The RealWorld Guide to São Paulo
People often forget São Paulo when they think of Brazil. It might not have the cachet of Rio or the tourist sites of Iguazu Falls or the adventure of the Amazon, but in many ways it is the most interesting city in Brazil, if not the whole of the Americas. With a population of 20 million people, São Paulo is the largest city in South America, so you’re bound to find some interesting things happening.
It’s home to Brazil's fashion industry and is the place to be in Brazil for avant garde film, music, theatre and art. In fact, the cultural bases are pretty well covered, with everything from international-quality opera to top-drawer football. All this is underpinned by one of the most diverse populations in Brazil, which in any case is a very diverse country. Sao Paulo has a similar story to many US cities, with its huge growth in the early 20th century being fuelled by tens of thousands of immigrants from Europe, particularly Italy, France and Portugal. This is partly responsible for the city's specialising in highbrow 'European' art forms and also for the early introduction of football to Brazil.
Where to Stay in São Paulo
Avenida Paulista is at the heart of São Paulo, so we recommend staying at any of the number of good hotels in the area. Avenida Paulista is known for being the most expensive strip of real estate in all of Latin America, and many of the hotels are business-focussed and fairly impersonal in general. For properties with more character, it’s worth splashing out and staying in the Jardins district. Often compared to Knightsbridge in London, it is home to many of the swankier, high-end hotels in Sao Paulo.
The exception to this would be if you are just having a night in São Paulo en route to somewhere else. The traffic in the city, it has to be said, is horrendous, and both major city airports are some way out of town so if you want to avoid a really long transfer at both ends you are best advised to stay in one of the range of airport hotels available.
What to See and Do in São Paulo
Sao Paulo doesn’t really have many standout sights or major landmarks, and for the most part being here is much like being in any other major metropolis. Fortunately this means not spending too much time being led around on a guided tour of Sao Paulo, and more time available to live like a Paulista and get the feel of this city through its cultural attractions.
Museum of Modern Art
The Sao Paulo Museum of Art, or MASP, is home to the finest European art collection in the entire Southern hemisphere as well as a vast collection of local Brazilian art, and is well worth the trip. The building which houses the museum is itself considered a landmark and is an iconic symbol of Brazilian architecture. If you're particularly interested in art, then you might also like to visit the Pinacoteca in Jardim da Luz. Founded in 1905, this museum focuses more on Brazilian art, and is renowned for its collection of 19th century works, including paintings and sculptures. The Jardim da Luz is a beautiful public park in its own right, and a great place to relax after wandering around the museum.
If you're looking for a more Central Park experience, Sao Paulo’s answer to New York City is Ibirapuera Park. This green lung in the heart of Sao Paulo's concrete jungle is home to the Museum of Modern Art (MAM), Sao Paulo’s Planetarium, the Obelisk of Sao Paulo, the Air Force and Folklore museums, as well as the sunbathers and joggers you’d expect to find in any major park. There’s enough here to keep any visitor occupied for hours, and it's a must-see on any holiday in Sao Paulo.
Brazilian Grand Prix
As for special events, Sao Paulo attracts some of the greatest sports and entertainment from around the world, and plays host to the annual Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Interlagos. Brazilians are passionate motorsport fans, and this is one of the great Grand Prix arenas, so if you're in Brazil in November then we'd definitely recommend fitting this in to your holiday.
Eating Out and Nightlife in São Paulo
As you'd expect from Brazil's largest city, you can find just about every kind of food and nightlife in São Paulo, from world-renowned restaurants to fantastic street food. Certainly if you're looking for a traditional Brazilian churrascaria or great Italian food then you're spoilt for choice, but you can also enjoy arguably South America's best Japanese food in the Liberdade district, which is like a giant Chinatown.
When it comes to nightlife, São Paulo really does put to shame other cities' claims to 'never sleep': nightlife here is truly all night and well into the early hours. Central districts like Vila Olimpia and Vila Madalena have a massive selection of cafes, bars and clubs which will be open long after you've headed home, with everything from cutting-edge electronica to thrash metal on tap.
Flights To and From São Paulo
Getting to São Paulo from the UK is easy – BA and TAM both have direct flights from Heathrow, and other European airlines such as KLM and Air France make regular flights with just one stop in Amsterdam or Paris on the way. Sao Paulo is also a good entry point for a longer holiday in Brazil, being well connected to just about every major Brazilian city directly, especially Rio, Salvador, Foz do Iguacu, and Cuiaba. The city's second airport, Congonhas, is also a growing hub for budget flights to more minor destinations within Brazil.
Transport Within São Paulo
The road traffic in Sao Paulo is honestly just appalling, so it's a relief that the city is well-served by an excellent metro system which covers almost all the areas you're likely to want to visit while you're in town.
The problem comes with getting in and out, as neither of the city's major airports - and in particular the main Guarulhos international airport - are on the Metro. The only way to get into the city from the airport is by transfer or taxi, and be prepared for quite a long journey - allow an absolute minimum of an hour. We know it's not the perfect start to a holiday in Sao Paulo but honestly: it'll be worth it!
Tailor-made Tours in Sao Paulo
All our holidays in Brazil are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the tours you see above, or just plan a trip completely from scratch then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday in Sao Paulo!
Did you know?
Over the past few decades, large numbers of Japanese, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants have made their homes here in Sao Paulo, making it one of the best places in the world to eat Arabic or Japanese food! In fact, we'll stick our necks out and say that the Liberdade district has some of the best Japanese food you'll find anywhere in the world.