Insider Guide: Best of São Paulo

Insider Guide: Best of São Paulo

Residents call it "Sampa" -- that's not the only local secret you'll find in this guide to one of the world's most vibrant megacities
São Paulo is one of the world's largest cities, not only by population, but by geography. Smart travelers pack some comfy futewear.

With all there is to see and do in South America’s largest city, the sheer size of the metropolis (estimated population around 20 million) often stuns the uninitiated visitor. 

Winding, one-way roads, steep hills and vastly different neighborhoods mean you'll need a plan in place to get the most out of your stay.

Don't despair -- getting to the locations that showcase the best of São Paulo isn't as hard as it might seem.

Print and go -- Our traveler-friendly one-page guide here: Best of São Paulo

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Hotels

Luxury 

Extravagance awaits behind these wooden doors. Hotel Fasano

Stepping through the entrance of the Hotel Fasano, you’re transported to the early 20th century, when a hotel experience was geared toward wealthy travelers expecting luxury. 

Warm, wooden decor and a grinning bartender convince you that wherever you'd planned to rush off to can wait.

Guest rooms are no less alluring, a mix of modern and '50s style mod, full of amenities like iPod stations, soaking tubs, towel warmers and panoramic views. 

Outside its walls you’ll find all the additional luxuries of São Paulo’s best neighborhood on the famous street, Rua Oscar Freire, and surrounding roads. 

Hotel Fasano, Rua Vittorio Fasano, 88, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3896 4000; from R$1,318 ($615)

 

Perfect place for creative contemplation. Hotel Unique

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger has called Hotel Unique "one of the seven wonders of the modern world."

Is it a ship? Some kind of space vehicle? 

Guests might never figure out what the massive, metallic semi-sphere is meant to be. But inside this best of São Paulo hotel there are plenty of interesting spaces in which to contemplate the question, including poolside on a rooftop deck that overlooks the lovely Jardins area of the city. 

Hotel Unique, Avenida Brigadeiro Luís Antonio, 4700, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3055 4700; from R$799 ($375);

More than a place to sleep. Emiliano

If you’re touring São Paulo by helicopter (which is best, considering the traffic), you’re in luck at the Emiliano; this hotel has a private, rooftop helicopter pad.

Staff will arrange for an attendant to unpack your suitcases and a chauffer to drive you around the city. 

In house is the Champagne & Caviar Bar and upscale Emiliano Restaurant.

But the hotel is on Rua Oscar Freire, known for its high-end shops and restaurants, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue a spree once you walk outside. 

Emiliano, Rua Oscar Freire, 384, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3068 4393; from R$1,350 ($630)

Mid-Range 

Looks inviting, but test the temperature before a plunge. Staybridge Suites São Paulo

Conveniently located in the Brascan Century Plaza, which has a movie theater and a number of restaurants, the Staybridge is close to one of São Paulo’s biggest business districts. 

The modern design of the rooms against a backdrop of the city skyline creates a cool, urban feel.

The Staybridge has a gym and outdoor swimming pool (unheated, so beware before you jump in during the surprisingly cold São Paulo winter). 

Staybridge Suites São Paulo; Rua Bandeira Paulista, 555, Itaim Bibi; +55 (11) 3706 6600; from R$360 ($169)

 

Rest stop for city adventures. Mercure São Paulo Jardins

This member of the Mercure chain is in Jardins Paulista, close to São Paulo’s best restaurants and stores. 

Hotel amenities include a gym, indoor swimming pool, sauna and a business center. But since you’ll spend most of your time on the streets, it works well as a comfortable place to check your emails and rest your head. 

Mercure São Paulo Jardins, Alameda Itu, 1151, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3089 7555; from R$224 ($105)

  

Budget 

All the basics in a convenient location. Ibis Budget São Paulo Paulista

What was formerly the Formule 1 Hotel -- built specifically for guest overflow during the Formula 1 season -- is now managed by Accor Hotels. 

The accommodations are basic, but the Rua da Consolação location means it’s within walking distance of a number of neighborhoods and the subway. 

Ibis Budget São Paulo Paulista, Rua da Consolação 2303, Consolação; +55 (11) 3123 7755; from R$175 ($82)

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Dining

Amazonian mushrooms and other exotic ingredients make D.O.M. a best of São Paulo restaurant. D.O.M.

"Restaurant" magazine named this sophisticated Brazilian eatery, helmed by chef and author Alex Atala, the sixth best in the world.

Dishes use ingredients unique to Brazil, such as mushrooms from the Amazon and the medicinal beldroega from the Northeast. These delicacies are best enjoyed in a tasting-menu format so you can sample a maximum amount of flavors. 

