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.