A São Paulo travel guide – cutting-edge architecture, precocious arts centre and culinary melting pot
Get your bearings
The oasis of Anhangabaú plaza sits beneath towering buildings at the heart of the city’s Centro, an area of colossal modern architecture and pockets of colonial heritage. From here the bustling Ipiranga avenue runs west past skyscrapers to the hip nightlife enclave of Consolação. Further west leads to the bohemian shopping streets of village-like Pinheiros and Vila Madalena neighborhoods. Bordering Consolação to the south, sophisticated restaurants and upscale boutiques abound in the leafy Jardins quarter. Close by, the Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s emblematic thoroughfare, heads south to the Japanese stronghold of Liberdade and the Italian immigrant district of Bela Vista.
Modernist behemoths of creativity stand side by side with ornate neoclassical buildings and bold 21st-century constructions. The Centro’s mammoth Gothic Catedral Metropolitana stands near 17th-century baroque churches while giant saucer-like structures dot the vast parkland of Parque do Ibirapuera. Be mesmerised by the daring brutalism of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo’s red concrete and dark glass and take in the revolutionary modern design of the scissor-like bridge at Ponte Estaiada Octávio Frias de Oliveira.
Whether it’s homemade Brazilian comfort food or Middle-Eastern haute cuisine, a São Paulo city break tantalises every taste bud. Distinct immigrant neighborhoods serve up wondrous ethnic fare: head for fresh Japanese ramen noodles and sushi on the lantern-lit streets of Liberdade or gorge on Italian aubergine in truffle oil in quaint Bela Vista. Elsewhere, locals congregate at rustic street corner cafés for hearty Bolinho de bacalhau (cod fritters) and decadent treats like cocada (grated coconut cooked in sugar syrup). Elsewhere, modern Brazilian culinary wizardry takes over the sophisticated restaurants of the elegant Jardins district.
Succumb to the dynamism of São Paulo’s energetic cultural scene. Classical music fans flock to the Luz district’s Sala São Paulo, a renovated 19th-century train station turned contemporary concert hall – while art lovers admire Brazilian modernists’ work at the pink-brick neoclassical museum Pinacoteca do Estado. Stroll the quirky contemporary galleries in Pinheiros and discover Os Gêmeos’ colorful street art in trendy Vila Madalena.
From edgy Barra Funda’s industrial super-clubs to the joyous samba bars of bohemian Pinheiros, book a São Paulo hotel for eclectic nightlife. Glamorous Paulistanos (São Paulo residents) lounge on deckchairs at Jardins' poolside cocktail bars overlooking the city’s urban jungle. Hipsters throng the alternative nightspots lining Consolação’s Rua Augusta while cosmopolitan partygoers pack out Itaim’s swanky house clubs. For a more slow-paced slice of action head to traditional marble-floored botequim bars of Vila Madalena and relax in dark wooden booths.
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