In just a few months, all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Having already picked up a Brazil SIM card, you’ll need to know where to go next. There are four regions of the city where events will take place, so here’s a guide to all the things you can do in those places while you’re not cheering on your national team.
In the west of the city, on the coast, is the region known as Maracanã, which is already home to one of the world’s greatest sporting icons. Rebuilt and renovated for the 2014 Football World Cup, the Maracanã Stadium has played host some legendary football, and several footballing legends. These athletes were so adored and recognisable that many of them only need a single name – Pelé, Rivaldo, Zico, Ronaldinho, Zico, Neymar… the list goes on and on. As well as guided tours, there is a museum, where you can relive some amazing goals and check out some exclusive memorabilia. This is a must for any serious football fan. As well as hosting the opening and closing ceremonies, the stadium will also play host to – what else? – the Olympic football tournament.
It is well-known that Rio loves to party, especially during Carnavale season in the period leading up to the Catholic observance of Lent. But where else in the world would they purpose-build a stadium to better show off the skills of competing Samba Schools? The Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí is exactly that, a half-mile runway, flanked on either side by stands for spectators, where the remarkable displays of exotically-costumed dancers can parade to best effect. While the Olympics takes place at the wrong time of year for the Carnavale, you can be sure that the Samba Schools will put on something special for the opening ceremony. Because of its long shape, it’s a perfect venue for the Olympic archery tournament, and will also be the start and finish point of the marathon.
Just a little to the South of Maracanã, is the more famous Copacabana, immortalised in cheesy song (as is the borough of Ipanema). This legendary beach front region will play host to the volleyball competition on the beach, and the coastal road is a perfect venue for road-cycling, the marathon and triathlon events. As well as the white sands of the beach, this has proved to be an ideal venue for concerts, including a 1994 New Year’s concert by Rod Stewart that drew a crowd of 3.5 million and remains the biggest ever.
Flamengo Park is the unofficial name of Parque Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, a 300 acre area of urban parkland. This is one of the best places to be on a sunny weekend, with Brazilian families flocking to enjoy the green space. There are football pitches, tennis and basketball courts, and even an area for model plane enthusiasts to practice. For those looking for a bit of culture amongst the agriculture, you’ll also find an open-air theatre, the Rio museum of modern art and a sculpture park dedicated to those that died during World War 2. The wonderful backdrop of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Christo Redentor will make it a perfect venue for the cycling and walking road races.
You wouldn’t have thought that Barra da Tijuca would be selected to host the majority of the Olympic events taking place in Rio, not when its name translates as ‘swampy sandbank’. Thirty years ago, the area barely existed, then being a huge beach adjoining a series of lakes and swamps. Now, however, the area has been transformed into one of the most metropolitan and luxurious parts of Rio, so it’s no wonder Olympic organisers were happy for most of the attention to be centred on it. Here you’ll find the Olympic Arena, the Velodrome, the official Hockey and Tennis Centres and Riocentro, which at all other times is the largest convention centre in Latin America, but this summer will host the weightlifting and boxing.
Outside the events, there’s plenty to see and do in this neighbourhood, particularly if you fancy a bit of shopping. There are several malls here, including the biggest in Brazil, with a wealth of entertainment and dining options as well as stores. In a region so young, there’s not much history to speak of, with one notable exception – Barra da Tijuca is the birthplace of Gracie Barra Ju-Jitsu. The martial art of Ju-Jitsu has existed since the 17th Century in Japan, but it thrives today not only on its own merits but also as a key component to the sport of MMA, mainly down to the influence of one family – the Gracie dynasty. Now with thousands of schools around the world, Gracie Barra MMA is one of Brazil’s most famous exports.
Deodoro is the Olympic area that is furthest from the city centre, but also hosts the most eclectic mix of events. Surrounded by rolling hills, traditional events such as equestrianism and shooting will be held here; alongside some of the newer, more exciting events such as BMX biking, white-water rafting and, for the first time in Olympic history, rugby sevens. The extreme sports park will remain after the event is over, offering the young people of Rio a lasting legacy.
Here you’ll find the Aerospace Museum, with over 50 planes from various eras to explore and learn about. Part of the National Air Force’s university, and with a couple of real squadrons based at the site, the museum is a great place to tour. It’s also the home of the Smoke Squadron, Brazil’s version of the Red Arrows or Blue Angels, who will no doubt be making an appearance at either the opening or closing ceremony.