An insider's guide to the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere - São Paulo.
From it's lesser visited modernist concrete bowels to it's leafier jet set neighbourhoods, to appreciate the fascinating cosmopolitan tapestry of this sprawling megacity one must wander beyond where most guide books recommend. Many visitors to Brazil overlook São Paulo, intimidated by the city's size and brutalism, in favour of the postcard views of it's rivals but to do so is to miss out on Brazil's most dynamic and culturally diverse city. Ironically, its lack of tourist hordes makes the locals - known as Paulistas - often far warmer and welcoming to visitors than Rio's more notorious Cariocas and their reputation for inviting people over but never revealing the address...
There may not be a beach - although the state beaches of the Costa Verde an hour or two's drive away are some of the most stunning in the country - but for art, architecture, gastronomy, music, fashion, nightlife and pretty much everything else - SP is the place to be.
The rich immigrant heritage of Brazil's coffee boom town (read The history of coffee in Brazil) combined with it's progressive dynamism driven by it's young and creative Paulistas makes the city a uniquely exciting destination aptly described as if New York threw up on Los Angeles.
To keep up to date - these are our favourite local Instagram accounts to follow:
- @saopauloantiga for crumbling old architectural gems
- For street life check out @role_sp , @carlosbela and @rodrigobw
- For local influencers keep an eye on local empresarios @victorcollor and @facundoguerra
We have also written more granular guides to specific neighbourhoods including Mooca and Liberdade, a guide to the Oscar Niemeyer designed buildings of the city and a guide to the old Paulista barbershops.
We shall be releasing the guide as a serialisation so stay tuned for each new section out every couple of weeks.
Up until the 1970s, downtown São Paulo was brimming with handsome hotels with eye-catching names (Jaraguá, Rebequino) renowned for their service. But the well heeled then began to migrate away and decades of abandonment and neglect saw most of these listed buildings shutter or, at best, get taken over by cheap hotel chains. More recently, businesses and residents have been gradually creeping back into the beautiful old buildings of the buzzing historic centre.
Today, the entire city is littered with bland business hotel chains that, despite being affordable, are best avoided. But if you must pick one, head to the centrally located Maksoud Plaza Hotel still stuck in its 1980s rock’n’roll hey day (if there try the newly opened Frank Bar dedicated to Mr Sinatra who used to stay and play there) or, for the more adventurous, try the spartan 1960s corporate Tokyo atmosphere of the Nikkey Palace Hotel in São Paulo’s dystopian Japanese district of Liberdade and popular with frugal Japanese businessmen (read our guide The Liberdade list).
Surprisingly for Latin America’s most economically important metropolis, there is a dearth of quality design hotels. Nonetheless, there are still a handful of excellent boutique options located in the wealthier neighbourhoods of Jardins and Itaim which have ruled the local luxury hotel roost for the past decade - the Emiliano (if you need a rooftop helicopter landing pad), Hotel Unique (the best outdoor pool with stunning views) and the Fasano (the best in town). For pure palatial luxury away from the hectic city centre head to the newly opened Palácio Tangará hidden in the Atlantic forest of Burle Marx park.
The new Rosewood hotel under construction as part of the renovated Cidade Matarazzo complex will be a welcome competitor when it opens in 2019. Even renowned chef Alex Atala is expanding his hospitality empire with plans for a D.O.M. Hotel in the Jardins neighbourhood.
For those on a more sensible budget and that want the authenticity of downtown Paulista living - stay in Oscar Niemeyer’s iconic utopian COPAN building in a small but recently renovated top floor studio all done to original specifications (read Oscar Niemeyer in São Paulo) or stay nearby in a journalist’s converted loft in the modernist building Edifício Esther which was famous in the 1950s for its wealthy residents and playboy party scene.
If AirBnB isn’t your thing, try the centrally located bed and breakfast Pousada Dona Ziláh with a few rooms set in a turn of the century house.