Make reservations as soon as possible -- locals sometimes wait months for a table. If you don’t score a table at D.O.M., around the corner you'll find Dalva e Dito, Atala’s other restaurant. 

D.O.M., Rua Barão de Capanema, 549, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3088 0761; Monday–Friday, noon–3 p.m., 7 p.m–midnight., Saturday, 7 p.m.– midnight, closed Sundays; expensive

 

More than just meat. Vento Haragano

Churrasco is Brazilian barbecue, but churrascarias take this simple concept to an extreme: various cuts and categories of meat are served at your table by an endless (until you end it) parade of wandering waiters. 

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The prime cut is called picanha (beef) -- request it before moving on to other options.

Tip: don’t be too tempted by tapas placed on your table by the restaurant’s crafty staff -- save space for the good stuff. 

For the meat-averse, Vento Haragano -- an obvious best of São Paulo pick -- has an extensive salad bar with nearly everything else imaginable, including sushi, fine cheeses and antipastos. The restaurant also has a good selection of wines. 

There’s an additional advantage for those traveling with children: a huge second-floor playroom complete with monitores (baby sitters) to keep the kids occupied.

Vento Haragano, Avenida Rebouças, 1001, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3083 4265; Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m., 6-11:45 p.m., Saturday and holidays, noon-midnight, Sunday, noon-11 p.m.; expensive

 

Best view in the city. Terraço Itália

Thanks to the large number of Italian immigrants in town, there's no lack of cuisine from the country.

What Terraço Itália has on its competitors in the category, however, is the best view in São Paulo. 

From both the 41st-floor restaurant and the 42nd-floor bar you can see a mile past forever while enjoying the restaurant’s Tuscan fare. A stroll along the walkway outside will show you just how massive the city is. 

Terraço Itália, Avenida Ipiranga, 344, Centro; +55 (11) 2189 2929; Monday-Thursday, noon-3 p.m., 7 p.m.-midnight., Friday, noon-3 p.m., 7 p.m.-midnight, Saturday, noon-4 p.m., 7 p.m.-1 a.m., Sunday, noon-4 p.m., 7-11 p.m.; moderate to expensive

 

Where art and eating meet. Mercearia do Conde

Part restaurant, part gallery, Mercearia is great for taking in all of the interesting works that hang on the walls and from the ceiling. 

The food is as appetizing as the atmosphere.

Mercearia means “grocery” and the establishment started out as a grocery store, then eventually evolved into a full-fledged eatery. 

You'll find both familiar and unfamiliar dishes on the fusion menu. An adventurous start would be the mix de entradas da casa (appetizers of the house) as a preview of the restaurant’s eclectic options. 

Mercearia do Conde, Rua Joaquim Antunes, 221, Pinheiros; +55 (11) 3081 7204; Monday–Wednesday, noon–4 p.m., 7 p.m.-midnight, Thursday, noon-midnight, Friday: noon–1 a.m., Saturday, 12:30 p.m.–1 a.m., Sunday, 12:30–11 p.m.; moderate

 

So simple, so good. Feijoada da Lana

Feijoada is often considered Brazil’s national dish.

Dried meat stew accompanied by beans, rice, the root-based farofa, fried collard greens called couve and sometimes a few slices of orange makes a simple, yet surprisingly delicious meal. 

Feijoada da Lana serves a top-of-the-line version of the dish buffet-style, with a variety of complimentary cachaça (sugar-cane liquor) to accompany it.

Meals start with sopa de feijão, a black bean soup to which you can add garlic, green onions, bacon and even a bit of the cachaça. 

The restaurant is rustic and offers garden-style seating as well as tables indoors.

Tip: you may find yourself waiting for a seat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the traditional days for feijoada feasting. 

Feijoada da Lana, Rua Aspicuelta, 421, Vila Madalena; +55 (11) 3814 9191; Monday-Friday, noon-5:30 p.m., Saturday, 12:30-5:30 p.m., Sunday, 12:30-5 p.m.; moderate

  

One big stack of meat. Bar do Mané at Mercado Municipal

The mortadella sandwich is a famous São Paulo snack that uses a pile of Italian bologna-type sausage of the same name. 

There are a number of places to pick one up at the Mercado Municipal, the city’s largest food market, but the most traditional is at the famous Bar do Mané, a best of São Paulo establishment that claims to have been stacking these sandwiches since 1933. 

The most popular version is served hot with provolone cheese. It's customary to drink it with chopp -- Brazilian draft beer. 

