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Brazil: Sao Paulo

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São Paulo is not often on the radar for visitors to Brazil. But it is one of the largest, most innovative, dynamic and diverse cities in the world and if you love the urban environment you shouldn't ignore it.  Founded in the 16th century, this capital of commerce has mushroomed relentlessly and now has a population of over 12 million. But it is not a homogenous metropolis: a city fashioned by immigrants, it is composed of a jigsaw of contrasting neighbourhoods, each with a distinctive cultural or economic identity. Liberdade is the largest Japanese community outside their home country. Bela Vista is a jumble of small lanes lined by homes founded by Italians. Jardins is the posh bit, with leafy residential streets, chic restaurants, designer boutiques and upmarket hotels. The compact historic centre – as recently as the 19th century a rustic core - is dwarfed by modern skyscrapers but defined by the extensive Praça de Sé with its grand, bulky cathedral.  The city’s foremost artery, the Avenida Paulista, once beloved of coffee barons with the finest promenade, hosts excellent museums as does the Luz district further away from the centre.

This is the cultural heart of Brazil, overwhelming, yes; but pick out the areas you are interested in and it is well worth a visit. Concerts halls, art galleries, and open spaces – there is a multitude of parks – proliferate. Sport has a high profile too - there’s a Formula One Grand Prix circuit and world class football teams. Paulistas are known for their work ethic and always seem to be on the move: you'll find them friendly and helpful.

Our insider tips for Sao Paulo


Sarah Bradley

Ascend to a rooftop bar and observation platform at the summit of the Italia building overlooking Praca da Republica for an evening  cocktail and survey the city sprawling below as millions of lights come on – a lifetime memory.


David Nichols

In Vila Madelena head for ‘Batman Alley’, a couple of lanes decorated with brightly coloured, regularly changing murals as well as work by famous street artists. This is one of the most bohemian parts of town – arty, with bars, students and boisterous nightlife.


Chris Rendell-Dunn

On the last Sunday of every month you can attend mass with Gregorian chanting at the São Paulo monastery followed by brunch prepared by monks. A unique experience – advanced reservation essential, book it locally.


Laura Rendell-Dunn

Parque Ibirapuera is an excellent place to wander around, with a slavery museum and modern art museum within. Many city tours end here, leaving you free afterwards to enjoy the park.

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