Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America, the third largest city in the world with an estimated 20 million people making the metropolis their home - only Tokyo and Mexico City can definitely claim to be larger at present. It is the major international entry port for Brazil and the business capital, an economic powerhouse that is driving the growth of Brazil into a global force.
Sao Paulo’s residents, the Paulistanos, think of their city as the cultural capital of Brazil, with many galleries, theatres and museums in amongst the shining skyscrapers. The Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) is the centre-piece of Avenida Paulista, the main avenue in the city. The Jardins district a couple of blocks away also plays host to the most glamorous shopping in Brazil. The glamour quotient rises in November, when the Brazil Grand Prix takes place at the Interlagos circuit on the outskirts of the city. The glamorous people come from all over Brazil and the world to enjoy the race.
This has long been the story of Sao Paulo from its founding as a staging post for early bandeirante expeditions leaving the Sao Vicente and Santos ports on the coast to climb up to the plateau and head into the interior searching for gold and indigenous people to enslave. The founding of the city was in Patio de Colegio, commemorated in the Anchieta Museum, and the more recent Peace Bell outside the church there is fun to ring. Sao Paulo has always attracted many different kinds of people and is one of the ethnically diverse cities on the planet, with large communities of descendants from Portugal, Italy, Spain, Germany, Ukraine, Lebanon, Korea and Japan especially, as well as a large Jewish community. The city’s economic success also continues to attract people from all over Brazil as well, the residents reflecting the diversity of the country more than any other city.
This diversity is reflected in the cosmopolitan cuisine of Sao Paulo, with restaurants serving every type of Brazilian and international food imaginable. Paulistanos celebrate this aspect every night in districts across the city. Shopping is another popular pastime with many of Brazil’s finest shopping centres in the more affluent districts around the huge city. Both of these favourites can be experience in the Liberdade district, the home of the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.
Other city highlights include the Museums of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Ibirapuera Park, and the Paulista Museum. The more classical buildings of downtown Sao Paulo include the Sé Cathedral, the Sao Bento monastery, the Municipal Theatre and the Municipal Market. The Independence of Brazil was also declared on the margins of the Ipiranga River in the city, by the soon to be Emperor Dom Pedro.
The nightlife of Sao Paulo thrives alongside its restaurants, with areas such as Rua Augusta, Jardins and Vila Madalena amongst others. A modern cultural experience can be found at one of the stadiums of three giants of Brazilian football to be found in the city – Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Corinthians. Classico matches between these three teams and Santos are best attended only with local advice, but many other matches take place throughout the never-ending football season as well, in the Sao Paulo State, Brazil and South American championships.
As many people will be visiting Sao Paulo on business or for conferences and no doubt enjoying some classic Brazilian hospitality during the working week, it may be useful to know about the opportunities to escape the city for a couple of nights at the weekend or the end of a business trip to Sao Paulo. The state of Sao Paulo is far more than just a metropolis, there are many weekend mountain hideaways and beach retreats within a few hours’ drive of the city. Travel times have to be considered for all these places though, because at weekends and especially public holiday periods, half the city tries to leave at the same time, so journeys can take hours longer.
The Paulista coast includes the beautiful island of Ilha Bela at the start of the Costa Verde, with jungle-covered mountains, beautiful beaches, waterfalls and surf. The surf beaches such as Maresia and Juquey are also popular weekend escapes, although perhaps a little more residential. Caraguatatuba and Ubatuba are two beach towns a little further up the spectacular Costa Verde coastal road, with (almost) tropical islands and beaches galore. As you cross the state line into Rio de Janeiro, and also cross the Tropic of Capricorn, Paraty is the jewel of the Costa Verde which can also be reached within a few hours of Sao Paulo.
There are also interior options in the mountains around Sao Jose do Campos on the highway to Rio de Janeiro, with Campos do Jordao being a European-style mountain town. Brotas north-west of the city is a wonderful adventurous option. In any of these places, once there you may be amazed by how relaxed and sometimes even quiet they can be, when compared to the hectic nature of Sao Paulo. More details of these destinations can be found on our Weekend Escapes from Sao Paulo page.
Suitable Destination For: Those who enjoy megacities and want to experience the buzz of 20 million people; culture vultures; lovers of cosmopolitan cuisine.
Best Time to Visit: Sao Paulo has no real tourist season! Most people visit on business and stay only a short time afterwards, travelling on to other places outside of the city. The summer months are hot and often polluted, with a heavy storm in the late afternoon almost every day. Winter months are cool at night. The Formula 1 Grand Prix in November is the most glamorous event of the year.
Essential Sights & Activities: Sao Paulo is an impressive sight from the window of a plane as you come in to land, with endless miles of skyscrapers in a real concrete jungle; the museums of the city including MASP and the Pinacoteca; the city view from the cafe at the top of Edificio Italia; shopping in Jardins; Urban Graffiti