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São Paulo, Brazil City Guide

by Sabrina Smelko

saopaolo-city-guide

Isadora Sinay grew up in a small town an hour’s drive from São Paulo, Brazil, but after moving to the bustling city for school — where she received her degree in filmmaking — she stayed put. “I call this city home,” Isadora begins, “and am deeply in love with it despite some of the problems it may have.”

When she’s not busy working on her PhD in Jewish Literature or working as a writer and translator, Isadora can be found reading, watching films, caring for her two cats and exploring this great city. Boasting a countryside and natural landscape fit for postcards, you may wonder why anyone would opt for the metropolis that is São Paulo over other areas of Brazil — but the diverse city offers vast options for everything from food, to outings to nightlife. One of the most populous cities in the world, vibrant São Paulo is known to be a hub for the financial industry as much as it’s known for its rich culture and architecture, and today, Isadora is taking us on a virtual tour of her (almost) hometown. –Sabrina

Photography courtesy of each location

PLACES TO EAT

Food is one of the strong points of São Paulo. Even if you live here for a long time, there are always more places opening up to try, ranging from Michelin-starred to traditional Chinese.

dalva e dito

Starting with the fancier ones: Alex Atala is probably Brazil’s most famous chef and his restaurant D.O.M has a Michelin star. The food is inventive and contemporary, and the ambiance is sophisticated. If you’re looking for something cozier, Atala offers reinventions of Brazilian classics in his other (less expensive) restaurant Dalva e Dito.

carlota

Remixing local ingredients is also the spirit of Carlota, my personal favorite in town. A more international sort of food, with Italian and Argentinian influences, can be found at Arturito (although, for this one you should book ahead).

Ethnic food is easy to find, and great options come at a cheap price. If you’re willing to have some sort of anthropological experience, head to Chi Fu in traditional neighborhood, Liberdade. The place is all made of white marble and golden inscriptions, most of the waitstaff speak in broken Portuguese, and they don’t accept credit cards — but the food is incredible.

Close to hip street Augusta you can find two other great options: Gopala Hari which serves vegetarian Indian food (and gets packed at lunchtime), and Made in Thai, a tiny place with great pad thai. Downtown, Riconcito Peruano can be a little hard to find, but the Peruvian food is authentic.

made in thai

In the last few years, a lot of cafes have been opening around. My favorite is Por um Punhado de Dólares (that’s Portuguese for “a few dollars more”) which serves great coffee and delicious cakes in a quiet, nice atmosphere.

PLACES TO SHOP

Oscar Freire street is the city heart for expensive shopping. There you can find most luxury brands and also a few intruders (such as Forever21). If big brands, both international and local, are what you’re looking for, you can also try one of the city’s many malls.

For a different kind of shopping, you can stroll around the Vila Madalena neighborhood. At night, it gets crowded with nightlife, but during daytime it’s a quiet, lovely area where you can find the country’s most inventive fashion designers, such as Ronaldo Fraga and Fernanda Yamamoto.

bixiga

On the weekends, two great flea markets occur: On Saturdays in Benedito Calixto square, and on Sundays in Bixiga, the Italian neighborhood.

For furniture, Pinheiros is the best area. Look for antiques and design shops around Cardeal Arcoverde street and, if you want to go home with some local music, Conceição Discos offers a good selection. The shop also serves lunch, coffe and great pudim (a local dessert similar to a flan, but much better)!

PLACES TO STAY

São Paulo is a place filled with mostly five-star hotels or big international chains, but HBB, a boutique hostel in Vila Madalena, is a fantastic option. They offer private rooms and breakfast, everything with beautiful minimalist design.

hbb

PLACES TO VISIT / SEE

As the country’s cultural center, São Paulo is a city rich in museums. The main one is MASP, an imposing building right in the middle of Paulista Avenue, designed by famous architect Lina Bo Bardi. The museum houses some European masters (such as Monet, Renoir and Caravaggio) and a great selection of Brazil’s most important painters, along with revolving temporary exhibitions.

MASP

Bo Bardi’s particular style of architecture can also be found at Sesc Pompeia, a cultural center with concerts and art exhibits.

sesc pompeia

The center of the city is a worthy place to visit. It hasn’t exactly been well-cared-for, so a lot of the buildings look old, but it’s still possible to glimpse the glamour of former times and enjoy examples of art deco architecture. Check out exhibits at CCBB or Pinacoteca and visit the beautiful Theatro Municipal, São Paulo’s main theather, built in the 19th century. You can also climb on Martinelli Building, the city’s first skyscraper, for a panoramic view.

theatro municipal

In front of the Pinacoteca, in Luz Train Station, is the delightful Museum of the Portuguese Language that sadly has been closed up due to a recent fire, but we hope it can reopen soon.

If you’re interested in one of Brazil´s biggest cultural aspects, head to the Museum of Soccer. It’s located inside a stadium and shows rotating exhibits on soccer and its relation to people around the world.

If you’re craving a bit of fresh air, São Paulo’s biggest green area is the Ibirapuera Park that also houses a couple museums (Modern Art and African-Brazilian Art) and a Planetarium.

To finish off the day, you should experience a bit of São Paulo’s nightlife. Even though in recent years, the culture has been changing, the city is still a nocturnal place with some areas really coming alive past 10 pm. Check out the streets around Augusta, packed with bars and nightclubs. The population is varied, but mostly LGBT, and if you don’t mind a crowd, choose a bar in Vila Madalena — or if you feel adventurous, choose a place around Roosevelt Square and watch the kids skating the night away!

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Comments

  • Hi, my name is Luiz. I live in São Paulo and your guide is very complete :)
    I would love to be a tourist guide here someday, just for fun.

  • What a fantastic blog post. I have always wanted to visit Brazil but was kind of nervous because for some reason I thought it was dangerous. After reading this I am convinced that I have to go. Thank you again for this and please continue to blog. I love it.

  • I’m sorry but that selection is very touristy and doesn’t have the same depth and local authority other D*S city guides have, unfortunately. Sao Paulo is amazing and has soooo much more to do!

  • I’d say most of the tips are expensive choices and restricted to those who have a good budget. It’s hard to summarize everything here, but, for example, if you wanna buy cheap products (like jewelry, toys etc), you should definitely go to Rua 25 de Março, a popular commerce center.
    For cheap clothes, Bras and Bom Retiro are the places to go.

  • Excellent guide about Sao Paula Miss. Sabrina, for sure you managed to explore different places and their qualities, very good, thanks for the photos.

  • Hey Sabrina,

    You really did a great job here. I’m from Brazil, I live in Sao Paulo for 10 years and you’ve collected some good stuff from our city.

    Just to remember: Sao Paulo is one the biggest city in most diversity of food (there are so many different types culinary here) and there are a lot of places to shopping too (but the prices aren’t good).

    Well, awesome job. I enjoyed it :)

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