Why you Should Visit the Lapa Arches

The Lapa Arches are located in Lapa, a neighborhood with a diverse and charming architecture that has lots of stories to tell through its city walls and streets. The whole Lapa neighborhood has an attractive call to its visitors. Being there and knowing only the Arches without exploring its surroundings is like eating only the icing of a delicious cake.

Lapa Arches in Rio de Janeiro

Either during the day or night, the Lapa neighborhood and its Arches keep cryptic secrets. It’s a place where day and night divide two substantially different places that by sheer chance share the same space.

During the day, the Arches frame a sunny, vivid, blue, and deep sky, cut by the white of its structure and exposing every feature of former architectural concepts of historical buildings, like two of the oldest buildings in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the Nossa Senhora da Lapa do Desterro Church and the Irmandade Divino Espírito Santo da Lapa do Desserto (Lapa Street, 8 and 11, repectively). By its side there is Cinelândia, the Public Passage, and all the buildings of the Old and Modern Rio Center.

Lapa is a must for any visitor due to its beauties and proximity to several other wonderful places, such as Sala Cecília Meireles, Teatro Municipal, Largo da Carioca, and the Carlos Gomes and João Caetano theaters. After a trip to this dream quarter, we seize our time under the Arches once again, where there are numerous traditional restaurants such as Nova Capela and Bar Brasil, which have a diverse menu of mouth-watering dishes.

Another tourist attraction is the colorful staircase painted by the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. It was used as a setting for music videos of artists like Snoop Dogg and other international stars. Lavradio Street receives, every first Sunday of the month, a magnificent fair of used or slightly damaged wonderful books. It’s truly an amusing open-air museum with pieces and opportunities for every taste and budget. The event gathers knick-knacks of yesterday and today that mix up among the sea of vendors. In addition, the landscape of the Lapa Arches is a stage for shows and different kinds of protests, which, nowadays, are mostly for and against the federal government and take place on alternate days.

View from inside the cable car over the Lapa Arches

The Lapa Arches are famous worldwide because they’re also part of the cable car’s path that leads to the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Riding on the cable car over the Arches is an extraordinary experience and feels like flying over the city. It’s like experiencing a feeling of freedom, with the wind fitfully blowing on your face and hearing the sounds of the cable car sliding along a horizon that is not seen in any other part of the city. Very few cities in the world offer such an experience. The tour is highly suitable as the starting point of a visit to the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The cable cars depart from the Carioca station, in the center (Lélio Gama Street, number 2, and it’s easier to get there from the corner with Senador Dantas Street). However, hold tight and close your eyes if you’re afraid of heights!


There are so many amazing attractions that the day seems rather short; then comes Lapa’s nightlife with its charms and persuasions. The Arches are at an area tailor-made for enthusiasts of the nightlife in big cities. The traditional refuge of Rio’s bohemians has “malandragem”, trickery, in its DNA and welcomes its visitors with bars, restaurants, and concert halls that suit every taste and style.

Sambistas, rockers, and other tribes find there the perfect place to socialize. Most times, distinct groups perform their artistic works under different sections of the Lapa Arches. There’s room for everybody, and new people are always welcome. The night in Lapa is highly eclectic, democratic, and animated. Those who are looking to know more about the famous nights in Rio aren’t missing the opportunity to get to knjow the area, which is located in the central zone of the city and is full of attractions. It’s an everlasting party that wins the heart of people in love with happiness.

Bars such as Carioca da Gema and Semente made Lapa famous. The list of clients in these locations always feature unique names such as the Brazilian musician Chico Buarque. Places such as Circo Voador and Fundição Progresso, on the other hand, established themselves as stages of essential moments in the history of Brazilian popular music. Rio Scenarium works as an antique shop during the day and as a restaurant at night, gathering several groups of tourists. These groups are interested in diving and discovering the Rio way of life, and have Lapa as their school. But the night in the neighborhood is not only made of parties. It’s also home to Sala Cecilia Meireles, which is said to be the best concert hall of chamber music in town.

Past history of the Lapa Arches

The history of the area known today as Lapa begins in 1744, with the beginning of the construction of the Carioca Aqueduct, wich would then become Lapa Arches. The work was carried out as an order from the governor Gomes Freire de Andrade, aiming to provide water to the Tijuca Forest and the first fountain in the city, which was placed in what is today Largo da Carioca. The engineer José Fernandes Alpoim was in charge of the work, which was carried out by slaves and finished six years later. The Águas Livres Aqueduct in Lisboa was an inspiration for the structure. The 42 arches in roman style are made of stone bricks and were coated with lime.

A seminary and a chapel in praise of Nossa Senhora da Lapa do Desterro were created in the area in 1751 by the priest Ângelo Padro. This event triggered the occupation of the area, which then started to be called Campo dos Formigões due to the concentration of seminarians. The chapel was transformed into a church in 1810. Around 6,500 people lived in the surrounding area in 1838. The opening of Fundicão Progresso in 1871 and the beginning of the use of cable cars over the arches in 1898 are important moments in the history of Lapa. Routes such as Rua dos Inválidos and Rua do Resende were coveted by the aristocracy, which started to live in the neighborhood with time.

