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Rio Carnival 2024: When is it, where is it and what are the best events to attend?

Simon Calder’s Travel

Rio Carnival is one of the biggest, boldest and brightest events in the Brazilian calendar, and it’s taking the country’s tourism capital by storm next week.

The sound of samba rings, raucous parties rage and sold-out parades stun at the world-famous bash spanning Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paulo for eight days each February.

With millions dancing to the beat of bloco street parties in a sea of costumes, colour and caipirinha cocktails outside, and thousands seated inside the purpose-built Sambadrome to watch the samba schools sway in sync, this is one you’ll want to add to your travel bucket list.

So when is Rio Carnival, what is it celebrating, and how can you get involved? Here’s everything you need to know.

Expect a sea of costumes, colour and caipirinha cocktails

(Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

When is Rio Carnival?

The Carnival is an annual event that always begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. This year, that date is 9 February. It spans the following few days, finishing on Ash Wednesday (14 February), the day Lent begins. The Champions Parade – a fusion of singing and dancing where the top six samba schools get to strut their stuff – will take place on Saturday 17 February.

Where is Rio Carnival?

Events take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s most cosmopolitan city. All the main samba competitions between rival dance schools and parades take place in the Sambadrome – a purpose-built parade area created for the Carnival in downtown Cidade Nova. After the official events, the party spills out onto the streets in every corner of the city.

The iconic Sambadrome sits in Cidade Nova, downtown Rio

(Getty Images)

What does the Carnival celebrate?

Rio Carnival is both rooted in European pagan traditions and Catholicism. It was originally a food festival when people would take their last opportunity to gorge before the beginning of Lent, traditionally a time of abstinence and fasting in the Catholic Church.

But the unique feel of the Carnival comes from the cultural clash between the Portuguese colonisers and the indigenous people. The settlers bought over the tradition of Entrudo (Carnival) from Europe, where it met with the local population’s passion for music and dance.

It gradually evolved into an annual city-wide party, culminating in the invention of samba in the early 20th century. The first samba schools…

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