the best Carnaval balls, parties, and other events. They are neatly listed in our Carnaval Party Planner. There are things to d before, during, and after Carnaval. Our guide has even been featured in the print edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Rio, you’re in good hands.
Carnival Ball Etiquette
Costumes are not mandatory, except for a few balls. Putting on something special will help you get in the right mood, though. If you are with a group, coordinated costumes are a lot of fun. The same goes for street Carnaval. If it makes you feel silly, forget about it. Just make sure you wear some footwear that actually protects you.
Having said that, we are living in an era where a few loud people get offended by everything. Some traditional costumes are no longer acceptable. Wearing hate symbols, for instance, is not OK. Use your good sense.
Once we covered that part, let’s talk about not annoying other people. All closed spaces in Brazil are non-smoking. Many venues offer a patio or an open space where smokers can congregate without getting dirty looks.
If you’re going to a ball, you’re an adult. Hopefully, you know your limits with substances. The legal age for drinking in Brazil is 18, not 21. Do not take drinks from strangers, and do not leave your drinks unattended. Other than that, have fun!
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