Welcome to São Paulo, or better yet bem vindo.
Like walking into a top-of-the-line churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse), São Paulo begs the question: where to begin? With more than 20 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area, Brazil’s biggest and busiest city boasts slices of life to fill the proverbial plates of everyone from business travelers and backpackers to families and solo adventurers.
São Paulo is known as the business center of Brazil, if not South America, and some of the continent’s priciest real estate lines the downtown streets. But the people here surely understand how to play too. São Paulo—or Sampa as it’s sometimes called—features a nightlife unparalleled in Brazil (though the cariocas in Rio might argue otherwise), as evidenced by the hundreds of bars, lounges and discos in the centrally located Vila Olimpia and Vila Madalena alone.
Before the baladas start, however, Paulistas and visitors alike can devote their energies to Brazil’s utmost selection of cultural activities: ballet, cinema, opera, orchestra and theatre, etc.
Outside, in a megalopolis where even the heavens seem to be paved with concrete, nature and tranquility have a home at Parque do Ibirapuerra. Within the 1.6 million square-meters of green space, Paulistanos escape—or at least slow down—the city that never stops. On the weekends, the park fills with residents looking to exercise, stroll with loved ones or just cuddle up with a newspaper.
For those who consider shopping to be a sport, the competition here is unrivaled by any city south of New York. Shoppings—used as a noun here—are present throughout the city. On the weekends, open air markets fill with browsers looking for artists’ creations, second-hand novels and boutique clothing, among other goods.
On the cutting board, restaurant-saturated neighborhoods like Jardim, Pinheiros and Itaim Bibi evince São Paulo’s culinary prowess. For the suits, the city swims in the sort of steakhouses, such as Fogo de Chão, which have brought Brazilian food to the world. Similar, albeit more austere, all-you-can-eat establishments have more palatable price tags for carnivorous budget travelers. The city’s melting pot consistency also means world-class sushi, pizza and pasta are generally within walking distance. And almost everywhere serves hamburgers.
Staying over? Might as well. It’s not like you can see this place in a week, let alone a day. Plus, São Paulo has some of the finest hotels in Brazil. Of the country’s ten best hotels as ranked by the popular Brazilian guidebook Guia Quatro Rodas, four are in the city of São Paulo, including the top-rated Hilton Sao Paulo Morumbi in Brooklin Novo, with another two in São Paulo state. A litany of options for tighter wallets exist as well. Even pets have a place to stay on their own at the Gang dos Bichos hotel.
For those needing to get away, beaches, ski slopes and charming small towns are all within a few hours by car or by bus. Also, flights to every other major airport in the country depart from either Congonhas or Guarulhos International airports.