Lapa Arches, old picture from the 50s

Mayor Pereira Passos set up a big renovation in Lapa in the beginning of the 20th century. Huts and tenements were demolished. Mem de Sá Street was widened and transformed into an avenue. The rise of casinos, cabarets, and restaurants in the following years made the area known as Montmartre Carioca, as a reference to the bohemian neighborhood of Paris. Then, the calling to host nightlife was never lost again. The Lapa Arches were listed by the National Heritage in 1938 as city postcards. Further works in the 60s and 70s gave the aqueduct its original shape, after past interventions altered the pillars and other structural features of the construction. Only in 2012 did the city hall recognize Lapa as a district.

Lapa Arches Today

Cable Cars over Lapa Arches

The cable cars recently started working again over the Lapa Arches after a four-year halt due to an accident. They depart from a station at Largo da Carioca and go towards Largo do Guimarães, at the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Nowadays, considering new safety rules, one can’t travel upright or holding onto the stirrups. The vehicles with wooden seats now have magnetic brakes, LED lights and other modern technologies. The car’s gliding makes the Largo da Lapa landscape a lot more beautiful, making it a place where past and present mix up and walk side by side without any confusion. Whether it’s night or day, those who pass by Lapa notice and are amazed.

A pro of visiting the neighborhood is the possibility of finding several tourist attractions without having to search further. Selarón’s staircase is at Joaquim Silva Street, very close to Sala Cecília Meirelles. The address of the concert hall is Largo da Lapa, 47. Those who want to have dinner after the show can go on foot to Nova Capela, number 96 on Mem de Sá, or even to Semente bar, at number 149 of Evaristo da Veiga Street. Night owls who love vivid nights have alternatives such as Circo Voador and Fundição Progresso available, both at Arcos street.

Getting to the Lapa Arches is easy. As always, the suggested means of transportation is the subway, and the closest station is Cinelândia, while the adventurers can try some bus lines that cross Lapa and depart from several points of the city and work all night. Here are some tips on how to move around the city with our Public Transportation Guide.

If you dream about a perfect night near the Lapa Arches and its numerous adventures, consider wearing light clothes and avoid drinking too much or leaving your drinks out of sight.

What Nobody Talks About The Lapa Arches

Although the Lapa Arches are one of the most famous Rio postcards, some problems regarding it are ignored by tourists because they are not talked about on advertising made for visitors. But it is important for our tourists to know that the Lapa neighborhood has some issues that may ruin their good time. We are not looking to scare anyone, but to openly talk about matters that are commonly disregarded so our tourists may have a better understanding of the area they’ll go to and can avoid unnecessary risks.

    • Safety is a very delicate matter regarding Lapa and its Arches. During the day you should be aware of children and teenagers who live on the streets and who, in general, are only having some fun and will ask you to help them by buying a candy they’re selling. Or they might ask you for food. In these situations, it’s highly recommended that you pay attention to your belongings and avoid exposing them too much. There’s a risk of opportunity thefts such as pickpocketing, or in some situations a more aggressive theft. Sometimes, but less likely and for no apparent reason, kids and teenagers may start steaming, moving quickly through a crowded public place and stealing things as they go. The ideal scenario for visitors is to always be in groups and, if possible, with locals. Also, it’s also important to avoid contact with them. That’s what Rio mothers tell their children to do.

Lapa Presente Police Team receiving instructions for enforcement

    • During the night, the issues are different: Small thefts are common among the bustling and crowded areas on Lapa streets. Violent thefts are rarer. Do not lose sight of your belongings and drinks. Carry only essential items with you and, if you use purses or bags, remember to keep them closed and near you. Be careful with your drinks because actions such as slipping roofies in them may happen at Lapa. However, it’s important to recognize that the authorities at Lapa are engaged in reinforcing the security of Rio citizens and tourists who visit Lapa and its Arches. The streets of Lapa and old Rio are protected mainly by the Operation Lapa Presente, which is in charge of daily enforcements in the area on foot, bikes, and cars, which has aided significantly in decreasing the amount of problems in the area.
    • The street vendors and informal vendors, known as camelôs are people who walk on the streets or have tents on the sidewalk selling various products. The City Hall registers some of these vendors, who work in authorized spots. Others, however, work without a license and are often removed by the City Guard.
    • When buying from camelôs, pay attention to some important details: having food and drinks sold under these conditions, especially on hot days, may present health hazards because there is no control over how they are made and stored. At the Lapa Arches, there are lots of tents that make several kinds of snacks and drinks, so make a quick and visual assessment of the sanitary conditions of the place if you’re willing to buy something. However, it’s not recommended to have a meal, snack, or drink in Rio without knowing their origin; products bought from camelôs have no warranties at all, and prices may be too high, especially if the customer is a tourist, which may leave them vulnerable to overpriced purchases and small deceptions during their shopping.
    • Prostitution in Lapa is also an issue, although it’s not as offensive as the others and much less explicit, since the approach happens in subtler ways at clubs and bars in the area.

Lavradio Street once again flooded in Lapa, making it an adventure to commute after work in Rio

  • Floods in Lapa, mainly on the streets of the Old Center (Streets Lapa, Mem de Sá, Lavradio, etc.), usually happen when it rains heavily in those areas. These floods happen because the manhole system is old and is overloaded due to new real estate initiatives in the area in the last couple of years. And due to the lack of respect of some Rio citizens and tourists who leave their litter on the ground after events in those areas. Those who can avoid it don’t dare going to the area when a strong rain is coming.

Credits for the used images in this Lapa Arches article: Alexandre Macieira, Copa2014.gov.br, Jcsalmon, Rio.rj.gov.br, Rj.gov.br.