Bar do Mané, Rua da Cantareira, 306, Sé (inside the Mercado Municipal); +55 (11) 3228 2141; Monday–Saturday, 4 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday, 6 a.m.–3 p.m.; budget

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Nightlife

Now this is a creative cocktail. Boteco São Bento

A boteco is a corner bar where you might catch a group of elderly men drinking cachaça at any point during the day.

But in São Paulo, trendy “botecos” have fabulous food, creative caipirinhas (a cocktail made with cachaça and fruit) and live music. 

Boteco São Bento is one such establishment that has capitalized on the concept. It has everything a neighborhood boteco offers, but with more selection and sophistication, and still makes for a great local hangout. 

Boteco São Bento (two SP locations): Rua Mourato Coelho, 1060, Vila Madalena, 05417-001; Rua Leopoldo Couto Magalhães j.r, 480, Itaim Bibi; +55 (11) 3074 4389; Monday-Sunday, noon-2 a.m.; live music on Monday and Tuesday: 8-11 p.m., Saturday, 4-8 p.m.; moderate to expensive

 

Cool jazz, warm atmosphere. Casa de Francisca

This Jardins home-turned-art-house-music-establishment is low key and cool in the way only a place that caters to old-school, alternative Brazilian jazz can be. 

With tiny tables and a limited menu, the focus isn’t on coziness and cuisine (although the food, such as house-made gnocchi, is delicious). No, when the lights go down and this multi-level space glimmers from its antique chandeliers to its candle-lit table lamps, the mood is beyond luxurious. 

Tip: If you can’t secure a reservation, you can try asking about cancellations before they open the doors. 

Casa de Francisca, Rua José Maria Lisboa, 190, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3052 0547; Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.-1 a.m.; moderate

 

The balada destination for young paulistanos. Alberta #3

This bar is named after Bob Dylan’s cover of “Alberta” and the chill mood matches the music honored. 

The place transforms from pub to nightclub as the evening rolls on. You’ll catch the hip, indie Brazilian crowd mellowing out until the dance tunes begin. 

This is one of the best places in São Paulo for balada, an all-night party destination for young paulistanos (the demonym given to local residents). 

Alberta #3, Avenida São Luís, 272, República; +55 (11) 3151 5299; Tuesday, 7 p.m.- 3 a.m., Wednesday and Thursday, 7 p.m.-5 a.m., Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.-6 a.m.; budget to moderate

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Shopping

Customize your own pair on Rua Oscar Freire. Havaianas

This ultra-comfortable flip-flop made of rubber from the Amazon now comes in far fancier options than the ones made famous in its original line. 

At the flagship store on Rua Oscar Freire, you can create a custom pair or just trick out an existing sandal. 

The shop also sells custom-made socks for these stylish sandals. 

Havaianas, Rua Oscar Freire, 1116, Jardim Paulista; see website for additional locations; +55 (11) 3079 3415; Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sunday, noon-6 p.m.; budget to expensive

 

What separates men from boys is the price of their toys. Tools & Toys

Need a new yacht? 

Perhaps your helicopter is out of fashion? 

Located in the ultra high-end Shopping Cidade Jardins, this best of São Paulo shop has plenty of big-ticket toys to choose from. 

Even if you’re not in the market for a new Sea Doo or Ferrari, it’s fun to look around. 

Tools & Toys, Shopping Cidade Jardim, 3/F, Av. Magalhães Castro, Morumbi; +55 (11) 3552 4000; Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday and holidays, noon-10 p.m.; expensive

 

Latest Brazilian fashion trends at this boutique. Boutique Daslu

If your shopping objectives include Brazilian fashion, the best place to go is Boutique Daslu, where everything “in” is in the store. 

The Daslu brand's original style reflects the high-end trends of the city. 

Boutique Daslu, Shopping JK Iguatemi, Avenida Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek, 2041, Vila Olímpia; see website for additional locations; +55 (11) 3152 6601; Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday, 2-10 p.m.; expensive

 

Fashion, food and music in one place. SP Night Market

Every month this shopping event brings together a number of boutique outlets in one hip, best of São Paulo location. 

The theme is fashion and food, with vendors selling clothing, jewelry, accessories, art, wine, gourmet snacks, sweet treats and more. 

Expect a welcome cocktail (free with admission) and some live music to loosen up your wallet. 

SP Night Market, location and times vary, see website for details; R$20 ($10); +55 (11) 97962-1547

  

Attractions

There's plenty to do at São Paulo’s largest park. Ibirapuera Park

Often compared to New York’s Central Park, this attraction has all you'd want from a city park, including museums, planetarium, café, concert hall and plenty of space to ride bikes, walk and play. 

Famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer designed the buildings throughout Parque Ibirapuera, which means more than just the trees are aesthetically pleasing. 

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Warning: the park gets crowded on weekends. If you like your space, weekday or early Saturday morning visits are best. 

Ibirapuera Park, Avenida Pedro Álvares Cabral; Vila Mariana; +55 (11) 5574 5045; daily, 5 a.m.-midnight

 

There's more history than you might expect at this cultural museum. Museum Afro Brasil

To understand the deep heritage of the Brazilian people, you must examine centuries of its history. The best place in São Paulo to do so is the Museum Afro Brasil. 

From the enchanting to the disturbing, this collection of paintings, costumes, indigenous and religious artifacts, and photography will immerse you in the story of how African and indigenous people influenced all that is today’s Brazilian culture.

It takes a couple of hours or more if you want to see it all; the museum has multiple rooms and levels, plus exhibit space. 

Museum Afro Brasil, Parque Ibirapuera, Gate 10, Avenida Pedro Álvares Cabral +55 (11) 3320 8900; Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; free

 

Graffiti art is an important part of paulistano culture. MuBE

The Museu Brasileiro da Escultura is home to works that represent the contemporary pulse of the Brazilian artist. 

Graffiti, multimedia and giant three-dimensional structures are just some of the visual sustenance you can consume at the museum. 

Attached to the exhibit space, which includes a sculpture garden, is a restaurant where you can pick up some delicious Brazilian snacks or a full meal. 

The museum hosts theater productions, music performances and movies. 

MuBE, Avenida Europa, 218, Pinheiros; +55 (11) 2594 2601; Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; free

 

Brazil’s most important pastime -- but you knew that already, right? Museum of Futebol and Pacaembu Stadium

There’s a common passion that holds the country together as a united front against all who would oppose it -- futebol.

You’ll have a hard time finding a Brazilian who doesn’t follow a team. 

To get to know the most important Brazilian pastime, the Museu do Futebol is the place to visit.

Inside Pacaembu Stadium, the museum hosts a number of high-tech and interactive exhibits that lead you through the history of the sport.

Museum of Futebol and Pacaembu Stadium, Praça Charles Miller, Estádio do Pacaembu; +55 (11) 3664 3848; Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; R$6 ($3)

  

Coffee in São Paulo

Brazil is by far the world’s largest producer of coffee. The development of São Paulo has been heavily influenced by Brazil’s coffee boom in the early 1800s.

Today, coffee is a big part of the social scene.

Brazilians love the drink and the city has some exceptional places to enjoy a cup. 

Coffee place to see and be seen. Santo Grão

At this popular coffee house, it’s not just about the café, but seeing and being seen. 

The shop on Rua Oscar Freire is most often frequented by high-powered executives conducting private deals and ladies of luxury taking a break from their buying sprees.

You can buy sacks of the shop's signature beans to take with you. 

Santo Grão has a light menu and delicious juices. It also offers a nice selection of wines, which means the shop stays busy from morning until the twilight hours. 

Santo Grão, flagship shop, Rua Oscar Freire, 413, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3062 9294; Monday, 9 a.m.-1 a.m., Tuesday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-1 a.m., Friday, 8 a.m.-2 a.m., Saturday, 8 a.m.-2 a.m., Sunday, 8 a.m.-midnight; moderate; see website for other locations

 

Where they make a good cup of coffee, and a whole bunch of other good stuff. Octavio Café

Not your typical coffee house, Octavio’s structure is expansive and shaped like a giant coffee bean. 

It's really more of a full-fledged restaurant than a café. It even has a happy hour.

The draw is the coffee and beans that come from Predregulho, Alta Mogiana, the region that's famous for fabulous coffee. 

The seating is set up for all sorts of scenarios, including business meetings or enjoying a cup alone. 

Octavio Café, Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima, 2996, Jardins Paulistano; +55 (11) 3074 0110; Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-9:30 pm., Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; moderate

 

The place to jump-start your day… or afternoon… or evening. Suplicy Café

Founder Marco Suplicy comes from a long line of people with interest in coffee, and his pleasant shops reflect his passion for the brew.

The best of São Paulo café in Jardins caters to visitors to the shopping district. 

In addition to a cup of coffee, you can get some smoothies and juices. Menu options are limited to what is in the glass case -- mostly breads, sandwiches, quiches and desserts -- but the shop's blend of Brazilian beans is so savory you’ll want to grab a bag for the road. 

Suplicy Café, flagship shop, Alameda Lorena, 1430, Jardim Paulista; +55 (11) 3083 0666; Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; moderate; see website for other locations

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