A defining metropolis with an ever-growing population of over 12 million people, São Paulo is Brazil’s largest city and capital of the wealthiest state in the country. A mosaic of influences from across the world, this mélange encompasses expats and culture from many places such as Japan, Italy, Lebanon, and France. These impressions make daily life here one of the most diverse and enlivening in the country.
Pro Tip: São Paulo is often lovingly referred to as "Sampa" by local residents.
You can’t start a day in Sampa without tasting a proper café de padaria, bakery breakfast, consisting of toasted buttered bread and coffee with a bit of milk. My favorite place is Deli Garage, a coffee shop and deli tucked in the bohemian Vila Madalena neighborhood, where chef Fernanda Valdívia serves an array of breads and patisseries so good they won her the best padaria award of 2018. While enjoying your time in Vila Madalena, head to Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley) to get lost among the famous graffiti-filled alleyways.
Your next stop is Pinacoteca (Pina) the oldest art museum in town, housed in a striking 1900s landmark architectural building in the core of the old city center and surrounded by Jardim da Luz garden. Pina has an excellent permanent Brazilian collection and contemporary exhibits that draw crowds from across South America and beyond. Nearby, visit Estação da Luz Railway (a building assembled in Glasgow and sent to Brazil in the beginning of 20th century) to admire the monumental and contrasting architecture. But don’t forget to turn around, cross the street, and finish your visit at the Estação Pinacoteca, a part of the Pina museum, to see great temporary exhibitions.
By now you’ll be hungry! Since you are downtown, hit up the Casa do Porco Bar (where all the local and visiting chefs go) to grab a caipirinha—Brazil's national drink—and try the delicious snacks and creative pork dishes of acclaimed chef Jefferson Rueda. Beware of the lines at this deservedly hyped Brazilian gastropub. To fully absorb São Paulo’s vibrancy, take a stroll and appreciate the curvy Edifício Copan, a masterpiece modernist building bearing the signature smoothly etched concrete wave of Brazilian über architect Oscar Niemayer. If you want to skip the lines at Casa do Porco, book a garden table at Maní and eat the revered contemporary Brazilian dishes of star chef Helena Rizzo (featured in Netflix's The Final Table, and listed as World’s 50 Best Female Chef 2014).
Start your afternoon on Paulista Avenue, dropping by the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), a stunning project by renowned architect Lina Bo Bardi boasting deeply inspiring and important collections. If you’d like to see some of Brazil’s most celebrated art, also check out Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS), a new building where you will find permanent collections of large-scale photography, music, literature, iconography, and painting. You don’t need to be hungry to snack on dadinhos de tapioca, cheese cubes made from Brazilian tapioca flour, at Balaio, the popular ground floor restaurant at IMS. Balaio is a spin-off of chef Rodrigo Oliveira’s famous Mocotó restaurant that draws crowds to eat his contemporary Brazilian dishes.
Next head down to explore Jardins neighborhood with its retail-lined boulevards, especially if you want to grab that unique gift for someone special. Consider passing by Havaiana’s flagship store and going flip-flop crazy. Head to Granado-Phebo to dive into a fragrant world of genuine Brazilian beauty products wrapped in vintage casings. If you crave a bite of the most delicious cheese bread in town, stop by Pão de Queijo Haddock Lobo and don’t be afraid to let yourself go.
Fancy Brazilian jewelry? Select a Miriam Mamber piece, her unique designs are conversation starters made of preciousness. They range from silver to gold in a array of stunning options. If you’re looking for hot Brazilian fashion head to Adriana Barra for colorful printed dresses and to Adriana Degreas for swimwear. Sporty minimalism more your type? Osklen will have something for you. Cris Barros is revered for her boho chic creations. Artsy types will want to visit the new art gallery SIM Galeria to discover Brazilian contemporary artists (such as Romy Poctzaruk).
By now it’s cocktail hour, find the lobby of Hotel Fasano, ask for a dry martini while marveling at the coolness of the ambiance idealized by legendary luxury restaurateur, hôtelier Rogério Fasano and projected by star architects Isay Weinfeld and Marcio Kogan. Time to consider your options for the evening.
Stay at Fasano and enjoy an exceptional Italian dinner at the stunning Fasano Restaurant, where incredible plates by chef Luca Gozzani and wines chosen by sommelier Manoel Beato are served in a perfect ballet coordinated by Mâitre Almir Paiva.
Or, if you fancy contemporary Brazilian food, feast at infamous chef Alex Atala’s fine restaurant D.O.M. A fixture on the "World’s Best Restaurants" list, chef Atala is passionate about all things Brazilian. The discovery of the degustation menu is paired with flair by sommelière Gabriela Monteleone. And in the works: the highly anticipated D.O.M Hotel.
Wrap up your perfect day in São Paulo at Drosophyla, an after-hours bar housed in an old mansion downtown, with live music hosted by charming owner Madame Lili. A well-kept secret among the coolest crowd in Sampa town, where Bono Vox and U2 went to celebrate after their last Brazilian concert.
This is just a small portion of what Sāo Paulo has to offer. Come discover!
Juliana A. Saad is a Brazilian freelance writer, the owner of The Travel Lifestyle, and an editor specializing in luxury travel and lifestyle. Follow her on Instagram @jusaad1