Time Out’s bulletproof guide to the best art, clubbing and eating options in the exhilarating Brazilian metropolis.
Gritty and bustling, Centro – the old downtown area – mixes 19th-century European architecture with Latin American hustle. Packed with peddlers, shopping street Rua 25 de Março remains a tackily entertaining place to experience the city’s street life, though the area can get sketchy at night. Just south of Centro is Liberdade, São Paulo’s Japantown, rife with kanji and kana signage, Asian cuisine and a festive atmosphere at the main plaza’s weekly market.
For a splash of cool green in the midst of the urban canyon of Avenida Paulista, Parque Trianon offers precious respite as the last remnants of the original Mata Atlântica, the coastal rainforest that’s been decimated by development. For the culturally inclined, São Paulo’s splendid Museu Afro Brasil, located in the expansive Parque do Ibirapuera, has on display more than 4,000 impressive paintings, photographs, costumes and exhibitions related to the African strands of history and culture in Brazil and the Americas. And for worshippers of the beautiful game, the Museu do Futebol, in the city’s art deco Pacaembu Stadium, is a treat.
Dining is a popular pastime in São Paulo, as evidenced by the abundance of chic restaurants, full-service bakeries, ‘por quilo’ buffets, corner snack bars and 24-hour luncheonettes. Many eateries are informal, community-centred social spaces where friends and families get together to chew the fat for hours, especially at weekends. Pop in to a boteco or lanchonete – one of the innumerable casual diners around town – and have a salgadinho (assorted golden-fried goodness) or a freshly made juice in one of 100 tropical flavours.
Downtown’s hip Alberta #3 is one of the most reliably buzzing joints in São Paulo, with its beatnik vibe, rock‘n’roll décor theme and images of youthful Jagger and Dylan watching over the three-floor space. If you fancy grabbing some pre-party grub or quirky cocktail, you’ll find Ramona – owned by the same cool crowd – just two doors down, serving up late-night eats and wildly creative beverages. Over in the bohemian, bustling bar district of Vila Madalena, the biggest stand-out is Astor and its downstairs companion, SubAstor. Upstairs, Astor is a vintage, high-ceilinged boteco or bar-restaurant, while SubAstor down below, decked out in dramatic red and black, concocts some of the best mixed drinks in town.
Appreciators of painting and sculpture can get their fill at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), a modern glass edifice suspended beneath two giant red upturned ‘U’s. Temporary exhibitions of Brazilian artists share floor space with biggies such as Picasso and Gainsborough. The Pinacoteca do Estado is another striking building and the home to work by Brazil’s most important modernists. Transforming three houses into a gallery, the cutting-edge Galeria Vermelho also has a garden and an impressive facade used for large installations and projections. At the opposite end of the size spectrum, intimate but impressive Choque Cultural dedicates itself to Brazilian urban artists, from graffiti merchants to a slew of skateboard designers and printmakers, earnestly and stylishly fostering an appreciation for street-level art.
The hottest samba spot in town, Ó do Borogodó hosts famous names in the genre – from Gafiera Nacional to Dona Inah – that get hips swinging and feet stomping in the syncopated haze of Brazil’s most famous rhythm. Cine Joia, the live performance venue and former cinema, offers consistently interesting line ups and a superb light and video mapping lighting system in a restored downtown gem of a building. Another one of the more interesting music venues in town is actually a whole set of them: the city’s excellent collection of SESCs, a city-wide chain of non-profit community centres. They all offer athletic facilities, libraries, courses and exhibitions, and an always cheap, solid line-up of established and up-and-coming musical acts. If you only go to one, make it the stunning SESC Pompeia, designed by architect Lina Bo Bardi, who also created the MASP.
Nightlife doesn’t exist in São Paulo, because the party runs 24 hours; between the mega clubs, intimate venues and after-hours spots, it’s amazing anyone gets any sleep. The hottest electronica club is D-Edge, a trendy place with a spectral lighting scheme and a constant line-up of heavy-hitting electronic DJs. The quirky, 1950s house-turned-club, Casa 92, lets you dance under the stars in its tree-covered courtyards, lounge on a living room sofa or lean up against a retro fridge. DJs spin everything from electro rock to 1980s disco, just make sure to leave time to explore the decked-out interior. If neither of these fêtes wears you out, Love Story doesn’t even start until almost 3am.
Need to know
KLM flies to São Paulo via Amsterdam from Dhs7,398 return.
Emirates flies direct to São Paulo from Dhs10,885 return.