The Sambodromo is the "stadium" of samba. It consists of the Parading Avenue (the samba runway) and several independent concrete structures for the spectators (the bleachers) both sides along the Parading Avenue.
The Sambodromo was designed by Brazil's world-famous architect, the modernist Oscar Niemeyer. It was purpose-built for the Samba Parade and was inaugurated in 1984.
Made of concrete, it seems a bit dated for today's post-modern eyes. It feels derelict if not ugly, surrounded only by favelas during the year, when it serves smaller cultural events.
However, it is transformed and comes to life during Carnival. It becomes truly magnificent and overpowering, lit up with special effects on Samba Parade nights, filled with thousands of cheering spectators and surrounded by many other thousands who could not get in.
It is currently under reconstruction according to Niemeyer's original design and will hold around 90,000 spectators from 2014 Carnival onwards, to accommodate the ever-growing Rio Carnival Parade and for the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games.
The Sambodromo is located at the recognized birthplace of samba. It begins at Avenida Presidente Vargas, near Praça Quinze and ends in Rua Frei Caneca.
The large square at the Sambodromo's end is called Apotheosis Square. It prides an idiosyncratic large concrete M, the symbol of the Rio Carnival Parade.
The Avenue is 700m (half a mile) long. It has been named after Professor Darcy Ribeiro since it was him who picked this site and moved the Parade from the city center right to this location.
There are snack bars, refreshment stands and rest rooms in each Sambodromo sector.
In addition, everybody has access to a promenade within the Sambodromo (behind the bleachers) whish has fast-food diners, ice-cream stands, souvenir shops and more lavatories.
Inside the Sambodromo is considered to be the safest place in South America, on Samba Parade days. There is a very high concentration of international celebrities, politicians and royalties among the crowd. It is surrounded by huge fences which no-one can pass without being checked for both commercial and safety reasons.
As it is in the middle of some favelas, taking the Sambodromo shuttle is highly recommended to avoid any annoyances.
Be prepared that it is only fast food that is available in the Sambodromo. Thus, we suggest having your dinner before setting off. You could take plastic containers with beverages and some food such as sandwiches and fruits. Objects made of polystyrene, bottles, glasses, firecrackers and fireworks are forbidden.
Umbrellas are not a good idea, as they get in the way of and obstruct others.
As the show is extremely long and goes on until sunrise, some people take little mattresses and/or pillows to sit on and even have a nap on.
You should also take some toilet tissue in case bathrooms run short of it, by early morning.
Some people take binoculars or theatre glasses.
You can take any type of still camera or a normal, non-professional video. But be warned - only show them after you have already checked in and be careful with anything valuable outside the Sambodromo.
Professional video cameras for filming are not allowed.
How to dress
Wear whatever you prefer.
There are no rules, not even standards, what to wear for the Samba Parade (bear in mind that Rio people go even to weddings and funerals in colorful shorts).
People and celebrities in the boxes will dress up. In the grandstands, informal street style rules.
Use summer clothing as it is usually hot throughout the night but wear darker colors in the bleachers not to get too dirty.
A raincoat should be considered for the eventuality of a summer shower. Nevertheless if it rains, vendors will have them on sale in and around the Sambodromo.
When to arrive
Doors open at 17.00. Some without allocated seats queue up already to get the best seats in the bleachers, which are considered to be the ones at the front.
There is a little welcome show at 20:00, with King Momo opening the night passing through the Sambodromo.
An average person generally watches 3-5 samba schools. Arriving around 22:00-23:00 could be a good idea, considering that this is the time when the atmosphere starts to peak.
If you hold a grandstand ticket with no assignment and are determined to sit through the 12-hour marathon, arrive early and sit as you please.
Learn everything here about the Sambodromo, the venue of the Carnival Samba Parade of Rio de Janeiro. The Rio Sambodromo is sometimes also referred to in English as the Sambadromo or Sambodrome.
The Sambodromo is divided into sectors and tickets are priced depending on the kind of seating and view from that section of the parading avenue.
The odd-numbered sectors are all on the one side and the even-numbered on the other. The numbers increase towards to end of the parading avenue.
Most sectors consist of grandstands and open boxes in front.
You can buy tickets for most sectors. You should consider how long you want to see the Parade from the front. Sectors in the middle or slightly towards the end of the runway are considered the best. Paying just a little bit more makes a big difference when it comes to the view.
Sector 1 has grandstand seats only. It is in the area where the samba schools gather and organize themselves before their parade, and has poor views. Tickets for this sector are not sold but are given out by the schools.
Sectors 12 and 13 have rows of allocated chairs.
Only Sector 9 offers bleachers with allocated, numbered seats. Tickets are priced significantly higher. It has excellent views, however you might feel quite isolated from the local Brazilians and the "party".
In the grandstands you may choose how high you want to stay. You can also move at any time to another part or level of your sector.
Watching the Parade from a higher position will give a better idea of the school as a group and more perspective of the whole Parade.
Moving closer, you can appreciate better the costume details and the paraders' performance and samba.
Most people stand up, cheer and dance. Here, being so close to and together with thousands of Brazilians, you will really experience what Carnival actually means to them.
The price difference between the sectors reflects what the market thinks about the views from that particular section of the parading avenue. The most expensive seats are around the runway's halfway mark or just a bit towards the end. The best options are sector 4-11.
Every school's drummers have to stop and perform in between sectors 9 - 11. You might consider buying tickets for adjacent sectors an added bonus to see them from close, for fantastic acoustics and particularly thrilling atmosphere.
The best way to and from the Sambodromo is the Rio Carnival shuttle service. You can also consider taking the subway (metro) or hailing a taxi. Avoid taking busses as they cannot arrive within walking distance.
Your route to the Sambodromo will depend on your sector as there is no connection between the even and odd-numbered sides.
The Rio Carnival shuttle service has been especially set up to facilitate ticket holders' transfer to and from the Sambodromo on Carnival days when roads around the Sambodromo are closed and traffic comes to a standstill. It is designed to give you direct, quick and safe access to the Sambodromo.
It goes uninterrupted all round the clock on Carnival days. It is OK on Carnival days and leaves you within 30-40min walking distance. The station where to get off depends whether you want to arrive on the side of the odd- or the even-numbered sectors.
Get off at "Praça Onze" station. Once outside the station, turn twice to your right and then walk straight ahead. For sectors 10 and 12, take Rua Carmo Neto and walk on to Av. Salvador de Sá. You will see the Sambodromo soon.
Get off at "Central" station. Keep walking following the crowd until the Sambodromo, passing the schools' floats and Samba Land.
Best to hail one on the street as timing the traffic is impossible on Carnival days. Rates are higher than normal and they will let you off within reasonable walking distance from the gates. Tell the driver in advance your sector number and establish the price.
On Parade days, there is an extra charge to leave the Sambodromo, too.
There is a small Carnival Museum at the Sambodromo, about the size of a suburban family home. It has exhibits telling the story of Carnival and samba. Several former costumes are also on display.
Entrance is free of charge and is open 11:00-17:00, Tuesday-Sunday. It is located downtown on Rua Marques de Sapucai. The entrance is from Rua Frei Caneca.
Entry to the Sambodromo is only possible with tickets for events which it holds. However, it opens its doors and offers free entry to most sectors' grandstands on rehearsal days, several weekends before Carnival.