The state capital, São Paulo is a city of contrasts. Its vast industrial park, one of the biggest and most modern in the world, attests to the force of the city’s dynamo, its elegant apartments and mansions demonstrate the wealth of its powerful business elite, and its cultural and gastronomic scenes rival those of New York and London.
But it also reflects Brazil’s strong socioeconomic disparities. While the areas close to the city center are rich and developed, the periphery suffers from a lack of infrastructure and severe poverty. Yet, even for its poor, São Paulo is a “carousel”, according to one of the city’s most respected journalists, Lourenço Diaféria. “São Paulo is a migrant city,” he notes. “Many people manage to rise here, if only because their origins were so humble.”
Despite the economic contrasts of São Paulo, its inhabitants share the usual Brazilian friendliness and joie de vivre. Much of this conviviality is attributed to Brazil’s enormous ethnic diversity, which can be seen at its best in São Paulo. The city’s 20 million inhabitants, almost 11 percent of Brazil’s population, place it among the largest cities on Earth, and it is home to more ethnic communities than any other city in the region.
São Paulo is the third-largest Italian city in the world, the largest Japanese city outside Japan, the biggest Portuguese city outside Portugal, the major Spanish city outside Spain, and the third-largest Lebanese city outside Lebanon – making the city a perfect host for games to be played during the 2014 World Cup. In contrast to other large Brazilian cities, black and mixed-race people make up less than 10 percent of São Paulo’s population.
MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo)
Avenida Paulista 1578
You need to go to the south of the city center (Metro Trianon-MASP) to visit MASP.This is São Paulo’s pride and joy, with nearly 1,000 pieces originating from Ancient Greece and contemporary Brazil. The unusual display arrangement – rows of paintings encased in smoked-glass slabs – was designed chiefly as a teaching aid. The museum is like an art-history book but offering the real thing. Raphael, Monet, and Picasso are just a few of the artists representing major European trends. The museum also includes a survey of Brazilian art from 19th-century court painters Almeida Júnior and Pedro Américo, to 20th-century Modernists Portinari, Di Cavalcanti, and Tarsila do Amaral.
There are few old buildings left in the city, but the Teatro Municipal is an eclectic building whose Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau styles evokes the elegant days of the 19th-century coffee barons (or alternatively, a miniature Paris Opera House). It was designed by the noted architect Francisco Ramos de Azevedo, and inaugurated in 1911. Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, and Enrico Caruso performed under the 1.5-tonne Swiss crystal chandelier, and must have been impressed by the marble, bronze, and onyx decor. The theatre has its own resident opera and dance companies.
A favorite oasis and São Paulo’s most important park and modern-art venue is the lovely Ibirapuera, a huge area of trees, lawns, and handsome pavilions. Today, some 200,000 paulistas use its playgrounds, picnic areas, and sports complex on sunny weekends. At the front of the park are two of São Paulo’s most noted monuments: the Obelisk and Mausoleum honoring heroes of the 1932 civil war, and the impressive Bandeirantes Monument, a tribute to the 17th-century pioneers. Ibirapuera features low-slung curving pavilions, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, one of which hosts São Paulo’s prestigious Bienal art shows; while, linked to the pavilion by an undulating walkway is the Museu de Arte Moderna, with changing exhibitions of work by Brazil’s contemporary artists.
Bela Vista, popularly known as Bixiga and to the south of the center, is São Paulo’s Little Italy. Rua 13 de Maio, Bixiga’s heart, is a row of green-and-red cantinas and pretty little two-story houses. Achiropita is the setting of an annual festival (weekends in August) celebrating wine, pasta, and music; Rua 13 de Maio is roped off as thousands gather for dancing, drinking, and eating – 3 tonnes of spaghetti and 40,000 pizzas have typically been consumed.
A sprawling neighborhood centered around Rua Galvão Bueno, Liberdade, São Paulo’s lively Japanese quarter, is home to 1.5 million Japanese, the largest population outside of Japan. Liberdade’s history began in June 1908, a history recounted at the exceptional Museu da Imigração Japonesa on Rua São Joaquim (the building also houses a school that teaches the ritual of the tea ceremony). Today, Liberdade is cherished by local people and tourists alike for its trendy shopping, top-quality oriental food, reasonably priced sushi and an unbeatable atmosphere.
Avenida Vital Brasil 1500
To the southwest of the city is the Instituto Butantã, founded in 1901 and one of the world’s leading centers for the study of poisonous snakes. It's a fascinating place, with altogether some 1,000 live snakes on the premises. The slithery reptiles are everywhere – coiled behind glass in ornate kiosks, piled one on top of the other in grassy habitats, stuffed and mounted in display cases next to hairy spiders and scorpions. Part of the collection was destroyed by fire in 2010.
266 Alameda Campinas, Jardim Paulista
tel: 11-2183 0500; reservations tel: 0800-130 080
A hotel in classic European style, part of the Leading Small Hotels of the World group.
4700 Avenida Brigadeiro Luis Antonio, Jardim Paulista
tel: 11-3055 4710
São Paulo’s most stylish and sought-after boutique hotel has a great pool area with city views and an equally stylish bar and restaurant.
549 Rua Barão de Capanema, Cerqueira Cesar
tel: 11-3088 0761
Creative Brazilian cooking at its best from one of Brazil’s most talented chefs. Outstanding.
1050 Rua 13 de Maio, Bela Vista
tel: 11-3283 1833
Exceptionally good Japanese food in traditional surroundings.
210 Rua Joaquim Antunes, Jardim Paulistano
tel: 11-3085 4148
Helena Rizzo is one of Brazil’s most creative chefs. Contemporary Brazilian food in charming surroundings.
1498 Rua Haddock Lobo, Cerqueira Cesar
tel: 11-3474 1333
One of the most traditional and most consistent barbecue houses.
Read more about Brazil in Insight Guides: Brazil
This brand new edition Insight Guide to Brazil has been fully revised and updated, and features a wealth of inspiring full-colour photography, including double page spreads of some of the most outstanding views. The top ten sights are identified to show you the very best of this ...Read full description
It would be fair to say that the Italian Lakes region, with its gorgeous looks, wealthy residents and jet-set repeat visitors, is pretty far from a cheap destination. Glamorous Milan is the most expen...Read More
With its mellow climate the Italian Lakes region produces all kinds of glorious produce, including olives, arborio risotto rice from Verona, Gorgonzola from Milan, and not least wine. Whether you are ...Read More