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Head to the party neighbourhood of Lapa.

Ricardo Moraes/Associated Press

The question

I want to go to Rio – to party, to dance, to see the sights. I've only got five days, help me make the most of it!

The answer

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This is a city that rotates around the sun with its beach culture and penchant for sipping caipirinha by the sea. But after dark – into the morning really – things get busy, and the locals are happy to include you in the party.

Rio de Janeiro will be party central for the next few years, as the biggest global sporting events – the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics – touch down. Here are some Rio essentials from two locals.

Get your feet dirty

With many scenes not heating up until midnight, start the night out at a small bar known as a boteco or a pes sujos, which translates literally as "dirty feet" and "refers to small dive bars that serve beer and snacks," says Nathan M. Walters, an arts and culture writer for The Rio Times. We're talking draft beer and Brazilian staples including fried cod balls and shrimp-fried pastries.

Walters, a lawyer-turned-journalist who followed his wife to Rio, says the nightlife is less about dark, pulsating clubs (although they have those, too. Try the Fosfobox in Copacabana), and more about offering a "something's always going on" ambience. It might be the hostel Alto Vidigal (altovidigal.com) in the Vidigal Favelas hosting a DJ or the regular Festa Makula afrobeat party at Casa de Barao, a house-turned-party-space in the Santa Tereza district, or even a pop-up street party where vendors sell beer from giant coolers.

"Almost every night, and certainly every weekend, there will be independent parties throughout the city."

Go boho in Lapa

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The centre of the city's nightlife, however, is Lapa, "the epicentre of bohemian behaviour," says Fernando de La Rocque, a visual artist whose work painting cockroaches gold or colouring stencilled sketches with marijuana smoke has garnered headlines.

The area is home to Circo Voador (circovoador.com.br), an institution that features local legends and international acts. "This is the best place for shows, and around Circo there are so many bars," says de La Rocque. Or check out the weekend's underground scene, he says, such as the experimental electronic music at Plano B (planob.net).

If you crave something more traditional check out the samba at Carioca de Gema (barcariocadagema.com.br).

"The room is cozy so you can really feel the samba, feel it in your heart," says Walters. "If you are visiting and want to work on your samba steps this is the best place. Being so close to the live band helps you understand the rhythm. I think I actually danced samba a few times here, not just moved my feet around in typical gringo fashion."

Plus, the crowd is often a mix of foreigners and locals so it's a good place to mingle, and get tips on where to go next.

Send us your suggestions to concierge@globeandmail.com.

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