São Paulo“Rio is a beauty. But São Paulo, São Paulo is a city,” said Marlene Dietrich about Brazil's most cosmopolitan city. São Paulo is Brazil’s cultural as well as financial powerhouse, complete with a vibrant music scene, top-designer shopping, and delicious gastronomy, not to mention world-class museums and art galleries. All this is combined with the vibrant local life of Paulistanos, who will surely be easy to make friends with.
The CityThe fourth largest city in the world has over 12 million people spread over an area of 30.000 square kilometres. São Paulo might be huge but it has humble beginnings. In 1554, Portuguese Jesuit priests founded a small mission on a hill close to the Tietê river, which soon became a trading post. Later, when the area around São Paulo was found to be perfect for growing coffee, the city's future prosperity was sealed. Today, São Paulo is the business and unofficial political capital of the country. A good place to orientate yourself in São Paulo is by Avenida Paulista, lined with high-rise office buildings, which divides the city centre from São Paulo's exclusive and glamorous district, Jardins, where you find the best hotels including Fasano and Hotel Unique. From here, you can easily reach most parts of the city. Praça da Sé and Praça da República, the two squares divided by Vale do Anhangabaú is the old centre of São Paulo. On Rua Boa Vista, you will find the whitewashed baroque Pátio do Colégio, the site of which dates back to the Jesuits' first mission in 1554. Nearby, Triângulo is the city's main financial district and home to São Paulo's imposing stock exchange, BOVESPA. A few blocks away you can find the serene São Bento Monastery. Northeast is the imposing neo-gothic central market, Mercado Municipal. South of here is the commercial district of Bela Vista, nicknamed Bixiga, once a hub for Italian immigrants. Then you'll find the Liberdade district, home to the world's largest ethnic Japanese community outside Japan. Rua Augusta slices across Avenida Paulista into the Jardins neighbourhood. Around Praça Franklin Roosevelt, you'll find many of the city's best shops and restaurants. Southwest of Jardins is the fashionable neighbourhood of Pinheiros, with some of the best bars and nightclubs in the city. Across Rio Pinheiros is the vast campus of the Universidade de São Paulo. Southeast from here is the huge green space of Parque Ibirapuera, offering a respite from the hustle and bustle of São Paulo.
Do & See
Most of São Paulo's main attractions are located in the city centre, the area bounded by the Tietê river on the north, the Pinheiros river to the west, Avenida dos Bandeirantes on the south and Avenida Salim Farah Maluf to the east. As the country's largest mega-metropolis, São Paulo has something for everyone–the culture vulture, the jazz fan, the clubber, the football fanatic, and the gourmand. To take in the scale of São Paulo's history visit Pátio do Colégio to see its beginnings. Then visit the legendary Brazilian architect and designer of Brasília, Oscar Niemeyer's space-age OCA museum. For a breathtaking glimpse of where São Paulo is going, you cannot beat the view from the top of the Italia Building on Avenida Ipiranga at the corner of Avenida São Luís.
São Paulo's best restaurants are to be found in the Jardins, Itaim Bibi, Pinheiros, and Vila Madalena neighbourhoods. However, for those on a smaller budget, you can get a delicious hearty meal at side street restaurants called "lanchonetes", which are a mix between a café and a bakery. The best non-Brazilian cuisine tends to be Italian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Japanese. The Portuguese restaurants are pretty spectacular too.
Coffee is a fundamental part of Brazilian culture. “Cafézinho” (small coffee) is a symbol of hospitality throughout the country and is the most common type of coffee style served here. These small cups of strong, black coffee are enjoyed throughout the day — and hot, despite Brazil’s warm climate. Paulistanos love a good bakery or as they like to call it "padoca" (short for padaria). They’re almost like extensions of their homes. Most locals love to drink a “pingado” (coffee with a dash of milk, similar to ‘cortado’) and eat a “pão na chapa” (toasted bread, done on a grill or hot plate).
Bars & Nightlife
The hometown of electro-hipster group CSS, São Paulo's eclectic nightlife is the best in Brazil. Bela Vista has plenty of live music and draws a mixed crowd, while Vila Madalena and adjoining Pinheiros are full of trendy, bohemian nightspots and clubs where you can enjoy a nice cold beer and check out the scene. The Jardins district offers upmarket bars for a more mature as well as the LGBT crowd. Head to the bar at the Fasano Hotel for the best Caipirinha you are likely to taste anywhere. Itaim Bibi and Vila Olímpia are where you will find the trendy up-and-coming clubs.
São Paulo's shopping possibilities are extensive and the city offers lots of intriguing browsing. The success of São Paulo Fashion Week has drawn many top designers here but there are other delights on offer, from food markets to huge air-conditioned shopping malls. The main shopping hub is in Centro around the Praça da Republica, particularly off Avenida Iparanga and Rua 25 de Março.