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Rio Carnival 2020: When is it, where is it and what are the best events to attend?

Event kicks off this weekend

Helen Coffey
Saturday 22 February 2020 11:10 GMT
Carnival officially begins in Rio with traditional Carmelitas bloco

Rio Carnival is one of the biggest, boldest and brightest events in the Brazilian calendar.

This year marks the first time in six years Brazilian footballer Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior will miss the festivities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Neymar made the announcement on his Instagram Story, stating: “With immense happiness, I announce that I am out of the 2020 Carnaval. That is it. This time there will be no controversy. Thanks. Happy Carnaval!”

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

When is Rio Carnival?

The Carnival is an annual event that always begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. This year, that date is 21 February. It spans the following few days, finishing on Ash Wednesday (26 February), the day Lent begins.

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. After the official events, the party spills out onto the streets in every corner of the city.

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 culture 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.

Rio Carnival attracts thousands of performers (Getty Images)

It gradually evolved into an annual city-wide party, culminating in the invention of samba in the early 20th century. The first samba schools were established in the 1920s, with the first samba parade competitions held in 1933.

What are the main events?

There are samba parades taking place on 21, 22, 23 and 24 February, with the Champions Parade taking place on Saturday 29 February (where the six best schools get to strut their stuff). Tickets start from $20 for grandstand seats on the Sambadrome’s giant concrete steps. There’s also the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace, dubbed the “grandest and most luxurious occasion in the Carnival”, which takes place on Saturday 22 February. Guests can book seats on a table for a buffet dinner and access to the open bar or purchase a standing ticket.

How can you take part?

Visitors can participate too, provided they’re wearing a costume (Getty Images)

Other than buying tickets for the parades and soaking up the atmosphere, Carnival goers can also opt to participate themselves, joining one of the available samba schools. All they have to do is purchase one of the official costumes listed on the website. However, it’s worth getting in there early – costumes are subject to availability and the organisers tend to sell out by mid-January.

Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

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